meta-scriptGabe Roth Of The Dap-Kings Talks Sharon Jones Legacy & New Covers Album |
Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Photo: Jacob Blickenstaff


Gabe Roth Of The Dap-Kings Talks Sharon Jones Legacy & New Covers Album

We spoke to the Daptone Records co-founder and Dap-Kings bassist ahead of the release of the lively new Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings album—a treasure trove of covers from the archives, arriving four years after the loss of the soulful singer

GRAMMYs/Oct 29, 2020 - 03:14 am

There's a special power, a comforting feeling, in truly timeless music, in songs and rhythms that age like a fine wine and remain deeply meaningful as the years go by. Think of the gems from artists like Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire and Prince, tracks that can be played at every wedding, birthday party and graduation and never get old. At Daptone Records in Brooklyn, N.Y., launched by musicians Gabe Roth and Neal Sugarman in 2002, creating authentic, soulful, timeless music runs through everything they do and release.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings are one of the label's acts that truly embodied this ethos. Jones' powerhouse, rich vocals and ecstatic, inviting stage presence paired with the funky instrumentation of the full band—the all-stars musicians of Daptone, including Roth on bass and Sugarman on tenor saxaphone—was an energic force of pure soul and heart. Sadly, their leading lady died in November 2016 from pancreatic cancer at age 60.

Their final studio album, Soul of a Woman, was recorded with her but released in November 2017. Now, on Oct. 23, the world was gifted a treasure trove of gems from the archive of the GRAMMY-nominated band in the form of 13 lively covers on Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In).

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Read: Terence Blanchard On The Music Behind 'Da 5 Bloods,' Working With Spike Lee And The Lasting Impact Of Marvin Gaye

We spoke to Roth—who was also the primary songwriter and producer of the group—ahead of the release of the new covers album to learn more about compiling the project, the stories behind the sessions, Jones' legacy and the not-so-secret magic of Daptone.

Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Rendition Was In) comes out soon. What does it mean to you and the band to share this collection of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings music with the world?

It's nice to be able to keep putting out music. We recorded a lot of stuff over the years, and a lot of it didn't come out or was never really widely released. We did songs for commercials and movies and different things, and outtakes from albums and stuff. So it's cool to be able to keep putting stuff out, and hopefully introduce some new people to Sharon and all her music and to the band.

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font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:550; line-height:18px;"> View this post on Instagram</div></div><div style="padding: 12.5% 0;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; margin-bottom: 14px; align-items: center;"><div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(0px) translateY(7px);"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; height: 12.5px; transform: rotate(-45deg) translateX(3px) translateY(1px); width: 12.5px; flex-grow: 0; margin-right: 14px; margin-left: 2px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; height: 12.5px; width: 12.5px; transform: translateX(9px) translateY(-18px);"></div></div><div style="margin-left: 8px;"> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 20px; width: 20px;"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 2px solid transparent; border-left: 6px solid #f4f4f4; border-bottom: 2px solid transparent; transform: translateX(16px) translateY(-4px) rotate(30deg)"></div></div><div style="margin-left: auto;"> <div style=" width: 0px; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-right: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(16px);"></div> <div style=" background-color: #F4F4F4; flex-grow: 0; height: 12px; width: 16px; transform: translateY(-4px);"></div> <div style=" width: 0; height: 0; border-top: 8px solid #F4F4F4; border-left: 8px solid transparent; transform: translateY(-4px) translateX(8px);"></div></div></div></a> <p style=" margin:8px 0 0 0; padding:0 4px;"> <a href=";utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#000; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none; word-wrap:break-word;" target="_blank">@sharonjones &amp; the Dap-King’s new collection of covers will be available on LP as an exclusive RSD Black Friday release. The LP features a tranluscent blue with black splatter color vinyl. Also available digitally October 23rd. Listen to the new single, &#34;Little by Little” via link in bio. Throughout their career, Sharon Jones &amp; the Dap-Kings remained in high demand both publicly and privately to recreate and often re-imagine songs by other artists. More often than not, these covers were recorded by request – commissioned for placement in movies, television programs, tribute albums, or for samples. This album compiles some of their most popular as well as never-before-heard renditions. #RSDBF #sharonjones #daptonerecords #daptone #sjdk</a></p> <p style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;">A post shared by <a href=";utm_campaign=loading" style=" color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px;" target="_blank"> Daptone Records</a> (@daptonerecords) on <time style=" font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;" datetime="2020-10-08T18:42:49+00:00">Oct 8, 2020 at 11:42am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote><script async src="//"></script>

