By Phyllis Pollack
Last night’s Grammy Foundation’s 16th Annual Legacy Concert: A Song Is Born put the spotlight on songwriters who create classic works in popular music. It also emphasized the need to preserve the legacy of important and historic compositions.
An array of notable songwriters and musicians participated at the concert that was also sponsored by Seagate.
Among highlights at the star-studded evening’s event, held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, ASCAP President Paul Williams spoke of the legendary songwriting flashpoint, the Brill Building in New York.
It was the perfect segue for Jeff Barry, who opened the concert with humor, and a look back some of the hits that he added his magic onto as a songwriter and arranger.
Delivering a medley of “Do Wah Diddy,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Leader of the Pack,” Sugar Sugar,” and “Chapel of Love,” the enchanted audience sang along.
A perfect addition, Kristen Madsen, Senior Vice President of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, delivered a highly impassioned spoken word presentation that served as a tribute to hit songwriters.
As a nod to songwriters that will shape pop music in the future, and as an example of how the Grammy Foundation helps support the careers of fledgling musicians that are part of their programs, the female country trio Maybe April gave a performance.
The three women had just met each other a year ago at the Foundation’s Grammy Camp Nashville.
Two-time Grammy winner Paul Williams returned to the stage, to share two of the many hit songs he has written. The first one was "Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star is Born.") a 1976 hit for Barbra Streisand, who starred in the film with Kris Kristofferson, who was present and would perform later in the show.
Williams also sang the theme song he wrote for the television show, The Love Boat, which brought laughter from the audience.
Further laughter ensued when Williams interrupted his performance to quip, "Kristofferson, eat your heart out." The revered Williams joked about his work, saying, “I write co- dependent anthems.”
He then spoke about protecting songwriters livelihoods and publishing rights. In comments directed towards writers, he emphasized, "Authenticity. Dare to be yourself. The world will listen."
Williams spoke about his career, and a challenging time in his life in 1968, recalling, "The number one hit was “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." He said he so wanted to write rock and roll songs, and hang out with hipster songwriters that congregated “in Laurel Canyon.”
Approached to write a song for a bank commercial, he ended up penning the Carptenters hit "We've Only Just Begun.” He then sang the smash song, co –written by Roger Nichols.
In 1998, Karen and Richard Carpenter’s recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Williams talked about the heritage of music, and the importance of the Grammy’s Preservation Program, and its keeping historic music alive, so “that it stays there for all time.”
Referring to his 24 years of sobriety, he acknowledged MusiCares, advising the audience, "The MAP Program is there for anyone who wants to dry out."
Williams also performed a song he wrote with Kenny Ascher for Kermit The Frog, "Rainbow Connection."
Iconic songwriter Jimmy Webb took the stage and talked about how his career began with Johnny Rivers and recording for Liberty Records.
He confessed, "We had a problem" with KOMA Radio in Oklahoma City not wanting to play one of his songs that was rejected for allegedly being about illegal drug use.
Webb reminisced about the irony of the situation, saying, “Out of about of all the songs on the radio that week, I guarantee you, that was the only one not written about drugs.”
That hit song he had penned was "Up, Up and Away," which at the 10th Annual Grammy Awards in 1968, won the award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, Other Pop/Rock and Roll/ Contemporary Awards or Instrumental, Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
Webb also paid tribute to Glen Campbell, who is currently battling Alzheimer’s, by performing a major hit song he wrote for him, "Witchita Lineman." Said Webb of the ailing country singer, "I miss him."
He then performed "Highwayman," a song that was recorded initially by Glenn Campbell in 1978.
The name was later taken by Waylon Jennings and his musical compadres Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson for their group The Highwayman, which became the seminal outlaw group in country music.
Their 1990 version of “The Highwaymen” won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Collaboration.
The brilliant songwriter JD Souther performed his hit "You're Only Lonely" on acoustic guitar with Waddy Wachtel, who served as the session guitar player for the event.
Wachtel is most known for his work with Stevie Nix, the late Warren Zevon, Linda Ronstadt, and Keith Richards’ solo group The X-Pensive Winos.
Souther praised the Grammy Foundation's work in its mission of supporting music education. Talking about having had the opportunity to become a musician, "It kept me out of jail," he quipped.
Souther also joked about sparring with Wachtel while writing lyrics together.
Another topic on stage was the Dixie Chicks, and their mass success “before they were ludicrously dropped from country radio." Grammy recipient Dan Wilson was a co-writer of the trio’s resulting song, “Not Ready To Make Nice.”
He referred to the “blacklisting” of "the princesses of country music" as "ghoulish," when discussing their having been blacklisted “for criticizing the man who was the President at the time.”
Among other performances during the night, Joy Williams of the Civil Wars joined Webb and Wachtel for a cover of the Linda Ronstadt hit "Faithless Love."
