Billy Vera In The GRAMMY Winner's Circle
(The Recording Academy asked a number of 55th GRAMMY Awards winners to share their thoughts on winning, performing and simply experiencing the excitement of the telecast.)
Winning a GRAMMY was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life, and that includes having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, gold records, and reaching No. 1 on the pop, country and jazz charts as an artist, producer and songwriter.
This was my fourth career nomination and I was wondering if I'd ever win that heavy gold statuette. Previously, I'd been nominated as a producer on Rhino's R&B box set and as a producer/album notes writer on the Ray Charles 50th anniversary box set. After losing a second time I said, "How do you lose with Ray Charles?"
Ray has long been my hero and I have produced and/or annotated eight reissues of his music. I consider him the most important musical figure of the second half of the 20th century.
Once, I got to produce a track with Ray singing a duet with Lou Rawls. Prior to the date, I asked my old friend, Jerry Wexler, if he had any advice. Jerry was Ray's producer at Atlantic Records. He said, "Man, you don't produce Ray Charles. You just get out of his way and let him do his thing," which is exactly what I did. This sightless genius took the 24-track from my hands, threaded it through his machine, listened and said, "That's Fathead on the solo, right?" I answered in the affirmative. He felt the solo should occur eight bars earlier and proceeded to cut my tape with a razor, while I quivered at the thought of him ruining a $10,000 session. It turned out he was right and made the edit perfectly! A blind man.
Unlike the many sycophants who kissed the ring of the Great Man, I always talked to him man-to-man and, while I would never say we were friends, I believe he respected me for that. Occasionally, he'd call after hearing a particular favorite song on my radio show and reminisce about the old days. Then I might not hear from him for another six months or more.
I am grateful to Bill Belmont of Fantasy/Concord Records and David Brokaw of the Brokaw Company for recommending me for this job. Without their friendship, there'd be no shiny GRAMMY on the shelf in my living room, where it will sit proudly for the rest of my life.
(Billy Vera earned his first GRAMMY for Best Album Notes for Ray Charles' Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles at the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards in February. He has three prior GRAMMY nominations, including two for Best Historical Album for The R&B Box: 30 Years OF Rhythm And Blues and Ray Charles Genius And Soul: The 50th Anniversary Collection in 1995 and 1997, respectively.)