What was it like working on the album, digging through the archives and putting it all together?

You know, it's bittersweet. It's hard. Obviously, I miss Sharon a lot. She was my sister. And hearing her voice sometimes tears me up a little bit. But is also pretty cool to kind of revisit all those things, particularly because these sessions, we went for all these covers, and they came from so many different places. Some of them went back really far into the beginning of her career, stuff we recorded in 2000, and some of them were more recent, shorter before she passed. And so it was kind of cool to revisit all those old sessions, and go through a bunch of stuff.

It was a little bit of a hard process picking out what to put on there because there's actually a lot of covers and stuff that we didn't put on there. But between the band and everybody at the label—and everybody kind of fought it out—I think we got it down to a really nice collection of songs. It was a little bit bittersweet but it was fun too.

And it was a lot of research trying to find the old tapes for some of this stuff, stuff that I remembered recording, but nobody remembered where the tapes were or what it was called. There was a little bit of just excavation on it.

I really like the range of genres and decades that the music came from. There's Stevie Wonder, there's disco, there's folk. It is really cool to hear all those different sounds with the sort of soulful flavor that Sharon and the band give to it.

Yeah. It was fun to try to—putting it together, it gives a sense of that. I mean, the band's mostly done originals, particularly on the albums and stuff. We haven't done many covers. But something about when you do a cover tune, in some ways, it kind of lays bare the sound of Sharon and the band because it takes all the composition and arrangement out of it, and says, "Okay. Well, this is how these people make music." If you take a song you already know, this is what it sounds like coming through these people, in this room. That's cool in some ways. It kind of distills the sound of the band in a particular way.

And I think particularly when you start looking at, well, here's a Stevie Wonder song ["Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours"]. Here's a Prince song ["Take Me With U"]. Here's a Dusty Springfield song ["Little by Little"], and you kind of span the genres, like you said, I think that it even more clearly illustrates what the sound of the band is. Because as unique as all these different things sound, there's this common feeling that runs throughout it. Regardless of what song it is that the band was playing, there's a common sound. And so it's kind of cool to bring that into focus a little bit.

Gabe Roth in the studio | Photo: Bryan Ponce

That's so true. Do you have a favorite memory—it can be more than one—from recording any of these covers?

Oh man. There's a lot of stuff on there that I really enjoyed. Even the earliest one on there is "What Have You Done for Me Lately?," which I think was one of a couple that was on the album. And that was for the first album I did with Sharon, and we'd done 45s and stuff before that. It was actually my sister's idea to try to cover a Janet Jackson tune to get something from the late '80s and put our sound on it.

So that was pretty fun, that one in particular, because I remember trying to rearrange it. And then I think for the press release for that record, when that 45 came out, we did a fake newspaper article about how Sharon was suing Janet Jackson for stealing her song, which of course wasn't true. It was just a cover of a Janet Jackson song, but we tried to fool people into thinking this was the original version. We had a lot of fun with that. And Sharon really dug into it over the years. That was a good one.

That's the other thing, most of these were done on commission. Meaning, somebody came to us and said, "Hey, we need a version of the Dap-Kings playing this particular song," either for a TV commercial or a movie, or for a sample for a rap, or whatever it was. For a compilation, a tribute record, or something. There are all these different reasons over the years that people would come to us and say, "Hey, can you do a cover of this song for us?"

