Posted May, 2015
Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam These are just some of the people who Anthony Crawford has worked extensively with.
Who is Anthony Crawford? He and his wife, Savana Lee, are the songwriting/singing team known as Sugarcane Jane. Some may say that their genre is Americana. Crawford describes it differently but more about that in a moment.
Sugarcane Jane has released their debut CD, “Dirt Road’s End” and it’s a refreshing batch of great, innovative, inspiring music. I called up Crawford at his Alabama home to discuss the duo’s new CD. From the git go, he was enthusiastic.
“I’m excited about the record we have out. Working with Buzz Cason has been a goal of his and mine for the last decade- to try to get these songs out to more than just the few people who get to hear it when we play the music down on the Gulf Coast.
“The reason those songs are so tight on that record is because Savana and I played them probably four times a week for four years. We’ve just been honing our craft for that long. Buzz said, ‘Let’s put a record out. I’ll pay for it. Let’s see what happens’. We went up to Nashville and recorded the record on his two inch tape machine. We did it live. We set it up like we play in a bar, restaurant, or whatever. We had a PA and the whole thing. That’s why there are some weird tones in there every now and then. For the most part, we just wanted to capture what we do live, the energy of it. I think we did. It’s very high energy.”
In describing Sugarcane Jane, Anthony said:
“I’ve got a pretty concise answer to that question. When she and I first got together, she was taking me to meet her parents for the first time. We turned off of Co. Rd 64 down this dirt road. I thought, ‘Huh… this is a lot of dirt road’. We kept driving and driving and driving. We went about a mile and a half down this dirt road. Finally, we went over a bridge and through a tunnel of trees then – boom – there’s her mom and dad’s house. It’s an old piece of property they’ve had in their family since the 1880’s.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is your property?’ She said, ‘Yeah, my granddad used to have a sugarcane patch out here somewhere. He would carve sugarcane and give it to all the little children around here on Halloween.’ There would be a huge crowd in front of their house of people waiting to collect their sugarcane. It was so sweet. He was known for carving that up. I thought, ‘Sugarcane’, and I just started singing a song off the top of my head. “Sugarcane Jane….” – I just made Jane up. All of the sudden, we thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool. Sugarcane Jane!’ It’s better to not have a name that’s just, ‘Anthony and Savana’. I really think the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ is as big a part of why we are what we are as the music. It’s just inviting. It has an interesting origin. I’ve got to say it’s pretty lighthearted for a lot of people.
“If we were to go play with a bunch of moody people, we’d certainly be looked upon as being torn from different piece of cloth. The fact is we like playing for people who like to leave our concerts being lifted up, so the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ evokes that. It was just a spur of the moment thing. Plus, we didn’t want anybody to know our names, it was a privacy thing. At the time we were getting together, we wanted to do shows, but we didn’t want to have our names out there. We just had ‘Sugarcane Jane’, and it stuck. We just kinda took off. That’s how we got started.”
I think a lot of people would easily place Sugarcane Jane in the Americana genre. I asked Anthony how he would describe it.
“We would probably have a hard time putting it out with that exact stamp on it. We usually do, because it does draw from a deep well of American music, however we think of ourselves more like energy peddlers. Ultimately, we’re peddling energy, not a style. It’s truth. It’s organic as we call it because it's homegrown and natural. It’s acoustic, honest, positive music. All those things describe it. It’s unfortunate when you put something out digitally, and you are forced to categorize it as, ‘Singer/songwriter, Americana, Alt Country, etc.’ Those things just don’t really go deep enough into the reality of what it is. Our influences being brought up in the South are vast including country, roots, gospel, blues, jazz, and classic rock. I think we are a Heinz 57 of genres and I guess that's why the Americana tag fits best because that's pretty much what that is.
“If we have to play a four hour show, we are singing a few cover tunes. But if we’re doing a forty-minute show like we did with Steve Winwood in Birmingham on May 2, we’ve got forty minutes to plow through our most popular songs. People would not know any different. They’d go, ‘Wow- that’s what they are!’ When we go do that type of show, we know we can count on most all of the songs on the new Dirt Road's End album; ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, ‘The Game’, ‘San Andreas’, ‘Home Nights’,‘Heartbreak Road’, that kind of thing. Those songs are tried and tested and we usually get apositive response from people. They are crowd pleasers. We’ve got some new songs too that we are integrating into our set; ‘The Ladder’, and ‘Never Do You Know’. We explore a deeper side of Sugarcane Jane with those songs that are insightful and actually say something enlightening, then we come back with the plain ‘ole make-you-feel-good lighthearted music. We just want people to have a good time. When they leave our show, we want them to feel like they are leaving with something positive.
