Phones all over town were ringing last week, after the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences announced nominees for its 45th annual Grammy Awards. "Jim Dickinson called me," says Memphis International label co-founder David Less, whose inaugural release, Alvin Youngblood Hart's Down in the Alley, was nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album. "You know, Jim and I co-produced that album," says Less. "He'd found out [about the nomination] from Richard Rosenblatt, who called him about The North Mississippi Allstars," who, Less notes, garnered a nod in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category.
"I've worked with Grammy nominees before, but this is the first project I've been directly involved with to get a nomination," Less says. "It feels great. We're a brand-new label, and this was our very first release."
All in all, more than a dozen regional artists are honored by NARAS this year. Unsurprisingly, Mid-Southerners dominate the blues categories, with B.B. King, R.L. Burnside, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, and a tribute to Como, Mississippi, guitarist Fred McDowell battling Hart and the Allstars for the two Best Blues Album Grammys. A tribute to the late James Blackwood has been nominated in the gospel category, while the Rev. Al Green received an R&B nomination for "Put It on Paper," his collaboration with crooner Ann Nesby.
Two seems to be the magic number. Saliva's Josey Scott is also benefiting from a powerful pairing: His duet with Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger, the Spider-Man soundtrack's "Hero," is competing against Aerosmith, Coldplay, and Creed for a high-profile Best Rock Song award. The power ballad garnered two more Grammy nominations in songwriting categories, while tenor saxman Kirk Whalum also received a pair of nominations, getting one nod in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance category for "Playing with Fire," a track off his meditative 2001 release Unconditional, and another in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for The Christmas Message.
Memphis' most famous living superstar (Elvis sightings notwithstanding), Justin Timberlake, has been nominated for "Like I Love You" in the Best Rap Collaboration category. Add that to Johnny Cash's three country nominations, and you've got plenty of local favorites to root for.
My fingers are crossed for Revenant Records' Charley Patton box set, Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues, which received three Grammy nominations, including Best Album Notes (penned by internationally recognized musicologist and U of M professor Dr. David Evans) and Best Historical Album. Dean Blackwood, founder of the esoteric Revenant label, promises to "bum-rush the stage with a Victrola strapped to my back" whether he wins or not. Tune in to WREG-TV Channel 3 on Sunday, February 23rd, to catch Blackwood's antics and to find out which Memphians will bring home the music industry's ultimate prize.
If you haven't seen it yet, don't miss Joann Self's documentary about Memphis' own WLOK radio station, The WLOK Story, which will be screened on Saturday, January 18th, at the MeDiA Co-op at First Congregational Church, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. In the hour-long documentary, Self traces the station's roots and its transformation into the first black-owned station in the country through interviews with radio personalities Al Bell, Jean "The Golden Girl" Golden, and Melvin Jones.
"Melvin Jones and Jean Golden wanted to set up a museum, but they had no memorabilia. They just had these amazing stories," says Self. "I went back to [WLOK owner] Art Gilliam and said, 'We have to do oral histories interview these people and get it on tape and that will be your museum.' Art traded air time for sponsorship to raise money for the project, and I found Christopher Reyes and Eric Wilson to help me with the film."