And it puts you in a different mind space than when you're working on your own records, your own music. I mean, you're doing something for somebody else. And there's something in some ways—I don't want to say you take it less seriously—it's always kind of casual and loose. There's always a more laid-back approach. I think you hear it, even on [Musique's 1978 disco track] "In the Bush" or something like that. We never would've thought to cover a tune like that. That was for the soundtrack to The Wolf of Wall Street.

They didn't end up using it, but they asked us to record it. We ended up being the wedding band in one scene in that movie. They had us record all these songs and they only ended up using "Goldfinger" and one other one, "Baby Got Back," which is a really weird one. But we recorded a lot of stuff for it and "In the Bush" was something we recorded relatively quickly, and didn't really overthink it, we just had fun with it. I think that's why we tried to do a cover that was a little more lighthearted for this one too.

And even though I'm real proud of them, they came out great, at the time we weren't really thinking of them as an album or something that was even—a lot of them we were assuming would be anonymous.

And it's interesting because I think some of the tunes on there, for example, like a Stevie Wonder cover or the Gladys Knight cover ["Giving Up"] on it, those were tunes that people asked us to do, basically replays. Meaning, they couldn't afford the original master so they figured they'd pay the publishing, and then we would play the tune the same way. That happens often for commercials and sometimes for other things, where somebody wants the music, but they can't afford the Motown license, or something. So those are types of things we'd done over the years, kind of anonymously for commercials or something like that. The publishers still get their money, but basically we were trying to recreate the masters.

And those were interesting because they were really learning experiences for us, not just as musicians, but as far as arrangement, recording and everything. Listening to a Motown tune or something like that, and really trying to get your head inside how they put this together, exactly what every instrument's doing and how they sound, and trying to recreate that, those are kind of fun.

And then there's other tunes that are the opposite of that, like the Prince cover. That was something that we tried to deconstruct as much as possible, to the point it was barely recognizable. We were like, "Okay, we really want to do our own thing with this," and see how much the composition would tolerate as far as being taken apart before it is completely unrecognizable.

So some of those things, we really were much more creative as far as rearranging them, and doing our own take on them. And the album has a nice blend of stuff that was very kind of rote replays of us trying to make it exactly sound like Motown or something, and other things that are very much reimagined. And then other things that are kind of in the middle, like a casual cover of a tune. So it was pretty fun to put together.

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That's really interesting and something I never really thought about, the composition of cover songs for ads or whatnot. I guess I assumed you could buy the sheet music, but obviously you're not just playing it on the piano, it's with the band. So, how do you approach it? Especially with a song like "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," that's so well known. How do you get to the "recipe" of what makes it sound like the original?

I mean, the sheet music wouldn't help you that much, unless somebody had really chartered out every instrument or something. You just listen. You get in the studio, and you put it on, everybody listens to exactly what's happening. "Oh, there's two drum sets, one's on the left, one's on the right. One's playing these fills. One's playing this rhythm. Then there's the tambourine, and this is the rhythm. There is a piano. Piano is kind of buried. It's dark, it's down there, it's playing this chord, but playing that inversion."

Just getting the details of every part of it, the horns, and every layer of your arrangement, with every guitar. And particularly with the Motown stuff, it tends to be very layered. It's not three or four people. It tends to be a lot of musicians playing a lot of different things. And the way it's mixed, it's kind of subtle. Not everything is upfront. There's some things kind of buried in the mix. And it's fun, particularly when it's a tune like that, that's not just iconic, but a tune that you've known and loved and listened to your whole life, because you think you know it. But then when you get in and try to pull it back layer by layer, and really figure out exactly what's going on in all the instruments and how the arrangement comes together, you realize all these cool things that are going on that you never really noticed. You might've kind of felt them, but you never really noticed some piano or second drum set, or third guitar part, or whatever it is, these things in the background.

