Trustees Award: Al Bell
Al Bell

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Trustees Award: Al Bell

Huey Lewis on 2011 Trustees Award recipient Al Bell, the man who put Memphis on the map

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, will present the tributes to the 12 Special Merit Awards recipients for 2011.

Al Bell might be the person most responsible for my musical taste.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the '60s, with folk music and early psychedelic music as a backdrop, my constant radio companion was soul station KDIA in Oakland. Not the obvious choice for a suburban white kid, but then, my dad was a jazz drummer and my mom loved psychedelic stuff, and I needed something of my own. KDIA was the sister station of the famous WDIA in Memphis. Needless to say, both stations played a healthy dose of Stax records, which were either promoted, commissioned, produced, or written by Al Bell.

Alvertis Isbell was old school before the term. Soul music came from the church, and Al knew the church. As a young man he worked for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and when he speaks the similarity is striking. He came to Stax from radio where he was a DJ, both in Little Rock, Ark. and Washington, D.C. He started as a promotion man. Incredibly hardworking and dynamic, he became a co-owner of Stax and grew the company into the second-largest black-owned business of the '70s. He was incredibly ambitious, famously releasing 27 albums and 30 singles in one month. He was "hands-on," producing and even writing hits for the label including "I'll Take You There" for the Staple Singers. In 1972 he produced Wattstax, the all-Stax concert at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and the Golden Globe-nominated film about the event. It's been said he "put Memphis on the map," an incredible statement when you consider the vast musical history of the town.

The demise of Stax Records in the mid-'70s was complicated and messy and resulted in Al retreating from the business for several years. But Al Bell is a fighter and he did not give up. With the help of Berry Gordy Jr. he rebuilt his career, first as president of Motown Records and then with his own label, Bellmark Records. And now as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation, Al Bell is back in Memphis, doing what he's always been doing…promoting Memphis music.

At 70 years old, he seems newly invigorated. He's still a workaholic (his friends say he works 24 hours a day, breaking only at midnight to eat his wife's fried chicken), and still as passionate as ever. When I last saw him in late 2010, it was at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis at a playback party for our new record, Soulsville, which is a tribute to Memphis soul music. He was dressed immaculately, as usual, in a suit, monogrammed shirt, his tie perfectly matching his pocket square, and his cuff links shining. He was complimentary of the album, and especially the song selection, but then I knew we'd have the same taste.

(Huey Lewis, primarily with his band the News, has earned five GRAMMY nominations, including Record Of The Year nods for "The Power Of Love" and "The Heart Of Rock And Roll," and won the Best Music Video, Long Form award in 1985 for Huey Lewis & The News — The Heart Of Rock 'N' Roll. The group's newest album is the Memphis tribute Soulsville.)

This Special Merit Award is presented by vote of The Recording Academy's National Trustees to individuals who, during their careers in music, have made contributions, other than performance, to the field of recording. The Trustees Award was established in 1967. To view a complete list of Trustees Award recipients, click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, Juilliard String Quartet, The Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, Ramones, George Beverly Shea
Trustees Award: Wilma Cozart Fine, Bruce Lundvall
Technical GRAMMY Award: Roger Linn, Waves Audio Ltd.



2017 Special Merit Awards: Sly Stone, Velvet Underground, Nina Simone

Shirley Caesar and Charley Pride are also among The Recording Academy's 2017 Special Merit Awards recipients

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

The Recording Academy announced its 2017 Special Merit Awards recipients. The Lifetime Achievement Award honorees are Shirley Caesar, Ahmad Jamal, Charley Pride, Jimmie Rodgers, Nina Simone, Sly Stone and The Velvet Underground. Thom Bell, Mo Ostin and Ralph S. Peer are Trustees Award honorees; Alan Dower Blumlein is the Technical GRAMMY Award recipient.

More information on the 2017 Special Merit Awards recipients

"This year's Special Merit Awards recipients comprise a prestigious group of diverse and influential creators who have crafted or contributed to some of the most distinctive recordings in music history," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy. "These exceptionally inspiring figures are being honored as legendary performers, creative architects, and technical visionaries. Their outstanding accomplishments and passion for their respective crafts have created a timeless legacy."

