Born on February 11, 1962, in Kennett, MO; daughter of Wendell (a lawyer and trumpeter) and Bernice (a piano teacher) Crow. Education: Received degree in piano and voice from University of Missouri at Columbia, c. 1984. Addresses: Record company--Interscope Records, 2220 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Sheryl Crow Official Website: http://www.sherylcrow.com.
After several years of backup singing for established artists--and one aborted bid at launching a solo career--Sheryl Crow burst onto the pop music scene with 1993's Tuesday Night Music Club, a strong album that included two hit singles, "Leaving Las Vegas" and "All I Wanna Do." Blessed with a voice well suited to her rock 'n' roll material and what Rolling Stone's Elysa Gardner termed "naughty-cheerleader good looks," Crow became a ubiquitous presence on MTV and VH-1. In the fall of 1996, three years after her debut, Crow released a second album, Sheryl Crow. That album and her following releases, The Globe Sessions, and C'mon, C'mon, were well-received by both critics and the record-buying public, confirming that the singer was more than a one-album wonder.
Crow was born on February 11, 1962, in Kennett, Missouri, a sturdy Midwestern community and the backdrop for an outwardly normal childhood. "Sheryl was a cheerleader and a twirler," her sister Kathy recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone's Fred Schruers. "She wasn't shy about getting out and doing something, even if it meant that she had to be out by herself doing it." But while Crow was a popular, athletic student who posted good grades, she endured many nights of what she would later call "sleep paralysis," a condition she shared with her mother. "There would be nights where I would be so afraid to go to sleep," she told Schruers. "In sleep paralysis, sometimes you get to the point where you are sure you're going to die in the dream, and your breathing stops and all that. It's a bizarre and twisted feeling where you feel completely paralyzed."
Headed to Los Angeles
After graduating from Kennett High School, Crow moved on to the University of Missouri and took music and education classes. After graduation, she relocated to St. Louis, where she spent her days working as a music teacher at an elementary school. Her nights, meanwhile, were spent singing lead vocals in a variety of local rock bands. In 1986 she abruptly left St. Louis for the West Coast, a move that stunned her family and friends. "I'd just broken up with a boy and I was really bummed out," Crow recalled in a conversation with Newsweek's Karen Schoemer. "I got in my car with a box of tapes and I drove from Missouri out to L.A., 28 hours by myself, nonstop. I didn't know a soul in L.A. I pulled in on the 405 at 4:30 in the afternoon, and sat in traffic and just cried my eyes out. Like 'Oh my God, what have I done?'"
Crow's break came after only six months, however, when she crashed a closed audition and landed a job singing back-up for Michael Jackson's 1987 Bad international concert tour. "Being a background singer--putting on a tight black dress and doing choreography--has very little to do with being a musician," she told Robert Seidenberg in Entertainment Weekly. The exhusing pace of the tour, during which the tabloid press identified her as Jackson's lover, wore her down. Tired and again depressed, Crow endured several difficult months. "When I went through a really bad bout of depression, my mom would call, and my mom and I are very close," she told Schruers, "but she would call, and she would say, 'You're a cute girl, you're smart, you've got everything in the world going for you,' and that would just make it worse. Because then it makes you even loathe yourself more for being sick."
Signed with Major Label
Late in 1989, Crow secured a job singing backup for Don Henley, a gig that eventually led to work with Rod Stewart and several other big-name acts. Her studio session work soon caught the attention of A&M Records, which signed her to a recording contract in 1991. Company executive Al Cafaro told Schruers that Crow was "a very, very strong person, with an ultimate, overriding confidence in herself, but constantly assessing where she's at and what's going on." The record company soon arranged to record a solo album for the young singer, but the final product was a mess. Entertainment Weekly's David Browne wrote that the album's "songs lumber from ersatz gospel to forced psychedelia; the production has the sterile glaze of '80s pop." Todd Gold, writing in People, similarly characterized it as a "slick, soulless album." Fortunately for Crow, the decidedly overproduced album was never released. "Had we put out the first bunch of tracks," Crow later told Schoemer, "I would never have been heard of again."
