From Johnny Cash To Turnpike Troubadours: Six Times The Grammys Got Country Music Wrong

Luke Combs, Johnny Cash et al. are posing for a picture

Okay, so the Grammys have never been the most reliable measuring stick to judge any genre by, let alone the American institution we know as country music.

I mean in 1985 they picked Lionel Richie over Purple Rain and Born in the USA, for god’s sake…

Moreover, the unassuming, stripped-back nature of the art form we all love doesn’t really match up to the dressed-up glitz and glamour of the most esteemed, completely impartial award show in music. I mean, could you really imagine Luke Combs shotgunning one with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn in front of, like, DJ Khaled and whoever else shows up to the Grammys these days?

Regardless of the perpetual oversights and mind-boggling omissions (just ask The Weeknd about that one), some snubs in history have just stood out more than others:

6. Zac Brown Gets Chicken Fried by Taylor Swift (2010)

I like Zac Brown. I like Taylor Swift. I especially like the trajectory in sound Taylor Swift appears to be taking as of late. But Zac Brown’s now-revered major label entry into the country music conversation (The Foundation) kicks Fearless’ ass. As does “Betty” from Folklore.

C’mon, Fearless isn’t even Taylor’s strongest country album, and she only really had two of them…

5. The Year the Grammys Should’ve Gambled on Kenny (1980)

Billy Joel’s 52nd Street is hardly Here’s to the Good Times by Florida Georgia Line, but it would have been nice if the deep cuts on this staple of the Nashville sound had taken the W in the all-genre Album of the Year category at such a pivotal moment in popular culture at the turn of a new decade. And I’ll admit, and it’s not like Kenny Rogers needed the Grammys’ validation at the stratospheric peak of his career.

Who knows, perhaps the likes of “Making Music for Money” didn’t really fit their MO…

4. Different Decade, Same Old Shit (1970)

Alright, what the actual fuck happened here? You’re trying to tell me that The Man in Black never won the Grammy Award for all-genre Best Album? At San Quentin was nominated and it didn’t win?

Is it normal to never have heard of Blood, Sweat & Tears, the group that apparently beat out Johnny Cash 50 years ago? Is anything normal anymore? And The Beatles’ Abbey Road was in the category as well? If it was in 2020, I’d understand…

3. Kacey Beats Out Stapleton…. But Not With a Country Record (2019)

Golden Hour just isn’t a country album. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s a bad album, it’s just that it’s a pop album. So I don’t know what it’s doing in this category right alongside a collection that includes A Simple Song and other melodies that make me feel tingly in unwarranted places. If you want to give it the all-genre Album of the Year award, be my guest, but it’s not a country record… at all.

And besides, how cool would it have been for the savior of mainstream country in the 2010s to get the nod two years running?

2. Luke Combs Doesn’t Get Nominated… Because… Reasons (2021)

It’s not that What You See Is What You Get is the most ground-breaking set of country songs since Red Headed Stranger, it’s more that for everything we know about the Grammys’ tenuous-at-best nomination criteria, Luke Combs’ latest full-length really should’ve got a mention.

Don’t get me wrong, I like that 2021’s selections included literally zero male solo artists (and indeed I hope Ashley McBryde takes it home), but Luke is such a moment for the reinvigorated sound of mainstream country, he needed to be in there. Little Big Town did not…

1. Turnpike Troubadours Don’t Get Nominated Because We Can’t Have Nice Things (2011, 2013, 2016, 2018)

This one may be a little idealistic, but Turnpike Troubadours are country as hell, arguably the best country band in the business. The label they’re on, or the state they’re from, shouldn’t affect that. Consider the case for each album:

Diamonds & Gasoline – In the same vein as Zac Brown’s The Foundation, this is the lovable breakthrough record that put them on the radar of all hardcore country fans unknowingly about to turn their heads from the dawn of the bro-country era.

Goodbye Normal Street – “Gin, Smoke, Lies” and “Good Lord Lorrie.” Just a mention of any of those six words will earn you a handshake in any self-respecting Oklahoma dive bar. Need I say more?

The Turnpike Troubadours – Some of the most masterful and fully-realized storytelling in the history of the genre. They were onto something when they gave it to Sturgill in 2017 (which they still could’ve done while giving it to a Turnpike record either side). I rest my case.

A Long Way From Your Heart – Arguably their magnum opus, certainly the most immaculately produced in their catalogue. It sounds like it was cooked up in Dave Cobb’s magical laboratory, so does it matter that it wasn’t?

And I’m sure there are plenty, plenty more….

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