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Grammy Flashback: Best Male Country Vocal Performance

Updated for 2009

While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.

In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles 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. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’s Best Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!

jamey-johnson-lonesome2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
  • Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
  • George Strait, “Troubadour”

As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.

First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist.  Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.

Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.

But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.

However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already.  We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.

2008

  • Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
  • Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”

The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.

2007

  • Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
  • George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”

Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.

2006

  • George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
  • Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
  • Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”

Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.

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Rick Rubin among the 2007 Time 100 List

One year after the Dixie Chicks popped up on the Time 1oo, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people, their producer Rick Rubin has been included in the 2007 list.  It’s only fitting then that the accompanying essay is written by Natalie Maines:

I didn’t know what to expect at our first meeting. When I asked other people what he was like, the word guru consistently came up. I had horrifying visions of banjo meditation and a Dixie Chicks album inspired by a sense of inner peace. I wasn’t up for either of these things. To my relief, neither was he.

Rick, 44, is a man of few words who exudes confidence without arrogance. He has a natural intuition when it comes to music. What would seem like an opinion coming from someone else is simply fact when Rick says it. Rick doesn’t tell you how you should play it; he tells you when you have nailed it. When people know they can try things, they begin to relax and really listen to a song. They stop focusing on what’s written on the page and start listening to the music and where they fit into it. It may take longer, but I think it’s the key to why Rick’s albums all sound so individual and honest. He has the ability and the patience to let music be discovered, not manufactured. Come to think of it, maybe he is a guru.

At the Grammys earlier this year, no one person garnered more applause than Rick Rubin, who wasn’t even in attendance.  The industry audience roared every time he was thanked by the Chicks and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and also when Don Henley announced that Rubin had won the Non-Classical Producer of the Year Grammy.    Maines captures the very reason he has been able to push artists ranging from Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash to the Chicks and Chili Peppers to make some of their best music.    It’s cool to see a producer acknowledged for a change.   He’s the best in the business these days.

Check out some of his essential works:

Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill
Run D.M.C., Raising Hell
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Johnny Cash, American Recordings
Tom Petty, Wildflowers
Nine Inch Nails, Further Down the Spiral
Johnny Cash, Unchained
Neil Diamond, 12 Songs
Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stadium Arcadium

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