Three hit singles. Five Grammy nominations. Two million records sold. An appearance at Woodstock. A tour with the Eagles. A duet with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
Yes, you could say it’s been a pretty good year for Sheryl Crow, the small-town Missouri singer who has come from nowhere to land smack in the middle of the mainstream.
A quick note of caution, though:
Don’t expect Crow to gloat or puff herself up in any way because of the year she’s had. She’s about as ego-free an act as you’re likely to find in this MTV-driven age.
“This may sound a bit hokey,” says Crow, “but really, honestly, I’m in it for the music. For me, the greatest joy is writing what I feel is a good song - and then being blessed enough to go out and have people want to hear it.”
Crow has scored with intelligent, blue-eyed rock-soul numbers such as “Leaving Las Vegas” and “All I Wanna Do” (with its kicker: “is have some fun”). Her sultry delivery, combining heartland innocence with worldly cool, has put her in danger of becoming the new “flavor of the month” in the rock scene. But Crow, 30, refuses to become anyone’s puppet.
“At the end of the day, whatever you’re doing, I think you have to be able to wake up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror and still feel OK about it,” Crow says from her home in Los Angeles. “I think you can give away a lot to the public in exchange for fame. I’m certainly encountering it, because I have all these opportunities now to do things that don’t have anything to do with music, like being on fashion magazine covers and stuff like that.”
Crow has been termed a “neohippie” for her views. Indeed, her influences span such irreverent forbears as Bob Dylan (“The NaNa Song” from her debut album, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” echoes Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Band, Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat.
“When I listen to music, I tend to gravitate back to stuff I’ve always listened to, which is a lot of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s music,” says Crow.
No wonder she loved Woodstock ‘94 - a defining event that helped put her on the map. Other than the bands Green Day and Nine Inch Nails, probably no other act received a bigger boost from Woodstock than Crow, whose career has skyrocketed since.
“I had a slight intimidation because of the corporate aspect of it,” she says of Woodstock ‘94. “We really wanted to come out of it feeling like it was something cool and special. Obviously it wasn’t like the first Woodstock. But I actually think, after the weekend was over, that almost everybody who was there felt like they had been a part of something special, certainly because there was no violence. We had a great time and Woodstock changed my career in a lot of ways.”
Crow had played some big shows prior to Woodstock, but not on her own. She was, believe it or not, a backup singer for Michael Jackson on his “Bad” tour in 1987. Crow, who hails from Kennett, Mo., had just moved to Los Angeles (leaving a Missouri boyfriend who had hoped she would sing only Christian music). She then crashed an audition to get the Jackson gig. She toured with him for 18 months, even duetting with Jackson on his song “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.”
But it was a strange experience. “The first week out, you had to sign a contract saying that you would adhere to the hair and makeup and wardrobe wishes of the tour,” says Crow. “I don’t look back on that part of my life with any longing, but I got to travel the world and work with some great musicians.”
Crow came back from the tour and fell into a depression, about which she’s very candid.
“What happened was that I came home and had a lot of offers to do pop records, but I didn’t want to do that. And at the time, people weren’t really interested in female blue-eyed soul singers. So I kind of sat around for a time and felt demoralized.”
She then started singing backup with Don Henley. She sang on his “End of the Innocence” album and on his Walden Woods benefit at the Worcester Centrum in 1989.
Crow’s breakthrough came after weekly jam sessions in Pasadena with producer Bill Bottrell and friends David Baerwald, David Ricketts, Kevin Gilbert and Brian McLeod. Their easygoing spirit pervades her album and makes it a refreshing change from the overproduced `product’ often saturating the airwaves.
As Crow’s career mushrooms, she’ll no doubt be pressured to lose her down-home flair. But at the moment, she appears to be in total control.