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Luke Combs Tracy Chapman at 2024 GRAMMYs
(L-R) Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

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2024 GRAMMYs: Luke Combs & Tracy Chapman Team Up For A Surprise Duet Version Of "Fast Car"

The country singer had a self-proclaimed "cool full-circle moment" with the original "Fast Car" star at the 66th GRAMMY Awards.

GRAMMYs/Feb 5, 2024 - 01:42 am

Luke Combs took the 2024 GRAMMYs stage to perform his GRAMMY-nominated rendition of "Fast Car" — with a little help from none other than Tracy Chapman.

As the song's indelible melody kicked in, the camera panned out to reveal Chapman elegantly strumming her guitar as she traded stanzas with the country singer. "You got a fast car/ Is it fast enough so we can fly away?/ We gotta make a decision/ Leave tonight or live and die this way," Combs crooned before launching into the chorus, which Taylor Swift sang adoringly along to in the audience. 

Combs' cover of Chapman's single from her 1988 debut became a surprise hit after he released it as the second single off his 2023 studio album, Gettin' Old. While the original version became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for Chapman at the start of her career, Combs' countrified take peaked even higher at No. 2 and also reached the top of the Country Airplay chart.

"Fast Car" earned Chapman her own GRAMMY in 1989, when she took home the trophy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The song was also nominated for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year at the ceremony. 

Nearly 35 years later, Combs' cover was also nominated — this time for Best Country Solo Performance. (At the Premiere Ceremony, Chris Stapleton's "White Horse" won the golden gramophone in the Category.)

"It was my favorite song before I even knew what a 'favorite song' was," Combs said of "Fast Car" in the video introducing his performance, later adding, " It can be felt and related to by all kinds of people around the world. Tracy is such an icon and, I mean, one of the best songwriters that I think any of us will ever be around to see. It's just such a cool full-circle moment for me, just to be associated with her, in any way, is super humbling for me."

2024 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

Luke Combs
Luke Combs

Photo: Zack Massey

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Tracing Luke Combs' Journey To 'Fathers & Sons' In 10 Songs, From "Be Careful What You Wish For" To "The Man He Sees In Me"

Country phenom Luke Combs' new album, 'Fathers & Sons,' is a touching tribute to his two boys, and a reflection of his journey as a new father. Here are 10 songs that trace his process of growin' up, gettin' old, and now, watching his sons grow up.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2024 - 07:38 pm

As a country artist of remarkable detail and relatability, Luke Combs has the songwriting muscle to deliver a gut-wrenching punch — and his latest set might be the biggest heart-tugger yet.

On June 14, the country star will release his fifth album, Fathers & Sons, which sees Combs stake his claim on songs about family, devotion and belonging. While those are all themes he's explored throughout his five-album discography, he's never honed them quite like this.

Combs is now a proud papa of two; he and his wife, Nicole, welcomed their first son in 2022 and their second in 2023. Fathers & Sons is a 12-song reflection on his experiences as a dad thus far, as well as the unique bond between parents and children.

The new album's highlights, like the mortality-addressing "In Case I Ain't Around"; the dewy, contemplative "Whoever You Turn Out to Be"; and the meditation on memory "Remember Him That Way," are sure to resonate throughout Combs' sizable fan base and beyond.

It's a natural progression for Combs, who has charted the prizes and pitfalls of growing up since his 2017 debut, This One's for You, whether in hits like his Eric Church collaboration "Does To Me" or deep cuts like "Memories Are Made Of." (He even named Father & Sons' 2022 and 2023 predecessors Growin' Up and Gettin' Old.)

His preternatural knack for a heartfelt story song extends to songs he didn't write, too, as his cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" became his biggest hit to date in 2023 and scored him two GRAMMY nominations at the 2024 GRAMMYs.

The familial sentiments of Fathers & Sons have often appeared in Combs' music as well, making his album full of "dad songs" all the more fitting — and continuing his beloved reputation as one of country music's most relatable superstars.

If you're unfamiliar with Combs' back catalog — or just want a refresher — use these 10 songs to trace his evolution from longing for the carefree days of teenhood to fully embracing fatherhood.

