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Awards Show Producer Ken Ehrlich Previews The Grammys

Katy Perry is among the nominees for Sunday night's Grammy Awards. (Getty Images)

The Grammys are widely recognized as the music industry's highest honor. And Ken Ehrlich has produced every Grammy Awards telecast since 1980. He's at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where he's preparing for Sunday's big show, and he joins Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon to discuss this year's nominees, performances and more.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

(Soundbite of song, Firework)

Ms. KATY PERRY (Singer-songwriter): (Singing) Baby, you're a firework. Come on, let your colors burst. Make 'em go, oh, oh, oh, oh. You're gonna leave 'em falling down.

SIMON: A little Katy Perry to set the scene. Her hit CD, "Teenage Dream," is up for Album of the Year at tomorrow night's Grammy Awards. Of course, the Grammys are, of course, recognized as music's highest honor.

Ken Ehrlich has produced every Grammy Awards show, well, oh, since before Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt. Ken is at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where he's preparing for tomorrow nights big show.

Ken, thanks for being with us.

Mr. KEN EHRLICH (Producer, Grammy Awards): Its good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Contrary to popular impression, I don't live under a rock, and I have heard that a guy named Dylan is going to be performing.

Mr. EHRLICH: Jakob?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EHRLICH: Oh, no, no, his pop. Yeah, pop.

SIMON: I believe his dad. Yes.

Mr. EHRLICH: Yeah, we're very excited. We're going to do a segment with two young, fresh really amazing bands, the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, both of which have achieved a certain amount of traction this year. Mumfords nominated for Best New Artist. And when I started thinking about both of these bands, it didn't take a rocket scientist to realize where they came from, and they came from Bob Dylan, as did so many of generations. So we called Bob and asked his people if Bob would consider performing with them. And to our delight, after a little bit of time, you know, obviously Bob checked them out and I think was already familiar, at least with Mumford, and said yeah, I'd like to come along.

SIMON: Ken, you let slip a phrase - we called Bob Dylan. Very few people can begin a sentence that way and be credible. If you don't mind me asking, you persuaded Bob Dylan to be on the Grammys a few times now, right?

Mr. EHRLICH: I have. You know, it goes back to an experience that frankly, you and I share, which was the first time I had worked with him was when we were both in Chicago and I was doing a show called Sound Stage and we did a tribute to John Hammond.

SIMON: I was there that night.

Mr. EHRLICH: And, yeah, and Bob agreed to come on because obviously, John had been very important in his career, to the point of around the building, at one point, I think they called Dylan Hammonds Folly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EHRLICH: And, which just goes to show you. So he came and he did Hurricane. I think he did Simple Twist of Fate.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: And it was, I don't want to say it was the beginning of a long-term friendship, but he would answer the call, you know, for the next 35 years when we called. Hes just a remarkable talent and a really interesting individual.

SIMON: You came up with the concept of pairing different musical acts, unexpected, if you please. What do you look for in that alchemy?

Mr. EHRLICH: You know, I don't know that I look for anything in particular. I like it when they don't really feel like on first glance theyll go together. We did kind of an odd pairing several years ago where we put Dave Grohl with Chick Corea, you know. I think that was a late night pizza experience.

But, of course, Prince and Beyonce, Eminem and Elton. Last year, Elton with Lady Gaga. You know, those things kind of make sense. You know that if you put your faith in the artists and what they've come to do to a certain extent, not always with us, is put their faith in us, cause they know that we will try and take care of them to the best of our ability, that the potential for something really special is there.

SIMON: Two big tributes, as I understand it, are planned; one for Solomon Burke, the late soul music pioneer.

Mr. EHRLICH: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: Can you tell us what you have planned for it?

Mr. EHRLICH: Yeah. This is another get, and one I can cross off the list. And if I really had a list, I think this might be the last one living. Mick Jagger, who I saw at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts in the fall and, you know, we struck up a little conversation. Weve asked him before and he never accepted our invitation for one reason or another. But then when Solomon died in the late fall, and I went back to him and ask him if he would come and honor Solomon Burke, that was it, you know.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: I mean this was a man who was very important to Mick. They had performed together. The Stones had done, you know, several of Solomon's songs and that was it. So we have Solomon Burke to both remember and to thank for Mick Jagger and the Grammys.

