Singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell amassed a star-studded lineup for his new studio album Texas (RC1 Records). Montana Press spoke with Crowell about working with Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, songwriting and his time spent writing in Montana.
Montana Press: What might have been the biggest challenge about making Texas?
Rodney Crowell: It’s not even hyperbole when I say that record pretty much made itself because it really did. For instance, getting a message from Ringo Starr that he was happy to record a track if I wanted to come out to his place. It just happened out of the blue. I got Willie Nelson on this one song because I happened to call a friend of mine who plays in his band. I said, “Where’s Willie?” He was about a quarter of a mile from where I was working in the studio. A half hour later I had Willie Nelson on a track.
MP: What was the music scene like growing up in Houston as a teenager?
RC: Oh god it was incredible. BJ Thomas and the Triumphs, Roger and the Creations, Jake and the Jokers, C.L and the Pictures, the Moving Sidewalks, Lightning Hopkins, the T.S.U. Toronadoes, The Coastliners, Shiva’s Headband, 13th Floor Elevators. All of those groups that I mentioned that quickly, that fast were operating big-time around Houston in the 60s.
MP: How have you evolved as an artist from when you first started to where you are today?
RC: Probably the most truthful and the most simplistic answer would be my work ethic has just solidified with each passing year.
MP: Has the song writing process gotten easier for you over the years?
RC: No. It was easier when I was younger because I took it more lightly and I was willing to settle for less. Since I’ve written a memoir (“Chinaberry Sidewalks” from Alfred A. Knopf, 2011) and worked with a highly skilled editor know the value of really good editing. So as a songwriter I’ve become far more thorough in the process. I live the life of a writer. It just so happens that I’m also a performer.
MP: What can fans expect from these upcoming shows in Montana?
RC: I have my acoustic trio. I have two very brilliant musicians that travel with me, a violinist and a guitarist as well as me. The fiddle player is actually the house fiddle player at the Grand Ole Opry. The young man who plays the other guitar with me won “Australia’s Got Talent” when he was 16 years old. It’s a good thing I can write songs and sing a little bit because otherwise I don’t think I would qualify to be a part of this group.
MP: Do you have any fond memories of performing in Montana or traveling through the state?
RC: I’ve spent a lot of time in Livingston, I spent a lot of time in Paradise Valley. I’ve spent a lot of time at Chico Hot Springs. I’ve dog-sledded out of Chico and I have really good friends in Livingston and some in Bozeman. I’ve been there in the winter when the wind was blowing 105 miles an hour through the Wineglass. I spent a winter up there working on this memoir that I wrote snowed in.
MP: What did you think of the Ken Burns’ “Country Music” PBS documentary?
RC: I haven’t seen it. I keep getting these text messages from everybody telling me how good I am in it but I haven’t seen it. I will eventually watch this documentary because I know how much work went into it. That whole Ken Burns crew, they do really good work and I’m a fan of their work.
MP: What did it feel like to be part of it?
RC: I only remember the interview portion and I don’t really remember much about what I said. I do know they were happy with my line that, “Country music is three chords and the truth even if it’s a big fat lie.”
MP: You co-wrote two songs with the late Guy Clark in “Caw Caw Blues” and “I’ll Show Me.” What would he have thought of the album?
RC: I think Guy would’ve liked it. When things ring true Guy would tip his hat. If it didn’t ring true or I did something that didn’t ring true he would scowl at me. He would say, ‘Goddammit you got to tell the truth!’ “Caw Caw Blues” is the last thing I did with Guy and he passed away before I got it finished. But I am dead sure that he would really approve of the recording that I made of it.