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 [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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo Credit: CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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 re-aired 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.
Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" will re-air on Monday, May 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
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 Monday, May 29, at 9 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"
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"
Who Are The Special Guests & Presenters?
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.
Photo Credit: CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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.
Updated Saturday, April 9, to include air date information about "A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys."
"A GRAMMY Salute To The Beach Boys" airs 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.
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.
Wednesday, Feb. 8
Doors: 5:30 p.m. PT
Concert: 6:30 p.m. PT
6801 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
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.
Updated Monday, May 22, to include information about the re-air date for "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon."
"Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon" will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream on demand on Paramount+.
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 May 22 "Homeward Bound: A GRAMMY Salute To The Songs Of Paul Simon," a two-hour special illuminating the 16-time GRAMMY winner's songbook, will re-air on Wednesday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the CBS Television Network, and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
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.
Below, watch exclusive clips where many of these artists express what Simon, a leading light of singing and songwriting, means to them.