In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Duo/Group category. It was first awarded in 1968, and included instrumental performances as well for the first two years. Singles were competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.
As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back.
- Dixie Chicks, “Not Ready to Make Nice”
- The Duhks, “Heaven’s My Home”
- Little Big Town, “Boondocks”
- Rascal Flatts, “What Hurts the Most”
- The Wreckers, “Leave the Pieces”
With its nomination for Record and Song of the Year in the general fields, I fully expect the Chicks will win this in a walk, tying the record of wins in this category at five with The Judds. Readers of this site know that “Not Ready to Make Nice” is my favorite single of 2006, but the rest of the category is pretty strong. I could see an upset from Rascal Flatts, but their lack of support across the ballot makes it seem less likely to me.
- Big & Rich, “Comin’ To Your City”
- Brooks & Dunn, “Play Something Country”
- Dixie Chicks, “I Hope”
- Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Restless”
- Rascal Flatts, “Bless the Broken Road”
An absolutely fantastic Krauss & Union Station single deservedly wins, though I’d have been just as happy with “I Hope”, the Chicks’ Katrina charity single that is more raw in its original form than on the album version.
- Asleep at the Wheel, “New San Antonio Rose”
- Big & Rich, “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”
- Brooks & Dunn, “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl”
- Dixie Chicks, “Top of the World (Live)”
- The Notorious Cherry Bombs, “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long”
The Chicks won with a live version of “Top of the World”, the stunning album closer from their previous studio CD, Home. It’s arguably the best thing they’ve ever recorded, and the most substantive track that they’ve won for in this category to date.
- Brooks & Dunn, “Red Dirt Road”
- Diamond Rio, “I Believe”
- Lonestar, “My Front Porch Looking In”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Colors”
- Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, “A Simple Life”
In the last few years, it seems that Grammy can’t get enough of roots music, showering nominations and wins on Americana, bluegrass and Appalachian music. Sometimes they’re accused of just honoring country music that has rock credibility, but you don’t get less “cool” than Ricky Skaggs – a singer so conservative that he wouldn’t record songs where he was the cheater in his heyday – but he got the Grammy he deserved, as it was the best performance nominated.
- Diamond Rio, “Beautiful Mess”
- Dixie Chicks, “Long Time Gone”
- Lonestar, “Not a Day Goes By”
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Roll the Stone Away”
- Trick Pony, “It’s Just What I Do”
The first two Chicks records to win this slot were ditties at best, but they won in 2003 for a fantastic record that made the O Brother sound more radio-friendly; it still ranks among their best work.
- Asleep at the Wheel, “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”
- Brooks & Dunn, “Ain’t Nothin’ ‘Bout You”
- Diamond Rio, “One More Day”
- Alison Krauss & Union Station, “The Lucky One”
- Lonestar, “I’m Already There”
Again, Krauss and her band win with the best song of the five. Her taste in material may rival Emmylou Harris at this point.
- Alabama, “Twentieth Century”
- Asleep at the Wheel, “Cherokee Maiden”
- Brooks & Dunn, “You’ll Always Be Loved By Me”
- Riders in the Sky, “Woody’s Roundup”
- The Wilkinsons, “Jimmy’s Got a Girlfriend”
Grammy voters gave the gold to a band that has been cited in this category since the seventies. This is the second time they’ve won, and they did it covering Bob Wills both times.
- BR5-49, “Honky Tonk Song”
- Diamond Rio, “Unbelievable”
- Dixie Chicks, “Ready to Run”
- Lonestar, “Amazed”
- SHeDaisy, “Little Good-Byes”
More musically ambitious than their winning track the previous year, and their only win so far in this category for a song that they wrote, the Chicks surprised nobody when they took this home for the second year in a row, though one wishes “Cowboy Take Me Away” or “Without You” could’ve been eligible instead; when Fly won Best CountryAlbum the same night, future singles couldn’t be considered the following year.
- Alabama, “How Do You Fall in Love”
- BR5-49, “Wild One”
- Dixie Chicks, “There’s Your Trouble”
- The Mavericks, “Dance the Night Away”
- The Wilkinsons, “26 Cents”
The Chicks were award favorites off the bat, so it wasn’t shocking that they won here, though their Best Country Album victory over Shania Twain the same evening was a jaw-dropper. Who knew that they would make Grammy their bitch for years to come?