"Be Careful What You Wish For" ('This One's for You,' 2017)

Basically Combs' spin on the Beach Boys' "That's Not Me," "Be Careful What You Wish For" reflects on his adolescence — when he had a fire in his belly to hurtle out of his circumstances into the unknown. The result plants seeds for the realizations he passes to his kin on Fathers & Sons.

In the song, an 18-year-old and newly emancipated Combs says sayonara to his "one-horse" town, before realizing the grass ain't always greener. "Sometimes things ain't what you think they're gonna be," Combs sagely warns in the pre-chorus. "What you want ain't always what you need."

"Memories Are Made Of" ('This One's for You,' 2017)

When you look back on your youth, what stuck in your craw most — generic milestones, or fleeting, stolen moments? Chances are, it's the latter, as Combs memorably argues in another This One's for You cut, another dispatch from his youth that resonates with Fathers & Sons.

Therein, he and his ne'er-do-well friends, fresh out of high school, crack open cold ones under a bright blue sky. "Just a couple buds and a good buzz, that's all it was," he sings in the chorus. "But that's what memories are made of." On Fathers & Sons, he seems to recognize his boys will remember the small moments, too — and those are often the ones worth cherishing most.

"Even Though I'm Leaving" ('What You See is What You Get,' 2019)

Many tracks on Combs' second album, What You See is What You Get, showed his maturation as a man and a songwriter, but one served as his introduction to paternal matters: "Even Though I'm Leaving."

The tear-jerker charts the evolution of a father-son relationship, from Dad evacuating a monster under the bed, to seeing his son off to the military, to eventually saying goodbye before his passing.

As the father assures the son in all of those stages, he'll always be there for his boy, even when he isn't physically there. It marked a poignant foreshadowing to Father & Sons' masterful interrogations of mortality and eternal family bonds.

"Dear Today" ('What You See Is What You Get,' 2019)

As What You See is What You Get winds down, the spectre of time still weighs heavily on Combs. "Dear Today" is just that — a letter to Combs' present self, from his future self. (There's a tint of that on "My Old Man Was Right," the penultimate track on Fathers & Sons.)

"You're the only one with a choice in the matter," tomorrow Luke gently, yet firmly, prods. Call your mom, have a drink with your dad, "put that diamond on her hand." What an effective framing device, to capture the crossroads we all face on the cusp of our thirties — another prelude to Combs' advice to his sons on Fathers & Sons.

"Does to Me (feat. Eric Church)" ('What You See Is What You Get,' 2019)

A few years before welcoming his first son, Combs hinted to Rolling Stone that he was ready to settle down. "I'm almost 30 years old now, and I'm not going to be out at the bar every night," he said in 2019. "I just want to grow up a little bit." "Does to Me" is a terrific inventory of what resources, exactly, he possesses in order to carry out that mission.

He's unflinching about the ways he's an ordinary, average guy. After all, the opening line is "I was a third-string dreamer on a second-place team."

But as "Does to Me" lays down, "achievements" have nothing on qualities that really matter, like being a good brother, or romantic partner. Fertile soil for a real man to grow from — and eventually pass on to his own boys.

"Doin' This" ('Growin' Up,' 2022)

In "Doin' This," Combs cements his life mission — regardless of whether it brings him fame and fortune.

He'd still be Luke Combs even if he wasn't Luke Combs, he explains. Whether at the Grand Ole Opry or some watering hole, picking up a guitar and laying waste to a besotted crowd is why he was put on this planet. "I'd still be doin' this if I weren't doin' this": simple, evocative, masterful.

While "Doin' This" isn't necessarily centered around a theme of family, it makes all the sense in the world that his devotion to his boys is in parallel to his devotion of the craft — proof of which is all over Fathers & Sons.

"Used to Wish I Was" ('Growin' Up,' 2022)

You can only be yourself — that's the central message of this equally great Growin' Up cut, where Combs reflects on all the people he could be, and once ached to be.

He could have finished college — or pursued football, hunting or fishing with more chutzpah — but that's not him. This "North Carolina good ol' boy" is what he is — and he's not losing sleep over that pesky fact anymore. By knowing himself, Combs establishes himself as a man of integrity, which is exactly who his sons need as a role model.

"Where the Wild Things Are" ('Gettin' Old,' 2023)

Across his discography, Combs expertly builds out his family dynamics, and that continues on "Where the Wild Things Are." The song concerns a hell-raising brother, who pointed his Indian Scout motorcycle toward Southern California to indulge in earthly pleasures.

