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For Songwriter Marc Cohn the Grammys Aren't in his Past


FILE - Marc Cohn performs at Love Rocks NYC! in New York. After winning a Grammy in 1991, singer-songwriter Mark Cohn charted his own course, a long winding road which led him to songs that have been Grammy nominated for two years in a row, March 9, 2017.

Marc Cohn is rightly proud of his Grammy Award but it's not the most valuable thing in his house.

The trophy sits in a heaving bookcase right above a copy of Bob Dylan's "The Lyrics." That thick volume was once owned by Dylan, who presented it to Cohn with a personal inscription when they toured together in 1992.

As you might guess, it's priceless to Cohn. "My kids all know, in case of a fire, I grab the kids, they grab the book," says the singer-songwriter, laughing. "The Grammy is on its own."

Songs and lyrics - not pretty hardware - have always been the fuel for Cohn, the singer-songwriter best known for "Walking in Memphis" from his self-titled debut album.

When Cohn talks about the night in 1991 when he won the Grammy for best new artist - besting Boyz II Men, C+C Music Factory, Color Me Badd and Seal - he cherishes the connection he shares with his musical influences.

"It was very, very poignant and meaningful to be on that stage and accept an award that my heroes had won in the past," he says. "The night itself was otherworldly. I felt like I was in a waking dream."

These days, Cohn does between 70-100 concerts a year and just got off a tour with Michael McDonald. In 2016, he released "Careful What You Dream: Lost Songs and Rarities" and the bonus album, "Evolution of a Record." He co-wrote the song "Paint You a Picture" with David Crosby and is working on a new album that he hopes will be out by the end of the year.

His connection with the Grammys endures - he co-wrote half the songs on William Bell's album "This Is Where I Live," which won the best Americana album Grammy in 2016. This year, a tune he co-wrote for the Blind Boys of Alabama is nominated for best American roots performance.

"It feels particularly sweet to be talking about the Grammys but not just as something in my past," he says. "It's been a wonderful full-circle thing for me."

Cohn has always charted his own musical course, enjoying creative highs and fallow periods. Along the way, he's watched record stores disappear and the power of record companies chip away. Most upsetting to him is the demise of the LP.

"The art form I fell in love with, that made me want to be a songwriter - namely, the album - is pretty much gone. Nobody listens that way anymore. But it's the only way I know how to work," he says.

Cohn grew up in Cleveland, the fourth son of four boys. He had amassed years' worth of songs for his 1991 piano-led debut album, which also contained "Silver Thunderbird" and "True Companion."

He was heralded as an important American artist and a Grammy nod followed - a big slap on the back for a singer who was an avid watcher of the broadcast. At Cohn's home, everyone knew to stay quiet while the show was on.

"The Grammys were the only game in town if you were a young person predisposed to being passionate about music. There was no MTV. There was no VH1. There was no anything," he says.

"The only time I saw Paul Simon, heard him talk, saw the way he walked, got to really watch Stevie Wonder - just all these amazing people - that was always on the Grammys."

After his win, Cohn wrote a clutch of new songs relatively quickly. But they were different from his debut - more guitar-driven - and he had to fight pressure from his label, Atlantic, which wanted him to reproduce the sound of his earlier hits.

"I think I experienced what every artist who is signed to a major record label and has success with their first record. The pressure is on to have another hit," he says. "Whether it wins a Grammy or not, the record companies aren't that interested. They're interested in how many millions can you sell now."

Cohn is more interested in following good music. He's released five studio albums, plus a greatest hits and a live album, including "Join the Parade," which deals with Hurricane Katrina and his own near fatal shooting.

Rising singer-songwriter Chelsea Williams joined Cohn on a few shows in Park City, Utah, last year and calls him a fantastic storyteller, both in song and word. The first night, he unexpectedly pulled her onstage to duet on a Dylan song.

"Getting to see Marc Cohn do his thing so brilliantly and beautifully and getting to see people really, truly appreciate that was very inspiring and encouraging," she says.

Cohn this year plans to tour with the Blind Boys of Alabama and in February will return to City Winery in New York to headline his annual Valentine's Day concert with guests such as Jackson Browne and Shawn Colvin.

"I've got an audience that comes to see me when I come into town and I'm able to do what I love for a living," he says. "As complicated as it is now, that to me is still an incredible blessing."

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