Sheryl Crow grew up in Kenett, Missouri, just about 100 miles from the cradle of rock and soul – and the distance inspired the title of her new album, 100 Miles From Memphis. The disc, her seventh, is a homage to the soul music she listened to on Memphis radio as a kid. “These songs are about capturing emotions, saying what’s in my heart,” Crow says. “And it brings me back to that R&B music I love so much.” With help from Keith Richards (who strums on “Eye to Eye”) and Memphis’ own Justin Timberlake (he sings on a cover of Terence Trent D’Arby’s “Sign Your Name”), the record recalls the horn-driven sound of Stax and Hi Records. And she is recreating that joyful, funky vibe with a new band on her summer tour. “We just played our first show,” she says. “The amount of energy onstage was crazy. I felt like my head was going to blow off!”
How often did you visit Memphis as a kid?
Once a year we’d pile into the station wagon – with no seat belts, of course – and drive to Memphis to eat barbecue at Rendezvous and see Santa Claus at Goldsmith’s department store.
But you could always tune in to Memphis radio?
Yeah, we’d dial in to the big pop station, for Journey and Foreigner – but at night we would hear soul music. I was always aware of the Memphis mystique.
Were you a dancer or a wallflower?
I knew all the hot dances from watching Soul Train and American Bandstand. When I was six, my mom said, “You’re a regular little Michael Jackson,” which is so weird.
You cover “I Want You Back” on the new LP. Did you ever sing that with Michael when you toured with him?
No, I did two specific duets with him: “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.” There’d be some nights where he was checked out, but some shows he’d pull me in really tight, and it was overwhelming. Not in a sexual sense, but because of the metaphysical energy he possessed. My favorite memory of Michael was watching him do “Human Nature” every night. He’d cry, and those tears were so directly linked to the wounds that drove him to anesthetize himself.
Do you remember the first time you heard your voice on the radio?
It was a McDonald’s jingle, singing “I’m lovin’ it” [laughs]. But when I first heard “Leaving Las Vegas,” I was driving my beat-up Corvair in Beverly Hills, and I heard it from the car next to me. I followed the car for as long as I could.
Keith Richards plays on “Eye to Eye.”
Not bad. I know! When I think about it, I wet my pants. I grew up loving Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, but I always secretly wanted to be Keith.
Do you think Timberlake has what it takes to be a legend?
People have no idea what this guy can do – he’s off the charts. He knows music from Cole Porter up to right now. I ran into him in L.A., where he was producing this super-sophisticated ballad for Jamie Foxx. We were talking, and he said, “You know, I’m from Memphis,” and he just came in and sang.
You guest-starred on the show Cougar Town. Do you consider “cougar” a derogatory term?
I don’t even know what it means. That older women prey on helpless, harmless little animals?
If so, then yes, it is derogatory. It’s weird that there’s a new term for older women who get younger guys, but what’s the term for older guys who get younger women? That’s a been going on forever. When I was waiting tables, older guys would hit on the waitresses, and I’d call them bird dogs. So I’d like to throw that out there, because I know a whole lot of bird dogs.