After detailing a wild night of brotherly bonding in the Hollywood Hills, the song ends in tragedy, when the "wild as the devil" brother crashes his motorcycle and perishes. "We buried him out in the wind 'neath the West Coast stars," Combs sings, "out where the wild things are."

If any father's lesson is to be taken away from this song: there's a time and a place to enjoy life in all its wildness, without risking calamity. It continues the life lessons Combs touches on again in "Growin' Up and Gettin' Old," and later on Fathers & Sons.

"Growin' Up and Gettin' Old" ('Gettin' Old,' 2023)

Oh, to be in your early thirties — you can't stay out as late, the hangovers hit harder. Overall, your perspective shifts dramatically, and you realize nothing lasts forever.

"I'm still bending rules, but thinkin' 'fore I break 'em/ And I ain't lost a step, I just look before I take 'em," Combs sings on "Growin' Up and Gettin' Old."

As usual, this ever-nimble songwriter nails this pivotal time of life — and takes a hard look in the mirror, taking inventory before undergoing his journey on Fathers & Sons.

"The Man He Sees In Me" ('Fathers & Sons,' 2024)

With Combs still being a very recent father, his sons are at the age where he can do no wrong upon Fathers & Sons' release. Even so, he fears the day that illusion erodes, and lead single "The Man He Sees In Me" details his anxiety over this eventuality.

The song's not fatalistic, though; it's aspirational: "Maybe I'll finally be the man he sees in me" flips into "I hope he's trying to be the man he sees in me."

As Combs wrote in a letter to his boys upon the release of "The Man He Sees In Me," "With this song I want you to know that even though I'm not perfect, I try my hardest every day to be the best version of myself for you both."

He stresses that sentiment throughout Fathers & Sons — an album with a lot of introspective and self-realizing precedent in Combs' increasingly touching discography.

2024 GRAMMYs: Luke Combs & Tracy Chapman Team Up For A Surprise Duet Version Of "Fast Car"

Photo of a gold GRAMMY trophy against a black background with white lights.
GRAMMY Award statue

Photo: Jathan Campbell

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How Much Is A GRAMMY Worth? 7 Facts To Know About The GRAMMY Award Trophy

Here are seven facts to know about the actual cost and worth of a GRAMMY trophy, presented once a year by the Recording Academy at the GRAMMY Awards.

GRAMMYs/May 1, 2024 - 04:23 pm

Since 1959, the GRAMMY Award has been music’s most coveted honor. Each year at the annual GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists are recognized for their musical excellence by their peers. Their lives are forever changed — so are their career trajectories. And when you have questions about the GRAMMYs, we have answers.

Here are seven facts to know about the value of the GRAMMY trophy.

How Much Does A GRAMMY Trophy Cost To Make?

The cost to produce a GRAMMY Award trophy, including labor and materials, is nearly $800. Bob Graves, who cast the original GRAMMY mold inside his garage in 1958, passed on his legacy to John Billings, his neighbor, in 1983. Billings, also known as "The GRAMMY Man," designed the current model in use, which debuted in 1991.

How Long Does It Take To Make A GRAMMY Trophy?

Billings and his crew work on making GRAMMY trophies throughout the year. Each GRAMMY is handmade, and each GRAMMY Award trophy takes 15 hours to produce. 

Where Are The GRAMMY Trophies Made?

While Los Angeles is the headquarters of the Recording Academy and the GRAMMYs, and regularly the home of the annual GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY trophies are produced at Billings Artworks in Ridgway, Colorado, about 800 miles away from L.A.

Is The GRAMMY Award Made Of Real Gold?

GRAMMY Awards are made of a trademarked alloy called "Grammium" — a secret zinc alloy — and are plated with 24-karat gold.

How Many GRAMMY Trophies Are Made Per Year?

Approximately 600-800 GRAMMY Award trophies are produced per year. This includes both GRAMMY Awards and Latin GRAMMY Awards for the two Academies; the number of GRAMMYs manufactured each year always depends on the number of winners and Categories we award across both award shows.

Fun fact: The two GRAMMY trophies have different-colored bases. The GRAMMY Award has a black base, while the Latin GRAMMY Award has a burgundy base.

