'GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY' SERVES UP TWO GRAMMY NOMINATIONS

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 (l-r) Joel Moss, Shirley Caesar and Jeff Gaskill are a Grammy-nominated team

(l-r) Joel Moss, Shirley Caesar and Jeff Gaskill are a Grammy-nominated team

BY SETH ROGOVOY

(WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., February 7, 2004) – Several Williamstown households will be taking more than just a casual fan’s interest in the results of Sunday night’s Grammy Awards ceremony. 

The album “Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan” (Columbia/Legacy), which goes into the awards show with two nominations -- for best traditional soul gospel album and best pop vocal collaboration for Dylan’s duet with Mavis Staples on “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking” -- was the brainchild of Williamstown native Jeffrey Gaskill, who saw the project through from beginning to end. 

And the project, featuring new versions of Dylan’s gospel songs performed by an all-star cast of contemporary gospel artists, received early financial backing from a group of Williamstown-connected friends, including landscape artist Scott Hoover, whose sisters, Susan and Jane Hoover, and his friend Jackie Abbott, also invested in the deal. 

Mahboud Zabetian, an Iranian exile who lived with the Gaskill family in Williamstown after the fall of the Shah, and Todd Solomon, a former co-owner of Bette’s Life and Times restaurant, also provided early support, as did Dianne Haas, formerly of Lenox. 

“It’s an amazing success story from the standpoint of hopes and dreams and the old pluck and luck,” said local businessman Jerry Smith, who was instrumental in assembling the team of local shareholders in the project. 

“Win, lose, or draw, I’m excited about the two nominations,” said Gaskill, in a phone interview from his apartment in Brooklyn, where he was getting ready to head off to Los Angeles to sit beside co-producer Joel Moss at the Staples Center on Sunday night, ready to claim his share of the awards should the song or album get the nod. 

“The nominations were a real affirmation for me and for each of the artists who contributed to the project,” said Gaskill, noting that Moss has a winning streak at the Grammys, having won twice before in the traditional soul gospel category with albums he produced for Cissy Houston. 

Gaskill was on the road with the Aerosmith/Kiss tour in December when the nominees were announced. 

“I had no idea the nominations were being announced,” said Gaskill, 42, who has worked in various capacities in the concert business for the last 20 years, doing corporate marketing on tours by the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner and Santana, and overseeing production at Central Park’s SummerStage, a festival of performing arts. 

“I got a voicemail from my attorney after checking into a hotel in Tampa,” said Gaskill, recounting the moment he learned that his project had garnered two Grammy nominations. 

“I immediately rushed down to the hotel bar to buy a round of drinks for the tour crew, but there was no one in the bar. So I skipped the drinks and called my mother and shared the news with her, as well as all the players and supporters of the project, including the Williamstown team.” 

“For a first time out in trying to do something like this, it certainly exceeds all my expectations,” said Smith. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d be looking at two Grammy nominations.” 

Gaskill said the impact of the Grammy nominations cannot be overestimated, both professionally and personally. 

“I would hope the nominations would perk up a few more ears in the gospel world, and the pop vocal collaboration nomination might attract more mainstream listeners,” said Gaskill. 

“I have great respect for Bob Dylan as an artist, and I felt a responsibility to him to make an album that represented these songs to the best of our ability. I also wanted people to listen again and reappraise this important body of work. And with these nominations it says to me that they have.” 

As for the album’s chances of winning, Gaskill notes that in the best traditional soul gospel album category, the recording is up against several artists who appear on “Gotta Serve Somebody.” 

“What’s nice for us is that Aaron Neville and Shirley Caesar also have their own nominations in the same category,” he said. “And Mavis Staples and Aaron sang with the Blind Boys of Alabama on their album, which is also nominated. The Chicago Mass Choir is also nominated in the choir category. All of these nominations cast our project and the choices we made in a very flattering light. 

“We all know from previous Grammy years that anything can happen, so that’s the attitude I’m taking. But I would love to see Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples share a Grammy award. Those two have been friends for over forty years, and I think their collaboration reflects that shared history.” 

Dylan also has a nomination for best male rock vocal for his version of
”Down in the Flood” on the soundtrack to the film “Masked and Anonymous.” 

Gaskill got his start in show business right here in the Berkshires, where shortly after college he set up shop as a concert promoter at the Mahaiwe Theatre, presenting the Burning Rose Concert Series, which brought artists including Bonnie Raitt, Nanci Griffith, Chick Corea and the Roches, among others, to downtown Great Barrington on a regular basis. He also promoted shows at Albany’s Palace Theatre and in Burlington, Vt. 

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on February 8, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.] 

Jeffrey Gaskill