- Alabama, “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard”
- Diamond Rio, “How Your Love Makes Me Feel”
- The Kinleys, “Please”
- Alison Krauss & Union Station, “Looking in the Eyes of Love”
- The Mavericks, “I Don’t Care If You Love Me Anymore”
Never been crazy about the Krauss track that one; I didn’t particularly like it when Patty Loveless recorded it a few years earlier, either. I’d have gone with Diamond Rio.
- BR5-49, “Cherokee Boogie”
- Brooks & Dunn, “My Maria”
- Diamond Rio, “That’s What I Get For Lovin’ You”
- The Mavericks, “All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down”
- Texas Tornadoes, “Little Bit is Better Than Nada”
Sure, it’s a cover of a cheesy pop song, but Ronnie Dunn sings his ass off. I think he’s still looking for it today.
- Brooks & Dunn, “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone”
- Little Texas, “Amy’s Back in Austin”
- The Mavericks, “Here Comes the Rain”
- Shenandoah, “Darned if I Don’t (Danged if I Do)”
- The Tractors, “Tryin’ to Get to New Orleans”
A well-deserved victory for The Mavericks, though I must say that Brooks & Dunn’s single is one of the best they ever put out. Kix Brooks can really pull off singing lead when he wants to.
- Asleep at the Wheel & Lyle Lovett, “Blues for Dixie”
- Diamond Rio, “Love a Little Stronger”
- Alison Krauss & Union Station, “When You Say Nothing at All”
- The Mavericks, “What a Crying Shame”
- The Tractors, “Baby Likes to Rock It”
So much credible, outside the mainstream music here that it can make a Grammy voter’s head explode. Every one of these would be a worthy winner, though it’s nice to see Asleep at the Wheel finally win in this category, after losing three times in the seventies.
- Brooks & Dunn, “Hard Workin’ Man”
- Confederate Railroad, “Trashy Women”
- Diamond Rio, “In a Week or Two”
- Little Texas, “God Blessed Texas”
- Sawyer Brown, “All These Years”
It’s a good performance from Brooks & Dunn that wins, but the Grammy should’ve gone to the chilling Sawyer Brown track.
- Alabama, American Pride
- Brooks & Dunn, “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
- Emmylou Harris & The Nash Ramblers, At the Ryman
- Kentucky Headhunters, “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”
- Restless Heart, “When She Cries”
What I love about this live album is that Harris doesn’t bother with any of her own material. Who else could make a cohesive concert set list that includes both “Guitar Town” and “Cattle Call”?
- Alabama, “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go”
- Diamond Rio, “Meet in the Middle”
- The Forester Sisters, “Men”
- The Judds, “Love Can Build a Bridge”
- Kentucky Headhunters, Electric Barnyard
The mom and daughter do win their fifth Grammy in this category, a record that has yet to be matched, though the Dixie Chicks have a shot at it this year.
- Alabama, “Jukebox in My Mind”
- The Judds, Love Can Build a Bridge
- Kentucky Headhunters, Pickin’ On Nashville
- Restless Heart, “Fast Movin’ Train”
- Shenandoah, “Ghost in This House”
One of the most widely adored debut albums of its time, it also picked up Album of the Year at the CMA’s, despite the confusion of those who mistook “Dumas Walker” as a call for all the guy to “Go down to do Miss Walker.”
- Desert Rose Band, “She Don’t Love Nobody”
- Highway 101, “Honky Tonk Heart”
- The Judds, “Young Love (Strong Love)”
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken II
- Restless Heart, “Big Dreams in a Small Town”
They lost this category when the first volume was nominated almost twenty years earlier, but came back to claim the victory in 1990. The Judds track is among my favorite things they’ve ever done.
- Forester Sisters, Sincerely
- Highway 101, 2
- The Judds, “Give a Little Love”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Gonna Take a Lot of River”
- Restless Heart, Big Dreams in a Small Town
You can hear Wynonna’s solo voice being born on the bluesy track that won The Judds their fourth Grammy. The growl begins here.