Photos: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images; Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

How Much Does A GRAMMY Weigh?

The GRAMMY trophy weighs approximately 5 pounds. The trophy's height is 9-and-a-half inches. The trophy's width is nearly 6 inches by 6 inches.

What Is The True Value Of A GRAMMY?

Winning a GRAMMY, and even just being nominated for a GRAMMY, has an immeasurable positive impact on the nominated and winning artists. It opens up new career avenues, builds global awareness of artists, and ultimately solidifies a creator’s place in history. Since the GRAMMY Award is the only peer-voted award in music, this means artists are recognized, awarded and celebrated by those in their fields and industries, ultimately making the value of a GRAMMY truly priceless and immeasurable.

In an interview featured in the 2024 GRAMMYs program book, two-time GRAMMY winner Lauren Daigle spoke of the value and impact of a GRAMMY Award. "Time has passed since I got my [first] GRAMMYs, but the rooms that I am now able to sit in, with some of the most incredible writers, producers and performers on the planet, is truly the greatest gift of all." 

"Once you have that credential, it's a different certification. It definitely holds weight," two-time GRAMMY winner Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter of the Roots added. "It's a huge stamp as far as branding, businesswise, achievement-wise and in every regard. What the GRAMMY means to people, fans and artists is ever-evolving." 

As Billboard explains, artists will often see significant boosts in album sales and streaming numbers after winning a GRAMMY or performing on the GRAMMY stage. This is known as the "GRAMMY Effect," an industry phenomenon in which a GRAMMY accolade directly influences the music biz and the wider popular culture. 

For new artists in particular, the "GRAMMY Effect" has immensely helped rising creators reach new professional heights. Samara Joy, who won the GRAMMY for Best New Artist at the 2023 GRAMMYs, saw a 989% boost in sales and a 670% increase in on-demand streams for her album Linger Awhile, which won the GRAMMY for Best Jazz Vocal Album that same night. H.E.R., a former Best New Artist nominee, saw a massive 6,771% increase in song sales for her hit “I Can’t Breathe” on the day it won the GRAMMY for Song Of The Year at the 2021 GRAMMYs, compared to the day before, Rolling Stone reports

Throughout the decades, past Best New Artist winners have continued to dominate the music industry and charts since taking home the GRAMMY gold — and continue to do so to this day. Recently, Best New Artist winners dominated the music industry and charts in 2023: Billie Eilish (2020 winner) sold 2 million equivalent album units, Olivia Rodrigo (2022 winner) sold 2.1 million equivalent album units, and Adele (2009 winner) sold 1.3 million equivalent album units. Elsewhere, past Best New Artist winners have gone on to star in major Hollywood blockbusters (Dua Lipa); headline arena tours and sign major brand deals (Megan Thee Stallion); become LGBTIA+ icons (Sam Smith); and reach multiplatinum status (John Legend).

Most recently, several winners, nominees and performers at the 2024 GRAMMYs saw significant bumps in U.S. streams and sales: Tracy Chapman's classic, GRAMMY-winning single "Fast Car," which she performed alongside Luke Combs, returned to the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time since 1988, when the song was originally released, according to Billboard. Fellow icon Joni Mitchell saw her ‘60s classic “Both Sides, Now,” hit the top 10 on the Digital Song Sales chart, Billboard reports.

In addition to financial gains, artists also experience significant professional wins as a result of their GRAMMY accolades. For instance, after she won the GRAMMY for Best Reggae Album for Rapture at the 2020 GRAMMYs, Koffee signed a U.S. record deal; after his first GRAMMYs in 2014, Kendrick Lamar saw a 349% increase in his Instagram following, Billboard reports. 

Visit our interactive GRAMMY Awards Journey page to learn more about the GRAMMY Awards and the voting process behind the annual ceremony.

2024 GRAMMYs: See The Full Winners & Nominees List

Charles Wesley Godwin press photo 2024
Charles Wesley Godwin

Photo: David McClister

interview

Meet Charles Wesley Godwin, The Rising Country Singer Who's Turning "A Very Human Story" Into Stardom

With his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of family life, Charles Wesley Godwin has become one of country music's most promising new stars. As he begins his 2024 tour, the singer/songwriter details his unexpected journey to the stage.

