Photo: Blair Getz Mezibov
Behind Little Big Town's Biggest Hits: Funny & Heartfelt Stories From The Country Group's Career-Defining Singles
Little Big Town's Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook commemorate the band's 20 years together by taking a look back at hits like "Pontoon" and "Girl Crush," as well as songs from their 10th studio album, 'Mr. Sun.'
This year marks 20 years since country foursome Little Big Town released their debut album. And almost more impressively, the band is still composed of original members: Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook.
The quartet has created a legacy in their two decades together, releasing soulful ballads and jovial party starters that have helped the three-time GRAMMY winners become one of the most critically acclaimed country groups of their generation. Along the way, they've forged a familial bond that Westbrook and Sweet insist hasn't wavered. Their secret? "Lots of whiskey," Westbrook jokes.
The more serious answer, though, is that they have created an environment of love and respect among the band. "The number one thing is us just trying to respect everyone's lives, we love each other and respect each other," Westbrook adds. "And we try to take care of each other the best we can. It's not perfect, but we try really hard."
Little Big Town's 20-year anniversary was marked by the release of their 10th studio album, Mr. Sun. The album is a representation of both how they've evolved as a group, and the extensive time they've spent developing their sound. "We keep growing and evolving. We know who we are. We get inspired and excited about learning, about creating new things that we haven't done before," Westbrook says. "I feel like we're just scratching the surface of what we can do."
Just after Mr. Sun's arrival, GRAMMY.com sat down with Westbrook and Sweet over Zoom to look back at some of their biggest hits and get better acquainted with some tunes from their latest set.
"Little White Church," The Reason Why (2010)
Westbrook: We knew that we loved it. It felt fun. And it just had a great attitude and spirit to it. So I think we had high hopes for it, but you never know. I just remember the whole writing process of that back in the day, when we were working with Wayne Kirkpatrick, who was such a godsend in our career and early on. I remember writing it that day, [and] it being a lot of fun. We wrote it pretty quickly and then headed to a barbecue joint to celebrate. We always celebrate with food. [Laughs]
[For the video] I just remember that we were out in the woods. A ways out there by that weird spooky ghost story. That was the weirdest weekend. I lost my treasured 1932 Gibson guitar.
Sweet: Also, I remember us walking forever. It was a lot of walking and there was a camera guy that was following us and had to run backwards as he was filming the whole thing. And I think he had had too much to drink the night before. That didn't end well.
"Boondocks," The Road to Here (2005)
Westbrook: We were working with Wayne Kirkpatrick, like Jimi had mentioned earlier, who is just a beautiful human. He was a godsend to our life. We actually were working on another song called "Bones" that is on the same record. Those two songs kind of burst together. "Bones" and "Boondocks'' became something that were the cornerstones for that particular record.
We were talking about how they told us we were a put-together band and we were like, "No, we're, we're not. We're who we are." We had to speak from where we came from, and that's where "Boondocks" came from.
Sweet: There's nothing like playing that song. It's still my favorite thing. No matter where we are. It's definitely fun going home and I mean, I can't help but think of that. Especially when we have friends in the audience, like people I grew up with. You can't help but feel that connection, and it gives you a sense of pride. You feel like they know your story. And it's just so much fun every night. The reaction is so heartfelt from the crowd with that one as well — man, it'll lift you.
Westbrook: We performed with Lindsey Buckingham in 2006, on CMT crossroads. And he had something really unique to say about it. He was like, "it doesn't matter where you're from. This song just resonates with where you came from." And that's what we intended when we were writing it.
"Pontoon," Tornado (2012)
Westbrook: I got an email from a friend saying "hey, listen to this song," and it kind of passed by for a little while. Then we went back later and listened to it again. And it really struck a chord. It's just such a quirky cool song. The groove to it is so good. That's what we loved, that swagger that it had in the groove. People really grabbed a hold of it when it came out.
Sweet: There's so much joy in that song. When we heard it, that's what we felt from it. It was instant. It had a vibe, it had a quirkiness to it that we loved.
Westbrook: It definitely goes over well in festivals — summertime, everybody hanging out with drinks in their hand. A lot of times we will start the shows off with that, because [with] that lick, immediately everybody knows what it is.
"Day Drinking," Pain Killer (2014)
Sweet: That was me and Philip and Karen writing with Troy Verges and Barry Dean. That was just one of those great days hanging out with your friends. Troy brought his mando in that day and started the vibe off with that lick. We began day drinking, because we felt it was only appropriate.
