This interview was first published in 2010.
Scattered around the world are a number of former University of Missouri frat boys agog at the idea that the earthy looking young woman who helped them arrange their serenades is now one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Music was Sheryl Crow’s mission from an early age. She was raised by parents who were musicians in tiny Kennett, Mo., and studied music education, while playing in various local bands. The desire to do, not teach, eventually won out, and Crow left the Midwest for Los Angeles, where she toured and recorded with the likes of Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Rod Stewart and Joe Cocker. Meanwhile, she wrote songs for such artists as Wynonna Judd, Bette Midler and Celine Dion.
But with the 1994 release of Tuesday Night Music Club, Crow left her background life in the dust and became one of the leaders of the Lilith Fair generation. And for those who wonder whether the veteran of the 1994 and 1999 Woodstock fests can really play with the boys, her new Live From Central Park album finds Crow more than holding her own next to pals such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards.
Guitar.com: There was lots of music around you when you were growing up. What kind of influences inform the music you make?
Sheryl Crow: I grew up really loving blues music, and I kinda got into country music when Bob Dylan put out Nashville Skyline, and also [the Rolling Stones’] Let it Bleed and Exile on Main Street were really big albums for me. And when I was in high school, it was stuff like Foreigner and Boston — real corporate rock bands.
Guitar.com: You’ve been writing and producing for Stevie Nicks. Was she an influence as well?
Crow: Absolutely. The Rumours album [by Fleetwood Mac] was so huge, and it was the one thing on radio that I could complete relate to because of the influences in their music. And also, Stevie was one of the few women who were out there making it — Stevie and Christine, but mostly Stevie because her presence was probably huger than any females out there at the time, with the exception of maybe Pat Benatar. And I just gravitated to Stevie. I thought she was the one young rock ‘n’ roll woman I could relate to and see myself being like, and up until that point I really only had Mick Jagger and Robert Plant to look up to. I never really related to Janis Joplin so much, In my mind, she wasn’t very together even though she was a great artist. When Stevie came around, that rang a real clear bell with me.
Guitar.com: What was the experience like — especially as a woman — of moving from the Midwest to Los Angeles and working mostly as a backup singer?
Crow: When you’re a hired gun like that, you definitely get a taste of what the female role is in the music business. The social lines get pretty distorted as to what’s permissible and what’s not.
Guitar.com: Do you think that’s changed over the years?
Crow: I do, yeah. The respect level now is completely different. We’re being treated as artists and not just females. I think it’s due in part to the political climate changing during the early 90s. The respect level towards women in business and politics changed. And there are more women on the radio and in other media now. What’s irritating is that 10 years ago we could have made these same records and no one would have heard them. It’s still great that it happens, though. Every time a viable artist comes out, it helps the cause. And with so many of us around now, I think it’s going to be awfully hard to ever push us back again.
Guitar.com: Touring with Michael Jackson seemed to have had its pluses and minuses. It was certainly a great forum, but at the same time they made you wear that blonde wig and the shows fanned rumors that you two were a romantic item.
Crow: I did spend a certain amount of time in therapy after I came home from the Jackson tour. To go from being a school teacher in Missouri to that whole scene, with the very Mafioso sort of management, was too much.
Guitar.com: In hindsight, how do you view the background and session work you did?
Crow: I think originally it was a help, and then it became a hindrance. People start to stereotype. They see you as one thing, and I lost some of my credibility as an artist. They started to think I was a background singer and a chameleon, while all the time I was watching my own songs go out the door for other artists to record.
Guitar.com: You did record one album before Tuesday Night Music Club that you opted not to release. Why?
Crow: It sounded like anybody, not like me. It was a scary thing to do, but I was lucky that [A&M Records] gave me a second chance to make it.
Guitar.com: When did you first get an indication that you were starting to become successful as a solo artist?
Crow: There was a time in San Diego during my first tour when I introduced Leaving Las Vegas and a bunch of people clapped really loud. I didn’t think about it. I just said, “Oh, there are some people here from Las Vegas.” After the show some people came up to me and said, “You nut. People know this song now.”‘
Guitar.com: And, of course, the song that really put you over the top — “All I Wanna Do” — was voted least-likely to succeed by all concerned, right?
Crow: Yeah (laughs). Everyone thought it was a throwaway. It wasn’t even considered as a single for me. My little brother said, “All I Wanna Do’ is the best song on the record.” I kept saying, “No way!” Boy, did I hear a lot of, “I told ya so” after it hit.
Guitar.com: Did working with successful artists like Michael Jackson and Don Henley prepare you for your own fame?
Crow: Yeah, I really do. Don’t forget, the first album was out for a long time and we’d been out playing almost all that time, so it was a logical sort of uphill climb. If this was happening to me when I was 21 years old, I might have lost my head. Now I can appreciate it as something I worked a long time for.
Guitar.com: There was also the backlash from the rest of the Tuesday Night Music Club after that album took off. That had to be awkward, to say the least.
Crow: Uh-huh. I had to take it away from this group of people and tour it under my own name. People felt very protective of it, and there was resentment that other people’s careers weren’t happening, too. But I didn’t want to be so connected to those people that I had to do every record with them, do you know what I mean?
Guitar.com: Your latest album, The Globe Sessions, is more directly personal and confessional than its two predecessors. What accounted for that?
Crow: At the end of the tour for the second record, I decided I was going to take six months or a year off before I even started writing the album. I moved to New York City and put together my studio and wound up spending a lot of time there. Before I knew it, I had a collection of songs that were really introspective, and at that point I realized that my personal life had really suffered because of my absence from it. I think going into the studio was what opened my eyes to the breakdown of my own life. I realized I didn’t have anything besides what I’d been doing this whole time. I’d really let my relationships go. So I think it was at that point when I went in and started writing songs that the epiphany occurred.
Guitar.com: How did you address that, away from the music?
Crow: The first thing I realized was I didn’t have a home, so the very first thing I did was buy a house [in California]. I started working on that, and that became a bigger job than probably any job I’d ever had. But it was really fun and kind of therapeutic in a way. And then I just made a practice of hanging out and seeing my friends. I think you can be gone long enough that your friends expect you never to be around. That was what I really concentrated on — that and being quiet, hanging around at home and reading and getting back in touch with people that I care about.
Guitar.com: Where do you keep all your Grammy awards? Are they out on display?
Crow: Oh, I can’t get enough of them. (Laughs) Actually, I used to be really cynical about that stuff; I don’t know that those kinds of awards validate you personally, but I think it’s really nice to be recognized for doing something well.