A few more Grammy notes…

50th Annual Grammy AwardsAs we ponder the results of the 2008 Grammies – and breathe a sigh of relief that Cherryholmes didn’t have to worry about being photographed with Amy Winehouse – there are yet a few more stories that bear mentioning.

On Saturday, February 9, Earl Scruggs was the recipient of a 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award at a separate Grammy ceremony in Los Angeles. Here is how he was described…

Earl Scruggs revolutionized and popularized the banjo and developed what is now known worldwide as the “Scruggs Style Picking.” His style of picking is a defining characteristic of bluegrass music. For more than 20 years, Scruggs performed with vocalist and guitarist Lester Flatt forming the most famous band in bluegrass history. But Scruggs parted with Flatt and in 1969 formed Earl Scruggs Revue with his three sons. In 2003, Scruggs received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in that same year he and Flatt were ranked No. 24 on “CMT’s 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.”

Using The Grammies as the hook, The Daily News in Newburyport, MA ran a feature over the weekend on Rounder Records. The piece by correspondent Jessica Benson looks at the humble beginnings of the company which is now among the more successful independent music labels in the United States.

“We were simply people who were music fans,” said Leighton Levy, who was an undergrad at Clark University in Worcester at the time. “There’s really no way we could have anticipated how the company was going to grow.”

It started in 1970, when Irwin was hitchhiking home to Cambridge after enjoying a fiddler’s convention down south. He was picked up by a guy who, with no formal training, had started his own record company.

Read the full article, which traces Rounder from their start to the present, online.

And one more comment regarding Merle Haggard having been refused consideration in the Best Bluegrass Album category in the Grammy voting…

This year’s winner, Jim Lauderdale, like Haggard is a country artist who made a decision to release a bluegrass project in 2007, both of which included the word “bluegrass” in its title.

This is not in any way to suggest that Jim’s award is undeserved. Bluegrass Diaries was produced and recorded by Randy Kohrs – a noted bluegrass artist, writer and producer – and aggressively promoted to bluegrass radio and media. Jim was also an active participant in last year’s IBMA convention in Nashville, and was personally involved in asking the bluegrass world to embrace his latest effort.

In the end, bluegrass purists may find fault with either Lauderdale or Haggard being considered for such an award – and we have heard from them – but does it seem odd that one is fair game while the other was labeled as “country?” My own guess is that the decision was based more on Merle Haggard’s long association as a country artist than on the actual recording itself.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.

  • But John, when you say

    “…but does it seem odd that one is fair game while the other was labeled as ‘country?’ My own guess is that the decision was based more on Merle Haggard’s long association as a country artist than on the actual recording itself.”

    surely you are not suggesting the content of Merle’s Bluegrass Sessions CD would have given him a chance if the decision was unbiased and based solely on content. The Hag’s latest project is in no way Bluegrass – not even a little bit, except for the title.

    I just listened to the Lauderdale CD, and while I find it to sound a little grassy on a couple of tracks only, certainly there is no way this project would get my vote either. This is mostly another country project, although more “grassy” than Merle’s project which contains zero.

    Who is making these decisions and what is happening to Bluegrass? Is it necessary to pick such projects for Bluegrass awards when they are clearly borderline at best, or even worse, not Bluegrass at all? I really don’t like where Bluegrass is going.

  • I’m not suggesting that either project is more deserving, but pointing out that the project that was chosen for the award might as easily have been disqualified for the reasons used in Haggard’s case.

    Grammy voters – other than those whose primary membership category is close to bluegrass music – can be forgiven for their ignorance of many of the artists in our world. I have not doubt but that they often vote for names they recognize.

    I wonder if the polka and zydeco fans gripe over the nominees each year as well.

    None of us have the right to determine the boundaries of a genre – except as it relates to our own choices.

  • Thanks for the clarification John, that’s all I was looking for. It sure is difficult to get the proper tone in the written word, at times.

    Looking over my own comment, I can see how it might be taken the way I meant it to be taken (as a question for clarification) or almost as an accusation. I’m not suggesting you thought I was accusing you of anything, by the way.

    I will comment on this idea though (still not attacking, just expanding on the idea):

    “None of us have the right to determine the boundaries of a genre – except as it relates to our own choices.”

    I agree only in a small part with this statement. Yes, I realize opinions vary widely on this subject, but if there were no boundaries, no one could say what is or what isn’t Bluegrass. The Blugrass genre certainly seems to be one of the most confusing (or confused) that I know of. Lately, it seems as if it’s a catch-all for anything we don’t quite know how to classify otherwise.

    To take an example to an extreme, if I were to play some heavy metal, complete with screaming electric guitars with effects galore, and just to help make my point, suppose I throw in a banjo (because in the minds of many, that will definitely help push us toward Bluegrass), could I really call it Bluegrass because it relates to my own choice?

    If I say, hey, I’m putting a banjo in this tune, therefore I proclaim this is Bluegrass, does it make it so? Personally, I think not and I bet 99% of the Bluegrass community would say “no way” as well.

    I’m simply pointing out that I think there must be boundaries, and not necessarily what I personally set. The question is, where are those boundaries and who sets them?

    If there were no boundaries, how could we possibly classify anything? How would do we know if a tune is rock, jazz, country or Bluegrass? We wouldn’t be able to classify anything. Clearly however, we do classify music (and just about every other facet in our lives).

    Back to the NARAS, Haggard and Lauderdale…

    A group of people at the NARAS must have had some boundaries they were using as a guideline in order to say 75% of the Merle Haggard CD was deemed to not be Bluegrass. Apparently however, I am not entirely aligned with the guidelines in place at the NARAS either, because Jim Lauderdale’s project doesn’t appear to be 75% Bluegrass to me, although as I stated in my original comment, slightly more Bluegrass than Merle’s project. Apparently, their boundaries are not as tight as mine would be; Jim snuck in under the wire and Merle just wasn’t Bluegrass enough to make it in at all.

    Had I only two projects (Haggard and Lauderdale) to choose from with regard to Bluegrass content, Jim Lauderdale would have been my choice as well. However, I’m still amazed that either project would even be considered for a Grammy, let alone be declared as the winner.

  • You can find a fairly detailed explanation of how the Grammy voting process works on the Grammy site.