You’ll want to keep reading if you’re interested in tales about Ringo Starr and the late Jerry Reed, but, first and foremost, Rodney Crowell wants you to know why he is playing Cain’s Ballroom.
Crowell attracted big-name guests for a collaborative album (“TEXAS”) that will be released Aug. 15. He is performing 10 days later at Cain’s.
“Here’s the big thing for me,” Crowell said during a recent phone interview. “When this tour came up and this record was coming up, I called my booking agent and said, ‘Man, I want to play Cain’s Ballroom.’ ”
Except for a past Cain’s Ballroom event honoring Kris Kristofferson, Crowell said he hasn’t been back to the historic venue since he was there with Emmylou Harris in the 1970s. Of course, he will make “Texas” tour stops all over Texas, but the side trip to Tulsa is all about scratching an itch.
When talking about Cain’s Ballroom, Crowell said, “It’s history. It’s music.” Continuing, Crowell he said is a big fan of a lot of music that came out of Tulsa. He mentioned Bob Wills, JJ Cale, Leon Russell, Jimmy Karstein, Jamie Oldaker “and all of those guys that played and came out of Tulsa.”
“I’ve always been a real fan of that music scene,” he said. “I thought all of these years I have been around, I have never gone back to play Cain’s Ballroom. I don’t even know if there’s an audience that follows me there. But I wanted to give it a shot. At least I can say, man, I’m playing Cain’s Balroom. And Tulsa has the Bob Dylan Archive and the Woody Guthrie Center. Tulsa, it’s in the pantheon, you know?”
A two-time Grammy winner, Crowell is in the pantheon of songmakers. A member of the Songwriting Hall of Fame, he crafted songs that became hits for others, and five songs from his 1988 album, “Diamonds & Dirt,” all went to No. 1.
Partners on his newest album include Starr, ZZ Top’s Billy F Gibbons, Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, Ronnie Dunn, Lyle Lovett, Steve Earle and Randy Rogers.
Crowell said he didn’t set out to make a collaborative album, but that’s what it “wanted” to be, so he rolled with it.
“I teach songwriting from time to time,” he said. “I say if you are patient and don’t try to force your ego on a song, it will tell you what it wants to be. Be patient. Sort it out. Let it come. It will tell you what it wants to be once you get the real thread going. I just let that happen making this record.”
Crowell told Gibbons the songs on the album were Texas-centric. “There’s your title,” Gibbons said. Crowell whittled the title down to “Texas.”
Starr is a lad from Liverpool. Does he have any Texas in him? Sort of. Crowell said he had a paper route when he was a kid in Texas. “I used to have a transistor radio tied to the handlebars of my bicycle as I threw the paper,” he said. “And that (Beatles) music from 1964 would come on and I would pedal faster and I got much better at putting newspapers on the front porch. I would say that qualifies.”
The seeds for the collaborative album came from a desire to team up with fellow Texans Earle and Gibbons. Then came a random summons from Starr.
“A mutual friend had been trying to get me in touch to write songs with Ringo for one of his albums,” Crowell said. “And he just shot back. He said, ‘I am a drummer. Tell Rodney to come out and we’ll record something.’ ” Result? The track “You’re Only Happy When You’re Miserable” features Starr.
“So those three things happened snap-snap-snap,” Crowell said. “From that, it kind of put me in the mindset that I’m going to invite friends in. Then I was recording ‘Deep in the Heart of Uncertain Texas,’ and it’s kind of a gang’s all here, get drunk and go fishing song. I did it with Willie Nelson and Ronnie Dunn and Lee Ann Womack. And then it really snowballed from there.”
Of course, all those collaborators aren’t joining Crowell on tour, but he is sharing the stage with longtime friend Steuart Smith, a guitarist who has been on the Eagles’ roster since 2001. The Eagles are on a break, so Smith is gigging with Crowell.
This has nothing to do with current events, but Crowell was asked what it means that he was allegedly “discovered” by Jerry Reed. Here’s what it means:
Crowell said he was a happy hour performer at Nashville’s Jolly Ox steak house in 1973. The boss warned Crowell never to play original songs. If you play one, you’re fired on the spot.
“Well, Townes Van Zandt was shagging my girlfriend and I got really pissed about that,” Crowell said. “I wasn’t heartbroken. I wasn’t in love with her. It was just my girlfriend. I was young. So I wrote this song called ‘You Can’t Keep Me Here in Tennessee.’ I was really pissed at that afternoon happy hour and said, ‘Here’s a new song I wrote,’ and played it and my boss came walking down the aisle and said, ‘I told you. You’re fired.’
“Right behind him was a fellow named Harry Warner who managed Jerry Reed. And he and Jerry Reed happened to be in the back of the place having a drink and he said, ‘That’s cool because I manage Jerry Reed and we want to record that song tomorrow and we want to sign him to a songwriting contract.’ So I got fired and hired in two seconds.”
Crowell said Reed recorded the song the next day.
“Chet Atkins was producing and I got to the studio early, of course, and Chet was sitting there by himself,” Crowell said. “He said, ‘Did you write this song?’ Yes sir, Mr. Atkins. ‘Well, come over here. Let me show you what we are going to do.’ Chet Atkins explained to me how a recording desk worked, and I have been a professional musician and songwriter and performer ever since. Isn’t that cool?”
At the end of the interview, Crowell was asked if there was any other base he wanted to cover. He said this: “I just have a dream to have a really good night at Cain’s Ballroom, so I can tell my grandkids, ‘Hey, I played Cain’s Ballroom and you need to know about that.’ ”