“If I can walk into a room like the Bluebird and connect with even five or 10 people, that’s, to me, better than playing for 100,000 people,” says pop-rock legend Sheryl Crow.
With Live at the Bluebird Café – the sixth installment of Rolling Stone Films’ “Mastering the Craft” series presented by Patrón — the singer-songwriter performs an intimate set at the Nashville venue, interspersed with interviews and archival footage documenting her ascent to stardom.
Despite being one of pop’s most versatile stage singers, Crow says she wasn’t born with that gift. “I liked performing in the privacy of my own bedroom, but as soon as anybody was around, I didn’t love that,” she says. “And I didn’t love it for a really long time. If there’d been the ‘Most Likely to Be a Rock Star’ in the yearbook, that would not have been me.”
But she honed her craft over time, absorbing the eclectic sounds of TV and radio in the Seventies. “I grew up in just an idyllic time,” she says. “You’d turn on Saturday morning TV, and there’d be the Jackson Family cartoon, and every kid in America was singing along with that stuff, basically thinking that he and his sisters and brothers could be a band. That was my household. We grew up singing and dancing to American Bandstand.”
Music, Crow says, is “the thread of [her] whole life” – and the film traces her early journey from music student to cover band singer (“I loved putting on that persona,” she says) to breaking in the industry singing commercial jingles.
“She was a natural chameleon,” says producer Jay Oliver. “She was very quick to be able to adapt a different style.”
Crow eventually moved to L.A. with her first demo tape, landing a lucrative gig as back-up singer on Michael Jackson’s Bad tour. “It was very nerve-racking,” she says of working with the King of Pop. “I can’t say that walking out with him every night was fun.”
After meeting with various record companies, she recorded an album with producer Hugh Padgham (Genesis, Phil Collins) that wound up scrapped. “Everybody saw me as a pop vixen,” Crow reflects. “I wanted to make rock & roll or blue-eyed soul.”
And she found her niche with 1993’s Tuesday Night Music Club, which spawned massive singles like “All I Wanna Do” and “Can’t Cry Anymore.”
“Out of the gate, she was on fire as a performer,” says Dolye Bramhall II, who co-produced Crow’s 2010 LP, 100 Miles From Memphis. “I thought she just had it. And she looks cool.”
During her Bluebird performance, Crow relishes seeing the audience’s faces – making a direct connection with her fans. It’s the kind of personal spark that’s kept her humble and motivated for three decades in the industry. “I just can’t believe how blessed I’ve been to get to play with the people I’ve loved,” she says. “I’ve stood on-stage with people I never thought would even know my name.”
“The people in rock & roll you always think of that are real icons – she’s one of those icons,” Bramhall II adds. “She has that magnetism.”