It seemed an improbable dream - an unsigned, unknown singer wearing 30 years of road dust and rejection landing a Grammy nomination.
But that is exactly what 51-year-old Linda Chorney did. Next Sunday, the veteran singer-songwriter who splits her time between Tucson and New Jersey will be sitting in Los Angeles' Staples Center alongside her fellow Grammy nominees for Best Americana Album.
"It's pretty crazy," Chorney said of the nomination for her self-produced and released CD "Emotional Jukebox." "I am the 99 percent occupying Grammy."
The Americana nominees include iconic multiple-Grammy winners Lucinda Williams, Ry Cooder and Emmylou Harris, who has an impressive dozen Grammys to her credit.
Asked of her chances of winning, Chorney joked, "I guess one in five. That would be 20 percent."
Chorney's rise from unknown musician to Grammy nominee is the stuff of social-media legend and has rattled some in the music industry, who say her nomination belittles the integrity of music's most prestigious honor.
How Chorney landed on the top of the list of five nominees started with the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences' social networking site, Grammy365. The site, which the academy launched in early 2010, is open to academy members; as a producer, musician and singer, Chorney is one. The site advertises itself as the place "where music professionals meet"; think of it as Facebook for working musicians.
Chorney said she and her husband connected - sort of like friending on Facebook - with 1,500 Grammy365 members and invited them to listen to her 2011 album.
"I didn't do anything different than anyone else," she said, a sentiment echoed by the academy's president, Neil Portnow.
In an interview with The Associated Press in early January, Portnow said Chorney's story shows Grammy has a level playing field for all artists.
"It shows everybody has a shot," he told the AP.
Chorney said the feedback she received from Grammy365 members was encouraging.
"Not only did they say they loved the album, but a percentage of these people knew people outside of Grammy365," she said, and many promised to recommend it to voting members of the academy.
"Emotional Jukebox" was to have been Chorney's final album. After 30 years, she had come to the conclusion that "there's no way at my age that I'm going to make it at this point. So I just did the album I always wanted to do."
With the $50,000 financial backing from a longtime friend, Dr. Jonathan Schneider, she recruited a cast of A-list players for the recording: drummer Shawn Pelton from "Saturday Night Live"; Lisa Fischer, who sings backup with the Rolling Stones; and Will Lee, the bassist from the "Late Show With David Letterman" band,among them.
"I was able to put all these slamming players together," she said, including recruiting Sierra Vista graphics artist Yuliya Kashapova to design the album cover. "I had the budget to be able to have all these wonderful people surrounding the album."
The double-disc album is the very definition of Americana, with styles ranging from jazz and blues to driving rock and sultry soul.
Chorney wrote most of the songs, which are smartly organized by the emotions you might experience in a day - from the eye-rubbing newness of daylight on the opening track, a smooth jazz cover of the Beatles' "I'm Only Sleeping"; to resignation in the blues-drenched last light of day on her self-penned "Penguin Blues." She also recorded a haunting take on Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" sandwiched between the lovely ballad "Finally" and the driving blues blaster "I'm Not Gonna."
The second disc kicks off with Chorney's self-penned "Mother Nature's Symphony," recorded with a chamber orchestra. The nearly 20-minute sweeping work intertwines dobro and guitar with strings and horns, and makes passing references to Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." Chorney's vocals add a pop twist to the work.
As she prepares to jump in her Ford F-150 pickup truck and drive from Tucson to Los Angeles on Tuesday, Chorney dismisses detractors who say she improperly lobbied for her nomination.
"How can an independent artist from her house, with no label relationships, 'game' the system? Really?" she said, adding with a laugh, " I'm not even an indie; I'm an outie.
"It shouldn't be about the name, it should be about the music," she added. "That's why this is so important. I got in because of the music."
Chorney said she is planning a follow-up album and hopes to start performing in Tucson, where she spends about half the year.
If you watch
54th Annual Grammy Awards, 7 p.m. Feb. 12 on CBS.
• Category to watch for Tucson connection: Best Americana Album, nominee Linda Chorney for "Emotional Jukebox" (Dance More Less War Records).