Crow eventually became friends with a group of L.A. musicians who informally jammed together under the name "Tuesday Night Music Club." Their sessions formed the basis--once A&M execs got wind of the sound--of what would become an album much more suited to everyone's liking. The record that became her 1993 debut, Tuesday Night Music Club, put together with the help of a stellar group of musicians and studio wizards that included David Baerwald, David Ricketts, Kevin Gilbert (Crow's boyfriend for a time), and Bill Bottrell. Over the course of just a few sessions the group constructed the outline for Tuesday Night Music Club, and Bottrell and Crow fleshed out the album over the next few months.
However, in the months following the album's release, Crow and several musicians who performed on the album clashed bitterly over a number of issues, from the nature of Crow's tour in support of the album (she recruited lesser-known musicians for the touring band to save money) to her false assertion on David Letterman's show that "Leaving Las Vegas" was autobiographical (Baerwald, a friend of soon-to-be-deceased Leaving Las Vegas novelist John O'Brien, had come up with the song's basic underpinnings).
Driven to establish herself as a legitimate talent, Crow toured tirelessly in the months following the album's release. Crow's touring helped give the second single, "All I Wanna Do," the fertile ground it needed to become a monster hit in the summer of 1994. After seven months of struggling to spur album sales, "All I Wanna Do" gave Tuesday Night Music Club the push it needed. Within a matter of weeks, the debut was a hit (eight million copies were eventually sold) and Crow had become a fixture on cable television's video-music channels. Critics noted that the attention was well-deserved. "Her melodic, quirky songs of sexual tension, fulfillment and harassment on Tuesday Night Music Club are both thoughtful and plain fun," wrote Playboy's Vic Garbarini. David Hiltbrand, reviewing the album for People, compared Crow's singer/songwriter abilities to those of Rickie Lee Jones.
Her Woodstock appearance in 1994 enhanced Crow's reputation, as did the three Grammy Awards she received in 1995, including one for Best New Artist of 1994. But after a while, she began to retreat somewhat from the public spotlight. "I was really, by the end of it, very overexposed," she told Schoemer in a 1996 interview with Newsweek. "I've said that it's really great for other female artists to look at me and know what not to do. Part of it was my own fault. I'm an accessible person. I'm willing to do whatever. Not for the fame, but I just kind of went along with it."
Silenced Critics with Follow-Up
In 1995 Crow began to lay the groundwork for her second album, mindful of persistent rumors that she would not have hit it big were it not for the talents of the other Tuesday Night Music Club musicians. The final result was 1996's Sheryl Crow, an album that established her as a talented artist in her own right. "While still working with collaborators," wrote Rolling Stone's Gardner, "[Crow] operates more like a leader than a club member this time, writing a few songs independently and imbuing all of them with a greater sense of who she is and where she comes from. The lyrics seem grittier and more intimate ... and the craftsmanship is strong and self-assured." Entertainment Weekly's Browne lauded Sheryl Crow as "a loose, freewheeling yet remarkably robust album that tugs at your heart and feet--sometimes within the same tune."
The album was also controversial; one song, "Love Is a Good Thing," contained lyrics suggesting that guns sold at Wal-Mart stores sometimes find their way into the hands of children. Wal-Mart responded by banning the album from its shelves--a move that industry observers expected to cost Crow hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales--but Crow remained defiant. Indeed, in the weeks following Sheryl Crow's release, the singer seemed more certain than ever of her musical direction and vision. "At the end of the day, I can play a Bob Dylan song and it will be a great song" she told Schoemer. "I hope that 25 years from now some young artist might play one of my songs and it might be a revelation in some way."
Crow's next album, The Globe Sessions, was primarily recorded at her own Globe Studios in New York City. The Globe Sessions includes a song written by Bob Dylan, "Mississippi," which never made it onto a Dylan album. An Entertainment Weekly reviewer noted that the "rollicking, Rolling Thunder-ish arrangement [of "Mississippi"] provides the album's highest spirit." In Interview, Crow described the album as "more emotional and intimate" than her earlier efforts. "If you make a record honestly, it is merely a snapshot of who you are while you're recording it."
