"Every Saturday morning, we were in front of the TV watching the Jackson 5 cartoon," she recalls. "I grew up watching 'American Bandstand' and learning all the current dances . . . my parents were in a swing band. When they came home after gigs they were listening to a lot of rhythm and blues. The music that lured me was the music that came out of Memphis -- a lot of Al Green, and obviously Elvis and Sun Studios."
After a two-decade career -- during which all seven of her studio albums have peaked at No. 6 or higher on the Billboard 200 -- Crow has the gravitas to record an album in any genre she wants. "100 Miles From Memphis" (released July 20 on A&M Records), the distance from her hometown to the music mecca, is an ode to her formative memories of music-and one that the label hopes can inspire young music fans to investigate the landscape beyond processed pop and Auto-Tune.
"She came of age in an era that can too easily define you by your hits, which she's had a lot of," says Crow's manager, Scooter Weintraub of W Management. "We both thought this is a good time to not be so concerned when radio looks at you a little bit differently than they did when you were 25 or 30. Younger audiences are learning about the Black Keys and the Raconteurs and the White Stripes, and that music is steeped in the same thing."
But even classic soul requires new marketing techniques. "The idea when Scooter came in and presented the project to us was, 'Let's be very in front of this. Let's look for opportunities that capitalize on Sheryl's celebrity,' " Interscope Geffen A&M vice chairman Steve Berman says. "We looked at places where her audience may be that may not be traditional music spots."
'MILES' TO GO
Crow made appearances at the corporate headquarters of top companies-in particular, at Starbucks and at the shareholders' meeting for one-time sparring partner Walmart-and both retail giants have committed to promoting the album in-store. "It's funny, because [Starbucks] is kind of a throwback for me since the record-store tradition is dying," she says. "The fact you have a social place where you can be a part of that is great."
In addition, the album will be on sale at Nordstrom's and Whole Foods, Berman says.
Expect tracks from "Miles" to be licensed extensively through the end of the year, Berman adds, including part of ABC's promotional campaign to introduce its slate of fall programming. "We're looking for many opportunities to license the music at a network level-everything from Major League Baseball to Lifetime to the networks," Berman says. "Obviously Sheryl works very well on TV, but we said to ourselves, 'How do we do this different from normal TV?' "
On release day, Crow teamed with the CBS Interactive Music Group for a "Live on Letterman" webcast. As part of the appearance, Crow did the standard TV taping for "Late Show With David Letterman," but also taped an extended performance that is streamed on the "Late Show" website on CBS.com and airs on select CBS Radio stations nationwide. The video is then made available on demand through CBS partners TV.com, ETonline.com, TheInsider.com and Vevo.
The chat show circuit continued with an appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" July 22 and the "Good Morning America" Summer Concert Series in Central Park July 23.
In addition, she taped an episode of PBS' "Soundstage" July 21 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, following up an appearance and performance on QVC July 19. (The QVC version of the disc comes with a bonus CD with six previously released songs.)
Crow, who has long been vocal in her support of environmental issues and charitable organizations, recorded a public service announcement for the Humane Society that also will be played extensively on TV.
It's the charity element, in fact, that brought Crow back into the Walmart fold, as the two will now team to promote local food banks. In 1996, the singer had a falling out with the retail giant over the lyrics to her song "Love Is a Good Thing," which include: "Watch out sister/Watch out brother/Watch our children as they kill each other/With a gun they bought at the Walmart discount stores."
Walmart refused to carry the album that contained the song, "Sheryl Crow," although it still displayed her other records. Amends have been made, Crow says. "Since that time they've become very stringent about making sure that people buying guns are registered and that it's lawful," she says. "I would feel better if we would have stricter gun laws, and I'm not ashamed to say it."