×

Ken Tales Gone Wild: David Wild Dishes on 20 Years With Grammy Legend Ken Ehrlich

Wild, the longtime head writer for the Grammys, shares 10 favorite memories of working with Ehrlich, who's celebrating his 40th anniversary producing the show.

A lot will be said in the days and years to come about all the amazing and unforgettable Grammy Moments that Ken Ehrlich has somehow made happen decade after decade live on the Grammy Awards. Likely, a lot of it has already been said by my longtime mentor and lifelong friend Ken himself to Chris Willman in the surrounding pages of this distinguished publication that shares a name with the precise and splendid quality Ken has consistently brought to Music’s Biggest Night for four decades — VARIETY.

As you might imagine, working on the Grammy Awards for Ken over nearly two of those decades, I have enjoyed the tremendous and enduring pleasure of sharing a variety of the moments with Ken and the rest of a team that’s become like a family — occasionally like the Manson Family, but still, a family all the same. Although I had attended many of Ken’s productions both a music fan and as a journalist for Rolling Stone, I first met Ken in April of 1994 at the grand opening of the House of Blues on Sunset while we were both waiting to see Aerosmith — who are, coincidentally, playing on this year’s Grammy show. My wife Fran and I being seated with Ken and his wife Harriett that night would ultimately play a significant part in turning me into the grateful and grizzled TV writing and producing veteran that I am today. For the record, that House of Blues was demolished not long ago, but thankfully we’re all still here livin’ on the edge.

So as to avoid stepping directly on the Boss’s toes, here are just a few alternative, notable, scattered backstage Grammy Moments from my times to date toiling in the TV trenches alongside Ken:

1. Standing onstage at the Grammy Awards, and having my lifelong musical hero Stevie Wonder tell Ken and I, “You guys are looking good” — as only Stevie ever could … or ever would.

2. Watching with a lot of awe and a little concern as Ken negotiated a Simon & Garfunkel reunion in 2003, like some kind of special musical envoy to Madison Square Garden, trying his best to broker some measure of harmony and peace. Having grown up with my mom playing the duo’s 8-track tapes while carpooling me, this was a dream come true. Sure, the Sound of Silence may have been broken by raised voices a few times in the process. Yet by the end, the tension lifted and everyone was feeling groovy, thanks to Ken’s unique ability to get exactly what he wants and still serves as a bridge over troubled waters.

3. Sitting down with Ken and Prince — who previously only knew me as a rock critic — at Center Staging in early 2004 to discuss what would become his triumphant Grammy opening performance with Beyonce. After we finished our fascinating conversation, Prince asked Ken and I if we’d like to get a private concert for two so he could show us his vision for the performance we had just brainstormed. Not being complete idiots, we said yes enthusiastically, and so Prince and his band then treated us to the single greatest show of our lives – and perhaps the only one ever by a truly towering musical genius whom we were both technically taller than.

4. Seeing Ken sit in — rather effectively, too — on piano with a few acts, including Al Green, during rehearsals over the years, and thinking that if this whole TV thing didn’t continue working out so well for him, Ken could still make a decent living playing in roadhouses and honky-tonks. I also once heard Ken sing a duet of “That’s Life” with Usher at our Grammy Salute to Sinatra, but suffice to say, Ken should probably keep his imaginary day job at a piano.

5. The two of us standing up together for the ultimate stand up guy — our longtime host and friend LL Cool J — when he surprisingly but quite rightly wanted to add a prayer for Whitney Houston as part of his first-ever Grammy monologue that we totally re-wrote in the wake of Whitney’s tragic passing. The longer I am in live television, the more I believe in the power of prayer.

Ken Ehrlich, LL Cool J and David Wild
CREDIT: Courtesy David Wild

6. Ken asking me where Lady Gaga was during one Grammy night, and telling him, “She’s backstage near my presenter prompter area hanging out in a Plexi-glass egg,” then hearing my own words, and thinking, thanks in part to Ken, I had somehow ended up in the exactly the right business.