Webb noted of Ronstadt, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, "She recorded so many other songs of mine, she set such a high standard."
Along with Wachtel and Adele collaborator Dan Wilson, Souther then delivered a lovely rendition of a song he penned with Don Henley and Glen Frey, the 1976 Eagles hit "New Kid In Town."
Referring to Adele as as "a genius," Wilson said she told him she had just been through a "really horrible breakup. Wilson noted, “I said, ‘I'm really sorry,’ but inside, I was thinking were really going to write a great song."
He then delivered an extremely memorable version of Adele’s Grammy-winning mega-hit "Someone Like You.”
“Rock and roll was supposed to be disposable music," said Gavin Degraw to resounding applause, and played "I Don't Want To Be."
He then broke into "Not Over You," co-written with Ryan Tedder of One Republic. Degraw said of songwriting, “Its’ like being in the psychology chair."
Skylar Grey was less philosophic. “I worked at Barnes and Noble and was editing porn,” she said of her days before encountering fame. “I said I’ve got to find a way to make money with music.”
“I was over editing porn,” she joked. Then adding of songwriting, “It kind of got me out of the woods, two Grammy nominations later."
She then sat at the piano to perform her smash hit song "Love The Way You Lie," which was famously recorded by Rihanna and Eminem.
John Rzeznik referred to stylistic decisions he had to make with his group the Goo Goo Dolls, affirming, “We had a choice of critics liking our music or real human beinga. Here I am 18 years later."
He then performed the Goo Goo Dolls number "I Want To Wake Up Where You Are." Rzenick joked about being a recording artist, saying, "Nobody makes any money any more."
He also performed a song he wrote for his wife, "Come To Me." He followed that with his popular hit "Iris."
Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin sang the Tim McGraw’s “Everywhere," which the the duo wrote.
Allen Shamblin noted a song he wrote with Tom Douglas, the Miranda Lambert hit "The House That Built Me." Shamblin stated, "Being a piano player in Nashville is like being drunk in choir, because no one knws what you're trying to do."
Shamblin emotionally recalled Mike Reid saying, "Never lose what you're feeling rite now. Money, fame, awards, nothing will touch what we have in this room right now,” when they completed writing the next song, which Bonnie Raitt performed, "I Can't Make You Love Me."
Raitt said she was grateful to the writers of her songs, and said she is "proud" of the MusiCares MAP Fund, and she also praised the Grammy Foundation.
"My life changed when I wrote something about aging when I turned 40. That seems like a long time ago." That song was her next performance number, "Nick Of Time."
She introduced Kris Kristofferson, referring to his composition "Help Me Make It Through The Night,” calling his song “as soulful as it was sexy."
2014 Grammy Hall of Fame recipient Kristofferson performed a highly moving rendition of “Me and Bobby McGee.” The previously jovial audience fell entirely silent during his performance. One could have heard a pin drop as he sang.
Kristofferson changed an ending lyric during the performance, singing, “Hey, feeling good was good enough for me, hmm hmm, good enough for me and Janis."
He remarked about having difficulty remembering some of his lyrics, concluding, "77 is a bitch," which brought the enrapt audience to laughter.
Accompanying himself on an acoustic guitar, he then performed his notable work "For The Good Times."
Kristofferson received a standing ovation.
Gavin DeGraw, Bony James and Steve Cropper rocked the house together.
Cropper explained that Jerry Wexler from Atlantic Records called him, needing a single for an artist. "I did not know who this guy was, but I should have," said Cropper. “It was Wilson Pickett.”
Cropper remembered that incredibly, three songs were written the afternoon Pickett arrived, including the classic recording of "Midnight Hour."
With Gavin DeGraw, Cropper threw down a rawkus version of it, further propelled by Wachtel, offering lively soloing from Cropper and a wonderful sax solo from Boney James.
Said Cropper of the song “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay, “I’m not going to brag but I'm going to tell you, I've recorded 600 songs.” He then said that Redding was singing about the ferries that come into San Francisco from Sausalito.
“I wrote the bridge with him and the last verse.” he said proudly.” He then performed it, as a duet with Boney James.
Cropper said, “The king of soul, James Brown, but no one can replace Otis Redding.”
Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson sat at the piano and thanked the Grammy Foundation. She delivered a stunning version of her signature song "I'm Every Woman."
"We have the best job in the world," she said, before calling vocalist Ryan Shaw to the stage for a stunning delivery of the Motown hit "You're All I Need To Get By."
This led to a performance of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," written by her Simpson and her late husband and musical partner, Nickolas Ashford.
It also became a hit for Diana Ross, and was recorded by the late Marvin Gaye.
“Let's thank the Grammy Foundation for keeping this music alive," she proclaimed.
Phyllis Pollack will be covering the Grammy Awards Live from Staples Center.
Follow Phyllis on Twitter.