100 Greatest Men: #47. Rodney Crowell

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July 8, 2012

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

First as a songwriter, then as a new country superstar, and currently as an alternative country icon, Rodney Crowell has made an indelible mark on country music for nearly four decades.

Born and raised in Houston, Texas, he was already a bandleader in high school, heading up a teenage outfit called the Arbitrators.   He was only 22 when he moved to Nashville, and by 1975, he’d been discovered by Jerry Reed, who heard him doing an acoustic set.   Reed not only recorded one of his songs, but also signed him to his publishing company.

Crowell was soon a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band, and she was the first to record some of his compositions that went on to be big hits for other artists, including: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This”, a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings; “‘Til I Gain Control Again”, a #1 hit for Crystal Gayle;  “Leavin’ Louisiana in the Broad Daylight”, a #1 hit for the Oak Ridge Boys; and “Ashes By Now”, a top five hit for Lee Ann Womack.

His remarkable songwriting talent led to a record deal with Warner Bros.  While a trio of albums for the label were critically acclaimed, they failed to earn him success on the radio or at retail.   But as would be the case for his entire career, other artists mined those records for hits.  Most notably, “Shame on the Moon” became a #2 pop hit for Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band.

Crowell took a break from his solo career to focus on his songwriting and production responsibilities for then-wife Rosanne Cash.   This would be yet another successful avenue for Crowell, as his work with Cash produced several #1 singles and three gold albums.  The relationship also helped set his solo career on fire.  After signing with Cash’s label Columbia, his second set for the project was previewed with a duet with Cash, “It’s Such a Small World.”

It became the first of five consecutive #1 singles from Diamonds & Dirt, a gold-selling disc that briefly made Crowell an A-list country star, as five additional Cash singles that he had produced also hit #1 over the same time period.   He received a Grammy award for Best Country Song for “After All This Time.”   Two foll0w-up albums for Columbia also produced a handful of hits, with his final mainstream success being the pop crossover hit, “What Kind of Love.”

In the nineties, Crowell recorded two albums for MCA which were well-reviewed, but most notable for the second set including “Please Remember Me.”  It stalled as a single when Crowell released it, but  later that decade, Tim McGraw’s cover topped the charts for five weeks and earned Crowell a slew of award nominations.

The new century brought a reinvention on Crowell’s part, as he repositioned himself as an Americana artist with remarkable success.   A trio of albums earned rave reviews, as did his collaboration with old friends like Vince Gill on The Notorious Cherry Bombs, which earned a handful of Grammy nominations and included Crowell’s “Making Memories of Us.”  Once again, a current artist discovered it, and Keith Urban took it to #1 for several weeks.

Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, Crowell continues to build on his legacy as a singer, songwriter, and producer.  Most recently, Crowell produced Chely Wright’s confessional Lifted off the Ground and co-wrote an album with friend Mary Karr which features their songs recorded by several artists, including Crowell himself. 

Essential Singles:

  • I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Waylon Jennings), 1980
  • ‘Til I Gain Control Again (Crystal Gayle), 1982
  • Shame on the Moon (Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band), 1982
  • It’s Such a Small World (with Rosanne Cash), 1988
  • I Couldn’t Leave You if I Tried, 1988
  • After All This Time, 1989
  • What Kind of Love, 1992
  • Please Remember Me (Tim McGraw), 1999
  • Making Memories of Us (Keith Urban), 2005

Essential Albums:

  • Ain’t Living Long Like This, 1978
  • Diamonds & Dirt, 1988
  • The Houston Kid, 2001
  • Fate’s Right Hand, 2002
  • The Outsider, 2005

Next: #46. Dwight Yoakam

Previous: #48. Kris Kristofferson

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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  1. NickNo Gravatar says:

    Always liked Rodney’s singles from Diamonds & Dirt.
    Definitely a great songwriter and singer!

  2. I might have added “Telephone Road” to the list of essential singles — or did that song not even chart?

    I also liked “Many A Long And Lonesome Highway.”

  3. Ben FosterNo Gravatar says:

    Such a unique and outstanding talent. “After All This Time” is a favorite of mine, and I also love “Please Remember Me” and “Til I Gain Control Again.” It seems he is without peer as a songwriter.

  4. Kevin John CoyneNo Gravatar says:

    I don’t think “Telephone Road” charted. Great song, though. I know that “I Walk the Line (Revisited)” got a lot of video play.

    My personal favorite of his more recent chart hits was “Earthbound.”

  5. cajNo Gravatar says:

    Incredible songwriter.

    Crowell actually sang backup with Crystal Gayle on ‘Till I Gain Control Again’. I always thought it was a shame they didn’t do more duets. Their voices sounded great together.

  6. Vicki Campbell-BraegerNo Gravatar says:

    I have to agree “Telephone Road” great. Grandkids and I used to drive around playing and singing it. Drove to see Rodney at Portland Oregon Zoo in about 2001 or 2002 and the kids had us play that song over and over again from Northern California to Portland and back! Everything Rodney does is done with ease of learning, understanding, and perfection!

  7. MotownMikeNo Gravatar says:

    As far as duets go on the whole for the genre, “It’s Such a Small World” with Rosanne Cash and him is definitely a favorite of mine!

  8. bobNo Gravatar says:

    I bought “Diamonds & Dirt” a few years ago. Favs include Small World, Last Waltz, Couldn’t Leave You and After All This Time. I think of him more as a songwriter than singer – a very good songwriter. “Making Memories of Us” for Keith Urban is for me his best.

  9. I don’t think “Telephone Road” charted.

    Heh. I wasn’t sure; I was living in Southeast Texas not long after The Houston Kid came out and heard both “Telephone Road” and “I Walk The Line (Revisited)” a lot on the Houston country stations.

  10. Anna MaryNo Gravatar says:

    The Houston Kid came out and heard both “Telephone Road” and “I Walk The Line

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