“I have to say, our normal set may beconsidered a little bit on the G-rated side, just family friendly music. We don’t do anything that’s too risqué or anything. People can bring their kids. We can always jam on some Neil Young and be believable with it. There is a wide spectrum of what we can draw from which is why we rarely make a setlist. We try to just feel out our audience and let the songs pick themselves. It’s a little bit of a unique thing that we have. People relate to us, because we have two small children. We're in the trenches as some would call it. The "diaper changing era" and a lot of people have been there and know how much work and energy that entails. They have an appreciation for what we are doing and know it is not easy with both mom and dad working at the same time. I think it's what is endearing about Sugarcane Jane. We have a deep love for our children, family, and fans (which are more like friends). Typically, you’re out there just grabbing for success as hard as you can. That’s just not us. We’re trying to make a living and raise good kids. Don’t get me wrong, we'd love to reach a higher level of recognition, but not at the expense of our family.”
Crawford is obviously quite gifted. It would seem that everything he does turns to career gold in some way. Musicianship. Songwriting. Performing. Photography. Recording Studio ownership. When I said all of that, he said:
“Randy, let me tell you something. A wise man once told me, it's not what you've done, it's what you're doing right now. It's true that I have had a blessed journey, but I have worked hard and kept my focus throughout the roller coaster ride. While a lot of people around me were dabbling in drugs, I walked the line. I was always afraid of that scene and the path it may lead. I've seen a lot of great players and artists go down that road and the outcome was not where I wanted to be. And because of being clear headed, I think I was able to listen to my intuition, God, or whatever was telling me to do certain things. I took that photo for Neil Young’s album cover because I was led to walk out there and see those old cars and see the beauty in them. I’m really like Forrest Gump. I’ve ridden in a balloon with Richard Branson. I’ve toured with Neil Young on a private jet. Too many adventures to even name. Most people would give anything to do just one of them. I have been very fortunate but how I acquired these titles or became who I am is not because I am better than you or even the most gifted guy. I really just think that I’m one of those people that stayed on their path, listened to intuition, and tried to remain humble. Call it destiny, call it luck, call it what you want. I went down this certain pipe, if you will. Instead of going to the left, my water flowed me to the right. I followed the more enchanted path. Had I made one little decision wrong, the other way would have been my way, and I wouldn’t be talking to you today. A lot of it is just environmental fortune for me to have made the right turn at the right time.
“I look back at everything I’ve done, and know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a book in my head I could write if I were ever able to devote some time to it. It can be challenging to focus with so many things going on. I’m so scattered in my thoughts. That's where Savana comes in and grounds me. She will probably be the one to help me make the book thing happen at some point. So yes, I have a lifetime of accomplishments and moments I am proud to be a part of, but more than any of that I’m excited about is what is right in front of me. I keep that saying in the forefront of my mind, that you’re only as good as who you are today. I think my best years are ahead of me. These are all great stepping stones, but what stage of success I reach is yet to be determined. It’s still being built, and I can hear the hammering.”
I asked Anthony how has all of this experience influenced the incarnation of Sugarcane Jane and how it shaped their “mission” and vibe.
“In the song, ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’… well, funny enough, it’s not a ballad. It just got named that. But the story of that song tells it all. I ultimately say that the very first time I heard Savana sing one of my songs, and I started singing harmony with her, I knew that she and I were going to be together. That’s just all there is to it. She is the reason why I can be patient. I trust her. I feel like she is anointed by some higher power to have some sort of life that is made of honesty and integrity. She is fantastic with all the things she does.
"I’m saying this in all honesty. The girl totally made whatever it is that I did before her become a reality. It was not a reality before her. I had songs. I had this, that, and the other. But I wasn’t touring. I wasn’t even working on a career. I would just go out with Neil Young and make a bunch of money. Then I’d go and act like I was supposed to be getting another call from him at any minute to go out and make more money. It wasn’t about a career. I would get lost in my studio. I recorded constantly. I guess that's part of the puzzle though. I have a treasure chest of songs from those days so it's all a part of the puzzle. Getting with Savana has made it to where everything makes more sense. Together, we have something special. She was the last piece to my puzzle.
