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NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Country singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell never met Hank Williams, but he knows very well how lives were changed by one of country music’s greatest songwriters. Crowell’s father was one of them.
Crowell, 60, first saw Williams as a small boy sitting on his father’s shoulders. The memory of that concert and his father’s love of Williams‘ music would help shape Crowell’s life, something he has chronicled in a new memoir, “Chinaberry Sidewalks.”
He planned to spend Saturday at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum singing Williams‘ songs and describing the way they were passed down to him.
“The songs I’ll pick to sing, the way I’ll play guitar, all of it, can be traced back to 1955 and a three-room, shotgun slave shack in the third ward of east Houston, where, for endless hours, he used to sit on the edge of the bed, eyes closed and, with a beat-up Gibson J-45, interpret his idols’ (and therefore mine) entire repertoire,” Crowell wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “After all, I am J W Crowell’s son.”
Rodney Crowell’s first gig was as drummer in his father’s bar band. He moved to Nashville in 1972 and has succeeded as a solo artist, songwriter and producer. He has collaborated with Emmylou Harris, his ex-wife Rosanne Cash and many of country’s biggest names. He won the best country song Grammy in 1989 for “After all This Time,” one of five No. 1 hits he had in 1988 and 1989.
In an interview earlier this year Crowell talked about his relationship with his parents and how it has affected him into adulthood. The Grammy winner lays bare his parents’ sometimes violent relationship in “Chinaberry Sidewalks.” The book opens with a young Crowell using a gun to head off a fight.
“I should’ve had a striped shirt and a whistle,” Crowell said. “I was basically a referee from early on. It was my job to keep those two alive and I learned to do it in drastic ways. Pulling a gun and clubbing myself over the head with Dr. Pepper bottles worked. It got their attention and kept things safe. Let’s just say I took a few hard knocks for the team.”
“Chinaberry Sidewalks” is not a tragedy, however. There are moments of great humor and poignancy and Crowell says in the end it’s a triumphant love story. Crowell is one of songwriting’s great storytellers and he shows in the book he’s a gifted author, as well. The memoir took seven years to write and at times he said he would labor over two words in a paragraph for two weeks.
The 60-year-old said he wanted to paint on a different canvas as an artist. Now that he’s proven to himself that he can, he would like to try more, including fiction.
“I haven’t gotten it out of my system,” Crowell said. “I want to write another book. I want to write a couple. If I live long enough I’d like to write several. I think I can pick up the pace.”
His writing life is feeding his music, as well. Crowell befriended author Mary Karr while writing the book. Turns out Karr is a poet, too, and the two have written 15 songs together.
“And it was a wonderful collaboration,” Crowell said. “It was like falling off logs to write songs together. We just laughed and wrote a bunch of songs. I’m excited by about how good the songs are on the record we’re going to make.”
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