"Girl Crush," Pain Killer (2014)
Westbrook: We knew from the beginning that there were interpretations, you know, at country radio, that kind of caused a little stir. And I love it. That's the beauty of music — it's people's stories. And those stories are interpreted differently in all kinds of ways.
I'm just proud of that song. That was such a catapulting moment for our band. That song is so special, and it does resonate deeply with people, and we're grateful for that, for sure.
Sweet: It was just nice to — I mean, in a weird way — to stir it up. It got people thinking, it got people moving, and differently than any other song we'd ever put out before. So, for that reason, I really am grateful as well.
We were lucky — the girls in our band went to write with <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/lori-mckenna/19192">[Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, aka the Love Junkies] literally the day after they wrote that song. And they were saying in their session, "play something you just wrote" and that's what they played.
Westbrook: Karen and Kimberly put that one on lockdown instantly. Like, "you can't play that for anybody else."
It was very intentional to make the track feel skeletal and haunting and, like, empty, because that's what your emotion would feel. And that was definitely the goal.
"Better Man," The Breaker (2016)
Sweet: We've known Taylor Swift for a long time, since she was just in the beginning in the business. And we would do label showcases together when she was really young, and we recognized the poise she had. So we always stayed connected and have always been friends. She had our emails and such.
She sent me an email and said, "Hey, I have the song. I have the demo. I just thought about your harmonies when I was writing it. And so check it out. No pressure."
That was 2016. We were touring with Luke Bryan and we were making a record with Pharrell Williams [2016's Wanderlust]. I played it for the guys on tour and we were all like, "Holy smokes, man, this is a really good song," and I [knew I] needed to record it. I am just thankful she sent it to us.
"Mr. Sun," Mr. Sun (2022)
Westbrook: Sarah Buxton sent us that song, and from the first time we heard it, it has such a vibe to it. Another really classic melody. I love a good melancholy song. And that's what "Mr. Sun" feels like. Because you think with it being "Mr. Sun," it's going to be some bright shiny song, but it's a little blue.
"Rich Man," Mr. Sun (2022)
Sweet: Jimi wrote this song. I've been hearing this song in the dressing rooms and backstage for about 10 years. He said it wasn't really quite finished. We actually attempted to record this several years back, but it was one of those that was in the ether. Then Jimi said he finished it. And I said, "Man, that's just beautiful."
We were playing new music for some friends and they were like "play something we haven't heard." We played them "Rich Man," and their reaction was so authentic and visceral.
We were done with the record. And then the fact that we went in there and finished the album with "Rich Man" was just perfect. It was like the perfect little piece to the puzzle that we didn't even know [we needed]. It just made it feel so beautiful. It was perfect for this record.
Westbrook: It's one that it just kept hanging around. I would always come back to it, and then, maybe a year or so ago, finally felt like I wrapped it up like I wanted to. I wasn't even sure that anybody would even hear it. It was kind of my own. It's my own story in my heart for my family. But it's really cool that it found its way on the record.
"Three Whiskeys and the Truth," Mr. Sun (2022)
Sweet: Karen, Kimberly and Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, they get together and they didn't invite the boys. But they wrote this together and it's just so beautiful. I think it's just one of the most beautiful melodies.
Westbrook: Haunting as well. You feel that loneliness.
Sweet: Kimberly always says this in interviews — when they get together, like the girls and the Love Junkies, it's a safe place. It's a place where you can just speak your heart, your emotions. And they do that. And man, what beautiful things come out of that room.
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How To Watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," Featuring Performances From John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, Weezer & More
The tribute to the Beach Boys will also feature performances from St. Vincent, My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Charlie Puth, and many others, as well as special appearances by Tom Hanks, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, and more.
After six decades of game-changing innovation and culture-shifting hits, the Beach Boys stand tall as one of the most legendary and influential American bands of all time.
Now, the iconic band will be honored by the Recording Academy and CBS with a star-studded "Beach Boys party" for the ages: "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys," a two-hour tribute special featuring a lineup of heavy hitters, including John Legend, Brandi Carlile, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Weezer, and many more, who will perform all your favorite Beach Boys classics.
Wondering when, where and how to watch "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys"? Here's everything you need to know.
When & Where Will The Special Air?
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will air on Sunday, April 9, from 8 – 10 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.* A one-hour version of the tribute will air on MTV at a future date to be announced.
Who Will Perform, And What Will They Perform?
