Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’ Insider Guide to Grammy Night

This piece is part of Rolling Stone’s second annual Grammy Preview special issue, released ahead of the start of first-round voting. We spoke to some of the year’s biggest artists about the albums and singles that could earn them a nomination — or even a statue come January — and delved into the challenges facing the Recording Academy, providing a 360-degree view of what to watch for in the lead-up to the 2022 awards.

If anybody knows their way around Grammy night, it’s producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Since the mid-Eighties and their initial work with Janet Jackson, the team, who had their first taste of fame and success as co-founders of the Time, have been nominated more than 20 times. Along the way, they’ve taken home five Grammys, including Producer of the Year (Non-Classical) in 1987, in large part for Jackson’s Control, and most recently, Best Gospel Song in 2007, for “Funk This,” by Chaka Khan. They’ve attended innumerable ceremonies — and hope to again next year, if their first album on their own, Jam & Lewis Volume One, is nominated. (That album, released this summer, includes vocals by Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige, Morris Day, and Usher.) Here, they offer a tutorial on navigating an extremely long, hectic, and sometimes snack-challenged day.

Prepping on the day of show

Jimmy Jam: It’s a long day. The premiere telecast is at 1 or 2 o’clock; then the actual show starts at 5 o’clock. And it’s a three-and-a-half-hour show. So you have to get an early start. Make sure you’ve picked out whatever you want to wear. You’ll be walking around and seeing and meeting people. You’re literally on your feet for such a long time. I love shoes that have soft soles. I used to wear Pradas — they were so comfortable, almost like wearing slippers. Don’t wear shoes that are bothering you.

Terry Lewis: You might start getting dressed around 11 a.m., and if you have a wife or partner, she’s going to start getting dressed and doing hair and makeup, too. I wear a suit or a tux. I would suggest you eat a nice clean snack before you leave — something that doesn’t give you bubble gut.… But make sure you do consume something so you’re not starving through the process.

Jam: I’m not really a snacks guy, but a couple of times I put a little health bar in my pocket. You could literally go six, seven, eight hours with nothing to eat. One year, I think it was 2002 when we won for Janet’s All for You, I didn’t eat before I left. Luckily, there was a McDonald’s in the Staples Center that had opened up early. And I swear to God, I scarfed down a Big Mac. Thank goodness that was there.

Working the red carpet

Jam: We try to get there early, talk to the people we know. The way the red carpet is set up is cool. Although they try to move you along the carpet, there are a lot of great spots to take photos with your family or whoever. There are giant gramophones everywhere. When we look back over our scrapbook, or our iPhone nowadays, those pictures are always the ones that document the moment.

Lewis: If you don’t have a publicist, I suggest you [get one], so that people in the media know who you are as you come down the red carpet. No one wants to blow their own horn like, “Yeah, I’m Terry Lewis!” That would be a little strange. And if you’re going to be in people’s faces, bring some mints.

Jam: You’ll meet a lot of people and may have a chance to say to them, “I really like your project. I really like your song.” I enjoy when people come up to me and say, “I love that record you did with so-and-so,” I appreciate it. So I would tell people not to be shy about that. It’s one of the only nights of the year where all of those [music] people from all around the world come together in one place, and I don’t like to leave things left unsaid. We just lost the Rolling Stones’ drummer, and five years ago we lost Prince. So I never want to be in a room with somebody and not acknowledge them in some way, shake their hand and say, “I love what you do.”

The year we won for “All for You” for Best Dance Recording, that song was based on a sample of “The Glow of Love,” by Change. When I was getting my McDonald’s that night, a gentleman walked up to me and said, “Are you Jimmy Jam? You bought me my house.” It was Wayne Garfield, who wrote “The Glow of Love.”

Maximizing commercial breaks

Jam: You should definitely go to the bathroom before the evening starts.

Lewis: There are five-to-seven–minute taped commercial breaks, and that’s a great time to use the restroom. So try to find out where the restrooms and lounges are. Try to get a map of the show that tells you who and what is coming on when, because you don’t want to be in the bathroom when your award is given out.

Jam: If I spot someone who I want to make sure to say hello to, it’s always during the commercial breaks. My wife has a great radar, and she’ll say, “Oh, there’s so-and-so over there. You should say hi to them.” There are certain people you want to make sure you scope them out. One year, I wanted to say hello to Kendrick Lamar. We had met before, but I made sure I said hi.

Writing an acceptance speech

Lewis: Keep it short and concise and make sure you have your thank-you’s together, because you will forget someone you know. You have to walk up there and hug everybody and do your 40 paces.… I’ve been a victim of that. People standing right in front of me I forget sometimes, because in the moment there’s so many people to thank.

Jam: I remember when we went to our very first Grammys [1987], we went up onstage. I gave my speech, Terry gave his speech. And as Terry is walking offstage, he literally says to me, “I forgot to thank my wife.” I was like, “Uh-oh.” I didn’t have that problem because I wasn’t married. The whole night, every interview we did, he said, “I forgot to thank my wife.” So my advice would be: Don’t worry about saving the best for last. Make sure you acknowledge the people you need to acknowledge; just get them out the way so you don’t forget.

What happens if you win

Lewis: If it’s early in the show, you get to go back to your seat. But if it’s late in the show [and you win], there needs to be a contingency plan for your family, because they will not get to come with you [backstage]. They whisk you off and you have to do the red carpet, but for winners.… It’s like the black hole; you can’t get out. The ushers will be telling [your family] they have to leave! Make a place to meet at the Grammy party, which is usually in an adjacent building, or have your publicist bring your family to the green room or something like that.

Jam: Try to get the envelope with your name on it. I’ve had the honor of presenting on the premiere telecast for the last eight or nine years. And one of the things I always do is hand the envelope to the people who win and say, “Frame this.” With us a few times, people just took the envelopes and left with them.

The afterparties

Jam: The Recording Academy throws a pretty great party literally right next door to the Staples Center. That’s a great place to start. It’s a chance to eat, because there’s great food, and usually great performances. Also, not everybody is going to go to the party, so hang out there for an hour, and by the time you come out, the traffic will get cleared up. And then you go to whatever party you’d like to go to.

Where to put the trophies

Lewis: Up until two years ago, I never had Grammys in my house. I never wanted my house to feel like a Terry Lewis shrine. I wanted my kids to feel their stuff — their artwork or paintings — were more important than my Grammys. Then my wife said, “Bring them home for a while.” Now I have Grammys at my house; I’m looking at three right now and the other two are somewhere else in the house.

Jam: Our Grammys have moved around from place to place. I used to have them in our studio, because I just like seeing them; they’re very motivational. But now I keep a couple at the house, which was actually ordered by my  wife. A couple of years ago, we moved to a new house and she said, “I want a couple of those Grammys here.”

And what if you don’t win

Jam: Even when we’ve lost, it’s still a great memory because it’s just great to be in the room with all these other great music makers. I’m happy for whoever wins.

Lewis: The Grammy Award is for who was chosen that particular night for that particular award. And it’s never a given. So I say always be gracious and be happy for someone else. You should always want the same thing for someone else that you want for yourself. You have to understand this is all part of the process, but win, lose or draw, you can never allow it to define you. We all got in this to be creative. We’ve accomplished that, so we’ve all won at that point. Anything on top of that is just ice cream on top of the cake.

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