The ‘90s was a decade where female singers flourished on the charts and onstage, and Sheryl Crow helped define the sound of “‘90s Women Rock.” Armed with a solid roots-rock songwriting sensibility and a positive outlook, she crafted tunes ranging from sunshiny, feel-good rock to poignant ballads. Despite the happy-go-lucky feel of many of her hits, make no mistake: Crow worked hard and overcame many stumbling blocks to earn her the many Grammys and other accolades she has achieved throughout her career.
Born in Kennett, Missouri, on February 11, 1962, Sheryl Suzanne Crow was destined for a music career, with a trumpet-playing father and a singing mother who both performed in swing orchestras. Crow learned to play piano from her mother, who also served as a piano teacher. By age thirteen, Crow had written her first song. She continued her musical pursuits, majoring in the field at the University of Missouri. It was there she joined a cover band, Cashmere, for whom she played keyboards. Another cover band, P.M., followed suit after college, and she also taught music to autistic children and sang advertising jingles.
By 1986 she moved to Los Angeles to make larger inroads into a musical career. In addition to advertising jingles, she landed a slot on Michael Jackson’s “Bad” tour, where she served as a backup singer for two years. Continuing her search for a record deal was not an easy task. For many years labels sought female pop stars, but were not as willing to take a chance on the kind of roots-rock style that Crow favored. Thankfully, she persevered, launching a career as a session vocalist for renowned artists, such as Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Sting, Sinead O’Connor, and Don Henley (with whom she toured). Artists, including Eric Clapton, Wynonna Judd and Celine Dion, recorded some of her own songs. Through her session work she met producer Hugh Padgham, who got her a record deal with A & M records.
“Trying to get a record deal,” she says, “I was playing everything on piano, while the only females radio was playing were dance oriented artist. It was new for the time. Other female performers were more into a visual presentation and dance music.” Signing with A & M in 1991, Sheryl jettisoned her debut as too slick. Its follow-up, 1994’s multi-platinum Tuesday Night Music Club proved her right. It earned her three Grammys and made Crow a star. The self-titled Sheryl Crow (1996) continued the advance. It was another favorite at the Grammys, earning Best Rock Album and Best Female Rock Vocal (“If It Makes You Happy”), and went on to sell triple platinum, Crow was growing as a songwriter and performer.
In 1997 she joined Lilith Fair, with whom she toured several times. Her third album, The Globe Sessions, came out in 1998. It spawned two hits, “My Favorite Mistake” and “Anything But Down,” and garnered another Grammy for Best Rock Album. In 1999 Crow, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks and Sarah McLachlan, among others, performed a live concert in New York’s Central Park. The album, Live in Central Park, chronicled the event, and Crow’s song from the compilation, “There Goes The Neighborhood,” brought her another Grammy for Best Female Rock Vocal. That same year, she also won a Grammy for her cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” which appeared on the movie soundtrack Big Daddy.
Crow served as a producer for several tracks on Stevie Nicks’ 2001 record, Trouble In Shangri-La, as well as recorded “Picture,” a duet with Kid Rock that appears on Cocky. By 2002 Crow release C’mon C’mon, which debuted on the charts at Number Two and produced the smash hits “Soak Up The Sun” and “Steve McQueen.” In September 2005 Crow released Wildflower.
For Sheryl Crow, the title of her seventh album isn’t just a location; it’s a state of mind. “I grew up in a small town 100 miles from Memphis, and that informed not only my musical taste, but how I look at life,” she says. “The drive to Memphis is all farmland, and everyone is community-oriented, God-fearing people, connected to the earth. The music that came out of that part of the world is a part of who I am, and it’s the biggest inspiration for what I do and why I do it.”
So for the Kennett, Missouri native, calling the disc 100 Miles from Memphis (2010) is a statement of purpose, both musical and emotional. It also marks a long-awaited return by the nine-time Grammy winner to the sounds that first drew her to making music.
The results evoke a time when soul and passion filled the radio waves, when the sweat and joy of a recording session could be captured forever on wax. Sometimes the musical references - Al Green, Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder - are made apparent, but the album’s eleven songs are characterized more by capturing a classic spirit than by imitating any specific style.
Crow explains that the way 100 Miles from Memphis was recorded is crucial to its slinky grooves and rolling rhythms. Produced by Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley (“I knew they could get that old soul feeling with authenticity,” she says), and cut mostly live with a regular crew of musicians, the album presented a new set of challenges for her as a singer and a songwriter.
For Sheryl Crow, 100 Miles from Memphis is the right album at the right moment. “My last record (2008’s Detours) was pretty political, extremely personal, and more lyric-driven,” she says, “so it seemed like a great time to do something soulful and sexy and more driven by the music.” It took a lot of years, but with this set of songs, she finally made it back home.