Breast cancer, motherhood, Lance Armstrong, social activism …
Talk to Sheryl Crow and there’s a laundry list of topics to discuss before mentioning music. And then one needs to step back and appreciate her career because Crow ranks as the most successful female rock solo artist ever. She brushes off the label, but during a phone interview only Melissa Etheridge comes to mind in terms of longevity.
“I’m extremely lucky. Not only that I still have a career, but the kind of career I’ve had,” said Crow, 46, as her tour bus moves “somewhere between Nashville and Birmingham.” “It really started with this miniscule foundation and built up to a loyal foundation. It’s not a career based on TV or big performances. I like that. It’s in the style of the old troubadour.”
And her career came full circle last year. Producer Bill Bottrell, who oversaw her hugely successful 1993 debut album, “Tuesday Night Music Club,” paired with Crow again on “Detours,” her latest release. “Detours” received ample critical acclaim but radio support lagged, even if the single “Love Is Free,” is one of Crow’s catchiest tunes.
“It’s a funky time at radio. I would have loved to have seen (‘Love Is Free’) take off and be huge,” she said. “But it’s such a dismal time at radio because it’s very limited what they’ll play and most of it is dance oriented.”
In concert, Crow balances audiences wanting familiar material and Crow’s desire to offer a few new tunes. She’s playing a half-dozen songs from “Detours,” which mixes its political leanings with crowd-friendly choruses.
“It’s translating really well to live shows. It’s gratifying to play,” Crow said. “But everyone will get all the hits they can stand.”
Crow’s health remains good after receiving treatment for breast cancer.
“It came on the heels (in 2006) of a very public breakup with a very famous cancer survivor (Armstrong),” she said. “I felt like I could be a spokesperson for early detection. It’s a good thing for me to talk about it. There are so many young people being diagnosed with it now that it’s great to be able to have influence – and remind people to know their family history and be diligent about mammograms.”
Rarely one to mince her words, Crow was vocal about opposition to war in Iraq. Before the U.S. invaded, Crow wore a T-shirt on “Good Morning America” that read: “I don’t believe in your war Mr. Bush.” Shortly after, she performed at the Grammy Awards with a guitar strap that had “NO WAR” on it.
(A couple of weeks later, The Onion offered the headline, “Sheryl Crow Unsuccessful; War on Iraq Begins.” Crow had never heard about the satire piece, but she laughed when told about it now.)
Crow also knows how difficult it is to maintain her status in pop-rock music. She declined “American Idol’s” invitation two years ago to be one of the show’s mentors and worries about the show’s effect on performers “who don’t have the option of applying.” Still, she said that she would probably do the “Idol” gig if offered again.
And in May 2007, Crow adopted a two-week-old boy named Wyatt. Asked how good a rock star can be as a mother, she brightens up.
“Great. I’m holding him now. He comes to my soundcheck. I get to hang out with him all day and put him to bed,” she said. “Then I gotta go to work.”