Grammy Nom Rodney Crowell Recalls Hot Band Roots

The recent Grammy nominations put country singer-songwriter legend Rodney Crowell at the even-dozen mark, with 10 nominations and two wins. But the record is still spinning on his latest nomination for “It Ain’t Over Yet,” a contender for American Roots Song honors to be handed out next year. This comes on the heels of Crowell receiving the ASCAP Founders Award last month for his impressive body of work. It was his association as musician and songwriter with fellow music legend Emmylou Harris that put Crowell’s career into high gear. After meeting the fast-rising singing star at Austin’s legendary Armadillo World Headquarters nightclub in early 1975, Crowell soon joined her backup group, the Hot Band. When Crowell penned songs for Harris’ 1975 album “Elite Hotel,” he made the ink in Variety for the first time.

You connected with Emmylou Harris in Austin, but you’d already left Texas for Nashville before that. What was Nashville in the early
’70s like?

I remember living in my car through the fall of 1972, then, in the spring of 1973 I got my first cut on one of my songs by Jerry Reed. Decca Music offered me $100 a week to become a staff songwriter. I met some interesting people.

Speaking of Emmylou, she already knew of your writing before you met in Austin.

That’s right. A great bass player from Canada named Skip Beckwith had heard some of my songs and in 1973 he took a tape of them back to Toronto and gave them to Brian Ahern, who was producing Emmylou’s albums. And she cut “Til I Gain Control Again.” But the story really starts at the Armadillo in 1975 when I sat in with her band and she said, “I’m going to L.A. tomorrow. You want to come with us?” And so I joined the Hot Band and moved to L.A.

Can you describe the Armadillo scene in 1975?

It was the epicenter of the Texas hippie counterculture. Willie Nelson was sort of the Gandhi of alt-country and still is. Back then, Willie was the drink, and Guy Clark, Doug Sahm, Jerry Jeff Walker, Michael Murphy, B.W Stevenson, Rusty Wier, they were the ice cubes.

The Hot Band included some amazing musicians such as James Burton and Glen Hardin who played with Elvis and Buddy Holly. That must have raised your chops a
couple of notches.

Yes and don’t forget Albert Lee.
They were all amazing. But my constant connection with Emmylou was about songs. We harmonized and we collaborated and as a musician I may not have been quite ready to be in the band but I was at the top of my game in terms of my interest in good material.

So you weren’t just pitching your own songs.
I knew Townes Van Zandt a little bit. So I introduced Emmylou to Townes’ song “Pancho and Lefty.” Brian produced her version, which was the first cover of that song, and it turned out beautifully.

But you didn’t slow down on the musician side either.
In 1976, when Albert Lee joined the band, it really became itself. Around this time, people of taste were taking a good look at Emmylou and they were seeing my name. That was the birth of my career.

More Music

  • Concert Review: Yoko Ono Saluted By

    Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute at Disney Hall

    Yoko One was — is — nothing if not an artist of many facets, as someone who started out in the most avant-garde corners of the visual and performance art worlds and ended up having a flair for conventional pop songwriting. Both sides, the disrupter and the sentimentalist, were celebrated in a wide-ranging tribute concert [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

  • Suzi Quatro

    Suzi Quatro on Being a Pioneering Female Rocker: 'Women Have Balls!'

    For Suzi Quatro, portraying intimidating rocker chick Leather Tuscadero on the 1970s sitcom “Happy Days” was art imitating life. A veteran musician who came up in the rough and tumble rock scene of 1960s Detroit, her tough-but-sexy small-screen persona wasn’t an act, and it’s served Quatro well in her pioneering role as arguably the first [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content