Will Northwest nominees get Grammy props?
Back in the early '90s, when grunge rock was news, the Grammy Awards overlooked groups like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Now that the players are old-timers — or in some cases, dead — their groups, such as Alice in Chains (eight nominations, no wins), may finally get their due.
Special to The Seattle Times
Grunge and the Grammys
Soundgarden: First nomination 1990; total nominations 8; total wins 2.
Nirvana: First nomination 1992; total nominations 6; total wins 1.
Alice in Chains: First nomination 1992: total nominations 8; total wins 0.
Pearl Jam: First nomination 1993; total nominations 13; total wins 1.
The 53rd annual Grammy Awards8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 13, on CBS. Viewing party: Doors open 7 p.m. Sunday, The Spitfire, 2219 Fourth Ave., Seattle; $25, free for Recording Academy members (206-834-1000 or www.grammy365.com).
Look for live coverage Sunday — including commentary and photos — at seattletimes.com.
When the music industry gathers in Los Angeles for the 2011 Grammy Awards Sunday, there are two things you can count on: Lady Gaga will be wearing an outrageous outfit, and someone from the Northwest will win a Grammy.
Gaga's guaranteed nutty outfit is the only absolute sure bet, however. With over a dozen Seattle nominees, the odds are certainly in the Northwest's favor, but that hasn't always helped in the past. Often, perhaps too often, Grammy voters have ignored our region, with its left-of-center rock acts, and cast their votes toward mainstream pop and dance music. And I say that with the bias of an insider, since I'm on the board of the Northwest chapter of the Recording Academy, the organization that hands out the Grammys.
If there is a Grammy dud tonight, don't blame me, however. The Grammys are voted on by Academy members with at least six credits as a producer, engineer or performer. As an author, I'm not a voting member, just an associate one. If you dislike a winner, you can at least know that the industry itself has blown the call.
This is the 53rd year of the Grammy Awards, and in their early years the winners often skewed away from rock and toward easy listening. The Beatles infamously lost in 1965 to the Anita Kerr Group.
The 1992 Grammys by all rights should have rewarded Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden for their breakthroughs. Those bands were not just the best artistic acts of the early '90s, they also had the biggest commercial hits, which is often a way to curry Grammy favor. Yet not one of those groups won a Grammy in 1992, or for the two years that followed. Nirvana won its first, and only, Grammy for the "MTV Unplugged" album in 1996. Kurt Cobain had been dead for two years by then.
The year Nirvana's "Nevermind" should have won, Album of the Year went to Eric Clapton's Unplugged record. It was enjoyable, but it was not a groundbreaking effort. Often Grammy voters bestow awards on veteran acts for inferior sunset-years albums, maybe to make up for slights when they were on the rise.
This year the Northwest has a bigger pool of nominees than usual, perhaps because a few of our "grunge-era" groups have been around long enough to have veteran status of their own. Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Them Crooked Vultures — with former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl — are all in the running in the Hard Rock Performance category and Pearl Jam is up for Best Rock Album. That gives our region a better than average chance of coming away with a winner.
It does seem that the awards have started to skew younger the past few years, and that's good for the industry and for upcoming Northwest talent. One of our current upstarts is Band of Horses, nominated in the Best Alternative category. Another unusual album with a local connection is "I Speak Fula," for World Music. This CD was released on Sub Pop's Next Ambiance imprint, curated by longtime local impresario Jon Kertzer. In an ideal world, this would be the kind of album that could win a top Grammy, and not just a genre-specific award.
But the outcome is anybody's guess. Northwest "grunge" bands have been nominated before, only to lose in the end. Soundgarden was the first, in 1990. Pearl Jam has been nominated 13 times, but has won only once.
But of all our local nominees, none is as long-suffering as Alice in Chains. The band was first nominated in 1992 for "Man in the Box," meaning that they earned a Grammy nod before Nirvana or Pearl Jam. "Man in the Box" was a momentous song, maybe one of the best performances Layne Staley ever did, but it still lost at the Grammys to Van Halen.
It was not the last time Alice in Chains received a nomination, nor was it the last time they lost. This year's nomination, for the catchy "A Looking In View," is the band's eighth, and so far they have no wins. That has drawn them comparisons to an infamous daytime television actress who had 18 Emmy nominations before finally winning.
"We are the 'Susan Lucci' of the Grammys," jokes Alice's guitarist/singer Jerry Cantrell. "We're tied with Megadeth. We are both nominated again this year, so if they win, and we lose, we'll be the band with the most nominations without a win."
Alice in Chains has always been a band with a sense of humor. They sent "The Rocket," the Seattle music magazine I used to edit, a box of urine-filled baby bottles after being called "cry babies" once. Because many of their songs are dark, and because Staley died tragically, the band's dry wit was often overlooked by the public. One year at the Grammys, they even wore buttons that read "Winners of the Susan Lucci Award."
"We had the buttons printed up in advance," Cantrell admits. "When we lost, we put them on."
If there is any justice, buttons won't be needed tonight. Alice is nominated for a track from their 2009 album "Black Gives Way to Blue," which was an artistic and commercial comeback. It was the band's first studio release in 14 years, but also their first with new singer William DuVall.
Cantrell is quick to explain that Staley couldn't be replaced, and DuVall has his own unique style, but the band felt to not go on was a dishonor as well.
Cantrell lives in Los Angeles these days, but says Seattle still feels like home. And since Alice in Chains is nominated in a category with their friends in Soundgarden, even losing might feel like something of a local win.
"People always say it is an honor to 'just be nominated,' but that truly is the way I feel," Cantrell says. "It's a dream come true to just be involved in any way with the bands in our category."
Alice isn't the only local rock band that might win tonight. Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" is up in the Best Rock Album category. And Seattle might cheer as well if recent resident Dave Matthews picks up an award.
Yet all those acts already have Grammys on their mantle, while Alice in Chains has none. Though that streak might end tonight, Cantrell isn't necessarily betting on it.
"We expect to lose every time," he says with a chuckle in his voice. But with or without awards, Cantrell is quick to not put too much weight into it, even if it has been his life's work. "We're just a band," he says.
They aren't giving awards for that attitude, but they should.
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 11, 2011, was corrected Feb. 12, 2011. A previous version incorrectly stated that the single for which the Seattle rock band Alice in Chains has been nominated comes from an album called "Black Fades Into Blue." The correct title of the album is "Black Gives Way to Blue."
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