So it's a little bit painstaking, but it's really fun. And for me, at least, and I think for everybody it's kind of educational to hear these great pieces of music that you think you know, but you go back into them and it's like an academic exercise. Like, you may read Shakespeare, but then you go to a literature class and they go into it and say, "Look what he did here. This is iambic pentameter. And this is a sonnet, and a couplet." Just figuring out the language, and the patterns, and the intricacies of why something works, that was really interesting. And I think stuff like that has really contributed to the sound of the band.

I mean, even things that we didn't record, particularly at the beginning of our career, the Dap-Kings and Sharon, we always used to do covers and stuff in our live shows. We'd be on the road in the van listening to the same mixtapes together, and there'd be some song we'd all be real turned on by. And then we'd work it out in soundcheck, and play it as part of the show. I think doing that is really important. Right now, I think people shy away from covers because they feel like there's some kind of lesser integrity or something to playing a cover than to be playing originals all the time. But the thing about playing a cover tune is, there's great music that came before us, and it's pretty narcissistic to think there's nothing worth playing that you didn't write.

When you dig into that music, particularly music that you love and that influences you, and you play it, you feel it differently than when you just listen to it. Your muscles start going through the emotions of those musicians you love. And you take it into your subconscious, into your bloodstream. People are always talking about their influences, but when you actually play that music, it becomes part of you in a deeper way. So I think covers are really important for every band. I mean, not as much that people need to hear them play it, but it's just good for the musicianship, and the sound of a group to be able to kind of throw out those things, and play them, the exercise of it.

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I'm always drawn to covers because I feel like, in most cases, it brings new life or a new imagining to a song. And it's cool when, especially if we're talking about younger people, a cover could bring them to the original artist.

Sure. I mean, it can be an arrow in both directions. It can be people who don't know who Sharon Jones is, but are avid Stevie Wonder fans. They may hear that tune, and find out about Sharon and all of a sudden discover a whole new universe of music. But even more so, it could be Sharon Jones fans that maybe never got that deep into Gladys Knight or something like that. They hear that like, "Man, that tune is amazing." And they go check out the original, like, "Oh, that's even better." Then they check out even more stuff. So yeah, it's a really good way to kind of bridge worlds of music, and for people to check out more stuff, find music that they love.

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And for the album, did each song have to get okayed by the artist or their estate? Or how does recording covers work, generally?

Well, there's a statutory rate when you perform somebody's composition. And so whoever wrote the song gets paid a certain amount of money when it gets recorded and reproduced. If you start changing it, like Al Yankovic or somebody does, you really start changing the composition, then you have to go to them and get permission and work it out with them because it becomes a derivative work. That's a little complicated. But if you're doing a straight cover, like pretty much everything on this record, and you're respecting the lyrics and the melodies of the original, you don't really need permission. You just have to pay them the publishing side of the income. It's their income, whoever wrote the song. Not the artist [unless they wrote it] to be clear, though, because it's not their performance.

I think the biggest thing that people tend to not understand, and it leads to a lot of confusion—there's two different copyrights to any record. There's the copyright to the recording itself, that performance, that piece of tape that has that performance on it, by that artist, those musicians, that singer. And then there's the composition. And they're two totally different copyrights. For example, "This Land is Your Land" was written by Woody Guthrie, he owns that composition. It doesn't matter who performs it. He owns it. If you want to use it and make money off it, you have to pay, the publishing money has to go to him. However, whoever performs it and records it, they own the master copyright, the recording copyright, to that version. So our cover of his tune, then it's our master and his publishing.

It's like when the Beatles did "Twist and Shout," the Beatles or Capitol Records or whoever's in charge, owns the master rights to that, but the publishing is owned but the Isley Brothers. It's always going to be owned by the Isley Brothers. So it's interesting. And there's, there's a lot deeper stuff as far as the way it works with radio income and public income, and how it's different in America. In America, when your song is put on the radio, the artist gets zero.

I know, it's crazy. Shifting gears a bit, what does Sharon's legacy mean to you?

