Sheryl Crow - Biography

By Scott Feemster

Because she has become an ever-present face on magazine covers and because it seems her music is heard seemingly everywhere, it's almost hard to believe that Sheryl Crow has only been in the public spotlight for just around 15 years. Her blending of melodic pop with elements of rock and country have gained her a loyal following, and her outspoken support of favorite causes have gained her respect both inside and outside the entertainment industry.


            Sheryl Suzanne Crow was born February 11th, 1962 in Kennett, Missouri to parents Wendell and Bernice Crow. Both of her parents had been musicians in swing orchestras, her mother a singer and her father a trumpet player, though later in life her father became a lawyer and her mother taught piano lessons. The Crows were a musical family, and Bernice made sure that Sheryl and her three siblings all took piano lessons. Sheryl started writing songs when she was 13, and by the time she had graduated high school, she had taught herself to play guitar as well. Young Sheryl was a bright and popular girl, and in addition to studying music, was an All-State track athlete, majorette, and was a member of numerous social and service clubs while in high school. After graduating high school, Crow decided to pursue a career somehow involved with music, and attended the University of Missouri at Columbia, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Composition, Performance and Education. While she was in Columbia, Crow played keyboards in a cover band, Cashmere, while finishing her studies. Once graduated, Crow moved to St. Louis and found work as a music teacher for autistic children. To supplement her income, she also performed with another cover band, called P.M., and started recording advertising jingles for businesses in the St. Louis area with the help of local musician and producer Jay Oliver. Crow found a fair amount of success in singing jingles, and decided, in 1986, to pack up and move to Los Angeles to further pursue a career in music. If she couldn't make it as a performing musician, she figured she could at least support herself with singing more jingles. Crow sang on commercials for such brands as Toyota and McDonalds, and continued writing songs and attending auditions for singers. In 1987 she landed a job as one of Michael Jackson's backup singers on his BAD world tour, and was even featured in a duet performance with Jackson on his song “I Just Can't Stop Loving You.” Following the tour, she also scored a part on the short lived musical-drama television series Cop Rock, created by Hill Street Blues creator Steven Bochco.


            After Cop Rock folded, Crow tried to score a record deal for herself, but found that record labels wanted to mold her into a pop/dance diva, a role she felt she wasn't suited for. Because of her connections from the Jackson tour and from doing jingles, Crow was able to find work as a background vocalist for such artists as Rod Stewart, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Don Henley, and at the same time honed her skills as a songwriter. Some of the artists who covered her songs from this period include Eric Clapton, Wynonna Judd and Celine Dion, to name a few. From her session work and songwriting connections, Crow connected with producer Hugh Padgham, who produced a series of demos and got Crow signed to a deal with A&M Records. With Padgham producing, Crow recorded a mellow, ballad-heavy collection of some of her songs, but as Padgham was mainly a pop producer, he gave the collection an overly-produced, slick sound that Crow wasn't entirely comfortable with. A&M didn't like the record either, and the album was never officially released. Crow was crushed by the experience and battled depression for the next couple of years, but eventually battled her way back with the help of her boyfriend Kevin Gilbert. Gilbert, who attempted to re-mix her aborted album to no avail,  was also a musician and songwriter and got together once a week with other singer/songwriters to socialize, trade ideas and jam. The musicians in the group included Bill Bottrell, (at whose Pasadena studio the group met), David Baerwald, Brian MacLeod, David Ricketts, Gilbert, and Dan Schwartz. The group had all been studio musicians or had been in bands, and welcomed Crow into their ranks, and, as she was the only one in the group with a current recording contract, decided to make her their project. The informal sessions were dubbed the Tuesday Night Music Club. Crow and her compatriots worked out enough material for a new album, and with Bottrell producing, recorded and released Crow's official debut album, appropriately titled Tuesday Night Music Club, in August of 1993. Once released, the album gained positive reviews, but languished for almost a year until A&M released the song “All I Wanna Do” as a single in the summer of 1994. The song had a breezy, summery lilt and became a huge hit, ending up as pretty much the anthem of that particular summer. Suddenly, A&M and Crow had a hit single, and copies of Tuesday Night Music Club started flying off of the shelves. She had a second successful single with the song “Strong Enough”, and ended up being nominated in several categories for the 1994 Grammys. Not only was she nominated, but she ended up winning the Best New Artist, Best Female Rock Vocal and Record Of The Year honors. This added exposure helped spur another sales boost to her album, and Tuesday Night Music Club went on to sell over seven million copies worldwide. Unfortunately, with success came a backlash. Crow had another hit with “Leaving Las Vegas”, a song she had written with David Baerwald, based on a story by Baerwald's friend John O'Brien. (O'Brien's story also inspired the film of the same name.) In an interview with Crow, she had offhandedly said that the song was loosely based on her own life experiences, which Baerwald took to mean that she wasn't acknowledging his part in the songwriting process. Soon after, O'Brien took his own life, which furthered the resentment Baerwald felt towards Crow. Other members of the Tuesday Night Music Club also claimed that Crow was taking too much credit for the album that had made her successful, and most of the members turned against her. Injury was added to insult when, in 1996, her ex-boyfriend Gilbert, who had been responsible for getting her on the road to success, was killed in an accident involving autoerotic asphyxiation.


