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Some Country Artists Hit A Note Of Discord

February 26, 1986|JOHN VOLAND

This is the story of the Little Revolution that wasn't.

Last year, a minor discord was sounded in the Grammy Awards ceremonies when jazz artists and aficionados complained about having been excluded from performing on the nationally televised awards show.

For the first time since 1977, not a single jazz performer shared the spotlight in the program sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

After picketing, lots of angry talk and threatening not to renew their memberships in the academy, the rebels got some results: An eight-minute all-star jazz jam was slotted into a prominent position on Tuesday's Grammy telecast.

So, everyone's happy, right?

Not quite.

Now, the country music community--represented on the telecast by a single performer (Ronnie Milsap) and three presenters (Reba McIntyre, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson)--feels slighted.

Or, at least one prominent member of that community does.

Jim Halsey, manager of such country stars as Lee Greenwood, the Oak Ridge Boys and the Judds, is "mad as hell." In fact, he was mad enough to invite the press to attend a luncheon at his Beverly Hills home Tuesday and let them see just how fumed country folks were.

"I feel like country music deserves some kind of recognition from the academy," Halsey growled as he introduced a reporter to his luncheon guests. "What we got right now doesn't make it."

Halsey wants to see more presenters and entertainers culled from the country field. "We're not being treated as equals at all . . . (we're) more like a poor relation.

"I think attention needs to paid to this issue, and it seems like the only way to get that attention is to make noise."

But there didn't seem to be near the intensity of feeling that surfaced last year among the jazz community.

Greenwood, whose string of country hits includes "God Bless the U.S.A.," believes the Grammys should represent all of American music, not just certain parts of it.

"The Grammys are the epitome of American musical performance and creation," he commented during Haley's luncheon. "What's popular and what gets recognized goes in cycles, like fashion or anything else. Country's been there before (in the spotlight) and it'll be there again. What we don't need is to get all negative and start boycotting and raising a big fuss. The only thing that'll do is push us back further."

All four Oak Ridge Boys--Duane Allen, Joe Bonsall, William Lee Golden and Richard Sterban--seemed to side with Greenwood.

"We've gotten five Grammys ourselves, and I want to tell you it's a great honor--it makes us peers with the rest of the nation's musicians," said Oak Ridger Allen. "None of us are too upset--except, of course, we'd like to be performing ourselves this year."

The question isn't exposure, Halsey insisted.

"We have two other national awards programs that showcase country talent," he said. "I'm not worried about that. What I am worried about is country performers being treated like second-class musical citizens."

When asked whether country musicians have anything to feel inferior about, Oak Ridge Boy Golden shook his long blond/gray hair and said, "Heck no. There's a melody for every emotion, and country's the only way to express some of them. We (country musicians) don't have to be No. 1 or anything like that--just respected, good and fun to listen to."

Asked about Haley's comments, Mike Greene, president of the academy, labeled them "a poor potshot."

"We truly want to portray as many groups as we possibly can while still making the show good television," he said backstage at the Shrine. "I think whoever chooses to knock the academy as being unresponsive or elitist is being very uncreative.

"Country organizations and managers have a beef when the Grammys come around because one of their artists is, they feel, getting stuck," Greene continued.

"I feel sure that's what Jim Halsey's doing this time, because the Judds, one of his clients, isn't performing this year. Well, they performed last year, and we can't accommodate everyone--it'd wind up being a 10-hour show if we did." (Harley insisted at the luncheon that he was concerned with the "reputation of all country music, not just my people.")

Besides, Greene noted, there are two country music awards shows each year--and both are nationally televised.

The Los Angeles-based Academy of Country Music was founded in 1964 and began that same year to give its awards programs, though the first "official," media-attended awards show was presented in 1966 at the Hollywood Palladium. The academy's awards show was first telecast in 1973 and has been shown annually since then.

Founded in 1958, the far more prestigious Country Music Assn., a Nashville-based consortium of performers, managers, media and allied industries, began giving its own awards in 1967 as a second wave of counterattack against the general media dominance established by pop music.

"We give awards to country artists specifically for excellence, and--especially at the time (in the late '60s)--the awards show was also a vehicle to get on television," said Ed Benson, associate executive director of the CMA in Nashville.

"None of these people was being seen nationally. That's why our show is still more of an entertainment show than an awards show. We've only got 11 categories to deal with, so we've got more time for music."

Benson even disagreed with the notion that country artists are getting ignored by the Grammys. "I'm not aware that country artists that we deal with are too upset with the kind of attention they've been getting," he commented.

"In fact, I'd say the Grammy folks have done a fine job trying to get everybody a chance in the spotlight. The Grammys have to cover all parts of music, and that just means somebody's going to be left out each year."

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