Welcome to Colorado, home of the Grammys

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Who do we talk to about changing the state slogan on the border entrance signs? Instead of the staid "Welcome to Colorful Colorado," how about we change it to "Welcome to Colorado, Home of the Grammys"? Got a nice ring to it, yeah?

What's that? Oh sure, we're well aware of the fact that the annual ceremony happens 2,000 miles away from here. And yes, you can count on one hand the number of Grammy winners that hail from here. Details, details. Colorado is still home of the Grammys. Besides, who said anything about winners?

Fact is, no matter what happens at the ceremony tonight -- whether the Fray or Peter Kater, whom are both nominated, take home statues or not -- Colorado will be well represented at the awards, as has been every year for nearly twenty years now.

For nearly three and a half decades, it seems, this older gent with some swell Buffalo Bill facial hair named John Billings has been handcrafting the actual Grammy awards. And for nearly twenty years, he's been doing it right here in Colorado with the help of his son, his brother and a buddy in a modest workshop in Ridgeway (this really, really small town on the Western Slope somewhere near Telluride). Billings got his start in the mid '70s, working as an apprentice under the original Grammy maker, Bob Graves, who passed the torch to Billings shortly before he passed away in the early '80s. In 1991, when the head of the Recording Academy was looking to redesign the award, Billings submitted a prototype of his idea for sleeker version of the statue, which was selected numerous other submissions. The following year, Billings moved from California and set up shop in Ridgeway, where he's been custom crafting the award ever since.

Wrap your head around that for a minute, will ya? Every single statue that eventually makes its way to the individual superstars -- on stage, the winners are evidently handed "stunt" awards, since the results aren't known in advance -- ultimately began life as an amorphous blob of metal right here in old Colorful Colorado. Billings later inscribes the actual statues and hand delivers them to the Academy himself.

Our pal Rod Blackhurst stopped by Billings' place in Ridgeway a few weeks ago to film a segment for the Music Voyager series he's working on for National Geographic and PBS with Kelly McGelky, and snapped the pictures you see here, that he's graciously shared with us. (Visit Rod's blog to see more pics.) The process sounds totally rad. After heating up this custom alloy called Grammium to 600 degrees, the temperature at which it melts, the mixture is poured into molds, hollowed out and then the polishing and grinding commences and ... ah, heck, man. Here's a YouTube clip that spells it all out. See for yourself below. It's pretty fascinating.

[orig. posted: 01.05.10, 15:21:51]

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Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


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