For Johnny Warren, golf and a Grammy go hand in hand
Editor's Note: In honor of the 2018 Grammy Awards, we take a look back at the incredible accomplishment of PGA Professional Johnny Warren when he was a member of the 2015 Grammy Award-winning bluegrass group, Earls of Leicester.
It's not unusual to see a trophy or two on a shelf in a PGA Professional's office. But Johnny Warren has a trophy that may be unique among his peers: a Grammy Award.
Warren, an accomplished fiddle player in his own right, is a member of the Earls of Leicester, which won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album during the 57th annual Grammy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles this month.
Jerry Douglas, who put the band together, chose the name as a play on the first names of Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt. The group's goal is to showcase the roots of bluegrass by playing music from the pioneers of the genre.
"We're just trying to re-educate younger people about Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys," Warren said. "They influenced so many different types of music over the years."
When the group's self-titled debut album was nominated for a Grammy, Warren didn't know what to think at first. It's not every day you get invited to a party in Los Angeles with the biggest names in the music industry.
"The rest of the guys are full-time musicians, while I consider it still a hobby for me. I don't want it to become a job," Warren said. "When I went there, I went out with the attitude that it was just an honor to be nominated. I didn't care if we won or not.
"About two categories before our name was called, my competitive nature kicked in, and I thought to myself, 'Man, I really want to win this.' And I got kind of nervous sitting there."
When their names were called, Warren said the feeling was incredible. And what happened afterward was even more amazing.
"It was non-stop media and cameras backstage for over an hour," Warren said. "We actually got back to our seats for the televised portion about three minutes before AC/DC came on. So we were there to see all that, too. It was pretty neat."
Which came first, music or golf? For Warren, it was only natural that the son of a famous fiddle player might follow in his father's footsteps.
"My dad played with Flatt and Scruggs," Warren said. "He was a professional musician and traveled the road a lot when I was a young kid and a teenager. He was as good at his trade as anybody and played everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Grand Ole Opry."
Warren played his first round of golf at age 13, and was immediately hooked. He now had two passions.
"My brother had an old makeshift set of clubs, and I went out with a couple of guys," he said. "You know how golf does -- it gets its cleats in you, and it just didn't turn me loose."
Warren started teaching the game in 1975 at the age of 19, and later that year he got married. When he started raising a family, he realized he'd have to choose between the two.
"Back in the late '70s, early '80s, I played with a couple of bands and we traveled some on the weekends," Warren said. "When my kids were born, I just realized I was burning the candle at both ends -- trying to do golf and that -- and I had to make a decision. I've got to do one or the other, because I can't do both.
"My dad died in 1978, but his advice to me was, 'Do music as a hobby and find something where you can stay home with your family.' That's the only thing he missed, out there being gone for months at a time. And he didn't want me to do that."
So as Warren's teaching role expanded and his clientele grew, he set music aside. He was named the Tennessee Teacher of the Year multiple times and Golf Digest has ranked him among the top golf teachers in the state.
As the owner of the Johnny Warren Golf Academy at the Fairvue Plantation Club in Gallatin, Tenn., Warren said what makes his job even more special is meeting people.
"I always felt like teaching the game, I've met a lot of people and made a lot of life-long friends," Warren said. "And I just enjoy meeting people and getting to know them on a personal level."
About eight years ago, Warren found a collection of recordings his father Paul had done, and decided to pay tribute to his dad by re-recording them in his own fiddle style. That caught the attention of Douglas, who asked Warren to join his all-star lineup.
Winning a Grammy -- and respect of influential people in the music industry -- was a special moment as well. For Warren, it was a chance to pay tribute to someone special in his life.
"It was pretty emotional in a way, because what went through my mind when they called our names was my father," Warren said. "I guess every son wants to make their dad proud. I don't care if you're 58, like I am.
"We're doing this to try and draw recognition to people who don't know Flatt and Scruggs. It's really not about us. And it's special to me because it's not something I've really desired to do -- it just happened that way. And to get that recognition, that's pretty cool."
After winning their Grammy, the Earls of Leicester were invited to play on NPR's Prairie Home Companion. They also have a tour planned this winter and spring, taking traditional Bluegrass music to audiences in the northeast and midwest.
After that ends, Warren's not sure what's next. When it comes to his career, music still plays second fiddle to his interest in teaching golf.