A Brush with the Grammys

Yeah, those Grammys — the Grammy® Awards. But interesting as it is, the story takes a bit of background.

Last week my wife and I took off for a few days on the “Western Slope” of Colorado. We find the area around Ridgway (population 750ish) to be some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in the state, and recently bought some land on a mesa above town to accommodate our long-range plan to move there.

We have some friends from Boulder with the same plan — they bought their land awhile back. We met on our property last week as we tried to decide exactly where to plant our house.

We set up a canopy as a little base camp and made lunch on a camp stove.

“Wow!” said my buddy, “Look at that thunderstorm!”

I looked up at the storm, off to the southwest. “Look at that one, too!” I replied — it was in the southeast. Over the next half hour, we watched those two storms get closer and closer — and they joined approximately directly overhead.

And boy did it rain!

It rained so hard that we could feel it hitting our faces — under that canopy! And it was made of heavy plastic-coated canvas. Yikes.

Then It Gets Dangerous

As we stood there deciding whether it was going to stop anytime soon, the lightning started to boom around us. Dave and I thought it was probably not a great idea to be standing under the canopy. The canopy held up by a metal framework. We jumped into our cars, which had the added advantage of being a dryer place to sit.

Dave and I — and both of our wives — are ham radio operators. We were able to chat on the radio, and after about a half hour of pouring rain, we decided it might be nice to head into town and warm up. We drove into Ridgway and found a place where we could get some hot cocoa and let our clothes dry.

Being pretty new in town, we decided to look around a bit. Dave’s wife Loretta is an artist, and she spotted what appeared to be a gallery. She wanted to go in, so we popped in the door.

An Odd Gallery

It sure didn’t look like any art gallery I’ve ever seen: the first thing I noticed was a small recording studio. The open office had dozens of autographed photos of really well-known recording artists — top names in the business. I pondered, then rejected, the possibility that so many musicians had made the trek to this tiny studio to record.

As we looked around, I saw a Grammy Award. And then another …and another. And then a stack of parts for Grammys. As I was absorbing what I was seeing, the owner of the place popped out to greet us.

John Billings is an accomplished painter (his portrait of the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn was awesome), and a jazz drummer. And as he offered little bits of information and he answered our questions, the reality of where we were hit us all.

Grammium Ground Zero

A Grammy award.
Made in Colorado — Ridgway, in fact.

This was, in the most literal sense possible, the Grammy Factory. John Billings is the artist who manufactures, by hand, the 300 or so Grammy Awards given out every year.

The awards themselves are manufactured in that little shop here in Ridgway, Colorado. And after making them each year, Billings gets to go to the awards ceremony to watch the Awards get handed out.

His slogan is awesome: “The best damn awards money can’t buy.”

Did you ever wonder what happened to the Grammy that Milli Vanilli had to return after winning “Best New Artist” in 1990? It was quite the scandal when they had to return it when it was revealed they did a lot of lip-synching — they admitted their voices were dubbed by other singers. The Grammy folks weren’t sure what to do with the actual award after that, so they returned it to the factory. We saw it that day, sitting on a shelf.

Billings created a custom alloy to make them both beautiful and strong. He calls it Grammium. Yes, really.

We’re gonna like this town.

4 Comments on “A Brush with the Grammys

  1. Great, now EVERYone knows.

    Time to start looking for another new place to move to. 🙂

    Nah. It’s truly gorgeous and special here, but there’s a dark secret: it’s really hard to make a living here. Me, I brought my job with me. Few have that ability. So come visit, spend lots of money …and then leave! 🙂 -rc

  2. I assume you are going to install some heavy-duty lightning rods to protect your new house on top of that mesa. Or are you going to do what about half of my ham buddies here do, sacrifice a couple of antennas a year to the thunder god?

    That write-up is nearly 10 years old now. I don’t do shortwave-frequency ham stuff, so no big antennas. -rc

  3. That’s a great story and experience.

    “Everybody” around here known about it …and pretty much no one cares. John is just a local guy, and that’s that. Neat! -rc

  4. Very interesting! I was there a few years ago to see the Railroad Museum there, but didn’t realize I missed something equally interesting! And you are right, it is REALLY beautiful up there! I hope to visit again this summer!
    If you are interested in visiting the museum sometime, information about it is on its web site.

    The Railroad Museum is quite good indeed, with some exhibits you can’t find elsewhere. -rc

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