“Playing with Neil Young has given me the knowledge and experience to feel comfortable performing at this level. I played on stage with Paul McCartney. I’m not bragging, but I can honestly say I reached heights in the music business when it comes to at least being a sideman few people ever reach. And I did it multiple times. It’s like winning the Grammy of sideman. If they gave out a Grammy for sideman, I’d have at least three: Dwight Yoakam, Neil Young, and Steve Winwood. Those are three huge people who trusted me to be in their band. I was in there for more than just some weekend. I was in there for years. To me, that’s like having my Grammy. It’s not a Grammy, but it is a legacy that I'm extremely proud of.
“I’m not worried when I’m down here playing for people eating shrimp at Lulu’s, because I’ve seen what it’s like to be on a big stage and play in front of Glastonbury in England where there’s 200,000 people out there. That’s like playing Woodstock. I played at Live Aid in Philadelphia. I played Farm Aid. I played all these big concerts. In other words, I’m not anxious about figuring out, ‘What’s it like being on a bus? What’s it like to be at that level?’ I know what it’s like, and it’s not anything that’s a mystery to me anymore.
“I just know that making music with Savana is a beautiful thing, and I don’t want it to be over anytime soon. I want to take my time with my kids. I know that’s cliché-ish, but I love looking at my little kids sleeping when they wake up, their little faces… Things of that nature are what I define as success, not musical achievements. The fact that I’ve done all these things that you’ve mentioned gives me patience enough to be a good father, husband, and partner to someone like Buzz Cason who trusts me to do what I say I’m going to do. Years ago, I wouldn’t have, because I wasn’t grounded. I’m very grounded now about certain things, but I still have a lot of passion for music. Don’t get me wrong- if this record blows up and takes off, I’m going to be really excited about it. However, if this was the last thing that ever happens for it, just to be talking to you today, I’d be just as happy. It’s success to just have you even want to talk to me. That’s success to me. On a real basic level, you are taking your time to talk to me about me. It’s not money, but it’s your time and energy. That’s a commodity that I think is way underrated.”
Regarding receptivity to the music, Crawford said:
“Surprisingly to me, it’s all just positive. I didn’t know what people would think. I don’t listen to a lot of music, and I don’t really know what’s popular today. I really don’t. I’m not a music listener much. I’ve never been. I listened early on in my career to people and soaked it up. After awhile, I just quit listening. Occasionally, something will really interest me, and I’ll dig into it.
“In answer to your question, people tell me that what we’re doing is what people like these days. It’s really kind of a big thing. That’s a good sign. I don’t really know what that means. I’ve had several people tell me that we’re falling right into the pocket. It’d almost be like if I was wearing a Garth Brooks style of shirt and singing songs kinda like him, people would say, ‘Dude, you’re right in the pocket!’ It’s like, ‘Really?’ ‘Yea, there’s a dude, Garth Brooks, from Oklahoma. He’s big. Y’all got the same thing.’ I’d be like a knock-off of something or whatever. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but from what I understand, there’s a big folk music acoustic thing. What we’re doing, people like it... Shovels & Rope, The Civil Wars, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, whoever. I think Savana and I have a little thing that’s probably different than most people, yet it’s still kinda in the zone of what’s going on. I’m probably going to have to start checking it out to see what’s going on. I don’t know. We’re just doing our music, and if anybody calls us and gives an opportunity to come play, we’re probably going to do it.”
In the course of chatting (and since Crawford had worked with Neil Young), I mentioned Richie Furay’s new CD (Furay is a former band mate of Young’s) and asked if he had heard it.
“That’s something I’m interested in. When I’m interested in something, I’ll go dig it up. But as far as just randomly going and searching for music, I don’t know. I like to just keep my mind clear. I’m a minimalist when it comes to input like that. I don’t want to feel like I’m copying something. If I come across something, I can honestly say I just came across it through sheer coincidence.
“I produced something with a fella named Scott Nolan. Now, I hope you look that fella up. He’s got several albums out. His music is so beautiful. He drove all the way from Winnipeg to come down to the Gulf Coast and record with me and that group I’m in with Savana called Willie Sugarcapps. Then there’s another guy, Edward David Anderson. He’s out of Illinois, and I just produced an album on him. Those are two people that both have new fantastic releases coming out this fall that I hope you check out.
