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EmptyWhen Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines criticized President Bush at a 2003 concert in England, some questioned whether the act's country fan base would abandon the group. But after the band swept its five nominated categories at the Grammys for its critical and sales success "Not Ready to Make Nice," any and all doubts likely were laid to rest. Maines acknowledged that some Grammy voters might have been attracted to the political back story surrounding the album, which addressed the fallout the group faced. "It's hard to put into words, but I'm definitely aware we were up against a lot of great music," she said backstage. "I love our record and think it's the best one we made. I definitely think people had inspiration and motivation behind voting us to win five of five. It's unbelievable, and I think people were using their voices." Bandmate Emily Robison agreed, adding, "Great music comes from inspiration. What happened to us really drove us to make an album that said a lot. I think people grew to love that because it was a story and wasn't just a song. It said something."Going into the Grammys, the funk-punk-rock quartet Red Hot Chili Peppers had exactly one trophy to their credit, from way back in 1992. But they strutted away with four Sunday, including rock song and album of the year. Backstage, singer Anthony Kiedis discussed his distaste of the current state of rock. "I think the genre has gotten kinda stale," he said. "Rock bands don't seem to be taking that many chances. Hopefully they will in the future and it's only a phase." He added that the more innovative music is coming from the electronic and pop fields. Later, drummer Chad Smith said he thought the Recording Academy was "making a bit of a statement by having Dixie Chicks win everything." The topic then turned to longevity and the band's future. Said bassist Flea, "The music keeps us together; the music guides us." But what about 20 years from now? Will the Chili Peppers emulate such groups as the Stones and the Who and still be on the road? "No," Kiedis said flatly. "No." Why? "Because I think the vision right now is limited more to the present," Flea said. Clip and save for the 69th annual Grammys in 2027.
Heading into the night with a leading eight nominations, Mary J. Blige was more than happy to take home three awards. "It's been an incredible night for me, a musical as well as a personal breakthrough. I'm just so happy my peers nominated me eight times. And these three awards are the icing on the cake." As for the last-minute decision to release "The Breakthrough" ahead of her greatest hits compilation (the original plan was to issue the hits album first), Blige noted: "When all that was going on, some people were saying, 'Mary's washed up, finished.' I had to do a lot of self-evaluation and find out what I was doing wrong. I wasn't giving myself credit and beating myself up a lot. I wasn't giving out enough in the places I needed to. In the valley is where you find out where you really are, and that's why I'm at this peak now. I got out (of the valley). This is a celebration." Wearing Michael Kors most of the night and Armani for her first performance on the show, Blige said her next album will continue to reflect the progression of her life. "I'm a human being. People judge you and want to put you in a category or box. You can also have your own issues and problems. At the end of the day, you just have to put your back up straight because you're so sick of slumping. I believe the only way to be able to be seen and recognized is to keep challenging myself to come up higher." Asked what Sunday's wins by Dixie Chicks, Ludacris, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Carrie Underwood and others said about the world of popular music, Blige declared, "The show represented that real music is back."
Singer-songwriter John Mayer is a Grammy veteran in his still relatively young career. The guitarist has been nominated for every project he has released, which in 2007 includes his new album "Continuum" and his bluesy effort with the John Mayer Trio, "Try!" After his wins for best male pop vocal performance and pop vocal album, Mayer was asked whether he is the "new Sting," in that everything he touches turns to Grammy gold. "Sometimes people call me a Grammy darling, and that makes me uncomfortable," he said. "It makes me think that I'm getting things I don't deserve and eking my way in through some other facet that I don't see. But I like to think that if I put out a stinker it would not get rewarded."
Carrie Underwood made her way backstage a few moments after receiving her best new artist award and performing "Desperado" with the Eagles. She said she only recently found out she would be singing the song with the legendary Southern California rock band. "It was just decided pretty quickly," she said. "That was my first time getting onstage and singing it. I'd like to hear how it sounded." The country singer also gave plenty of props to "American Idol," where she was discovered. "There's absolutely no doubt that 'American Idol' is the reason I'm here. I grew up in a small town and I loved to sing, but I didn't know how to go about doing that. I tried to get people to listen to me and pay attention, but it just never happened. Through 'American Idol,' it happened."
