Nashville Music Awards: Jan 21, 1998, concert

divider bar

Killer jam sessions pop up in Music City like auto conventions in Detroit.

One local you haven't seen engaging in impromptu lick-swapping is British pop and rock legend Steve Winwood, who owns a house in the area and spends much of the year here.

``I don't go out much and jam with people around town,'' says Winwood from his Franklin home. ``I do more of that in private. Friends come over to the house and we play together.''

Winwood breaks with custom Wednesday night when he joins another legendary local, guitarist Steve Cropper, in the opening performance of the fourth annual Nashville Music Awards, set for 7 p.m. in Jackson Hall at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, 505 Deaderick St.

Co-hosted by Trisha Yearwood and Matraca Berg, the awards show also will feature performances by a stellar lineup including Kathy Mattea, John Hiatt, Amy Grant, Bob Carlisle, Rodney Crowell, dc Talk, Rod McGaha, Buddy & Julie Miller, Mike Eldred, Steve Earle, Marty Stuart, Jerry Douglas, John Hartford and the trio of Bela Fleck, Edgar Meyer and Mike Marshall.

Award winners -- determined by public vote -- will be named in 37 categories. Artists, composers and songwriters, musicians, producers, art directors -- even music venues -- from every corner of Nashville's diverse music scene will be honored. Musical styles represented include everything from classical to rap and traditional gospel to children's music. Artists in the running range from household names like Winwood to more obscure, unsigned -- but no less deserving -- acts like The Nevers.

Tickets are $30 and $100 available in advance through Ticketmaster, 255-9600. Proceeds benefit Leadership Music and TPAC's Humanities Outreach in Tennessee (H.O.T.) program, which provdes students the opportunity to experience performances in ballet, theater, opera and instrumental performances.

Winwood, a first-time NMA contender, competes for top male vocalist with bluegrass favorite Del McCoury, hard country practitioner John Anderson, musical theater regular Mike Eldred and roadhouse blues legend Delbert McClinton.

Winwood's scheduled performance marks his first local appearance in three years.

Earlier this week, Winwood and Cropper had not made a final decision about whether to pull out a classic from their combined songbags or offer a new interpretation of some old R&B gem. Whatever they do, you can bet your mint-condition Green Onions 45 or your badly scratched copy of John Barleycorn Must Die that it'll be one for the Music City scrapbook.

Influenced early in his career by Ray Charles, Winwood has crafted such soul-pop classics as Gimme Some Lovin', during his years with the Spencer Davis Group, and Higher Love and Roll With It, from his solo years.

Cropper, former guitarist for Stax Records house band Booker T. and the MG's and, from time to time, still a member of the Blues Brothers, has written classics of his own. Check, and you'll find his name on such R&B standards as In The Midnight Hour, Knock On Wood, Soul Man, Green Onions and (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.

``I certainly have an affinity with him,'' says Winwood. ``We were both at a friend's house over New Year's, and I was playing all of Steve's songs and he was playing a couple of mine.

``I have always been a big fan of that Memphis sound. It has had a big impact on my music. Growing up in Birmingham (England), I attended Stax package concerts featuring Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Booker T. and the The MG's.''

As a British singer still in his teens, Winwood put those influences on parade when he joined the Spencer Davis Group in 1963, introducing himself to pop fans with Keep On Running, I'm A Man and the soul-churning Gimme Some Lovin'.

By 1967 he had moved into the vanguard of British rock, founding his own band, Traffic, with Dave Mason, Chris Wood and Jim Capaldi. The group made waves by experimenting musically with a broad range of instruments and extended compositions. Winwood and Capaldi continue to work together occasionally as Traffic, most recently reuniting for a tour of the U.S. in 1994.

Taking a turn from what he was doing with Traffic, Winwood again explored his blues roots with Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Rich Grech in the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith which released one album in 1969. Clapton (guitar, of course) and Baker (drums) were alums -- along with bass player Jack Brcue -- of the landmark Brit blues group, Cream, which put a psychedelic spin on many Delta blues classics.

Winwood began his solo career in earnest in 1977 with a self-titled album. Writing radio-friendly, soul-pop numbers, he scored Top 10 hits with While You See A Chance, Higher Love (featuring soul singer Chaka Khan), The Finer Things, Valerie, Roll With It and Don't You Know What The Night Can Do? He picked up two Grammys in 1986, record of the year and best male pop vocal, for Higher Love.

Junction Seven, Winwood's latest and his first solo release since 1990's Refugees of the Heart, finds the singer leaning again toward a mix of pop and R&B, this time with help from producer and songwriter Narada Michael Walden.

The album opens with the upbeat, danceable Spy In The House Of Love, while a remake of Sly & The Family Stone's Family Affair falls near the end of the CD.

Among the songs in between are four adult contemporary tunes written by Winwood with his wife, Eugenia, a Tennessee native and Belmont University graduate who introduced the Brit to Music City more than a decade ago.

Not only are Real Love, Fill Me Up, Gotta Get Back To My Baby and Someone Like You the couple's first musical collaborations, they also are the first compositions Eugenia has ever written.

``She's not a (trained) musician,'' Winwood says, ``which has its advantages. She's got a very good musical ear, but while a lot of musicians get bogged down with chord changes, modulations and so on, she has insight into what the essence of a song is.

``She had some ideas for some songs and asked me if I would help her put some demos down. She hadn't written complete songs before, but she is always coming up with little bits of songs which are quite memorable.

``She didn't intend for her songs to end up on my record, but after I made the demos I thought they were so good I told her I wanted to use them.

``She dutifully allowed me to,'' he adds, with a laugh. Eugenia is an alumnus of Belmont's music business program, but she didn't meet Winwood through industry ties. The two struck up a conversation during a concert by late R&B sax legend Jr. Walker at New York City's Lone Star Cafe.

The Winwoods married in 1987 and now have four kids between the ages of 2 (Lilly, who ``runs the whole show'') and 10.

The family splits time each year between Middle Tennessee and Gloucestershire, England, where Steve has a home studio.

``We've got small children, so where they go to school generally dictates where we are,'' the 49-year-old father explains. ``Normally we spend their school time in England and then we come here during school holidays and summer vacations.

``But this year is different. We put the children in school here, because I was on tour in America.'' When the lifelong musician is in town -- a place he feels ``at home'' -- he devotes most of his time to family matters. But he also does his best to soak up the broad cross-section of talent from the Nashville music community -- much of which will be represented during Wednesday's awards show.

``I went down to see (songwriter and mandolin whiz) Tim O'Brien at the Station Inn just the other day,'' Winwood says. ``I get out from time to time, but I'm not out there every night.

``There's much more music for me here than in England, because we live 2 1/2-hours away from London.

``I'm surrounded by many more musicians and music-related people. I have good friends in the business who come over to the house to jam and sometimes to write.

``That's a great thing for me.''

divider bar

Page created August 25, 1999.
Last updated August 25, 1999.
© 1997 by the author; reproduce only for non-commercial purposes and with full attribution.