Hear Sheryl Crow, Chris Shiflett Talk Willie Nelson Tour, Mainstream Country
“I wanted to write stuff that was going to be everlasting,” Sheryl Crow says during this week’s Walking the Floor podcast, which covers everything from her stint in Michael Jackson’s touring band to the long solo career that’s been championed by rock & roll’s elder statesmen and Americana’s new class alike. Talking with host Chris Shiflett, she also drops a hint about a new album due out next spring, featuring more than a half-dozen of those A-list supporters.
Leaving our Monday morning tradition intact, we’ve rounded up the episode’s highlights and premiered the full episode below.
For Sheryl Crow, the family that tours together stays together.
“It’s very much a family circus,” Crow says of her time on the road. Her two sons have toured with her for years, hitting the highway before they could walk. “When my kids were little,” she adds, “they both had their cribs bolted in [to the touring bus]. They both had passports. . .It’s like a village. You hand the baby around, and they acclimate to your life and it becomes what they love.”
This summer, though, she’s touring the country with a somewhat extended family.
As a member of Willie Nelson’s Outlaw Music Festival, Crow will spend July sharing shows with the icons of roots music. Nelson’s roaming festival held its first show in Dallas this weekend, with gigs in the Midwest, South and Northeast to follow. “It’s gonna be a really fun summer,” she explains, “because it’s all people I love, from Willie to Bob Dylan, My Morning Jacket, Sturgill Simpson, the Avett Brothers.”
She plays bass on most of her records.
“Your feel is your stamp,” she says of her approach to the electric bass, which prizes vibe and style over technical virtuosity. “I’ll write on the bass, and then I’ll record it as I’m demoing [the song], and then I’ll have somebody come in and say, ‘Ok, play the bass, because you’re a better bass player.’ But the feel will shift, and then it won’t feel the same anymore, and I’ll wind up going, ‘Ok, it’s better with its warts and imperfections.'”
Don’t expect her to make more albums like 2013’s Feels Like Home, which aimed its music at the mainstream country audience.
“I made a record that was really for the country format, and it was really darn near perfect, and it’s hard for me to listen to,” she says, preferring the rough, realistic feel of her earlier records to the polished, sidemen-assisted performances on Feels like Home. Aimed at a different audience, the record scored two Top 40 country singles, with “Easy” earning the most attention. Even so, Crow grew quickly tired of playing by the genre’s rules. “What happens at the country format,” she explains, “is you go out and you do just tons of radio gigs, where you do these free radio events in hopes that you’ll get played between three and four in the morning. I just said, ‘Never again,’ because that’s just not what it’s about, man. Music is such a cool thing. For it to be about advertising and sponsors at the end of the day. . .you feel like you’re ho’ing yourself out a little.”
That said, she’s a fan of country-influenced newcomers like Lukas Nelson.
“I feel good about what’s happening in music,” she says. “Do I wish that people were writing the hardcore protest songs, and do I wish they were getting played at pop radio, like what was happening in the Sixties and Seventies? Yeah, that would be great. But that’s not where we’re at. We want entertainment, and we need it right now, and that’s what’s happening. But still, there’s this other world of young musicians who are out there doing it.”
Before releasing her solo debut, she toured as a backup singer for artists like Michael Jackson and Don Henley.
“I got to witness a lot of different styles of fronting and running bands,” says Crow. “It was really good for me. Not everyone has the opportunity to have different master classes for how to do it.” Those master classes differed wildly, though. “Michael’s [tour] was more like a Broadway show,” she explains of her time with the King of Pop, who hired Crow as a backup singer and duet partner during his late-Eighties Bad tour. “We went out every night and we did the exact same thing. . .His patter was the same every night. I went out and did two duets with him. It was very staged. Lots of choreography. That show, we did the same every night for a year and a half. The next tour I went on was Don Henley, and that was completely different. He hung out with us the whole time. We all rode the bus together. We ate dinners. Which is more how I operate [during my own tours].”
When Crow’s solo career took off in the mid-Nineties, her outsider status helped attract some high-profile fans.
“I was 30,” she says of the year she began piecing together Tuesday Night Music Club. “I’d had a whole life before that, and for all intents and purposes, I was already too old to be doing what I was doing, you know? . . .It was during the period of Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, REM, Beck, [and] I was a total outsider. I was so not cool to anybody in my peer group, and I wound up kind of getting scooped up by the elder statesmen like Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.”
Many of those icons will appear on Crow’s next album: a collection of duets and other collaborations, due out sometime in early 2018.
A recent collaboration with Kris Kristofferson convinced Crow to set up recording sessions with a number of her friends. “I look back on my life, and I think I’ve been really embraced by the people I pored over in Rolling Stone Magazine and Creem,” she says. “So I started calling in in favors. I called Keith Richards and I called Willie. I called Stevie Nicks. I called Neil Young. I called Don Henley. Joe Walsh. All these people I’ve loved so much. . .and I said, ‘Will you come record with me? I really just want to have a musical experience that sums it up for me.’ And so I have this record in the can, that I think will come next year, of just collaborations.”