She wasn't just a great singer, but an unbelievable performer. She was really like a superhero. Her live show, and how she was on stage, and her energy, and soulfulness, and the way she connected with the audience and stuff? Man, I don't think there'll ever be another like her. That's, to me, one of the most important things, as far as my responsibility to try to not let that be forgotten, to let her stay in the mind of everybody long after I'm gone.

Personally for me, she's probably the closest person in my life I ever lost. And she was a sister to me, and she basically helped build my whole adult life and my career. And even the way I feed my kids today, I know it's all basically on the back of her, and the way that she hit the stage, that everything came out of that. All the success the band had, and all the success Daptone Records had, and everything else. And my ability to make money as a producer and a songwriter and everything else, it all came out of her sweating on stage.

I miss her a lot. I'm very grateful to her, and I do everything I can to try to let people know about who she was. As years go by, and the people who were at her shows get older, and the younger people aren't familiar with her, and there's new scenes popping up, and she becomes a little bit less and less connected to the present, I feel it's important, particularly with records like this, to remind people who the queen was, and make sure she doesn't get forgotten. It's important to keep her music fresh in everybody's ears not just because she deserves it, but because I think people deserve it. They deserve to hear her voice.

"I feel it's important, particularly with records like this, to remind people who the queen was, and make sure she doesn't get forgotten. It's important to keep her music fresh in everybody's ears not just because she deserves it, but because I think people deserve it. They deserve to hear her voice."

I love that. And can you give me a little bit of the origin story of forming Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and Daptone Records? How did everything sort of start?

Well in the '90s, I had a different record label, Desco Records. At Desco, we had brought Lee Fields in to do some records. And we brought Sharon in too. At the time was going out with Joe Hornback, the saxophone player, who I used to play with in our band at the time, the Soul Providers. He brought her in to sing background. And we hit it off, and she started singing bits and 45s for Desco. And then when Desco shut its doors around the turn of the millennium, we kept working together. We kept doing shows and recording together. We worked on an album, and we ended up putting a band together that was kind of all the all-stars at Desco. Homer Steinweiss, Leon Michels, Neal Sugarman and Binky Griptite, all the guys that were the best musicians coming out of that old stable became her backing band, became the Dap-Kings. And I think one of the first gigs we had, we went to Barcelona for a month to do a residency.

That's really when it crystallized. We were playing the same club every night, five nights a week, and staying in apartments, getting fed and taken care of. I think that's when the band really kind of gelled and became a sound. And then from then on out, we were off to the races. We got in the back of a van, and rolled around the U.S., and Canada, and England, and Europe, and just kept touring little by little. And it really became—some people came and left the band—a real, real tight family of people. Really it always felt like brothers and sisters. It was a really tight group, and still is, a lot of the band, to this day.

So we just got rolling, man. And there were some big moments. We had some records that did well and sold a couple of hundred thousand copies, and we hit some TV shows. And the band ended up backing Amy Winehouse [on Black To Black]. And I think to a lot of people from the outside, they would say like, "Oh, that is when you guys really exploded." But, from my perspective, the band never really had that kind of overnight anything. It felt very gradual. We would go play a club in Detroit. We'd set up on top of the pool tables in a little bar and play for 30 people. We've played shows that had less people in the audience than the stage.

But then when we'd go back, people told their friends and it was 80 people. Then it was a couple of hundred, then it was 800. There was a thousand, to the point where there's a lot of cities all over the world we were playing with 1000 or 2000 people, sometimes more. Sometimes 3000 people, outside of festivals which were always huge crowds. But it was real gradual. And they were all places that we went to over and over again. Little towns in France and stuff, that we'd go play and start out in somebody's basement or at some restaurant or something. And the next time we'd play a club, and the next time play a theater, next time headline a festival.

So it was a lot of hard work, but the thing about it is I think it was always tied, like I said, back to Sharon hitting the stage with this energy, and this rhythm, and the band being the baddest band in the land. Everybody linking up, those shows were just fire, man. The energy was so high and it was just a really unique experience. And I think once people saw a show, they told their sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers and cousins and boyfriends and neighbors, and the next time we come back, there'd always be two, three times as many people. And those people would tell their friends.