The Lifetime Achievement Award celebrates performers who have made outstanding contributions of artistic significance to the field of recording, while the Trustees Award honors contributions in areas other than performance. The recipients are determined by vote of The Recording Academy's National Board of Trustees. Technical GRAMMY Award recipients are voted on by The Academy's Producers & Engineers Wing Advisory Council and Chapter Committees, and are ratified by The Academy's Trustees. The award is presented to individuals and/or companies who have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the recording industry.

Additionally, The Recording Academy and Hal Leonard Books will release A GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends, a hardcover book that collects two decades of artist-written tributes to The Academy's annual Special Merit Awards honorees. Among those who have written tributes included in the book are Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Whoopi Goldberg, Ice Cube, Miranda Lambert, Queen guitarist Brian May, Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Patti Smith and Yo-Yo Ma. The tributes were originally commissioned for the annual GRAMMY Awards program book and never published widely until now. A GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends will be available in early January.

Pre-Order A GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends

The 59th GRAMMY Awards will take place Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, live from Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast on the CBS Television Network from 8–11:30 pm ET/5–8:30 pm PT. Follow Recording Academy/GRAMMYs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and use #GRAMMYs to join the conversation.


Huey Lewis & The News, RZA And Boz Scaggs Pay Tribute To Memphis

Artists are keeping the magic of Memphis' musical legacy alive with spirited tribute albums

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(Editor's Note: Founded in 1973, The Recording Academy Memphis Chapter is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2013. In the coming weeks, will publish a special content series paying tribute to the Chapter and the surrounding region's rich musical legacy, which encompasses the deepest roots of American music and the birthplaces of blues, jazz, ragtime, Cajun, zydeco, and rock and roll. The Chapter will host a 40th anniversary celebration featuring musical performances on July 13.)

It's the U.S. city that has produced countless music legends and transformed rock and roll into a culture-shifting force. Now, in the technology-crazed 21st century, Memphis is inspiring yet another musical trend — tribute albums and hits compilations dedicated to the classic R&B of the fabled Tennessee town.

In March Wu-Tang Clan rapper/producer RZA released The RZA Presents Shaolin Soul Selection: Volume 1, a compilation of legendary soul tracks from the vaults of Memphis' legendary Stax Records label. Featuring tracks by Booker T. And The MG's, Isaac Hayes and Albert King, The RZA Presents… underscores the crucial role Memphis R&B has played in the evolution of rap music. 

The album is one of the latest releases in a string of Memphis-related soul recordings. In 2011 British pop legend Cliff Richard issued Soulicious, a compilation of R&B interpretations that was partially recorded at the renowned Royal Studios in Memphis. Meanwhile, Huey Lewis & The News have earned rave reviews for Soulsville, their 2010 collection of covers commemorating the Stax sound. Recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios, the album features interpretations of Memphis R&B classics by Otis Redding ("Just One More Day") and the Staple Singers ("Respect Yourself"), among others.

A more recent indicator of Memphis' lasting musical influence is Boz Scaggs' 2013 release Memphis. Featuring deep soul interpretations of pop, rock and R&B songs by artists including Steely Dan, Al Green and Moon Martin, the album takes its title from the city in which it was recorded (and the birthplace of Scaggs' grandfather, father and wife) and peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200.

Growing up in Texas in the late '50s, Scaggs' influences include pioneering Memphis R&B artists such as Syl Johnson and Mable John, and Stax staples Booker T. & The MG's, Sam & Dave, and Redding, among others. In sharp contrast to the smoother jazz-influenced songs of Motown, the appeal of Memphis soul for Scaggs lies in the music's rawer sensibilities.

"Memphis music has more of the deep South/Delta blues feel," says Scaggs. "Stax grew more out of a tradition that incorporated horn bands from juke joints. It's a little more roots, a little more of a roadhouse tradition."

