Courtesy of Warner Bros. Music
By Tricia Despres
All she wanted to do besides have some fun was look like Stevie Nicks, sing like Linda Ronstadt, and spend her time staring into a mirror, singing into her curling iron. When she did, the little girl from Kennett transformed into a superstar.
These days, no mirrors or curling irons are needed.
With hits “All I Wanna Do,” “If It Makes You Happy,” and “Soak Up the Sun,” Sheryl Crow has cemented her place in the music industry and become one of the most iconic female vocalists today. And these days, the nine-time Grammy winner finds herself preparing to show just how genre-proof she is. Releasing her highly anticipated country album, Feels Like Home, on September 10, the strong mother of two is out to show the world there is nothing this former tomboy from Missouri can’t do.
“It’s really funny because I was probably the least likely to get as far as I have gotten,” she says, laughing, at her home outside of Nashville, Tennessee, where she moved in 2008. “I never made a school play, and I was kind of a jock to tell you the truth. Sure, I was a choirgirl and played piano, but I was always kind of a side person, you know? I just knew I wanted to be a really good songwriter someday.”
Growing up with a mix of Carole King and Elton John playing at home, Sheryl was surrounded by music from a very early age. “I grew up playing the piano, and we always played those artists that were playing easy-going pop music,” says Sheryl, who attended high school with hammered dulcimer player Dan Landrum. “We were exposed to every type of music, from country music to jazz.”
Although her songwriting aspirations weren’t fully realized until later in life, Sheryl says she did gather up the courage to enter a songwriting contest at the age of thirteen, which she lost. Yet, music took more of a hold following high school when Sheryl pursued a music education degree at MU and worked as a music teacher for a short time. “My family was the first to say that I should get my degree, so I had something to fall back on, and it would be the same thing I would tell my kids today,” says Sheryl, one of four children. “Going to school definitely prepared me emotion- ally for what lay ahead.”
Sheryl could have never envisioned what lay ahead, but she caught a glimpse while playing in various cover bands in St. Louis. “Playing in a bunch of cover bands is where I learned how to mimic other singers,” she says. “I started noticing the true timbre of my voice and what I was best at singing. It proved to be a huge training ground for me and is really where I truly learned to sing.”
Moving Beyond Missouri
Emulating eighties hit-makers such as Pat Benatar and Quarterflash kept Sheryl busy, but it wasn’t until she was approached with an opportunity to audition for Michael Jackson that she and her family realized the success that lay ahead for the talented beauty from Kennett.
“I remember my parents sitting there watching,” says Sheryl, who sang on Jackson’s Bad tour in the late eighties. “What a monumental place to see your kid, there in an huge arena singing backup for probably one of the most major stars to ever live. I don’t know if they looked at it as a point where they necessarily knew I was definitely going to ‘make it,’ but it was a great place to start.”
After officially making the move to Los Angeles and picking up various back-up singing gigs, Sheryl began playing with the band The Tuesday Music Club and, in 1993, released the multi-platinum album Tuesday Night Music Club, which included the smash hit “All I Wanna Do.” In 1995, she won three Grammys for Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The Kennett girl was well on her way.
The years that followed provided Sheryl with both personal and professional highlights, ranging from awards to television appearances to sold-out tours. Although stardom overwhelms so many people, Sheryl says it was her Midwestern values that kept her grounded through it all.
“I knew who I was, and I knew the things that I valued as important and the things that I didn’t,” Sheryl says, who has sold more than thirty-five million records worldwide throughout her nineteen-year career. “I mean, I feel like I already knew how to conduct myself at the time and what it meant to be compassionate and community oriented. It was just the way I was raised and who I was in my community.”
Moreover, the limelight often pulls celebrities further away from the communities in which they were raised, but Sheryl made it a priority to remain active in Kennett. From benefit concerts to funding scholarships to seeing her name on the Sheryl Crow Aquatics Center in town, Sheryl has always been conscious of her roots in Missouri.
However, good deeds mixed with super-star status couldn’t protect Sheryl from life’s cruel realities. She went through failed relationships in the public eye, and a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2006 rocked her to her core. “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I really came to a point where I felt the need to reevaluate and redirect my life,” Sheryl says.
Consequently, she redirected her life by moving to her self-described heaven on earth. “Moving to Nashville was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she says. “To me, it was the closest thing to how I grew up. It’s a very community and family oriented place, and musically, there is nothing like being surrounded by great songwriters in healthy competition to write great songs. The music that is made here comes so much more naturally to me than being in the pop world. Plus, it’s a great place to raise kids.”
Kids were on her mind. Shortly after moving to Nashville, Sheryl adopted the brightest lights in her life—her sons Wyatt in 2007 and Levi in 2010. “When I adopted the kids, I knew that I had my family’s full support,” she recalls. “I knew that I could not do this by myself. When my son was baptized, my whole family stood with me and has remained there to help me guide them through this life. We are all very much vested in one another.”
Now living just a few short hours from Kennett, Sheryl says she not only loves being able to hop in the car to visit home any time she wants but also finds herself constantly checking in on her family online and on the phone. “We are a very close family, so yes, Facetime is our friend,” she says, laughing. “My mom was the last person to get technologically involved, but she got an iPhone for her birthday and just now started texting for the first time ever.”
Sheryl remains vested in her hometown, of- ten donating her time and talents to local charities such as the Delta Children’s Home and the Kennett Educational Foundation. “I attribute a lot of my success and happiness in having been raised in a place that surrounded me and all the children in a way that made us feel we could accomplish anything we could put our mind to,” she says. “Not only have I always had family and friends back home that have rooted for me through it all, but it’s just strange to me, too, that so many amazing musicians and artists have come from Missouri. I mean, my high school band director was in fact David Nail’s father. Then you have people like Trent Tomlinson and David Sanborn, and the list can go on and on. It’s a great place to be from.”
It’s no surprise, then, the title of her new album is Feels Like Home.
“I would say every single song has a little bit of Missouri in it,” says Sheryl, whose mom, Bernice, still teaches piano in Kennett. “Having grown up there and raised the way I was raised, I pull lots of inspiration from there.”
It’s that inspiration that has pushed Sheryl into some uncharted territory within her own music. “I had a ton of people asking when I was going to make a country record, but I did have my trepidations,” she says. “I’ve seen other artists try to make that switch over, and it didn’t seem very authentic. So I didn’t want people to think I was coming over to country to capitalize on that fan base. I try not to think of making a record as making a record because it can feel like pressure, but now that’s it done, I can definitely say that it is some of the best writing and recording I have ever done. I’m really, really proud of it. I hope it does well so people can hear the whole thing, because I think some of the songs that aren’t going to be hits are the ones I love the most.”
Featuring the single “Easy,” Feels Like Home allowed Sheryl to co-write each song with other songwriters and country artists. “I have songs on the album that talk about being a single mom and child rearing and what an influence my parents have been to me,” says Sheryl, who joined Grammy-winning country singer Brad Paisley in the studio for a song on the new album. “I can’t sing some of these lyrics without thinking about my mom and dad and just how amazing they have always been.”
Sheryl admits to never looking too far ahead into the future, and she says she feels she’s in a wonderful place in her life right now.
“It’s easy to think a singing career is going to look like a magazine picture you saw in Rolling Stone or something when you were growing up, but nothing ever feels the way something looks in your head,” she says quietly. “Every single day, I can’t believe how blessed I am. I mean, the first people I see every day are these two boys who look at me and call me mommy. That makes my day. Add the fact that I get to make music that people might hear? Well, that’s just icing on the cake.”