“My real true love is producing. I LOVE producing. I love being home, making music for people, and having them leave just ecstatic. That is what I love. It’s my passion when it comes to music. I love performing, but if you gave me my choice, I would probably lean towards being in the studio. I can be around my kids and drive them to school when that part of life comes calling. I’m good at it. I play all kinds of instruments. I learned how to make music through Neil Young, really. I know how to make a real recording and keep magical parts without erasing them, because you think it’s a mistake.
“Sometimes mistakes seem to be mistakes until you add something else. All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Oh, cool. That works big time.’ That’s what he does. He doesn’t get rid of anything. He’ll keep something that you think, ‘Ah, that sounds terrible!’ Then all of a sudden, you go, ‘Why doesn’t that sound terrible anymore?’ It’s because something was added that made it work. It’s like, vinegar on its own is no good, but you add it to cucumbers and ice, you’ve got this nice dish. It’s just the way it goes. I learned a lot from Neil Young. I learned what to do and what not to do from him. He’s been a very big teacher for me.”
I asked Anthony if there is a song from the album that he would offer as a calling card, so to speak, to draw people to the rest of “Dirt Road’s End.”
“That is a tough one. I love the sound of ‘San Andreas’, but I love the story of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’. I had a little bit of a problem with the energy of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’ being so over the top and being the first song on the record. But Buzz said, ‘Man, that’s gotta be first. It tells a story, and it’s the essence of who y’all are’. Given that, I would have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’.
“Then again, the next song ,‘The Game’, I love the way that song has that harmonica in there. I don’t know. It’s tough to pick one. I really have to say all those songs in there are very special to me.
“But because of the story and the lyrics, I have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, for sure. It tells the story of me and Savana. If you were just trying to leave something in a time capsule for people to know about us, that clearly tells our story. None of the other songs tell our story like that one. That’s drilling for oil and hitting it, right there. The other songs are drilling all around it, but the lyrics on that song say what we are. It’s the truth about us.”
I love “Not Another Truck Song” on the album. I asked Crawford if it was a musical poke in Nashville’s eye.
“It is. I didn’t write that song; Buzz did. We had never even heard the song. I sat there around his computer while he played a demo of it. He just really wanted us to do it, and I was like, ‘Well, ok…’ It was the last song that we cut. Heck, that song turned out to be one of the best songs that we did on there as far as just the sound of it. The tone of it, to me, was pleasant.
“Buzz lives in Nashville. He’s had a lot of success with things up there, but he’s still outside of the box compared to people up there. As many songs as he’s written, he’s not one of those people. He’s not real hardcore Music Row writer. He comes from way deeper roots than that. I love that lyric, ‘This is not another truck song. Somebody done somebody’s baby wrong.’ I love the sentiment of it. It’s nice. It’s well written. I don’t think he’s being mean-spirited in any way with it, not that you’re saying he is. It is definitely a poke at the fact that most people think they’ve got to write a song about a truck or some sort of beer container being a certain color- red plastic cup, whatever that thing was. It’s just some kind of beer and truck party mentality that we just don’t fit into.
“I’m not sure Savana and I would really fit into being around hardcore country-loving fans. Our demographic is really your upper echelon, affluent educated people. They love us! They tip us great. They’re all well-to-do people, but for some reason, they just can’t believe little old me and Savana are entertaining them until they’ve had enough. We go and try to play for country folks that would go watch Kenny Chesney and they don’t seem to get us. I don’t know why, but I'm guessing it's because they haven't heard us before. They like something familiar, that they know the words to. And maybe they will now that we have this record out. But in the past, we’ve found that we aren’t singing the kind of songs that speak to them, like going mudding in a truck or buying beer at the gas station and meeting around a burning barrel somewhere out in the middle of the woods, talking about stuff after you’ve been laying concrete all day. I don’t know, I'm probably all wrong about it. Hopefully I am. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, radio, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, and all other music media educate people on what they "should be" listening to and they believe it. People don't have time to dive into the unknown artists and decipher what's good and what's not. That's why we're hoping that having national distribution and radio play will put our music into the ears of the country fans that otherwise might not have heard of us. I'm not giving up on them.