            Once touring was completed to support Tuesday Night Music Club, Crow felt she needed to prove herself as more than a one-hit album wonder. Though she initially started work with Bottrell, the two had a falling out, and she decided to produce the album herself with the help of Mitchell Froom as her assistant producer and Tchad Blake as her engineer. Crow had also started writing songs with the guitarist in her touring band, Jeff Trott. The resulting album, titled simply Sheryl Crow (A&M), was released in 1996, and though much more off-kilter than her debut album, eventually went platinum, and spawned the hit singles “If It Makes You Happy”, “A Change Would Do You Good”, and “Everyday Is A Winding Road”. Because of some of the lyrical content dealing with abortion, homelessness and especially the assertion that Wal-Mart was partially responsible for getting guns in to the hands of underage kids, the album was banned from the shelves of the retail giant. Regardless, Crow earned two more Grammy awards in 1996, and participated as one of the participants in the next year's all-female Lilith Fair tour. She also composed and sang the theme song to the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, for which she won another Grammy and a Golden Globe, and helped Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland with his 1998 solo album 12 Bar Blues (Atlantic).


            Crow's next album, The Globe Sessions (A&M), was released in 1998, and showed her more in the traditional rock spirit of her first album. The Globe Sessions was also a huge seller, eventually going platinum, and spawning the hit singles “My Favorite Mistake” and “Anything But Down”. The record also netted her another Grammy award that year for Best Rock Album. In 1999, Crow contributed her version of the Guns N' Roses song “Sweet Child o' Mine” to the soundtrack of the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy, and later that year staged a free concert in New York City's Central Park, with special guests including Sarah McLachlan, Eric Clapton, Chrissie Hynde, the Dixie Chicks, Keith Richards and Stevie Nicks. The concert was released later as the live album Live in Central Park (A&M)(1999), and with Crow's track record and the bevy of guest stars the album should have been a big success, but either due to the publics burn-out of Crow's celebrity or some admittedly sub-par performances, the record did not sell well.


            Crow did not return with a new album until 2002, though she did help Stevie Nicks with her album Trouble In Shangri-La (Reprise) and duetted with Kid Rock on his single “Picture” in the intervening time. Her 2002 album C'mon C'mon (Interscope) was a turn away from some of the dark-hued songs she had been writing, and returned her to the sunny, feel-good vibes of “All I Wanna Do”. The album returned her to the top of the charts, and she had two successful singles with the songs “Soak Up The Sun” and “Steve McQueen”. After the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, Crow appeared on Good Morning America sporting a shirt that read “I don't believe in your war, Mr. Bush”, and was an early and vocal opponent of the war. Crow spent the next couple of years touring and appearing on projects by Johnny Cash and Michelle Branch, and contributing songs to the soundtracks for the movies I Am Sam and Bridget Jones Diary. A&M celebrated Crow's success with the greatest hits package The Very Best of Sheryl Crow in 2003, which included the new single “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, a song originally written and performed by Cat Stevens. Crow returned with a new collection in 2005 called Wildflower (A&M), and though the album debuted at #2 on the Billboard album charts, it didn't sell as well as some of it's predecessors, though Crow was once again nominated for multiple Grammy awards. (She lost out that year to Kelly Clarkson.) Though she had originally planned to release two albums in the same year, the sessions were whittled down to the material that appeared on Wildflower.  In 2006, Crow re-recorded one of the tracks off of the album, “Always On Your Side”, as a duet with Sting, and the track became a hit on Adult Contemporary radio.


            In early 2006, Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer, but the disease was found in its early stages, and thus far Crow has remained in remission after receiving treatment. Since that time, Crow has been a visible and vocal voice for cancer treatment and research. After recovering, Crow returned to work and contributed songs to the soundtracks to the movies Home Of The Brave and Bee Movie, and contributed backing vocals to a track on Ryan Adams 2007 album Easy Tiger (Lost Highway). Crow released her next album, Detours (A&M) in early 2008, a collection hailed as a return to the  roots-rock sound of her first album. The album was recorded at Crow's Nashville farm with producer Bill Bottrell, and contained some of her strongest songwriting and most inventive arrangements in her 15 plus year career. The album has been a success and Crow spent the better part of 2008 touring in support of the record.

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