Scaggs discovered that the bluesy Memphis sound can still be tapped in the right atmosphere. He and producer Steve Jordan chose to record Memphis at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios, the same facility where Green recorded timeless hits for Hi Records.

"That room was once used by a specific producer, a specific group of musicians, and just a couple of engineers," Scaggs says. "They got a sound. If you go into that room now, they haven't changed it."

Royal Studios hasn't changed much since its '70s heyday because the studio is a family enterprise. When Mitchell died in 2010, the studio was inherited by sons Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell and Archie Mitchell. The family has retained many of the studio's original instruments, and much of the vintage analog recording gear. Under the Mitchell brothers' guidance, Royal has hosted sessions by notable contemporary artists such as Cody Chesnutt, John Mayer and My Morning Jacket. When asked to speculate about the studio's enduring mystique, Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell could only hazard a likely guess.

"I think most of them know that Royal is a legendary place where a lot of hit records were made," says Mitchell, who is currently President of The Recording Academy Memphis Chapter. "So not only are they trying to achieve that Memphis sound, but also get some of that hit-making vibe that was around back in the '60s and '70s, but is apparently still there today.

"Most times that you go to a studio, you have to take your inspiration with you. But when people come to Royal, they get inspired because the room hasn't changed in 40-something years. When you come here, it just gives you this magical feeling."

A similar magical feeling that resonates through much of the classic blues, soul, jazz, and rock and roll emanated from Memphis. The city's tremendous contribution to music cannot be overstated. A staggering number of performing legends got their start in Memphis, including greats such Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Jimmie Lunceford, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Green, and rock icon Alex Chilton, among others.

Akin to Hi Records and Royal Studios, the Stax Records label and its studio cast a long shadow in Memphis musical lore. Initially founded in 1957 as Satellite Records by Jon Stewart, Stax formally emerged in 1959 with assistance from Stewart's sister, Estelle Acton. The label earned mythic status for maintaining a roster of integrated R&B acts in the racially charged Jim Crow South.

Stax holds special meaning for Lewis, who attributes the timeless appeal of Memphis soul to the excellence of the songs and the conviction of the performers.

"They're all great singers, but there's something about when they're singing," Lewis says. "Their life story is infused in those songs. You know they're serious. It's, 'I'm not kidding. I'm a soul man.'"

Lewis describes Stax music as "an American treasure" because of the way the songs unwittingly chronicled Memphis' own evolution. "Memphis was like a melting pot of people, this weird combination of Celtic people from the hills of Kentucky, and blacks coming up from places like New Orleans, Western Arkansas and Tunica, Mississippi," he says. "[Stax music] came together through this wonderful mélange of immigrants getting together [and] playing in the neighborhood." 

In the 50 years that have passed since its inception, Stax songs have been covered by a vast number of musical artists, including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Eric Clapton and Aerosmith. Owned today by Los Angeles-based Concord Music Group, Stax remains true to its Memphis music roots, releasing recordings by contemporary blues artists such as Angie Stone, Ben Harper and Warren Haynes. The label recently came full circle when it re-signed legendary Stax organist and bandleader Booker T. Jones.

"We have two big initiatives when it comes [to] Stax," said Joel Amsterdam, senior vice president of publicity for Concord Music Group. "Number one is maintaining and burnishing this amazing catalog, and number two is the new artists [who] we've signed to Stax. There is a desire to embrace the legacy and bring it forward."

Concord's efforts notwithstanding, famed performers such as Scaggs, Lewis and RZA are drawing the Memphis R&B tradition into the 21st century. Legendary rock vocalist Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company) recently announced that he is recording an album of Memphis soul classics at Royal Studios. The as-yet untitled album is expected this fall and will feature Rodgers applying his soulful shout to Memphis classics by Sam & Dave, Ann Peebles and Redding, among others.

Lewis believes there's a simple reason why Memphis soul continues to inspire musicians and spawn interpretative albums.

"There's an urgency and a commitment in those records," he says. "Will they be around forever? Absolutely."