SIMON: Other musical tribute is planned for Aretha Franklin.

Mr. EHRLICH: Yup.

SIMON: Who I gather has been dealing with some illness lately.

Mr. EHRLICH: She has. I talked to her sometime around Christmas for the first time after she had had her surgery and she just sounded in great shape. And really literally only a couple of weeks ago, you know, I called her back and I said look, I think we'd like to do this. Ill only do it if you'll bless it. But I can tell you that there's a community out there that wants to give good wishes to you. It's not a tribute. It's not the end of a career. It's a shout out, you know? And she was thrilled and she said go ahead. And it's pretty amazing. I mean it's Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine, Martina McBride and Yolanda Adams. So, you know, when you do a salute to Aretha, you better bring the singers and that's what it starts with and that's what it's about.

Ken, you mentioned Christina Aguilera will be part of the Aretha Franklin tribute. Are you taking special steps to make certain she knows the words? Sorry, I had to ask.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EHRLICH: Oh, Scott, we're too old friends for that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EHRLICH: She, look, as you know, these things can happen and...

SIMON: Yes, of course, anything can happen. Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: You know, it means, frankly, so little to me because of our history with her. I mean she's brought two or three of the greatest Grammy moments that we've had. You know, when she channeled James Brown a few years ago and did It's a Mans World. It was unbelievable. And then a couple of years before that she sang her hit Beautiful, where I think I looked out into the arena and maybe half the people were crying.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: So shes really a special artist. She will prevail here.

SIMON: And Barbra Streisand will be performing?

Mr. EHRLICH: Yes. Well, she's being honored this year by MusicCares. The first Grammy show that I did was the one where she sang You Dont Bring Me Flowers with Neil Diamond. And so, we rehearsed with her on Thursday, and wow. I mean it was, you could hear a pin drop in this room and it's one of those songs that if you put a list together of Barbra Streisand songs, this would be at the top of it.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: And so I won't mention it cause I'd like to think there's a little surprise left in the world.

SIMON: Yes. Yes. Yes, of course. Well what, how do you know when you leave the control room you've had a great show?

Mr. EHRLICH: You know, I sometimes know before. And again, as we've moved through these rehearsals you can feel it. You can feel it in the room. You can feel it on stage. Maybe the degree to which it'll be successful is kind of unknown. But I know what we've got here.

One of the things that we're doing is there are these three young bands, two of them are from Atlanta, the third is Bruno Mars, who I think he's from everywhere.

SIMON: Bruno Mars, we've had Bruno Mars on the show.

Mr. EHRLICH: He's great.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: Hes really a musician.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. EHRLICH: So what we've done is we were talking about collaborations, we put them together with B.O.B., with whom he did Nothin On You, which was a huge hit this year, and Janelle Monae, whom I'm just totally entranced by. And these three artists who represent freshness and some really new voices in pop, in music. With all the household names that we have, these three are probably not the least known, but I mean, you know, you're talking about legends like Streisand and Jagger and Dylan, and here are these kids that I think are going to - I don't want to say walk away with the show but their performance is going to be amazing.

SIMON: Ken Ehrlich, who's producing the Grammys, speaking with us from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the site of tomorrow's Grammys Awards.

Ken thanks so much.

Mr. EHRLICH: Scott, thank you.

(Soundbite of song, Tightrope)

Ms. JANELLE MONAE (Singer-songwriter, dancer): (Singing) Some people talk about ya, like they know all about ya. When you get down they doubt ya. And when you dip it on the scene, yeah they talkin' bout it. Cause they can't dip on the scene. Whatcha talk about it. T-t-t-talkin' bout it. When you get elevated, they love it or they hate it. You dance up on them haters. Keep getting funky on the scene. Why they jumpin' round ya? They trying to take all your dreams, but you can't allow it. Cause baby whether you're high or low.

SIMON: Thats Janelle Monae with Tightrope, also up for a Grammy tomorrow night.

You wouldnt let me hear Katy Perry again, would you?

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song, Tightrope)

Ms. MONAE: (Singing) Baby, baby. Whether you're high or low. Baby whether you're high or low. You got to tip on the tightrope. Tip, tip on it. Now let me see you do the tightrope. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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