GRAMMYs/Apr 3, 2024 - 06:17 pm

Charles Wesley Godwin never intended to play for audiences when he picked up a guitar for the first time in college. Now, the 30-year-old Godwin is a full-blown country star, playing stadium shows and prestigious music festivals as one of the genre's fastest rising talents.

Godwin's musical power and allure lie in the ability to inhabit both a superstar persona and family-man image. He's equally comfortable belting his raucous, anthemic "Cue Country Roads," and serenading his baby daughter in "Dance in Rain," a touching song about his vision for her future. Tapping into his West Virginia roots and family history, Godwin's authentic, raw storytelling hasn't just widely resonated — it's helped the singer realize his calling.

Known for his deep, piercing voice and intimate portraits of human experiences, Godwin first endeared himself to audiences with songs like "Hardwood Floors," a sweet love song to his wife, and "Seneca Creek," a ballad from his first album, 2019's Seneca. Across three studio albums thus far, Godwin mixes powerful vocals and relatable, heartfelt lyrics, aligning him with the likes of Zach Bryan, Tyler Childers, and Sturgill Simpson.

The son of a coal miner and a teacher, Godwin dreamed of playing professional football and attended West Virginia University to study finance. After moving on from college football dreams, he taught himself guitar, learning country classics to fill the football void.

But while studying abroad in Estonia, one of Godwin's roommates took his guitar to a club show and coaxed Godwin up on stage after the set. His cover of John Denver's "Take Me Home Country Roads" — Godwin's college theme song and current show closer — earned him his second gig, performing at a fashion show. He was hooked.

After college, Godwin spent most of a decade touring relentlessly, crisscrossing the country to play bars and coffee houses. As he transitioned from covering favorite songs to writing his own, Godwin honed his writing chops and musical voice, intent on figuring out who he would be as a musician.

His latest studio album, 2023's aptly titled Family Ties, showcases the versatility and emotional depth that continues to make his songs resonate intensely. It includes upbeat country bangers like "Two Weeks Gone" and "Family Ties"; ruminations on deep generational connections to family, including his journey to understand his dad in "Miner Imperfections" and recounting his mother's heart-wrenching experience in "The Flood"; and raw, personal reflections on his love for his children, from "Gabriel" to "Tell the Babies I Love Them."

After signing his first major record label deal and opening for Zach Bryan in 2023, Godwin will spend 2024 headlining shows around the United States, also supporting Luke Combs on several dates and playing festivals like Stagecoach, Bonnaroo and Under the Big Sky.

Ahead of his tour launch on April 4, Godwin spoke with GRAMMY.com about his inspiration and writing, chasing his musical dreams, and his favorite career "pinch me" moments — so far.

How did you get started in music?

I watched the Avett Brothers in the 2011 GRAMMYs and was wowed by it, and thought maybe picking a guitar up would be a productive hobby to have. And then over time I began to realize I actually had the talent.

That hobby worked out okay.

I've always joked — even though people are like "Oh man, that's crazy, you didn't find it until you were in your 20s" — I'm like, "Well, at least I found my thing." I feel very fortunate. I feel like things could have easily gone a different way.

Was music of interest to you? What kind of music did your parents play when you were growing up?

My dad listened to oldies radio, a lot of pop music from the '60s and the '70s. I had a lot of the Beatles songs and CCR songs stuck in my head as a little kid.

I would casually consume whatever was put right in front of me, but I wasn't big into music. I was worried about sports. I wanted to be good at football.

What was it like for you picking up a guitar the first time?

It was frustrating. My fingers wouldn't go where I wanted them to. And it seemed very difficult. But I would just bite it off in 15-minute chunks each day. I wouldn't quit.

It wasn't until about a year into it that I could actually start stringing chords together. My dad had gotten a mining engineering degree, and to do some pretty high-level calculus, he always told me when I was growing up, "Math, it just clicks one day, as long as you don't give up on it."

Tell me more about your dad, for whom you wrote "Miner Imperfections." It sounds like you got your work ethic from him.

When he grew up, most of his friends were getting drafted to Vietnam. He had applied for the mines and he gave himself a timeline. He said, If the mines don't call within two weeks, I'm going to join the Air Force, because if I'm gonna get sent to Vietnam, I might as well join on my own terms. He ended up getting called by the mines and went underground in his early 20s. And worked his ass off.