“I was in a band called Blackhawk. When Van Stephenson passed away, Henry Paul and Dave Robbins asked me to come into the band. They made me a partner. I was like the ‘new guy’. Nobody really gravitated towards me. We’d go do a meet ‘n’ greet, and nobody would talk to me. But that's probably my insecurity showing through. That and the fact that Henry Paul and Dave looked like giants next to me. I didn't visually fit in. With Savana, I do. We're practically the same size so it's just a more attractive package. It's the opposite now. You just have to find where you belong. There's always a place."
I asked why he felt the 40+ crowd dug Sugarcane Jane.
“Well, I think it’s the style of writing. Sometimes, when we’re doing a longer show, I will pull out a Neil Young cover, because I played with Neil. Or we’ll do ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ with Steve or ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’ with Dwight. People just love the song selection we have, because they relate to it. People who are in that place in life, whether it’s economic or whatever, seem to be more laid back about things. They just want to have a good time. They’re not wanting somebody to tell them a song about ‘Woe is me’, and they don’t really relate to somebody talking about a truck or drinkin’ or whatever. They want substance. And I think that it takes them back to their childhood because they grew up with that music like I did. The newer artists don't do those songs because they don't know them. But they should. I love it when I hear younger artists covering The Beatles or Stones or something like that.
“When we go play down near Destin, Florida, like Santa Rosa Beach or any of those wealthy seaside towns, those people have a lot of things going on for them individually. They have nice houses and cars and clothes, but they kinda like to go slummin’ with our music. It's an escape that's just on the edge of where their willing to go. It's fun to take them there.
“There’s a contrast that they love. We’re happy people, and we put on a smile. My wife has a very angelic energy, and I’m over there playing the crap out of the guitar. We’ve got tight harmony, so what’s not to love? We show up, and we’re real professional. Professional meaning we’re not late, and we’re not rude to people. We engage everybody. We’re very approachable. Being approachable is one of the biggest things I can say, because ultimately, people who like those other songs don’t necessarily even think about approaching people. There’s just some sort of different vision that they have of the world that doesn’t feel the need to belly up to what we’re doing. These other people have some sort of gravitational pull towards us because of the elements I described: nice, approachable, beautiful harmonies. The music is fresh, and they leave happy. We just peddle happiness, and those people like happy. Most affluent people don’t like unhappy. They've probably all been there before and who needs to be reminded of bad times? We deliver happy. We’re like pizza delivery people coming up to a mansion. We’re just bringing music instead of pizza. Then we go back to our little hut somewhere. We know how to hang on the rich folks’ property, and when they’re ready for us to go, we know how to leave without trashing their yard. They’ll ask us back. ”
On the subjects of positivity and faith, Anthony shared:
“I thing being representatives of good energy is God’s plan for me and Savana. I do believe in God. I’m a huge believer in that. I’ve been a doubtful person of it, and I’ve been proven that it exists. It’s even happened here lately. I asked God to show me, ‘Hey, if you exist, I need some proof RIGHT NOW. This is such a huge thing, and I need you to show me you’re with me on this.’ I got an answer an hour later. It’s amazing. I believe in God, and I believe in the fact that I’m being a vessel for him. I’m a representative of that. The best way I can do it is through song, my energy, and being positive with people. If I’m going somewhere, and somebody really wants to get in the door quicker than me, by all means. Just step right on in. I’m not going to be trying to beat somebody through the door. If they really need to get in, GO. Who knows? They might get in there and get slammed in the head. It would have been me. I don’t care. I don’t want to slow people down or make them pissed off. I yield. I’m a yielder for the most part. I try to be as much as I can."
As for tour plans in support of “Dirt Road’s End”:
“We have a lot of things coming up. We have a full-packed summer of shows. First of all, we just did the show with Steve Winwood in Birmingham which was a huge milestone for Sugarcane Jane. Savana and I are going out to Northern California to do a couple shows out there in June. In July, we’re touring with Steve Forbert for two to three weeks up the northeast. Then we come back to a string of our own personal southeast dates including Chatt Hills in Serenbe right outside of Atlanta at the end of July, a place Savana and I fell in love with. We’re also in another group called Willie Sugarcapps, and we’re playing the Targhee Bluegrass Festival in Wyoming in August.
