Rodney Crowell may well be the most talented country artist of his generation -- a singer / songwriter / producer / entertainer who has constantly forged ahead into new musical and thematic territory during times when too many of his compatriots have timidly clung to the straight and narrow. Yet, despite -- or perhaps because of -- his wide-ranging, diverse musical gifts, success as a recording artist was a relatively long time in coming for Crowell.
He recorded several critically acclaimed albums for Warner Bros. -- Ain't Livin' Long Like This, What Will the Neighbors Think, Rodney Crowell and a fourth one that was never released -- in the late 70's and very early 80's. Yet no hits were forthcoming.
It was not until the late 1980's, when he finally took on his former band member-turned-producer, Tony Brown, as his co-producer, that Crowell had his first real chart success, with an album titled Diamonds & Dirt.
This, his 1988 breakthrough, resulted in five consecutive Number One singles (all of them written by Crowell) and won a Grammy award. He's since followed with Keys to the Highway (1989), Life Is Messy (1992) and Let the Picture Paint Itself (1994), which are not only some of the most intelligent, but also simply some of the best albums made in the last decade.
The thing that has always set Crowell apart and given him his added creative edge is his brilliant imagination and incessant creative exploration. Hank Williams, Guy Clark, artist Georgia O'Keeffe, jazzmaster Miles Davis, author Raymond Carver, novelist Leo Tolstoy and the French poet Rimbaud are just a few of the artists from vastly different mediums who have influenced him over the years.
Crowell's long musical journey began in Houston, Texas, where he was born in 1950. His father was a Tennessee-born construction worker and part-time local honky-tonk musician. (Crowell has always taken considerable pride in the fact that his mother and father met at a Roy Acuff concert in Tennessee.) By the time Crowell was 13, he was already drumming and occasionally singing in his father's band. After a brief stint in college, Crowell headed for Nashville in 1972.
He went through the usual starvation period. "I was 21, didn't know a soul, didn't have a penny. I slept out at the lake in my car," he told Country Music magazine's Bob Allen in a 1989 interview. "But then I met Guy Clark and he gently shoved me toward influences like Townes Van Zandt, Mickey Newbury and Billy Joe Shaver. I was lucky to meet Guy. He's certainly one of the biggest influences on me. He's like the Picasso of country writers."
Crowell did a stint as vocalist/guitarist in Emmylou Harris' legendary Hot Band. Harris was also one of the first of many artists to record Crowell's original songs. Others include: rocker Bob Seger ("Shame on the Moon"), Waylon Jennings ("Ain't Livin' Long Like This"), Willie Nelson ("'Til I Gain Control Again"), The Oak Ridge Boys ("Leavin' Louisiana in the Broad Daylight") and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band ("Long Hard Road").
On the strength of his early albums, Crowell also put together his own road band, The Cherry Bombs. Seen in retrospect, The Cherry Bombs' stellar line-up is another testimonial to his sheer good taste in musicians: its personnel included three men who have since become Nashville's hottest producers (Tony Brown, Richard Bennett and Emory Gordy Jr.), along with Vince Gill and famed session guitarist Albert Lee.
When Crowell's early Warner Bros. albums failed to jump-start his recording career, he backed into yet another side occupation: producing records.
He not only produced most of the hit records of Rosanne Cash (to whom he was married from 1979 to 1991), but has also manned the console as producer on projects with actress Sissy Spacek, actor Robert Duvall and on Bobby Bare's magnificent 1980 album, As Is.
More recently, he produced Jim Lauderdale's critically acclaimed debut album, Planet of Love. In 1993, Crowell left Columbia Records and signed with MCA. His 1994 debut album for that label, Let the Picture Paint Itself, was extremely well received.
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