He'd met my mom, and they created a better life for themselves. [They] were able to elevate themselves economically and give my brother and I a great life growing up, and the ability to chase our dreams.

He didn't love the mines, but he was good at it. And it was a way for him to make a good living. My dad had an amazing work ethic. He was very, very hard-nosed, independent, principled. And he taught me a lot of that.

As I've gotten older, I've grown to appreciate him more and more. And [my parents] gave me the mental tools I needed to be able to go through that whole crucible of going all across the country for a decade and sleeping in my car and playing in bars and restaurants and cafes, basically living well below the poverty line for many years, to make this dream of mine come true.

I think the very first song of yours I heard was "Seneca Creek." What's the story behind that song?

That's about my grandparents, on my mother's side. My mom's side of the family is from Seneca Rocks, West Virginia. They're part of the hillbilly highway, they moved up to Canton, Ohio. My granddad was working for Ford Motor Company. And he got drafted to go fight in Korea. So he went off and was a tank commander and fought in Korea for two years and went back to the Ford Motor Company when he got back.

They started a family and started building a life. They ended up moving back to West Virginia in the early '60s, and took over my great grandfather's General Store and farmed cattle. My grandmother was the postmaster.

They had a remarkable life, full of highs and lows and it was a very, very human story. And I thought it translated well into song.

What experiences in your life have colored the kinds of stories you want to tell in your music?

I draw on my family, my wife and my kids. That's really some of the most profound experiences I've had.

My dad, when he was my age, was crawling in less than three feet of coal. So I don't want to write too much about "playing on the road was hard."

One strong point of mine is I can observe somebody else and find the little nuggets of humanity to put into song that can still seem very personal and moving to people.

But you've also got these deeper generational connections and stories, too.

I have a lot of interesting family members in the family tree that I've been able to pull from. My mom's side came over in the potato famine in the mid-1800s. My dad's side, a lot of them were even here before the United States was the United States.

There's a lot of interesting and rich family history to draw from — moonshiners on my mother's side, there's been soldiers, drunkards, teachers and miners. My great grandfather on my dad's side, he used to eat a raw potato in the mines every day for lunch until Italians came over and showed the Irish guys how to eat better.

You've talked about your music sounding like it's from West Virginia. What does that mean? What is West Virginia music to you?

Before I put my first record out, I understood that I needed to find what my natural voice was. And make sure that I wasn't just trying to mimic somebody else.

I would not be able to pull off sounding like I'm trying to sing rodeo country. But I can sound like I'm from West Virginia, because that is the truth.

I think it has to have some bluegrass, if we're talking country music. Because you [also] got [late West Virginia native] Bill Withers, who is one of the best soul singers ever.

Stories about rural places and working class people often get tokenized and stereotyped. When you're writing songs, how do you honor the people you're writing about instead of making them stereotypes?

I just try my best. There's been a lot of lines that when I'm working on songs over the years, I've been like, "that's not it," and then put a line through it and try to come up with something better or more positive or more honest.

I'd rather shine a light on the more admirable character traits, either people in my family that I'm writing about or made up characters. I also try not to make it too unrealistic. I have a lot of songs about regret, which is something that [is] very human. But I definitely don't want to go around glorifying things that aren't really good for society or community.

You've talked about how you felt stuck when you wrote your latest album, Family Ties.  What was that feeling? And how did you get out of that rut?

I had a bunch of people on payroll for the first time in my life. Labels had come into the picture; my wife was just about to have our second child; we had a house we just bought the year prior. I had all these things around me that I'd never had around me before. I was putting pressure on myself, because I wasn't just this broke guy anymore that only needed enough to fill up his gas tank.

I let that affect my mind and my creativity, and my productivity with the notebook. The way I got out of it was just realizing — this sounds so cliche, but it's true, and it's true with music, and so many other things in life — that you can only control the things that you can control.

I felt like writing about my family is what I wanted to do. Just because there's so much love and guilt that I was feeling at that time. The birth my children — my daughter just being born, my son was still really young, with my wife and, being gone for hundreds of days [in] years prior, but then I was home that whole pandemic year, which was this super special time, but also just so weird after all those years of being gone all the time, and then going back to being gone all the time.