“We have several very high-profile gigs in support of this record. I talked to Steve Winwood’s road manager/sound guy who turns out to be somebody I’ve known a long time. I was like, ‘James, you’re the main man now!’ He said, ‘Believe it or not, yep, that’s right.’ I said, ‘Well, if you get any more of these Steve Winwood gigs, we’d love to do them. We’ll travel anywhere.’ So the possibility of doing more with Steve is out there. We would also love to get back in with Dwight Yoakam. He just released a new album, Second Hand Heart, where he cut one of my songs, V's of Birds. So yeah, we’ve got big things on the horizon for Sugarcane Jane.
“I have high hopes for the records I’m producing for these people who are out there working: Scott Nolan, Edward David Anderson, Cary Laine, Lauren Kay. We have so much on our plate right now. We’re very diversified. If we were in the stock market, we would have a fantastic looking portfolio. Our eggs are not in one basket. The Dwight Yoakam cut- who knows what that’s going to do for me. I’m not sure if those things generate a lot of income anymore, but it sure looks good on paper. People love to talk about it.”
I know that Crawford gets asked a ton of questions about Neil Young. However, I’m more intrigued with his work with Steve Winwood. Sugarcane Jane opened for WInwood recently. When I suggested that it speaks volumes about his respect for Anthony as a friend and musician, he said:
“Oh, yeah. I’m going to give you something a little juicy here. Here’s the difference between Neil Young and Steve Winwood in a nutshell. When I was playing with Steve Winwood, early on in the tour after he’d finished his Back In The High Life tour, which was huge, we were doing the Roll With It tour. I’m over there playing the guitar, and I’m singing the harmony with him. He comes up to me in the middle of the song, he looks at me, and he says in that English voice, ‘Anthony, I just love what you’re playing. Love it. But could you just please stick to the parts on the record? Ok, thank you.’ When I did one little note wrong with Neil, he just looked at me like he could kill me.
“The differences in people are just amazing. Steve is such a nice person. Now don’t get me wrong. If you do something that he doesn’t like, you’ll just wind up not working with him or something. Maybe I did something. As a human being, there’s no better. How we got that gig was because I was walking out of my studio about two weeks ago. We were going over to play a show in Destin, and I knew that they have a house in Destin. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just e-mail Genia (his wife) to see if they’re down here and invite them to the show’. She e-mailed me back and said, ‘We’re not in the States right now, but thanks for asking. We hope to see you soon’. About two or three days later, we get a call from our booking agent that Winwood’s management was inquiring about us opening for Steve in Birmingham. Because I refreshed their brain about me, they thought, ‘Let’s let Anthony and Savana open for you in Birmingham’. Now that’s nice, ok?
“When in reality, Neil comes and plays at the Mobile Saenger Theatre eight miles from my house, and he gets somebody else to open. He doesn’t even think about letting me do it. I spent twenty something years of my life with him. So that’s the difference.
“Steve is a generous man. That’s not to say Neil is not a generous man. He just doesn’t think about the fact that I gave him years and years and years of my life. It’s like, ‘Hey, dude, throw me a bone!’ Whether he did it on purpose, or he just didn’t even think about it, that’s the difference. Steve thinks about people. He’s a generous, thoughtful man. There’s nothing I could ever say about that guy that wouldn’t be glowing. He’s tops for me as a human being and a musician.”
Because Anthony has been in the music business for such a long time, I asked him what are the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in it.
“The most positive thing that comes to my mind immediately would be that the music business is back in the hands of the musicians. Due to the Internet, social media, and if you get out there and just love what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to make a living playing music. It’s wide open again. It’s not owned by a few record companies. That’s positive to me.
“Something that disturbs me about the music business is how many people are willing to copy your music and share it with everyone they know for free. It's stealing and they don't seem to have a problem with it. They do it because they can. And a lot of people don't even realize that it's not only illegal, it's just wrong. I know some artists give away their music for the exposure but that is their choice. There are a lot of other artists that need the downloads and cd purchases to survive. It's no different than stealing a candy bar at the grocery store. Wrong is wrong. I just wish people would realize this. Considering how much artists put in to making a record and the process of learning to play and writing the songs, music is cheap. So I am happy to support people and buy their music. It's an easy concept to grasp. Our record label for Willie Sugarcapps (The Royal Potato Family) said most music gets out before albums are even released. It's just out there on the internet for people to steal. It's a constant task of shutting those sites down. Seems impossible. All you can do is hope that people will just stop doing it.