Double winner John Legend was asked what he thinks when people compare him to Marvin Gaye. "Some people got to slow down," he said with a chuckle. "I got a long way to go. … If you hear some influence, that's because I stole it from him." But he reminded folks not to go overboard with comparisons. A winner last year for best new artist, Legend feels the awards he took home this year, including best male R&B vocal performance for "Heaven," don't hold the same impact as his first-time win. "But I'll take it," he said with a laugh. "It's nice to be back. People always talk about jinxes, but we've dispelled that. I hope to be back here again. I've got a long career ahead of me — hopefully." Legend said he was happy to perform "Coming Home" on the telecast. "It's an important song and needs to be heard. A lot of artists care about the soldiers and what they're going through, and what many of us think are misguided policies. If other artists do the same (singing this type of song), I think it's from the heart." He's beginning a tour April 3 with Corinne Bailey Rae, the British newcomer who also performed during the ceremony. "We're gonna step it up, step up the production," Legend said. "People are going to see the best performances they've ever seen from me."
Rapper T.I. was back on the red carpet after scoring two wins, one for best rap solo performance ("What You Know") and one for his collaboration with Justin Timberlake, "My Love." He was eager to heap praise on Timberlake. "He's at the top of his game, and it's one of the best albums of his career, and he should be acknowledged for it." T.I. said he is recording a new album, to be released by year's end, but refused to go into detail. "I can't give any hints. OK, all I can say is, me and Eminem? We're speaking. We're talking about getting something down. Had that get done, it would be phenomenal, it would be one for the record books, I assure you."
Best female pop vocal performance winner Christina Aguilera, sporting a 1930s-style hairdo and a lacy black dress, said she spent weeks doing homework to prepare for her James Brown tribute performance. She sang Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" during the segment, which also included Chris Brown, Smokey Robinson and Lionel Richie. "I was doing my research bigtime," she said. "I was watching (Brown) DVDs and watching his spins getting ready for tonight. I didn't do his spins. I was afraid I'd trip on my heels or something." She said "Candyman" will be released as the next single from her album "Back to Basics," and more are on the way. "I've got 23 songs to pick from on two discs, so there's lots of options."
Ludacris said Def Jam wanted to delay the release of his sixth album, "Release Therapy," but he urged the label to bow it Sept. 26, four days before the deadline for Grammy eligibility. Less than five months later, the album walked away with two awards: best rap album and best rap song for "Money Maker." "When I recorded this album, I made it a point to say to myself that I was going to win a Grammy," he said, adding later, "This is pretty much the best night of my life tonight." Meanwhile, the "Crash" co-star said his acting career is going well. "I'm trying to pick the right roles," he said. "Luckily, I have a music career to do while, you know, all the bad roles are coming. I'm blessed enough to have a second career until I get what I want (in films)." Still, he accepted his awards on a somber note: His dad is in intensive care with an undisclosed illness. "My appreciation of music comes from him," he said of his father. "Onstage, I told millions of people (that) their prayers are appreciated. I feel prayer is strong, and the more people you have praying, the stronger prayer becomes."
Having won Grammys for best pop collaboration with Stevie Wonder ("For Once in My Life") and best traditional pop vocal album for "Duets: An American Classic," Tony Bennett said he loves "my category, traditional pop, because it means music that will last forever. That's my premise for making music; that it won't be dated. Songs by Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and other artists still sound modern now and will 50 years from now." As for his plans, Bennett said he's always on the lookout to come up with something different. Among the ideas he's toying with is to do a whole album with Wonder, "just piano and voice." Then there's k.d. lang, whom he describes as "very honest and one of the best singers I've ever heard." His advice to the music industry: "Instead of telling the audience what to listen to, find out what they'd like to hear. Give them what they want."
Standing backstage with his son Ryan before the telecast, Grammy winner Al Jarreau said the win means a lot to him because "I'm not 23, 30, 40 or even 56. I will be 67 on my next birthday, and to still be getting praise for work done well and for my son to see this … that's the point," he said. "Find something you love to do, do it well and wake up every morning and thank God for what you can do. (Music) is the fountain of youth. (George Benson and I) got three nods for this album, and we won two. That's quite something for George and I at this point in our careers. For me, I've done four albums in the last six years. Come on, 50 Cent and Usher … I know that's smokin'!" In terms of future collaborations, Jarreau said he would like to team with Universal Motown R&B artist Kem and title the album "Alkemy."
