Grammy Award winning musician Rodney Crowell will be one of the featured artists at the Johnny Cash Music Festival at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro on Aug. 4 to benefit the ongoing Dyess memorial project.
Crowell, 60, has a connection with Northeast Arkansas in more ways than one. His father was born in Blytheville in 1923 to Samuel Martin and Iola Crowell.
"My grandparents left Blytheville during the great depression and moved to Missouri," Crowell said. "I have fond memories of stories that my father told about living there. I plan to drive over to Blytheville for a visit when I come to the music festival in August. My grandfather was said to have split railroad ties there for a penny a cross tie, and was glad to get the money. It is always good to go back and visit places that play a part in your family history."
At age 11, Crowell started playing drums in his father's band. In his teen years, he played in various garage rock bands in Houston, performing hits of the day mixed with a few country numbers. In August 1972 he moved to Nashville in search of a musical career and got a job as a songwriter after being discovered by Jerry Reed.
EmmyLou Harris recorded some of Crowell's songs, and he started playing rhythm guitar in her backup band.
He released his debut album, "Ain't Living Long like This," in 1978.
Crowell married Johnny Cash's daughter Rosanne in 1979. They had an influence on each other's careers and Crowell produced most of her albums during the 13 years they were married. Her success also influenced his songwriting.
"Rosanne and I met at Waylan Jennings' house in 1978," Crowell said. "I was traveling with EmmyLou and was invited to a party there. At that time we both lived in Los Angeles. She was new to the business, and I soon found she was an old soul, a real poet. She marches to her own drummer.
"We would all load up and go on the road, stopping to play along the way. She first introduced me to Johnny and his wife June Carter Cash at the Beverly Hills Hotel. They had a bungalow there. I couldn't get over how breathtakingly charming they were. They were very gracious and funny and were not intimidating at all. Johnny didn't wear the global icon at that private moment and I admired him for that."
"Johnny was a good friend to me from then on," Crowell said. "I recall going to see Johnny Cash in concert east of Houston when I was just 8 years old. It was raining that night and he opened with "How High's the Water, Momma." His timing, as always, was wonderful. I was an instant fan from then on.
"It didn't take me long to learn that people love Johnny Cash. That is what is great about traditional country music, everyone feels like family."
Rodney Crowell and Rosanne Cash have three daughters, Caitlin, Chelsea and Carrie. They also raised Crowell's daughter Hannah from a previous marriage.
Chelsea Crowell will be joining her parents as an entertainer at the Cash Musical Festival. She released her 2009 solo album called 'Chelsea Crowell,' and was recognized as 'The Year in Music: Top Albums," by the Nashville Scene that same year.
Rodney Crowell married Claudia Church in 1998. They make their home in Nashville.
Crowell has had more than 15 top-40 singles, was named to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, the American Music Association songwriter of the Year in 2004, and in 2006 received the AMA Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting. Many of the songs he has written have been recorded and become hits by artists including EmmyLou Harris, Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger, Jerry Reed, as well as Rosanne and Johnny Cash.
Crowell has added one more accolade to his biography and that is as a writer.
"Rosanne invited me to participate in a 'Making music as we speak' book project with songwriters rewriting their songs as prose," Crowell said. "It gave me an opportunity to paint on a different canvas. Soon I found myself drunk on words. My story is called 'Chinaberry Sidewalks'."
"My mother took one stab at landscaping in her whole life," Crowell said. "She planted three Chinaberry saplings along a concave sidewalk in our front yard in Texas. She named the trees J.W. (James Walter), (Addie) Cauzette, and Rodney. The trees named J.W. and Cauzette didn't make it, but the tree named Rodney thrived - much like life repeating itself, as they were crazy and dysfunctional people with no idea about how to live. They did have a triumphant love story however, and their beautiful spirit finally took over. They always showed me love and gave me strength. I wanted to make the trees come alive in the book and feel good about my first effort."
Crowell has taken his book tour on the road and does a one-man show, reading from the book and singing songs. He is scheduled to be in Jonesboro Aug. 4-11, during which he will celebrate his 61st birthday Aug. 7.