Feb 22, 1989: Jethro Tull Inexplicably Wins First Metal Grammy

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Lars & Ian

Lars Ulrich & Ian Anderson (l-r); photo sources: metallica.com & Jethro Tull Official Facebook

Let’s face it: The Grammys too often wind up with egg on their metaphorical face. One of the worst examples of that was when it instituted a Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance to honor a genre it had overlooked in the past. And the first award went to Jethro Tull and its Crest of a Knave album on this day.

“Everybody thought Metallica would win,” says Tull singer, songwriter and flute player Ian Anderson. “[W]e were, for some strange reason, nominated. And at the time no one paid any attention to the fact that we were nominated. Because they thought there’s no way Jethro Tull are gonna win it. Nor Iggy Pop, nor Jane’s Addiction. It’s going to be Metallica because they were the huge, new, straight-out-of-the-box, enormous, hit talent that year and everybody took it for granted that Metallica were gonna win the Grammy, including Metallica themselves.” Anderson didn’t even attend the awards ceremony.

Metallica had even performed on the show prior to the award being announced, leading everyone to believe…

Watch Metallica perform “One” on the 1989 Grammy show

“[W]e were hearing, ‘Metallica’s gonna win a Grammy.’ Everybody was kind of buying into this idea,” recalls the band’s drummer Lars Ulrich. “And obviously, at one point, you start hearing it enough and you start buying into it yourself. The record company had already made 10,000 one-sheets to put in record stores that said […And Justice For All] was a ‘Grammy Award Winner.’ So we said, why don’t we just put a sticker on them that says, ‘Grammy Award Loser’?”

Anderson remains humored by it all. “[When the award] was ordered to Jethro Tull, to a barrage of boos and hisses and gasps of disbelief, I’d like to think that it wasn’t that the 6,000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences were voting for Jethro Tull as a heavy rock band or a heavy metal band. They gave us the award because we were a bunch of nice guys who never won a Grammy before. And sad to relate, even after all these years, there is still no category for best one-legged flute player. Otherwise, I’d be winning it every year.”

Related: Our interview with Ian Anderson

And Ulrich looks on it positively. “[We] were psyched that we were involved. We were psyched that we were invited. We were psyched that we got to perform. And then, a year or two later, they invited us back and we got our award. We’ve won a bunch of them since. I can’t remember the count. So it worked out OK.”

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