Peter Frampton won the first Grammy of his long career in an odd category. "I should have done this record a long time ago," he said of his instrumental album "Fingerprints." Because his career had veered to "more pop," he said, it was "very difficult to show that I was the (guitar) player I'd always been." Looking the polar opposite of his famous photo on the "Frampton Comes Alive" cover, Frampton mused on why he chose to cover Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" on the album. "It's one of those songs that just gives you goose bumps," he said. He quickly added, "I would never in a million years want to sing it because that would be sacrilegious."
A cordial Nancy Wilson, who won her third Grammy dating to 1964, admitted: "Finally, my grandsons understand, 'Oh, you're that Nancy Wilson.' "
Ike Turner, whose "Risin' With the Blues" was named best contemporary blues album, got his first Grammy since "Proud Mary" with Tina Turner in 1971. Asked what it meant to him to win so many years later, he deadpanned, "It means that I'm still livin'."
Young but veteran blues guitarist Jonny Lang was surprised to even be nominated in the rock or rap gospel album category. "It wasn't something that I really planned on." The idea for "Turn Around" came from Ron Fair, the president of his label, A&M Records. Lang said his next record, which would be his sixth, will be "probably along the same lines as this."
Art director Matt Taylor, who shared the boxed or limited edition package Grammy with the members of Red Hot Chili Peppers for "Stadium Arcadium," based the spacey album cover on a Crayola sketch by bassist Flea. "It was amazing to work on, to me, such an important album," he said. "It was really cool to be able to put a look to the sound." Taylor admitted to being thrilled to work with the band, remembering how he read the liner notes to the band's 1991 album, "BloodSugarSexMagik," while in high school.
"I've received a few awards in my long years," Ruby Dee said backstage, "but today is a very exciting one because it is for spoken word. Because in the beginning was the word — W-O-R-D, word." The veteran performer said of her first Grammy: "How exciting to be celebrating the spoken word … to drop some cultural bread crumbs along the way so children have a sense of their place in this world." She spoke of Ossie Davis, her late husband and collaborator on "In This Life Together," in the present tense, saying, "I truly believe that he is present today." The spoken-word category was a tie; she and Davis shared the award with President Carter.
Among the first-timers who received awards during the pretelecast was blues veteran Irma Thomas. A New Orleans resident, an elated Thomas declared that she didn't care if it took a hurricane and a flood for her to win her first Grammy. "I don't care what it took. I got one. I'm pleased and tickled. This is my 49th year of doing this (singing). And even though you don't feel you have to have a Grammy, it's a wonderful thing to have in your repertoire," she said. "(From the disaster), I got a lot of work, charitable work, to help people in New Orleans and Mississippi, and that helped me get through it all." Thomas says she is about halfway toward being able to move back home to New Orleans. She is set to play Jazz Fest this year.
Enya won her fourth Grammy, this time for new age album. Reminded backstage that many people listen to her music when they're stressed out, she was asked what she listens to when she feels that way. "I don't get stressed out," she said matter-of-factly, seemingly surprised to even be asked. "Absolutely not."
Van Hunt was another first-time winner as one of three featured vocalists (also with John Legend and Joss Stone) on "Family Affair." The song won best R&B performance by a duo or group with vocals. Joining him backstage was manager Randy Jackson of "American Idol" fame. Jackson produced "Family Affair" and selected the three singers. Asked about the success of "Idol" alum Carrie Underwood (who picked up her first Grammy at the pretelecast) and Oscar-nominated Jennifer Hudson, Jackson noted: "These kids help validate what we do. People laugh and talk about how mean and crazy the judges are. But the truth is, at the end of the season, we've found someone great who wouldn't get a shot otherwise." Hunt is at work on his third album, which will be released under the new Capitol Music Group banner that merged Capitol (Hunt's label) with Virgin. Asked about the challenges he has faced in finding the right single to break him, Hunt said, "It's been an obstacle we haven't been able to overcome. But I think we have the plan right this time." Jackson agreed, adding, "Van's in the middle of his next record, and it's unbelievably hot."
Compiled by Erik Pedersen, Billboard's Todd Martens and Gail Mitchell