“As far as the business, I don’t know. I think the positives are way bigger. Right now, you can get out there and make a living at music. At least, we’re doing it. I consider myself one of the most unknowledgeable guys about the music business there is. If I was really smart about it, I probably would have been a millionaire by now with all the people I’ve known and opportunities I’ve probably had but didn’t take people up on it. Like Joe Galante giving me the opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby- I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I was like, ‘Nope, thanks’. This was back when I was a kid.
“About a month later, I see him on the Grammys getting, like, seven Grammys. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not good’. I’ve had my chances, and I’ve just been kinda uninformed, if you will. The other version is just being a dumbass about certain things in my career. I mean, man, I had an opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby. I didn’t jump on it, because the contract said we will mutually decide. I wanted Mark Knopfler. I just thought he was so cool, but I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I made a foolish mistake. I should have gone, ‘Okay!’, but I didn’t. It goes back to my song. I have no regret to the past I claim. I have no regret for anything I’ve done in the past, because had I done that with Bruce Hornsby, I might not have my daughter today. I harbor no resentment towards myself. I’ve been given a green light to feel better.
"One more negative is the confusion about how to pay people. It’s awful out there. I get a statement that says, ‘You got 40,000 plays.’ I get like six cents. I have to have two million spins to make a hundred bucks. That’s the music business that I don’t like. The electronic tracking and payment system- that is what is broken. In the old days, if you had a record out, somehow people got rich. Not now days. I don’t know how people are making millions of dollars. These people that are getting sued for sounding like somebody, and they have to pay Tom Petty four million dollars. That means those people made four million. I’d love to get sued by somebody and pay them four million. That means I’m going to be, at least, famous for it. Tom Petty just recently got four million or something for somebody sounding like ‘Free Fallin’’. I heard both copies. I did not get it.” But the business is always changing and everyone is just trying to keep up and figure it out. I think there are great strides being made about writers getting paid. I know Roseanne Cash is one who is on top of it. I am thankful for people like her that stand up for everyone else who are clueless about what is really going on."
I asked Crawford if he was named Music Industry czar and tasked with fixing the industry, what would he do to fix it or does he think it needs fixing and if he thought it was fixable.
“I think those are people who aren’t out there doing it themselves. You asked me what’s wrong with the music business. It is so not wrong to me, because I don’t even think about them. I don’t care about the music business. I really don’t. The business is out there to go get. It’s better than it’s ever been for people, because ultimately, you can make your own records at home. I’m sitting here in my little chair in my studio, and I’m looking at Pro Tools kit. I’ve got Neumann speakers. I’ve got a Neumann U67. I’ve got Neve preamps and Universal Audio. I’ve got everything that a big studio used to have that you would have to pay an arm and a leg to do. I’ve got vintage guitars on the wall. I’ve got a beautiful wife in there that knows how to sing. We’ve got enough money to make our own records. It’s enough for us to get some action in a specific area. When you start tracking what areas really like your music, then you go, ‘Guess what? Minneapolis for some reason loves Sugarcane Jane’. Well, guess what? I’m going to get my booking agent to book me some gigs in Minneapolis.
“It’s not broken. It’s better than ever. You can do it. People still like to see live music. If you play live, there is no music business. It’s your business.
“The best thing that’s happened to the music business is the ability to have your phone tell you how to get to the gig. That, to me, is amazing. We went and did a gig in St. Augustine then had to get over to Tampa the next morning. It was complicated. The phone was like, ‘Turn left. Ok, in three quarters of a mile, go right’. Fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d be like, ‘Oh god, we’re not going to make the gig’. There are a lot of positives about touring now. I’m just a guy out there that’s going to play my music. I don’t care if electricity stopped happening, I’d look for campfires to play around. I’d take my acoustic guitar. I don’t need electricity. My wife and I could sing and get somebody to give us a deer leg if we were hungry.
“That’s the problem with living in Nashville. They started depending on somebody telling them how to go do something. Down here, we’re in the middle of the woods. We’ve got to go out and get it. We learn how to hunt and fish, metaphorically-speaking. We’re living and playing music. We’re doing what we love. That’s BIG.
And connoisseurs will have no complaints listening to “Dirt Road’s End” and, when they do listen to it, they’ll become fans for life.