(Bruce Britt is an award-winning journalist and essayist whose work has appeared in The Washington PostUSA TodaySan Francisco ChronicleBillboard and other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.)


Technical GRAMMY Award: Waves Audio Ltd.

Producer/engineer Steve Lillywhite on 2011 Technical GRAMMY Award recipient Waves Audio's breakthroughs in the field of recording

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, will present the tributes to the 12 Special Merit Awards recipients for 2011.

Once upon a time, while sitting in a recording studio back in the distant '90s, a strange thing occurred. A computer appeared near the mixing desk and men crowded around the screen, and appeared to be "looking" at the music. I dismissed this as a passing fad and continued with my old-fashioned Luddite way of "using my ears"....

The years passed by and one day I decided to join those men looking at the computer and imagine my surprise when my engineer shared with me what was hidden behind the screen!

I had been producing hits for more than 30 years in top studios on many different consoles and if I had known when I started that one day I could carry every console I had ever worked on in my back pocket, along with as much high-quality outboard gear as I needed, I would have thought I was going crazy. I now arrive at my sessions with my iLok stuffed with the Waves Mercury bundle and I am ready to go!

I still have no idea exactly how the company's wonderful founders, Gilad Keren and Meir Shaashua, and their team managed to put so much stuff in such a small space, but I don't need to know. All I know is that when I compare the Waves version to the "real" version, I cannot tell the difference, especially with my favorite plug-ins, the SSL G-Equalizer and API 550B 4-Band Equalizer.

Today, technology has completely changed the way we make music but Waves has enabled me to stay true to my original roots while retaining a technical standard that we need in today's marketplace. It's a standard that was set when the company was founded in 1992. That same year Waves introduced its first audio plug-in, the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer. The company has grown now to more than 150 employees with offices in the United States, Israel and China, and is expanding into the consumer electronics arena, as well as film and video games. A true leader in professional audio.

Waves' commitment to safeguarding the intellectual property rights of their clients is something I highly commend and I think our industry could learn a thing or two from them.

As George Martin said, "Waves is synonymous with excellence." I know that without my iLok and my Waves bundle I would not be able to continue making the quality music I still demand of myself.

(Steve Lillywhite is a five-time GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer. He has worked with an array of artists, including Dave Matthews Band, Matchbox Twenty, the Rolling Stones, and U2. He won the prestigious Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical GRAMMY in 2005.)

Presented by vote of The Recording Academy's National Trustees, the Technical GRAMMY Award recognizes individuals and companies that have made contributions of outstanding technical significance to the field of recording. The Technical GRAMMY was first awarded in 1994. To view a complete list of Technical GRAMMY Award recipients, click here.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Andrews, Roy Haynes, Juilliard String Quartet, The Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, Ramones, George Beverly Shea
Trustees Award: Al Bell, Wilma Cozart Fine, Bruce Lundvall
Technical GRAMMY Award: Roger Linn


Kenny Gamble: Thom Bell Is One Of The Greats Of Our Time

Thom Bell


Kenny Gamble: Thom Bell Is One Of The Greats Of Our Time

Looking forward to the "GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends" TV special, 2017 Trustees Award recipient Thom Bell discusses what the recognition means while colleague Kenny Gamble calls him one of the "greatest of our era"

GRAMMYs/Oct 11, 2017 - 07:41 pm

Songwriter, arranger and label executive Thom Bell's impact on the growth of 1970s Philadelphia soul and R&B is undeniable.

"I wound up doing exactly what I wanted to do: something in music," says Bell of his 20-plus-year production and songwriting career. "And I saw that people started appreciating what I did … when you see [the fans] say things like that, it gives you that good feeling. You're doing what you're supposed to do. You love what you do, and they love what you're doing also."

Bell's friend and creative collaborator, GRAMMY-winning songwriter and producer Kenny Gamble will get his chance to share some added words of praise for his friend at the upcoming "GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends" on Oct. 13, on PBS.

"I'm here tonight to honor Thom Bell, one of the greatest producers and arrangers of our era," Gamble says.

"GRAMMY Salute To Music Legends": Performers And Full Set List