No Outsiders Here

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Monterey County Fair rolls around again on Tuesday, and we can expect the usual high quality musical entertainment every night.  One name well worth looking out for is Rodney Crowell, who plays on the Garden Stage on Wednesday evening.  With a career spanning 30 years, a Grammy and an ASCAP lifetime achievement award, Crowell has played with some of the top names in American music.  Also an accomplished solo artist, he will be releasing his latest CD, “The Outsider” on Tuesday. 

Crowell was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in a musical family.  His father led a band called J.W. Crowell and the Rhythmaires, playing in the honky-tonk bars on Houston’s East Side.  At age eleven, the young Rodney Crowell found himself as the drummer in the band.  However, his tenure was to be short-lived.  “When the cute novelty of the child drummer wore off,” he recalled, “it was decided I would give up my seat in the Rhythmaires rhythm section.”

Crowell had enjoyed his brief stint as a musician, and a few years later, formed his first band, the Arbitrators.  He spent most of his weekends throughout high school with the Arbitrators, playing at teenagers’ parties and Legion hall dances.

After graduating high school, Crowell went off to college.  There, he, his room mate Donivan Cowart and Cowart’s older brother began writing songs.  Soon they decided that they wanted to seek their fortune as musicians.  They dropped out of college and moved to Nashville.  The year was 1972.  Crowell said of the time, “It was our good fortune to fall in with the misfit songwriters and self-styled characters who used Bishop’s Pub as a combination soup kitchen and open-mike stage.  Donivan and I averaged five or six dollars a night passing the hat after a 20-minute set.” 

Among the regulars at Bishop’s Pub were Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle.  Crowell became friends with many of them and learned the craft of songwriting.  Two of Crowell’s songs, “Bluebird Wine” and “Til I Can Gain Control Again,” came to the attention of Emmylou Harris in 1974 as she was preparing to record her first album.  She recorded both songs and a year later invited Crowell to join her Hot Band as guitarist, vocalist and songwriting partner.

Crowell spent two years with the Hot Band, where his reputation grew as a songwriter.  This resulted in Warner Brothers Records offering him a solo contract.  He left the band to pursue a solo career, recording eleven albums as well as producing records by Guy Clark, Rosanne Cash and others. 

Crowell took an extended break from the music world in 1995, choosing to spend time with his family.  He returned in 2001 with “Houston Kid,” an autobiographical album telling stories from his childhood.  This was followed in 2003 by the similarly introspective “Fate’s Right Hand.”  On “The Outsider,” Crowell couples his personal reflections with songs featuring more social and political commentary.  The album features relatively sparse arrangements featuring guitar, bass, drums and occasional keyboards and other instruments.  This, together with the music’s rock edge, means that the new songs should transfer well to the live setting.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, August 11, 2005

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