Now that all of that hard work has started paying off, what have been some of your biggest "pinch me, I can't believe this is happening" moments?

Recently, I opened for Jason Isbell and for Turnpike Troubadours. Those were folks that I was listening to a decade ago, in the middle of the night, trying to drive home from some gig far away.

And throughout our tour this year, we're doing these Luke Combs dates, and the Avett Brothers are on two of them. The whole reason I picked up a guitar, here we are over a decade later, and I'm going to be shaking their hands before we play a stadium. And this whole thing started with me just sitting on a couch in college watching them at the GRAMMYs. So that's gonna be a "pinch me" moment, for sure.

8 Artists Bringing Traditional Country Music Back: Zach Top, Randall King, Emily Nenni & More On Why "What's Old Becomes Beloved Again"

Billy Joel Freddy Wexler
Photo: Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

(L-R) Billy Joel, Freddy Wexler

interview

Freddy Wexler On Helping Billy Joel "Turn The Lights Back On" — At The 2024 GRAMMYs And Beyond

"Part of what was so beautiful for me to see on GRAMMY night was the respect and adoration that people of all ages and from all genres have for Billy Joel," Wexler says of Joel's 2024 GRAMMYs performance of their co-written "Turn The Lights Back On."

GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2024 - 09:11 pm

They say to not meet your heroes. But when Freddy Wexler — a lifelong Billy Joel fan — did just that, it was as if Joel walked straight out of his record collection.

"I think the truth is none of it is that surprising," the 37-year-old songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "That's the best part. From his music, I would've thought this is a humble, brilliant everyman who probably walks around with a very grounded perspective, and that's exactly who he is."

That groundedness made possible "Turn the Lights Back On" — the hit comeback single they co-wrote, and Wexler co-produced; Joel performed a resplendent version at the 2024 GRAMMYs with Laufey. Joel hadn't released a pop album since 1993's River of Dreams; for him to return to the throne would take an awfully demonstrative song, true to his life.

"I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy," Wexler explains. "I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way."

Specifically, Joel's return highlights his regret over spending three decades mostly on the bench, largely absent from the pop scene. As Joel wonders aloud in the stirring, arpeggiated chorus, "Is there still time for forgiveness?"

"Forgiveness" is a curious word. Why would the five-time GRAMMY winner and 23-time nominee possibly need to seek forgiveness? Regardless — as the song goes — he's "tryin' to find the magic/ That we lost somehow." The song's message — an attempt to recapture a lost essence — transcends Joel's personal headspace, connecting with a universal longing and nostalgia.

Read on for an interview with Wexler about the impact of "Turn the Lights Back On," why he thinks Joel took such an extended sabbatical, the prospect of more new music, and much more.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**You did a great interview with Rolling Stone ahead of the 2024 GRAMMYs. Now, we're on the other side of it; you got to see how it went down on the telecast, and resonated with the audience and world. What was that like?**

It's why I make music — to hopefully make people feel something. This song has really resonated in such a big way. More than looking at its commercial success on the charts or on radio, which has been awesome to see, the comments on Instagram and YouTube have been the most rewarding part of it.

Why do you think it resonated? Beyond the king picking up his crown again?

I don't think the song is trying to be anything it's not. I think it's a very raw, honest, real perspective that is true to Billy. I think it's the first time we've heard him acknowledge mistakes and regret in quite this way. And to hear him do it in a hopeful way where he's asking, "Is it too late for forgiveness?" is just very moving, I think.

Forgiveness? That's interesting. What would any of us need to forgive him?

He has said in other interviews, "Sometimes people say they have no regrets at the end of their life." And he said, "I don't think that's possible. If you've lived a full life, of course you have regrets." He has said that he has many things he wishes he would've done differently. This is an opportunity to express that.

I think what's interesting about the song is it has found meaning in various ways with various people and listeners. Some people imagine Billy is singing to former lovers or friends. Other people imagine Billy is singing to his fans asking, "Did I wait too long to record again?" Other people wonder if Billy is singing to the songwriting Gods and muses. Did I wait too long to write again?