- Desert Rose Band, Desert Rose Band
- The Judds, Heartland
- The O’Kanes, “Can’t Stop My Heart From Loving You”
- Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris, Trio
- Restless Heart, “I’ll Still Be Loving You”
So popular and widely adored was the long-gestating collaborative effort between Parton, Ronstadt and Harris that the double-platinum project also received a nod in the general Album of the Year category.
- Alabama, “She and I”
- Everly Brothers, Born Yesterday
- Gatlin Brothers, “She Used to Be Somebody’s Baby”
- The Judds, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)”
- Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison & Johnny Cash, Class of ’55
Still a heartbreaking listen today, The Judds set a record by winning this category three years in a row with their nostalgic ballad. For the record, the Everly Brothers comeback album was also quite good.
- Alabama, “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”
- The Forester Sisters, The Forester Sisters
- Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash & Kris Kristofferson, Highwaymen
- The Judds, Why Not Me
- Marie Osmond & Dan Seals, “Meet Me in Montana”
- Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers, “Real Love”
The Judds win with a fantastic album, probably the best one they ever recorded. Sure did make all those pop records pale in comparison, though if “Highwayman” the single had been nominated, it might have had a better shot than the filler-heavy album of the same name.
- Alabama, “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas”
- The Judds, “Why Not Me”
- Barbara Mandrell & Lee Greenwood, “To Me”
- Anne Murray & Dave Loggins, “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do”
- Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias, “As Time Goes By”
The Judds were such a refreshing change from the wanna-be pop sound of these Urban Cowboy singles that they won over the established acts they were nominated against.
- Alabama, The Closer You Get
- Gatlin Brothers, “Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer to You)”
- Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Pancho & Lefty
- Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings, Take it to the Limit”
- Oak Ridge Boys, American Made
Alabama won again with a mega-selling album that sent hits up both the pop and country charts. The Haggard & Nelson album is better, though.
- Alabama, Mountain Music
- Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Bobbie Sue”
- Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris, “Love Hurts”
- The Whites, “You Put the Blue in Me”
Alabama’s biggest-selling album won over a credible field. I’m not quite sure how Parsons & Harris are nominated here, since that track was recorded a decade earlier and Parsons had been dead for nearly as long, but it’s a goosebump-inducing performance.
- Alabama, Feels So Right
- David Frizzell & Shelly West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma”
- Emmylou Harris & Don Williams, “If I Needed You”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Elvira”
- Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, “What Are We Doing in Love”
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The Oak Ridge Boys don’t get that the song is about sex. Listen to the Rodney Crowell version, with Emmylou Harris moaning in the background, and you’ll blush at what you once dismissed as a novelty song. Think we could get them to cover “Physical”?
- Charlie Daniels Band, In America
- Gatlin Brothers, “Take Me to Your Lovin’ Place”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Heart of Mine”
- Roy Orbison & Emmylou Harris, “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again”
- Tanya Tucker & Glen Campbell, “Dream Lover”
I can’t comment much here. The only track I’ve actually heard is the Orbison & Harris collaboration that won.
- Bellamy Brothers, “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body Would You Hold it Against Me”
- Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
- Gatlin Brothers, “All the Gold in California”
- Willie Nelson & Leon Russell, “Heartbreak Hotel”
- Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, “All I Ever Need is You”
Wherever Charlie Daniels ends up in the afterlife, he’ll still be playing this song for all eternity.
- Jim Ed Brown & Helen Cornelius, “If the World Ran Out of Love Tonight”
- Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
- Oak Ridge Boys, “Cryin’ Again”
- Charlie Rich with Janie Fricke, “On My Knees”
- Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, “Anyone Who Isn’t Me Tonight”
- Statler Brothers, “Do You Know You Are My Sunshine”
Damn right. Can’t top Waylon & Wille.
- Asleep at the Wheel, The Wheel
- George Jones & Tammy Wynette, “Near You”
- The Kendalls, “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away”
- Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, Dynamic Duo
- Oak Ridge Boys, Y’All Come Back Saloon
The Kendalls hit was apparently inescapable in 1978 – can’t say for sure, since I hadn’t been born yet – and this was one of many awards they received for it.