The following is a list of artists and performances featured on "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys":
Andy Grammer performing "Darlin'"
Beck performing "Sloop John B"
Beck & Jim James performing"Good Vibrations"
Brandi Carlile performing "In My Room"
Brandi Carlile & John Legend performing "God Only Knows"
Charlie Puth performing "Wouldn't It Be Nice"
Fall Out Boy performing "Do You Wanna Dance"
Foster The People performing "Do It Again"
Hanson performing "Barbara Ann"
Norah Jones performing"The Warmth of the Sun"
Lady A performing "Surfer Girl"
John Legend performing "Sail on Sailor"
Little Big Town performing "Help Me Rhonda"
Luke Spiller & Taylor Momsen performing "Surfin' USA / Fun Fun Fun"
Michael McDonald & Take 6 performing "Don't Worry Baby"
Mumford & Sons performing "I Know There's an Answer"
My Morning Jacket performing "I Get Around"
Pentatonix performing "Heroes and Villains"
LeAnn Rimes performing "Caroline No"
St. Vincent performing "You Still Believe in Me"
Weezer performing "California Girls"
Read More: The Beach Boys' Sail On Sailor Reframes Two Obscure 1970s Albums. Why Were They Obscure In The First Place?
Who Are The Special Guests & Presenters?
In addition to the musical performances, the special features appearances by Drew Carey, Tom Hanks, Jimmy Jam, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, John Stamos, and Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr.
Beach Boys core members Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and David Marks are featured guests.
What's The Context For The Special?
Filmed at the iconic Dolby Theater in Los Angeles after the 2023 GRAMMYs, "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" airs during the year-long celebration of the Beach Boys' 60th anniversary. Counting more than 100 million records sold worldwide and recipients of the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Beach Boys are one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful bands of all time, and their music has been an indelible part of American history for more than six decades.
Keep an eye on GRAMMY.com for more exclusive content leading up to "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
*Paramount+ Premium subscribers will have access to stream live via the live feed of their local CBS affiliate on the service as well as on-demand. Essential tier subscribers will have access to the on-demand the following day after the episode airs.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys Tribute Concert To Feature Performances By John Legend, Brandi Carlile, St. Vincent, Beck, Fall Out Boy, Mumford & Sons, Weezer & More; Tickets On Sale Now
Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded lineup that also includes Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, My Morning Jacket, Norah Jones, Pentatonix, Lady A, and many others.
A few days after the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy, along with Tenth Planet Productions and CBS, will present A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys, a special tribute concert honoring the legendary, GRAMMY-nominated music icons, the Beach Boys. Taking place Wednesday, Feb. 8, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, the live concert special will feature a star-studded performer lineup that includes GRAMMY-winning artists and past and current GRAMMY nominees including Beck, Brandi Carlile, Fall Out Boy, Andy Grammer, Hanson, Norah Jones, Lady A, John Legend, Little Big Town, Michael McDonald, Mumford & Sons, My Morning Jacket, Pentatonix, Charlie Puth, LeAnn Rimes, St. Vincent, Take 6, and Weezer, who will all celebrate and honor the Beach Boys’ everlasting music and impactful career.
Tickets for A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys are available now.
A GRAMMY Salute to the Beach Boys will air on the CBS Television Network and will be available live and on demand on Paramount+ at a later date. More info on the event is below.
Wednesday, Feb. 8
Doors: 5:30 p.m. PT
Concert: 6:30 p.m. PT
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Take A Look Back At The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds | For The Record
Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Watch Jonas Brothers, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Shaggy & More Discuss The Legacy And Impact Of Paul Simon Backstage At "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To Paul Simon"
Performers at the star-studded tribute from the Jonas Brothers to Brad Paisley to Angélique Kidjo explain why Simon deserves the highest praise in the echelon of American singer/songwriters.
Paul Simon may have won 16 GRAMMYs throughout his illustrious career, but he's getting another honor from the Recording Academy — something much bigger than a golden gramophone.
On Dec. 21, "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon," a two-hour special illuminating the 16-time GRAMMY winner's songbook, will air on the CBS Television Network from 9-11:00 p.m. PT/ET.
The concert features Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Eric Church, Rhiannon Giddens, Susanna Hoffs, Jonas Brothers, Angélique Kidjo, Ledisi, Little Big Town, Dave Matthews, Brad Paisley, Billy Porter, Sting, Take 6, Irma Thomas, Shaggy and Jimmy Cliff, Trombone Shorty and Stevie Wonder.
Additionally, Sofia Carson, Herbie Hancock, Woody Harrelson, Dustin Hoffman, Elton John, Folake Olowofoyeku, and Oprah Winfrey also make special appearances.
Below, watch exclusive clips where many of these artists express what Simon, a leading light of singing and songwriting, means to them.
The Jonas Brothers
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.
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 GRAMMY.com'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 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'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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