In Israel, where the song was number one — or is number one, I haven't checked today — I think the song's taken on the meaning of just wanting things to be normal, wanting hostages to come home and turn the lights back on. So, you never know where a song is going to resonate, but I think that Billy just found his own meaning with it.

You know the discography front to back. What lines can you draw from "Turn the Lights Back On" to past works?

I think it draws on various pieces of his catalog, right? "She's Always a Woman" has a sort of piano arpeggio in the chorus. To me, it feels like a natural progression. It feels like, on the one hand, it's a new song. On the other, it could have come out right after River of Dreams. To me, it just kind of feels natural.

**Back when you spoke with Rolling Stone, you said you couldn't wait to hear "Turn the Lights Back On" at Madison Square Garden. How'd it sound?**

Amazing. Billy is a consummate live performer. I think he's one of the few artists where everything is better live, and everything is always a little bit different each time it's played live.

It's been really cool to watch Billy and the band continue to change and improve the song and the song's dynamics for the show. He told me tonight that tomorrow night in Tampa, I think they're going to try to play with the key of the song, potentially — try it a half a step higher.

Those are the sort of things I think great artists do, right? It's different from being on a certain type of tour where every single song is the same, the set list is the same, the key is the same, the arrangements are the same.

With Billy, there's a lot of feeling and, "Hey, why don't we try it this way? Let's play it a little faster. Let's play it a little slower. Let's try it in a different key." I just think that's super cool. You have to be a really good musician to just do that on the fly.

What have you learned from him that applies to your music making, writ large?

I've learned so much from him. As Olivia Rodrigo said to us at GRAMMY rehearsals, "He's the blueprint when it comes to songwriting."

He has helped raise the bar for me when it comes to melodies and lyrics, but the thing I keep coming back to is he's reminded me that even the greatest artists and songwriters ever sometimes forget how great they are. I think we need to be careful not to give that inner voice and inner critic too much power.

Can you talk about how the music video came to be?

Well, I had a dream that Billy was singing the opening two lines of the song, but it was a 25-year-old version of Billy. It was arresting.

When I woke up, I sort of had the vision for the video, which was one set, an empty venue of some kind, and four Billy Joels. The Billy Joel that really exists today, but then three Billys from three iconic eras where each Billy would seamlessly pick up the song where the other left off.

The idea behind that was to sort of accentuate the question of the song — did I wait too long to turn the lights back on?

And so, to kind of take us through time and through all these years, I teamed up with an amazing co-director, Warren Fu, who's done everything from Dua Lipa to Daft Punk, and an artificial intelligence company called Deep Voodoo to make that vision possible.

What I'm driven by is the opportunity to create conversations, cultural moments, things that make people feel something. What was cool here is as scary as AI is — and I think it is scary in many ways — we were able to give an example of how you can use it in a positive way to execute a creative artistic vision that previously would've been impossible to execute.

Yeah, so I'm pleased with it and I'm thankful that Billy did a video. He didn't have to do one, but he liked the idea of it. He felt it was different, and I think he was moved by it as well.

What do you think is the next step here?

It's been a really rewarding process. And Billy is open-minded, which is really cool for an artist of that level, who's not a new artist by any stretch. To actually be described as being in a place in his life where he's open-minded, means anything is possible. I could tell you that I would love there to be more music.

I'd love to get your honest appraisal. And I know you're not him. But his last pop album was released 31 years ago. In that long interim, what do you think was going on with him, creatively?

Look, I'm not Billy Joel, but I think there were a number of factors going on with him. Somewhere along the way, I think he stopped having fun with music, which is the reason he got into it, or which is a big part of the reason he got into it. When it stopped being fun, I don't think he really wanted to do it anymore.

Another piece to it is that Billy is a perfectionist, and that perfectionism is evident in the caliber of his songwriting. Having always written 100 percent of his songs, Billy at some point probably found that process to be painstaking, to try to hit that bar where he's probably wondering in his head, What would Beethoven think of this? What would Leonard Bernstein think of this?

I think part of what was different here was that, perhaps, there was something liberating about "Turn the Lights Back On" being a seed that was brought to Billy. In this way, he could be a little disconnected from it, where maybe he didn't have to have the self-imposed pressure that he would if it was an idea that he'd been trying to finish for a while.

Ironically, he still made it. Well, there's no "ironically," but I think that's it. There's something to that.

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