Best New Artist 1968: José Feliciano

The Recording Academy asked a few Best New Artist winners through the years to recollect what their experience was like and pass on some words of wisdom to this year's nominees in the category.

A shiny little gramophone statuette for Best New Artist sits proudly in my recording studio today. What does it represent? How has it shaped my life in the 40 years since then? We go back to California in the fall of 1967 to consider it all...

I had been clubbing around Orange County when RCA assigned a producer for me by the name of Rick Jarrard. He came to see my performance to get an idea of "what to do" with me and, as it turned out, we recorded a number of tunes that I did in my sets, including, among others, "California Dreamin'." Also, he suggested something that wasn't done really on pop albums — that is, to include instrumentals like "And I Love Her."

As I recall, the label wasn't exactly thrilled. They didn't even want to release it, saying it sounded as though I were singing from a garbage can! You see, Rick used a degree of reverb on my voice that gave the album an overall richness, enhancing also my acoustic guitar — another element that had never been used in rock and roll before, especially on a tune like "Light My Fire."

Thankfully, however, it was released and "Light My Fire" ignited my career, so to speak, opening doors for me across the country and around the world. I spent so much of my time on the road that I didn't really pick up on a lot of the fanfare surrounding the four GRAMMY nominations that the Feliciano! album had received, but as I think back, what created that spike in activity was, in fact, the notoriety that the nominations — especially that of Best New Artist — had given me.

As an artist, even as a 22 year-old, that nomination gave me credibility that little else could. It said that the industry had raised its head and had given me "the nod," so then it was up to me to live up to the compliment as best I could, not only with "hits" necessarily, but with quality work that would stand the test of time.

This is exactly what I've tried to do — to honor The Academy, the industry and my listeners by putting all I have into my art. This is what I have been blessed to do in the 40-plus years after having been named Best New Artist of 1968 and this is what I suggest to anyone in a similar situation today: Count your blessings, enjoy the fruits of your labor and be grateful everyday for the opportunity to be a part of this extraordinary business.

Since I first heard my named called out that night in 1969 at the 11th Annual GRAMMY Awards, I have been fortunate to bring home a total seven stunning little gramophones from The Recording Academy and one from The Latin Recording Academy, and each one of them is a treasure. They represent for me everything that The Academy stands for and what I've tried to live up to all my life.

Now, it's your turn.

Bio: José Feliciano, one of the most well-known Latin pop/rock artists of his era, scored his biggest hit with a haunting cover of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” which made him a star in the United States and helped earn his Best New Artist GRAMMY in 1968. He has continued to regularly record and perform in both English and Spanish through the years, most recently winning a Latin GRAMMY with Señor Bachata for Best Contemporary Tropical Album in 2008.
 

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