Rodney Crowell Biography

7 August 1950, Houston, Texas, USA. Combining careers as a country songwriter, producer and artist, Crowell rose to fame in the 80s as an influential figure in Nashville’s new breed of country traditionalists, along with Emmylou Harris, in whose Hot Band he worked for three years, Rosanne Cash, and fellow songwriters such as Guy Clark. His songs have been covered by Bob Seger, Waylon Jennings, George Jones and others, while he has also produced albums for Sissy Spacek, Guy Clark and Bobby Bare.

Crowell’s introduction to playing music came before he was a teenager, when he played drums in his Kentucky-born father’s bar band in Houston. He dropped out of college in the early 70s to move to Nashville, where he was briefly signed as a songwriter at Jerry Reed’s publishing company, and in 1973 was appearing on local ‘writers’ night’ with contemporaries such as Clark, John Hiatt and Richard Dobson. In 1974, a demo tape of his songs was heard by Brian Ahern, who was about to produce Pieces Of The Sky for Emmylou Harris, and that album eventually began with Crowell’s ‘Bluebird Wine’. Harris’ 1975 album Elite Hotel included Crowell’s ‘Till I Gain Control Again’, and her 1979 release, Quarter Moon In A Ten Cent Town, featured his ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’ and ‘Leaving Louisiana In The Broad Daylight’. During this period, Crowell also worked as a permanent member of Harris’ Hot Band, playing rhythm guitar and singing harmony and duet vocals.

In 1978, Crowell recorded his own debut album for Warner Brothers Records, Ain’t Living Long Like This, using Ahern as producer and an all-star line-up of musicians including the entire Hot Band plus Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner and Willie Nelson. Although it included two minor US country hit singles, the album was not a commercial success. In 1979, Crowell married Rosanne Cash, and subsequently produced most of her albums. In 1980, he tried again on his own account with But What Will The Neighbors Think, which he co-produced with Craig Leon. It remained in the US album charts for 10 weeks, and included a US Top 40 single, ‘Ashes By Now’; in 1981, he released the self-produced Rodney Crowell, which just failed to reach the Top 100 of the US album chart. These albums were later the basis for The Rodney Crowell Collection, a 1989 compilation that was virtually a ‘Best Of’ of his early career.

In 1984, Crowell delivered Street Language to Warner Brothers, who rejected it, whereupon the artist changed four tracks and leased it to Columbia Records. The album, released in 1986, included three US country chart singles, and established him as a country artist. Diamonds And Dirt, co-produced by Crowell and his erstwhile Hot Band colleague Tony Brown, was much more successful, spawning five US country number 1 singles, ‘It’s Such A Small World’ (a duet with Rosanne Cash), ‘I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried’ and ‘She’s Crazy For Leavin’’. In 1989, Crowell and Brown co-produced Keys To The Highway, which was largely recorded with his fine band, the Dixie Pearls, whose personnel included Stewart Smith (lead guitar), Jim Hanson (bass), Vince Santoro (drums) and another erstwhile Hot Band colleague, Hank DeVito (pedal steel).

Crowell’s 1992 album, Life Is Messy, followed shortly after the revelation that his marriage to Rosanne Cash had broken down. Taken by most observers as a reply to Cash’s stunning Interiors, the album attempted - with some success - to marry melancholy themes to up-tempo songs. Subsequent albums such as Let The Picture Paint Itself (1994) and Jewel Of The South (1995) also chronicled his personal problems. His marriage to Claudia Church in September 1998 indicated he had found personal happiness once more. The self-financed The Houston Kid was regarded as one of the finest albums of Crowell’s career. He followed it up with two further excellent releases, Fate’s Right Hand (2003) and The Outsider (2005). The latter was released through Crowell’s old label Columbia Records and was notable for its strident social and political themes, most pertinently on the anti-war ‘Don’t Get Me Started’ and the satirical ‘The Obscenity Prayer (Give It To Me)’. Crowell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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