Rodney Crowell has built a respectable and remarkable career as a progressive country jack-of-all-trades – being the songwriter, performer, and producer who led the pack of Nashville’s new traditionalist movement in the middle of the 1980s.
He has a voluminous catalog of hits that includes songs sung by Waylon Jennings, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, among others – making him a worthy member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Let’s get to know more about Crowell below.
1. He came from a musical family.
Born on August 7, 1950, in Houston, Texas, Rodney Crowell‘s father is a country music singer singing on local bars and honky-tonks. His grandfathers were also music enthusiasts, with one leading a church choir while the other played a bluegrass banjo.
And though Crowell described his parents as “dysfunctional” – his father was a hard drinker and a womanizer while his mother was a dyslexic epileptic with suicidal tendencies – they never failed to support his musical interests. In fact, his father took him to see one of Hank Williams’ last shows when he was only two years old. The elderly told Crowell about that night over and over again until it became his own memory.
When he was eleven years old, his father brought him a drum set, and he started playing drums in his father’s band.
2. He was the only child.
Crowell is the only surviving child, to be exact. His mother actually had thirteen miscarriages and was able to give birth to another baby boy but has unfortunately died on his second day.
3. He used to perform as a lounge singer.
And that’s where he got his first big break!
During one of his performances at Nashville’s Jolly Ox steak house in 1973, his boss warned him to never play original songs – and if he chose to do so, he would be fired at once. But Crowell got really annoyed about Townes Van Zandt – his fellow lounge-singer-turned-superstar – who was “shagging” his girlfriend at that time.
So, Crowell rebelled by playing one of the songs he wrote, “You Can’t Keep Me Here in Tennessee.” Indeed, he got fired at that very instant, but little did he know it will lead him to something much bigger.
Lucky for him, Jerry Reed and his manager were just sitting behind and were impressed with Crowell’s song. Two days later, Crowell signed to Reed’s publishing company, and Reed recorded Crowell’s song.
4. He was a guitarist for Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band.
In 1975, Crowell relocated to Los Angeles to join Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band as the guitarist and harmony singer. Soon enough, he became one of Harris’ main songwriters, writing her songs that became country No.1 hits such as “Til I Gain Control Again” and “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.”
Crowell left the Hot Band in 1977 and created his own musical group, The Cherry Bombs.
5. His debut album was not commercially successful.
In 1978, Crowell finally signed as a solo artist with Warner Bros. Records and released his debut album – which, including his following two albums, unfortunately failed to achieve commercial success. This is despite the fact that he has already gained a massive cult following and has already earned several country hits by artists covering his songs.
It was only in 1986, when he signed to Columbia Records, that he had his taste of success as a solo artist. His album Diamonds & Dirt in 1988 delivered five consecutive No. 1 hits.
6. He prefers to write alone.
Crowell does not often team up with another Nashville mainstay as he prefers writing alone. “Just because two people are successful doesn’t mean that if they book Wednesday a week to write, something meaningful is going to happen,” he said.
7. He was once married to Rosanne Cash.
In 1979, Crowell married the country legend Johnny Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash. The two had heavily influenced each other’s careers, with Crowell putting his career on hold to produce most of Cash’s albums while Cash served as the inspiration to Crowell’s songwriting.
They have also collaborated on a series of country hits, releasing several duets, including the 1988 hit “It’s Such a Small World.” Unfortunately, the couple divorced thirteen years – with three daughters – later.
Before meeting Cash, Crowell was briefly married to Martha Dant Watts, with whom he had a daughter. Rodney Crowell married his third wife, actress and model Claudia Church, in 1988 and has now happily settled in the south of Nashville.
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