June 1, 2012
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Born in Houston, Texas on August 6, 1950, Rodney Crowell has made a name for himself as one of the finest songwriters in country music. A difficult family background was also a very musical one and he was a serious musician by his teens. He moved to Nashville in 1972 to pursue his vocation as a songwriter, and found a first mentor in Jerry Reed before becoming a friend and acolyte of another great Texan songwriter, Guy Clark.
His career took a new turn when Emmylou Harris, who had recorded some of his early songs, recruited him as a seminal member of her Hot Band. He also had a side project with the Cherry Bombs, a band whose other members included Vince Gill and future record executive Tony Brown. In 1978 he signed his own deal with Emmylou’s label Warner Brothers. He was to release three albums for the label in the late 70s and early 80s, but while his blend of country and rock garnered him significant critical acclaim, mainstream success was frustratingly slow to follow. It certainly wasn’t due to poor material – many of his songs were hits for more established artists including Emmylou and the Oak Ridge Boys and even Crystal Gayle.
Rodney married Johnny Cash’s daughter Rosanne, and in 1981, he put his solo career on hold in favour of producing her records. That led eventually to his signing with her label Columbia in 1986. Street Language, his debut for the label was another flop, but it was followed in 1988 by Diamonds & Dirt. This masterpiece was both a critical and commercial success, with Rodney having mastered a radio friendly sound. It was the first album in country music history to contain five #1 hits, and is the biggest selling record in Crowell’s career. The song ‘After All This Time’ won him a Grammy. However, his hot streak slowed down after that and was not reinvigorated by a move to another major label, MCA, in 1992 (the year he and Rosanne divorced).
After a break from recording in the later 90s, Rodney returned to making music in the new millennium. He was now primarily a singer songwriter with increasingly less concern for mainstream country, with 2008’s Sex And Gasoline Grammy-nominated in the Folk/Americana category. He has nonetheless remainded a presence in country music thanks to a number of high profile covers of both older and newer songs, such as George Strait’s revival of ‘Stars On The Water’ and Tim McGraw’s version of Rodney’s ‘Please Remember Me’. He also revived the Notorious Cherry Bombs with Vince Gill. His latest work, out on 5 June, is a collaboration with poet and writer Mary Karr, who like Rodney had a difficult childhood in Texas. He is also reportedly working on a duet album with Emmylou Harris.