Sunday, July 8th, 2012
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.
- 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
- 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