For his new album, Acoustic Classics (out July 13), Rodney Crowell got to take the ultimate creative license – he got to re-do himself. The disc, a collection of songs that other artists have recorded from his pen, includes a new version of “Shame On The Moon,” which Billboard readers can hear exclusively below.
The song, which zoomed all the way to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983 for Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band, has made an impact on fans around the world. But, Crowell, the writer of the song, tells Billboard he never was quite satisfied with his work. So, he re-wrote it.
“I never liked the way that I wrote it the first time — even though it was maybe the most successful song that I’ve written. I spent thirty years thinking of how to re-write that last verse, and a few years ago, I just thought, ‘I think I will re-write the whole song. I think I would have more luck at that than trying to write a third verse.’
“I didn’t want to approach it the way that I did on the original recording,” he continues. “But, basically, Bob Seger owns that song from my perspective. His performance is so superior to mine. Some people might say ‘You had it right the first time,’ but at least I can say the new verses are well-written, and the rhyme schemes are really intact. Whether or not I have improved the original, I can’t say. I was just able to document another look at that song.”
Another song from the disc where Crowell decided to veer from the original sound of is “Making Memories Of Us.” A No. 1 Country Songs hit for Keith Urban in 2005, the song originally appeared on The Notorious Cherry Bombs, an album recorded by an all-star group of singers and instrumentalists, such as Crowell, Tony Brown, and Vince Gill in 2004.
“In my version of the song with the Cherry Bombs, and on Keith’s, both were really romantic versions of the song,” Crowell explains. “I wanted a more direct performance, aimed directly at my wife, who I wrote the song to and about. I had an opportunity to perform it specifically to an audience of one.”
Audiences have been reacting to Crowell’s music since he moved to Nashville in the early 1970s. His first major break was getting a song cut from Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Reed. He recalls it being a quicker process than most that would later happen to him:
“His manager discovered me in a Happy Hour setting. I played an original song, and the rules were no original songs. It was a club/steakhouse in Green Hills called The Jolly Ox. I was fed up, and found out that my girlfriend was sleeping around behind my back with Townes Van Zandt. I was mad about that, so I wrote this song called ‘You Can’t Keep Me Here In Tennessee.’ I played it, got fired, and Harry Warner — bless his heart, he just passed away — says, ‘We want to record this song tomorrow, and give you a job writing songs for a hundred bucks a week. I looked at him, and said, ‘You’re on, brother. Who’s the artist?’ He said, ‘I manage Jerry Reed.’ The next day, I went down to RCA Studio A, and taught Jerry and the band the song… In less than twenty-four hours, I was a professional songwriter.”
Three of the tracks from Acoustic Classics, “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “She’s Crazy For Leaving,” and “After All This Time,” come from Crowell’s landmark album Diamonds and Dirt, released three decades ago this year. When asked to reflect on the album that broke his career wide open, he says that it was all about maintaining artistic honesty: “It seems that the other day (producer) Tony Brown and I were sitting around and talking about recording those songs. We wanted to make a hit record, but didn’t have a plan for how to do it. We just recorded the songs, and the time was right. When I was a kid, Hank, Buck, Merle, Bob Dylan, and The Beatles each influenced me powerfully. To me, that was the culmination of those influences finding their way into the songs that I was making at that moment.”
Crowell will be sharing his insights on songs — and writing them — later this month at his Adventures In Song, Four Days and Nights of Songwriting Bliss writer’s camp in Carmel, California. (This year’s special guests include Bernie Taupin and Benmont Tench.) He stresses that attending the event won’t make you a writer, but it will give you insight. “Of course, you can’t teach songwriting,” he clarifies. “You can only encourage people to do it, and help them to sort out for themselves what they want to achieve, and get a list of exercises together that improves the craft, and gives them more access to the craft of writing good songs.”
In his role as instructor, he sais biggest trait he strives for is “patience — it’s really important to be patient. It’s not too different than what I learned early on as a producer, which is to be of service to the artist, to help them realize their vision. To be an editor, a kind-hearted editor, but to be honest. It can be done with kindness. There’s editors who edit with a red pen, and ones who edit with a green pen.”
So… are there any Rodney Crowell compositions that never made it past the “red pen” phase? “Sure. There’s lots of them,” he says with a laugh. “You hear a lot fewer songs than I have ever written. I’ve often said to young songwriters when they want to write with me, ‘Let’s take a stab at ten songs, and we might get one really good one.”