Rodney Crowell Biography

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Rodney Crowell Photo Courtesy of Columbia Records


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Rodney Crowell Photo Courtesy of Columbia Records


My name is Rodney Crowell. I am a songwriter and recording artist. (A Grammy, an ASCAP lifetime achievement award, Rolling Stone Magazine announcing me some kind of can't miss star of the future after the release of my first album and induction into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame are few of the laurels that might decorate my calling card were I to carry one.) The place of my birth is Houston Texas. The Crowell / Willoughby blood-lines from which I sprang are of the Scottish, Irish, English and Cherokee blend found in the share-crop farm lands of Western Kentucky and Tennessee. In the late depression era barn dance society of Paris Tennessee and Calloway County Kentucky, my father, his father, my mother's mother and sister were fairly well known for their musical inclinations. The more industrious of this particular gene pool were recognized as the local purveyor's of mirth and merriment. Assorted uncles were equally well known for their hard drinking and fistfights.

My mother and father met during World War II at a Roy Acuff concert in Buchanan Tennessee. Eager to flee the farm, they married and eventually moved to Houston. In the late fifties, my father formed a musical outfit called J.W. Crowell and the Rhythmaires. The honky tonk's and icehouses plentiful on Houston's East Side gave my father a format for his particular blend of hardcore honky tonk, Texas swing and Appalachian folk music. It was my colorful good fortune to be, at the age of eleven and twelve, the drummer of this illustrious musical combo. When the cute novelty of the child drummer wore off (truth is I couldn't play very well), it was decided I would give up my seat in the Rhythmaires rhythm section.

At the age of fifteen, with two older guys and a girl drummer my own age, I formed a rock and roll band called the Arbitrators. In high school, I made most of my spending money playing teen parties and legion hall dances with The Arbitrators.

Along with my college room mate, Donivan Cowart and his truck driving older brother, I began dabbling with the notion of writing my own songs. Donivan and I dropped out of college believing ourselves destined to take our place among the elite songwriters in Nashville. With a few bucks in our pockets we arrived in Nashville on an August night in 1972.

It was our good fortune to fall in with the misfit songwriter's and self styled characters who used Bishop's Pub as a combination, soup kitchen and open mike stage. Donivan and I averaged five or six dollars a night passing the hat after a twenty minute set. Food and gas money. Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Robin and Linda William's, Johnny Rodriguez, Lee Clayton, Skinny Dennis Sanchez, Steve Earle, David Olney, Richard Dobson, John Hiatt, Lucinda Williams, Bronco Newcombe, Harlan White, Steve Runkle, Uncle Walt's Band, Steve Young, a singing trapeze artist, a sword swallower and a guy named Johnny Dollar were a few of the regulars at Bishops Pub.

Guy and Susanna Clark, Townes Van Zandt and the legendary Mickey Newberry set the bar for what was considered real songwriting in early seventies Nashville. When Guy Clark took an unexpected liking to me, it became a singular goal in my life to write a song he would dub "a keeper." After six months of failure, I wrote a song called "Bluebird Wine". It caused Guy to raise an eyebrow in approval. With Guy's approval, I then set out to win over Townes. This proved to be a difficult task. In the end, I had to settle for a grunt and a "yeah but can you do it again" when I played "Til I Can Gain Control Again" for the first time during an all night drinking and song swapping session. It was a great way to learn the craft of songwriting.

"'Til I Can Gain Control Again" and "Bluebird Wine" came to Emmylou Harris's attention as she was preparing for her first album in late 1974. She recorded both songs. As a result of this rather fortunate turn of events, it was my good fortune to become a family friend and collaborator of Emmylou's. When Emmylou formed The Hot Band in 75, I moved to Los Angeles as her rhythm guitarist, harmony singer and songwriter. Thanks to Emmylou's rising star, I was able to hitch a ride around the world three times over. In the same way it was my great fortune to stumble my way onto the perfect situation to learn the art of songwriting, so it was, that with The Hot Band, I stumbled onto some of the best arranging musicians in all of Southern California. With Glen D Hardin, James Burton and Emory Gordy splitting their live dates between Elvis Presley and Emmylou in 75 and 76, I was given a crash course in the art of arranging music for the studio and stage. Thanks to the association with Emmylou, my reputation as a songwriter grew rather quickly. Warner Brother's Records signed me to a recording contract late in 1977, my last year of touring full time with Emmylou.

Since leaving The Hot Band, I have eleven solo records and a greatest hit's package to show for my efforts as a recording artist. Along the way, I produced Rosanne Cash's first five studio albums, Guy Clark, Beth Nielsen Chapman and a handful of others. I was also lucky to have several hundred versions of my songs recorded by an assortment of artists ranging from The Grateful Dead to Andy Williams.... I've done alright.

The Houston Kid was the beginning of a new phase in my career, a re-invention of sorts. The record explored memories of the hard knock East Houston environment where I grew up. With it came a fundamental change in my approach to making records. Fate's Right Hand followed with a quasi-spiritual look at the complexities of living the so-called examined life. With all due respect to those who might have gotten attached to the records I made in the late nineteen eighties, I unapologetically claim The Houston Kid, Fates Right Hand and The Outsider as the best work I've done as a recording artist.

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