With Rihanna, Dave Grohl & Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock, Green Day, Robert Plant, Dweezil Zappa, and Taylor Swift
All photos by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter
It was the year of “Umbrella,” for which she received several nominations, including Record of the Year, which she did not win, as well as Best Sung/Rap performance, which she did win. Written by Terius “Dream” Nash, “Umbrella” was nominated for Best Song, but lost to “Rehab” by Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson. Rihanna performed “Umbrella” in the show as part of a musical medley which began and ended with Morris Day & The Time performing their signature song “Jungle Love,” by Prince. Rihanna flawlessly danced the Time dance with Morris Day, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Later, when Morris came to the press room, I asked if he taught her those moves. “Yes,” he said. “She’s a fast learner.”
Herbie Hancock, 2008.
Herbie Hancock, one the great living legends of jazz, infuriating much of the assembled press by winning two Grammys – including Album of the Year – for his tribute to Joni Mitchell, The Joni Letters. The second Grammy was for Best Contemporary Jazz Album, which they all felt was appropriate. But for Album of the Year to go to a jazz album outraged many, who didn’t hide their anger. “Kanye got robbed!” they screamed out. Herbie took it in quiet stride, calmly answering a barrage of questions about this perceived controversy, which he deftly deflated.
Yet this was a Grammy for an homage to a great songwriter, not a denigration of Kanye. When our chance came, I asked how it was for Herbie – who worked with Miles Davis and other jazz geniuses – to live inside of Joni’s songs, and the unique harmonic foundations of her work.
“She changed the very tunings of her guitar,” he said, “to paint with colors nobody else has ever used.” He used singers on the album, he said, “because her words are the engines which drive her songs.” While talking, two of the press guys who seemed bored by all this talk about music shouted out, trying to get back to Kanye. Unlike most artists who allow the press to run the show, Herbie didn’t. “Wait,” he said sternly, “I’m still answering the question.”
Billie Joe Armstrong, 2010.
Billie and his band Green Day won the Best Rock Album Grammy for 21st Century Breakdown, which featured the song “21 Guns.” Though more famous then for their brash punk spirit, Green Day’s songs are beautifully crafted and tuneful; “21 Guns,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life”) and others are unapologetically pretty. Asked about that tendency, Billie’s answer revealed his allegiance to the punk ethic doesn’t rule out great and melodic songwriting. “A lot of punk rock bands are always trying to be so hard all of the time,” he said. “Macho brutality doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good songwriter. I think that some of the Beatles’ songs are way more punk rock than most punk songs written today. Like the song `Yesterday.’ It’s such a bittersweet song.”
Taylor Swift’s Grammy Drop, 2010.
After the 2010 Grammys at which she won four, Taylor Swift came back to the press rooms to pose and answer questions. The photographers insisted, as they always do, that she hold all four Grammys at once. She did her best to do just in the constant flash of all their cameras as they all shouted out at her to look their way. One of the Grammys started to slip out of her arms, and as in slow-motion fell to the carpet, where it actually broke. (Grammys break easily). Taylor seemed stunned, staring down at it with wide-open eyes. But everyone yelled, “It’s okay! They have plenty. They’ll get you another one.”
Dave Grohl & Taylor Hawkins
Foo Fighters, 2008
These photos of Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins were taken on Grammy Day, February 10, 2008, moments after an outdoor rehearsal by the Foo Fighters hours before performing live on the Grammys telecast. Outside of the Staples Center in downtown L.A. they rehearsed “The Pretender,” playing it twice backed by a small orchestra conducted by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. The violinist Ann Marie Calhoun, who has performed extensively since then with Dave Stewart and others, played with the band. (During the live performance that night, the actor Jason Bateman introduced the band, and pronounced in game-show fashion that she was the winner of “My Grammy Moment.” Her prize was playing live with the Foo Fighters).
In rehearsal, both performances of the song rocked intensely, and Dave was giddy, grooving on energy of the electric Foos mingled with the orchestra outside in this sunny place. Here he was simultaneously gesturing to the small audience assembled in front, who were applauding and yelling, and looking back here towards the orchestra.
Robert Plant, 2009
The legendary Led Zeppelin leader Robert Plant, who won five awards on this night for his duet album with Allison Krause, Raising Sand. He said he only knew about Motown and other black American music growing uphe great He was more restrained at this Grammys, he said, than previous ones he’d attended. “We threw some Grammys out a window once,” he said “But they weren’t ours.” He said growing up in Britain he was in love with Motown and the music of “spectacular Black Americana,” but knew little else until now. “Alison has patiently shown me much of the America I was never exposed to before,” he said. “There are so many thousands of beautiful songs in the air. And America needs to know what this music is about.”
Dweezil Zappa, 2009
Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of Frank Zappa, won a Grammy this year for his work playing his dad’s music, which as musicians know, is extremely complex and difficult to play. As he said backstage with humble pride, it took him years of work to even approach his father’s level of musicianship and genius, which is exemplified both in the composition and execution of “Peaches En Regalia.” He acknowledged that “Peaches” is maybe the quintessential Zappa song and performance. Yet to him, he said, it was like a lullaby because he heard it so many times at his father’s concerts growing up. “Because he would do it towards the end of the show, I would usually be falling asleep by then.”