Crow stayed busy in 1999, recording a live album, Sheryl Crow and Friends: Live in Central Park, taking on her first acting role in the independent film The Minus Man, and contributing a cover of the Guns n' Roses song "Sweet Child O' Mine" to the film Big Daddy. The track earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. A three-year bout of uncertainty, depression, and a near emotional breakdown precluded any new material from being released until C'mon, C'mon, in late 2002, a few months after her fortieth birthday.
"You get to a point as an artist," Crow told Esquire writer Scott Raab, "where it can be to your detriment to have money and be hanging out with ... people who are famous.... It's not been good for my artistry. It's made this record a very difficult record for me to make." Still, Crow's famous friends, including Lenny Kravitz, Liz Phair, Emmylou Harris, and Gwyneth Paltrow, show up on nearly every track of C'mon, C'mon. Critics often pointed out Crow's seemingly contradictory words and actions in reviews of C'mon, C'mon, her contradictory feelings regarding her famous friends, her public lambasts of belly-baring pop stars, and the ambiguity of her image. "Sheryl Crow: VH1 party girl or tormented loner?" asked Entertainment Weekly's David Browne. Still, Browne acknowledged that "C'mon, C'mon [will] jostle its way into your head," and deemed Crow a "supreme craftsperson, the spawn of Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty."
Despite the insecurities that Crow admits plague her recording sessions, she still gets a thrill out of playing live. "I love the communiciation that goes on when you're playing in front of people," she told Interview's Elizabeth Weitzman. "When you go out and play and the song reaches people, everything else just falls away--the magazine articles, the production. It's that moment that is the reality."
by Carol Brennan
Sheryl Crow's Career
Played in Kennett-area bands in late 1970s, early 1980s; played in a Columbia, Missouri-based band called Cashmere; moved to Los Angeles, c. 1986; joined Michael Jackson's Bad tour as back-up singer, 1987-89; sang backup for Don Henley, Rod Stewart, 1989; signed with A&M Records, 1991; released debut A&M album, Tuesday Night Music Club, 1993; performed on the 1995 USO tour for American troops stationed in Bosnia; released Sheryl Crow, 1996; released The Globe Sessions, 1998; made film debut in The Minus Man, 1999; released C'mon, C'mon, 2002.
Sheryl Crow's Awards
Grammy Awards, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "All I Wanna Do," New Artist, and Record of the Year for "All I Wanna Do," 1994; Grammy Awards, Best Rock Album for Sheryl Crowand Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "If It Makes You Happy," 1996; Grammy Award, Best Rock Album for The Globe Sessions, 1998; Grammy Award, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "Sweet Child O' Mine," 1999; Grammy Award, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "There Goes the Neighborhood," 2000; Grammy Award, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "Steve McQueen," 2002.
- Selected discography
- Tuesday Night Music Club , A&M, 1993.
- Sheryl Crow , A&M, 1996.
- The Globe Sessions , A&M, 1998.
- Sheryl Crow and Friends: Live in Central Park , A&M, 1999.
- C'mon, C'mon , Interscope, 2002.
- Very Best of Cheryl Crow , A&M, 2003 (tour edition, Universal International, 2004).
- Billboard, August 29, 1998.
- Entertainment Weekly, October 14, 1994; February 24, 1995; September 27, 1996; September 25, 1998; April 19, 2002.
- Esquire, September 2001.
- Interview, October 1998.
- Knight-Ridder Tribune News Service, April 7, 1994.
- Newsweek, October 24, 1994; September 16, 1996; April 15, 2002.
- New York Times, March 12, 1995.
- People, November 29, 1993; September 23, 1996.
- Playboy, February 1995.
- Rolling Stone, December 15, 1994; October 3, 1996; November 14, 1996.
- Stereo Review, November 1993.
- Time, March 13, 1995; April 22, 2002.
- Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1996.