Editor’s note: The 2017 winners are Bobby Rush for Best Traditional Blues Album and Fastastic Negrito for Best Contemporary Album.
Fans of America’s greatest original form of music are apt to sing the blues about the Grammy Awards. In 2012, the Grammys reduced blues to just one category and although the television broadcast of the ceremony is hours long, the blues portion is almost never aired. But there’s good blues news this year: There are two categories and there will be two first-time Grammy Award winners.
Lurrie Bell, Joe Bonamassa, Luther Dickinson, Vasti Jackson and Bobby Rush are nominated for Best Traditional Blues Album. Fastastic Negrito, Janiva Magness, Kenny Neal, The Record Company and Joe Louis Walker are in the field for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
The award typically goes to the more famous artist, such as recent winners Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, or oftentimes an artist from a different genre who has made a blues album, for example Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite in 2014 and Dr. John in 2013.
Based on his fame, Bonamassa is the favorite to take home the hardware for “Live At The Greek Theater,” his 14th live album. It’s also a DVD. In the performance, a tribute to the three Kings – Albert, Freddie and B.B. — Bonamassa played Albert King’s Flying V guitar, Lucy.
Dickinson’s “Blues & Ballads (A Folksinger’s Songbook: Volumes I & II)” is a contrast to Bonamassa’s album. It has stripped down, acoustic studio arrangements of Dickinson’s favorite songs from his career with the North Mississippi Allstars and Hill Country tunes that influenced him. The vinyl release has illustrations and extensive songwriter’s notes.
Dickinson told Tahoe Onstage he will make more records like this one.
“You have to get the vinyl to get the real songbook,” he said. “I want to continue with the songbook. … in (numbers) 3 and 4 I would like to have ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Blues (2014)’ transcribed, ‘Hambone’s Meditations (2012)’ transcribed, and let the songbook itself live on, passing the dream.”
Bell’s “Can’t Shake The Feeling” is straight-ahead Chicago blues. He’s released more than a dozen solo albums and many more with his father, harmonica great Carey Bell.
Rush is nominated for the album “Porcupine Meat.” An extraordinary showman and soul singer, Rush, at the age of 82, is a sentimental favorite to finally get a Grammy. He’s been nominated three times before.
Vasti Jackson, who appears on Rush’s album, also was nominated for “The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers,” the yodeling country singer pioneer. It was the sixth release by Jackson, a native of Mississippi.
Picking the winner for Best Contemporary Blues Album is more difficult, but the guess here is for a new band, The Record Company, for “Give It Back To You.” Songs from the album have received a lot of airplay and the band is based in Los Angeles, the home of the Grammys. The Record Company had two powerful performances last summer at the High Sierra Music Festival.
Neal, however, is well known, and even before the release of “Bloodline,” he told Tahoe Onstage he hoped it would bring him his first Grammy.
“It’s about me passing (music) on to the young ones,” said Neal, who appears with five generations of his family in a video of the title track.
Joe Louis Walker is a Blues Hall of Fame member and prolific recording artist. He has a penchant for nominations. He’s been nominated for 48 Blues Music Awards.
“Blues needs credibility,” he told Tahoe Onstage. “Rap artists can make a blues album. Groups like Aerosmith can make a blues album and sell 100,000. But all we’ve got is the blues. Columbia is not going to promote me to people who buy Led Zeppelin records. But they will promote Led Zeppelin to people who buy Joe Louis Walker and B.B. King records. Like Buddy Guy says, Mr. DJ please play my blues.”
The 59th annual Grammy Awards will be televised live on CBS from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Presentations begin at 5 p.m. Pacific Time, Sunday, Feb. 12, hosted by James Corden of the “Late Late Show.” Corden takes the reins from LL Cool J, master of ceremonies for the past five years.