- Amazing Rhythm Aces, “The End is Not in Sight”
- Asleep at the Wheel, “Route 66”
- George Jones & Tammy Wynette, “Golden Ring”
- Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty, “The Letter”
- Statler Brothers, “Your Picture in the Paper”
Never heard it, but it better be damn good if it topped “Golden Ring”, my favorite of the Jones & Wynette collaborations.
- Asleep at the Wheel, Texas Gold
- Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, “Lover Please”
- Pointer Sisters, “Live Your Life Before You Die”
- Statler Brothers, “I’ll Go To My Grave Loving You”
- Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, “Feelin’s”
Kristofferson & Coolidge pick up their second win in this category, despite competition from three pairings that had won before.
- Bobby Bare & Bobby Bare Jr., “Daddy What If”
- Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, “Loving Arms”
- Willie Nelson & Tracy Nelson, “After the Fire is Gone”
- Pointer Sisters, “Fairytale”
- Statler Brothers, “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?”
So I had to go download the winning song so I could hear how the hell the Pointer Sisters, future disco queens, won a country Grammy. It’s actually pretty good, and drenched in steel guitar like all the Olivia Newton-John records from the era, and for the same reason: to compensate for a lacking rural authenticity that can’t be faked. So I’ll admit I dig it, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Tina Turner’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough”.
- Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, “From the Bottle to the Bottom”
- Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner, “If Teardrops Were Pennies”
- Statler Brothers, Carry Me Back
- Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”
- Tammy Wynette & George Jones, “We’re Gonna Hold On”
Four legendary groups and collaborators and a pairing that I didn’t even know existed until I started writing this post and saw that they’d won two Grammys. Sorry, but I can’t explain this one.
- Johnny Cash & June Carter, “If I Had a Hammer”
- George Jones & Tammy Wynette, “Take Me”
- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Will the Circle Be Unbroken
- Statler Brothers, “Class of ’57”
- Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, Lead Me On
The Statlers deserved this one, their best single since “Flowers On the Wall.” Hell, it might actually be better.
- Roy Acuff & Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “I Saw the Light”
- Johnny Cash & June Carter, “No Need to Worry”
- Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, “Rings”
- Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, “After the Fire is Gone”
- Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, “Better Move it On Home”
An absolutely astonshing performance, still as good 25 years later. They deserved the Grammy.
- Jake Blanchard & Misty Morgan, “Tennessee Birdwalk”
- Johnny Cash & June Carter, “If I Were a Carpenter”
- Waylon Jennings & Jessi Colter, “Suspicious Minds”
- Statler Brothers, “Bed of Rose’s”
- Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, “Daddy Was an Old-Time Preacher Man”
I can’t argue with Cash and Carter, though I love the southern gospel charm of the Wagoner & Parton record.
- Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, “California Girl”
- Jack Greene & Jeannie Seely, “Wish I Didn’t Have to Miss You”
- Waylon Jennings & The Kimberlys, “MacArthur Park”
- Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, “Just Someone I Used to Know”
- Dottie West & Don Gibson, “Rings of Gold”
Congrats to Jennings on his first Grammy, but I have to ask: once a disco beat has been added to “MacArthur Park”, can a more traditional reading ever get a fair listen again?
Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group (Vocal or Instrumental):
- Everly Brothers, “It’s My Time”
- Flatt & Scruggs, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
- Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, “Through the Eyes of Love”
- Nashville Brass, “Mountain Dew”
- Bill Wilbourne & Kathy Morrison, “The Lovers”
An instrumental performance actually won in one of the only two years they were eligible. “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is a standard, and this is the definitive version.
- Liz Anderson, Bobby Bare & Norma Jean, “Game of Triangles”
- Blue Boys, “My Cup Runneth Over”
- Johnny Cash & June Carter, “Jackson”
- Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, “Through the Eyes of Love”
- Bobby Goldsboro & Del Reeves, “Our Way of Life”
- David Houston & Tammy Wynette, “My Elusive Dreams”
- Lonesome Rhodes, “The Lonesome Rhodes”
- Some of Chet’s Friends, “Chet’s Tune”
Eight nominees?!? Cash & Carter certainly had their competition. I would’ve voted for “My Elusive Dreams” – I’ve never been a big fan of “Jackson” – but the biggest hit won.