7. Ken doggedly insisting on having John Legend play a recent single called “All Of Me” that had only done okay and was slipping down the charts, and telling me, “Don’t worry, that song is a smash – and it will be after our show.” And legendarily, Ken was exactly right.

8. Standing with Ken backstage and being in awe of the extraordinary talent and commitment of every Grammy host we worked with together — Jon Stewart, Queen Latifah, LL, James Corden and now Alicia Keys, a brilliant artist and talent who quite literally has grown up on the Grammy stage.

9. Ken — the hardest working man in show business since James Brown left the stage — never being too busy to see how far he is from any open White Castle Burger.

10. Leaving Staples Center after one Grammy show, and walking straight into dinner at Katsu-Ya at LA Live and finding ourselves at the bar watching the Grammy rebroadcast starting on CBS. As we downed spicy tuna rolls, Ken looked at the TV in front of us and said, “You know, this is a pretty good show.”

David Wild is a longtime contributing editor for Rolling Stone and head writer for the Grammy Awards, among other telecasts.

More TV

  • Sharp Objects

    Entertainment One Commits to Drama: "Hasbro Bought the Business to Expand It"

    “Sharp Objects” and “Run” producer-distributor Entertainment One is reassuring partners of its commitment to drama following its acquisition by toy giant Hasbro. EOne has always cultivated a strong set of procedurals, such as ABC’s Nathan Fillion-starrer “The Rookie” and Fox’s Stephen Dorff-led “Deputy,” but has also gained traction with cable propositions such as HBO’s “Sharp [...]

  • Germany’s ZDF Enterprises, NDF Team to

    Germany’s ZDF Enterprises, NDF Team to Form FictionMagnet

    ZDF Enterprises, a division of German broadcasting powerhouse ZDF, has partnered with independent production outfit Neue Deutsche Filmgesellschaft (“Mountain Medic”), to form FictionMagnet Producktions. The new entity will develop and produce fictional TV formats for ZDF. NDF will hold 51% of the joint venture and ZDF 49%. The company will be based in Unterfohring and [...]

  • Homecoming

    'Homecoming' Showrunner Eli Horowitz to Head Series Mania UGC Writers Campus

    Eli Horowitz, creator and showrunner of the Julia Roberts-led Amazon series “Homecoming,” will be the president of the UGC Writers Campus at annual series showcase Series Mania. The Campus is a week-long writing workshop for emerging TV drama writers from Europe. Twenty screenwriters were chosen from more than 100 applicants. The workshop will be run [...]

  • duncanville

    'Duncanville' Starring Amy Poehler: TV Review

    Lovable dirtbag families have been the core of Fox’s Sunday “Animation Domination” lineup for years, a truth further underlined by the fact that its newest entry “Duncanville” comes from longtime “Simpsons” producers Mike and Julie Thacker Scully. Along with co-creator Amy Poehler, they’ve now made a show about a family more tied to the present [...]

  • Chaka Khan arrives at the Vanity

    Chaka Khan Joins Fergie in Pantheon of Memorable NBA National Anthem Performances

    It takes a lot to make a performance of “The Star Spangled Banner” before the NBA All-Star Game trend higher on social media than the game itself, but Chaka Khan has managed what Fergie was able to two years ago, with a unique rendering of the National Anthem that threatened to render anything that followed [...]

  • Jason Davis

    Jason Davis, Voice Actor on Disney Channel's 'Recess,' Dies at 35

    Jason Davis, a voice actor on the Disney Channel show “Recess,” died in Los Angeles on Sunday. He was 35. “I am so heartbroken to share the saddest news of my life that my son Jason Davis passed away this morning in Los Angeles. Jason had a true heart of gold with such a zest [...]

  • Caroline Flack

    'Love Island’ Pulled For Second Night After Former Host Caroline Flack’s Death

    For a second consecutive night, ‘Love Island’ will not air on U.K. broadcaster ITV2 following the death of former host Caroline Flack, Variety has confirmed. An ITV spokesman said: “Many people at ITV knew Caroline well and held her in great affection. All of us are absolutely devastated at this tragic news.” “After careful consultation between [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content