Rodney Crowell has spent his life playing music
Although he may deny it, Rodney Crowell is part of the Nashville singer and songwriter circle of royalty.
Along with his solo writing and performing career and his musical partnership with Emmylou Harris, the multi-Grammy Award-winner’s songs have been covered and performed by Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Etta James, George Strait, Royksopp, Tim McGraw and Bob Seger.
Crowell has also earned a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association.
Park City will get three opportunities to see Crowell in concert when he plays the Egyptian Theatre this weekend from Sept. 2 to Sept. 4, and Crowell promises to play a mix of songs from his early days to his current catalog, which he sees as his best work.
“I shy away from anyone who labels me as an oldies act,” Crowell said during a phone call to The Park Record from his home in Franklin, Tennessee, a little town 30 miles south of Nashville. “My credo is if I’m no longer able to hold an audience’s attention with work that I’m creating now, then I need to go back to the drawing board. So, I always try to make the show about things that I’m currently passionate about and songs that I consider good enough to perform throughout these years.”
Crowell, who is known for a string of singles including “It’s a Such a Small World” with Rosanne Cash, “Above and Beyond,” “Lovin’ All Night” and “Earthbound,” to name a few, said he was born to play music.
“Of course I had to discover that for myself,” he said dryly. “I started playing in public when I was at the age of 11 with my father’s country-swing dance band. He roped me into playing drums and taught me how to do that.”
In high school, Crowell formed his first band and by the time he was in college, the songwriter was earning a living with his music.
His life changed when he arrived in Nashville in the 1970s.
“I was broke, but had a new guitar,” he said. “It was my good fortune to stumble into a salon of good songwriters who were really the great ones like Mickey Newbury, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark.
“They were the masters,” Crowell said. “It was myself, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams and other singers who were eight to 10 years younger than them who were blessed to find them.”
Nashville, at that time, was a different community than today.
“It was a place where you could actually talk to songwriters about the craft and get people to hear the songs without being evaluated about whether or not the songs would earn money,” Crowell said. “The music was evaluated from one artist to another, and most often, encouragement was involved, but sometimes you would get comments like ‘you need to do better than that,’ which is equally as important as encouragement.”
During his time in Nashville, he met Emmylou Harris.
“We became close friends in the mid-1970s and I moved to California to travel, perform and write songs with and for her,” Crowell said. “To this day, we still work together, although we waited 40 years to make our first duet record.”
That record is 2015’s Gammy winner, “The Traveling Kind,” which landed in the Top 10 on the Billboard’s U.S. Country charts.
A year prior, Crowell’s latest solo album “Tarpaper Sky” hit the Top 30.
The second track on that album, “Fever on the Bayou,” was co-written by Will Jennings, who wrote the Academy Award-winning song “My Heart Will Go On” from the Leonardo DiCaprio blockbuster “Titanic.”
“He and I started that song probably in 1983 and that’s nearly 21 years ago,” Crowell said.
It took so long to finish because Crowell wanted to make sure it would be a good song.
“The more songwriting I do, the more seasoned I become and the more aware I become of the craft,” he explained. “When I was a young songwriter at 22 years old, I wrote some songs that are still around today, and with some of them, I got the inspiration to write them as close as they should have been. However, there were a lot of songs I let fly because my work ethic wasn’t such that I was willing to spend five years unlocking what the songs really needed to be.”
Like “Fever on the Bayou,” Crowell’s recent records feature songs that he has I toyed with for two or more decades.
“There are times when I get a burst of inspiration that will give me a verse and a chorus and then the inspiration is gone,” he said. “That’s when the craft comes in. That’s when you craft the next verse and make it as seamless as the ones that were inspired and just fell out of you.
“That’s the work, and I enjoy trying to make the third verse as good as the first,” he said.
“But over the years, I’ve become patient and confident enough to wait until the song tells me what it needs to be.”
That’s what happened with “Fever on the Bayou.”
“The last verse, which I did in Spanish, was written when I was in the Denver Airport,” Crowell said. “I fell into a conversation with someone over a movie called ‘Spanglish.’ I thought that’s how the last verse in the song should be. So I wrote it.”
All that time, Crowell didn’t have the style of the song in mind.
“I try not to think about [that] or the instrumentation,” he said. “I do try, however, to stay with the melody, chord changes and language. You have to get those right first, because when you get those right, the song is a lot easier to record.”
Unlike some other artists, Crowell believes once a song has been released, it’s no longer his.
“It belongs to the people who hear it,” he said.
That also includes remakes.
“People have asked me if I like a version of my song that someone else has recorded and I say, ‘How someone records one of my songs is none of my business,’” he said. “My business is to be grateful and, if I get the opportunity, to thank them, because if there is a version of one of my songs that I want out there, it’s my responsibility to make it myself.”
The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., will present Nashville-based singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell from Friday, Sept. 2 to Sunday, Sept. 4. Friday and Saturday performances will begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s concert will start at 6 p.m. Tickets range from $49 to $80 and they can be purchased by visiting http://www.parkcityshows.com.
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