Rodney Crowell at The GRAMMY Museum
Rodney Crowell is still at the peak of his creative powers at 66. On January 23rd as a part of the GRAMMY Museum’s ongoing Americana Music series, he seemed like an artist half his age still learning and growing in the craft of songwriting and performing.
During his interview with Scott Goldman, the vice president of the GRAMMY Foundation, Texas singer-songwriter, Rodney Crowell gave a ‘shout-out’ to Billy Joe Shaver for introducing him to an old Jimmie Rodgers song, “Waiting for a Train.” It came at the beginning of his career when Crowell found himself a part of a Texas music scene that included a virtual Paris-in-the-20s cast of characters. Legends like Mickey Newbury, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt-and even a very young Steve Earle-were all friends and compadres. It was clearly a possee of songsters to end all possees. It was a golden age country music that fueled the Outlaw movement of the 70s. Rodney Crowell, who early on penned such classics as “Till I Can Gain Control Again,” and “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This” (hits by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings respectively) has worn the miles well. It was evident as he sang his songs solo acoustic. For an hour, the Grammy Museum became the gathering-in-the-kitchen of Guy and Susanna Clark. The evening was revealing, dynamic and engaging.
With a new album dropping on March 31st titled, Close Ties, interviewer Scott Goldman asked Crowell about the process of self-producing an album. According to Crowell, “I learned a lesson from sweet Joe Henry. Joe has a great basement studio. He works quickly and when I heard it, I didn’t hate it!” Crowell laughed. “When you produce it yourself, you hear the songs over and over. Doing it quickly makes it so you don’t wear the song out before you hear the finished product.” Then, Crowell concluded, “Sometimes it’s magic. Sometimes it’s work.” He said he won’t produce himself again.
Crowell said Mickey Newbury was a huge influence. The two sang in the same vocal range. Newbury was from the same part of Houston and ten years older. He described the area as a ‘East Nashville thing.’ He continued, “these days he takes me time on his lyrics, revising and realizing that ‘songwriterly’ metaphors don’t always work so well.
Crowell, like the true roots music soul he is, stressed his love for the blues.”You go to a place where you with it, the music and eventually it’s in your bloodstream,” he reflected. “After all, songs are about loss and the need to get it out there.”
As he continued on blues he spoke of his love for Howlin’ Wolf and Lightnin’ Hopkins. Then he added a childhood memory, “Hank Williams is blues to me,” he said thoughtfully. “I remember,” he continued, “the exact date I saw Hank Williams in 1952. I was sitting on my dad’s shoulders. I remember the smell of my dad’s hair oil. My dad made it my dream to be up on that stage. My dad loved that music. He’d walk ten miles just to hear dry-cell battery radios play the Grand Ole Opry.”
The new album is dedicated to his past lovers and friends. Guests include Rosanne Cash(his ex-wife), Sheryl Crow, and John Paul White. Addressing a question about producing an album he said:
“The most important thing you can bring is compassion and objectivity. See the good stuff. Build on it. It makes the artist feel safe without bullshitting. You tell the truth.
As an artist whose career has spanned through the birth of Americana music, to today he defined the movement poetically:
“‘Americana’ is for music that has no place to go. The place to go when you have no place to go. Louis Armstrong was Americana to me. The basis is poetry. Like the songs of Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan.”
The evening was a shining example of how some artists season rather than age. Once, long ago now, the country and the rock mythology around artists of all stripes was to ‘die young and leave a beaufiful corpse.’ Artists like Rodney Crowell appear to be taking their example from Picasso, who lived and created well into his 90s. As his new release comes out on March 31st, Rodney Crowell is on a path lined with the gold of great songs.