From the early days of rock and roll — i.e., when The Recording Academy mounted its very first Grammy Awards ceremony in 1959 — and on through acid rock, outlaw country, punk, heavy metal, and hip-hop, the music industry’s big night has always counted a sizable number of law-breakers among its nominees.
The following 7 talented convicts actually took home at least one gold-colored gramophone trophy to display alongside their also impressive (albeit in a different sense) arrest records.
Grammy: The Concert for Bangladesh, Album of the Year (1971)
Crime: Murder of actress Lana Clarkson (2003)
Spector has been lauded as a one-of-a-kind studio genius best known for inventing the “Wall of Sound” recording technique. The producer, arranger, and engineer created the “girl group” phenomenon of the 1960s before going on to craft landmark works by (among many others) the Beatles, Ike and Tina Turner, Leonard Cohen, and the Ramones.
Spector worked repeatedly with solo Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, and picked up his sole Grammy for capturing the live Harrison project The Concert for Bangladesh on vinyl.
Throughout his career, Spector developed a reputation for barbaric volatility. Ex-wife Ronnie Spector accused him of bizarre emotional abuse and domestic violence, and at least five separate acts (including Lennon and the Ramones) publicly stated that Phil held them at gunpoint.
On February 3, 2003, actress Lana Clarkson, best known for playing the lead in the Barbarian Queen cult films, went home with Spector for a drink. Shortly thereafter, Adriano De Souza, Spector’s driver, saw the producer running from the home with a gun in his hand. De Souza said Spector told him, “I think I’ve killed someone.”
Authorities discovered Lana Clarkson slumped in a chair, dead from a single gunshot wound to the mouth. Her teeth lay scattered around Spector’s carpet.
A jury convicted Spector, then age 70, of murder on April 13, 2009. He got a sentence of 19-years-to-life. [Daily Mail]
Grammy: Cowrote “Layla,” Best Rock Song (1993)
Crime: Murder of his mother, Osa Marie Gordon (1983)
It was with Clapton that Gordon cowrote the towering 1972 rock anthem “Layla,” for the pair’s supergroup, Derek and the Dominos.
While “Layla” sold millions and entranced fans the world over, the song didn’t properly pick up a Grammy Award until Clapton rearranged and performed it acoustically for his 1992 Unplugged live album.
Tragically, Gordon could not be present at the ceremony that year. After being long prone to explosions of violence later attributed to undiagnosed schizophrenia, Gordon fatally lashed out at his mother, Osa Marie Gordon, 72, with a hammer and a butcher knife.
Jim Gordon continues to be held at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. In 2014, he was described as still “seriously psychologically incapacitated.”
Grammys: “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” Best R&B Recording (1965); “Living in America,” Best Male R&B Vocal (1986); Star Time, Best Album Notes (1991)
Crimes: High-speed interstate police chase, among other infractions (1988)
Soul music supernova and multiple Grammy-winning legend James Brown had bumped up against the law to varying degrees throughout his life, beginning with doing three years in a juvenile prison when he was 16.
1988 proved to be the hardest year, however, for The Hardest Working Man in Show Business. James got busted for PCP possession, and his wife had him arrested for domestic abuse.
After several outbursts of strange public behavior, Brown brandished firearms against an insurance seminar taking place in a building he owned. He then led police on a high-speed chase out of Georgia, into South Carolina, and back into Georgia before his severely compromised vehicle gave out, and the Godfather of Soul peacefully gave himself up.
James Brown served 15 months in prison, followed by 10 months in a work-release program. The state of Georgia officially pardoned him on May 20, 2003.
Grammys: F.A.M.E., Best R&B Album (2012)
Crimes: Domestic violence (2009)
The meteoric rise of Chris Brown kicked off with his 2004 self-titled debut album, released when the singer-songwriter and dancer was just 15 years old.
Stardom in the fields of both music and acting immediately followed and only grew bigger, with Brown being named Billboard magazine’s Artist of the Year in 2008.
In 2012, finally Chris added a Grammy to his accomplishments, with his F.A.M.E. record taking home the prize for Best R&B Album.