I think it was very personal for the fans. I think it was something that we always had a very direct relationship with the fans. And a lot of that, again, was Sharon being on stage. The way that she approached the show is coming out of [singing in] church, and even coming out of playing weddings where she didn't see herself as some magical artist that was above everyone, looking down and blessing people with her music from the stage. She was very much an equal. Everybody in the room, her, and the band, and the audience was all part of the energy. We'd get worked up together and sweat it out together. I think people really connected with that.

That was how that band grew, always out of that. And even though we had some very good people helping us, publicists and booking agents and everything else, it really always came down to what she could do with that band on stage. Like I said, it built everything.

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Daptone Records is loved for its classic funky sound and the soulful essence that all of your artists embody. What do you think the Daptones "secret" is? And then what do you look for when you sign artists?

Well, it's not very much of a secret because it's a particular group of people, you know what I mean? It's those musicians. It's Homer Steinweiss, it's Dave Guy. Joe Crispiano. It's people that have a certain sound, and have not just a common love for music and for the kind of music they want to make, but the philosophy. The philosophy in the studio, this kind of no bulls**t approach to music—the feeling is the only thing that's important. And it's not important what you think somebody is going to buy, or how fast you can play, or to show off as a musician how clever you are. It's about the feeling, and whatever you can do individually to help collectively make the thing feel better, that's the most important thing. That's what makes it soulful music, regardless of the genre.

And I think that unique group of people, including Charles Bradley, and Naomi Shelton, Cliff Driver, and The Frightnrs and Victor Axelrod, there's a lot of people, but all the people in the roster, there's a reason they stuck around. And the reason they gel together and made so much music together is that we all had something in common in the way we approached music, and the way we put heart and sweat into it, and took the ego out of it.

And I think that's kind of the sound. And not getting distracted by anything else, not getting distracted by what did they do at Motown, or is this a vintage microphone, or whatever that stuff is, all distractions. Or how clever is this thing I wrote? Or how impressive is this? Or how much do you think they'll play this on the radio? Those are all distractions. We just try to concentrate on how does the music feel. That's the driving force.

Like I said, I don't think there's any secret to it. That and really hard work. And being honest, like no bullshit. I think that's a big part of it, too. In the studio, most of the stuff we record, we go back into the control room and we say, "Nah, that's whack. You're playing too slow. I'm playing too... This could be better. That part feels dumb. That bridge is corny." A lot of that. A lot of hate coming back. But it's really, that's what you need to do.

I've been in sessions, particularly out in L.A., where somebody hired me, and you go in and play a take and everybody goes in the control room and starts immediately slapping each other on the back. Kissing each other asses, "Man, that was magic. Oh, man, so beautiful." And I'm thinking, "Man, you guys are full of s**t." At Daptone, that's not how we make music. We're very, very honest about it. We're not going to let the emperor's new clothes s**t slide by, where everyone tells each other it sounds good. If it doesn't feel good, somebody will open their mouth.

And it's not just the musicians. Nydia Davila at the label, whose run marketing and everything else for over a decade, she's the same way. I'll make some record and I'm proud as hell of it. I think we killed it. I'll be like, "What do you think?" And she'd just be, "Meh. Not great." And honestly, that's what makes the stuff good. It's not just what you do. It's what you don't do. All the chords you don't play, all the songs you don't put out. And being kind of hard on yourself, and working hard, demanding more of yourself, and doing stuff over and over and over again until you got it the way you want it.

Man, you listen to these old outtakes, and you hear, on some marvelous track or something, somebody say, "Okay, take 58." Nowadays, people get to take four or five and they start saying, "Oh, if we don't get it by now, we're never going to get it." And I'm thinking like, "You're all lazy, man. You've got to put some work into it." Anyways, I think hard work and feeling, there's no substitute for that stuff.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring


Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Graphic of 2023 GRAMMYs orange centered black background
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List