Despite the accolades, Brown is also known for a scandal. On February 8, 2009 Brown beat his girlfriend, pop star Rihanna, so severely that she required a hospital stay. Photographs of Rihanna’s facial injuries exploded online and outraged the public.
Brown initially turned himself in for making criminal threats. He later pleaded guilty to that charge, as well as one felony.
The court sentenced Brown to five years probation, one year of counseling, and six months of community service, in addition to issuing a five-year restraining order against him that required him to stay away from Rihanna.
Public and professional backlash has followed Chris Brown since the conviction, but he remains a popular performer. He has courted trouble numerous times, including allegedly trashing his Good Morning America dressing room, showing up at a party attended by Rihanna while dressed as a Muslim terror bomber, and, in 2015, brandishing a neck tattoo that some critics claimed resembled the face of a battered woman. [Rolling Stone]
Grammys: 21 total — 12 as a Beatle; six solo; two with Wings; one as a collaborator
Crime: Drug smuggling (1980)
The legendary Beatle and solo artist is beloved the world over for his brilliant songwriting, master musicianship, and velveteen way with a vocal. The Grammys have awarded him as such more than 20 individual times.
In his private life, Sir James Paul McCartney has been candid about enjoying marijuana. Alas, he’s faced minor pot charges in Sweden, Scotland, and Barbados.
One place where no such thing as a “minor” pot charge exists, however, is Japan. In 1980, that McCartney found himself in major trouble there after getting popped for having more than eight ounces of the drug in his luggage.
McCartney faced up to eight years in prison for what technically amounted to a major drug-smuggling violation.
Authorities held Paul in jail while the governments of Japan and England negotiated some way to defuse the complicated situation of potentially locking up the figure who was then, more-or-less, the most famous and well-liked music maker on the planet.
Ultimately, Japan deported McCartney and cancelled his tour. Upon arriving home, Paul told reporters he promised authorities he wouldn’t get mixed up with marijuana again, and then gave them a big, affably sarcastic wink. [History]
Grammys: Best Country Vocal Performance (1984); Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (1998)
Crimes: Robbery; prison escape (1958)
Johnny Cash is the most famous face associated with the “Outlaw Country” music movement of the 1960s and ’70s. In fact, though, Johnny’s run-ins with the police were seven minor skirmishes that never resulted in more than a night in jail.
Still, Cash’s commitment to bringing music to prisoners and advocating on their behalf both musically and otherwise has made him a revered and cherished figure in the field. Among those most profoundly affected by Johnny’s jail concerts was Merle Haggard.
In 1958, the future two-time Grammy winner perhaps best known for his autobiographical hit “Mama Tried,” was among the inmates who got to witness Cash perform behind bars for the first time at San Quentin Prison.
Haggard was doing two years on a burglary charge, and he credits Cash’s concert for motivating him to turn his life around. It worked, and Haggard often sang of life in prison — notably, in a song titled, “Life in Prison.” [CMT]
Grammy: Best New Artist Grammy for Crosby, Stills & Nash (1970)
Crimes: Drugs and weapons (1982); drunk driving, drugs, and weapons (1985); marijuana and weapons (2004)
Singer-songwriter David Crosby first scored big with the Byrds, and then became a genuine rock icon — and Best New Artist Grammy winner — with Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
As with many stars of the classic rock era, drugs profoundly affected David Crosby’s life, and it was a topic about which he was never shy. He also proved to have a penchant for illegal weapons.
In 1982, Crosby got caught with cocaine, heroin, and firearms at a Texas nightclub and did nine months in a state prison.
Three years later, during a personal downward spiral, Crosby got arrested for a hit-and-run drunk-driving accident after he plowed into a fence and left. Officers found cocaine, drug paraphernalia, and a loaded .45-caliber handgun in his vehicle.
Crosby served five months behind bars, went to rehab, and credits the arrest for getting him off hard drugs.
After appearing to be “clean and sober” in public for many years, though, Crosby left behind a suitcase in a hotel containing a handgun, an illegal hunting knife, and an ounce of marijuana.
David paid a $5,000 fine and has since then advocated for cannabis in place of heroin and cocaine. [Ultimate Classic Rock]
Main photos: David Crosby, 1982 mugshot [Dallas Police Department]