Emmylou Harris-Rodney Crowell duet album in the works
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell have been musical compadres for nearly 40 years, have sung on one another’s recordings periodically, and now they’re getting ready to do a full-fledged duet album that comes with the strong possibility of a major bonus for fans of both artists: a reunion of the fabled Hot Band that backed Harris when she launched her solo career in the mid-1970s.
“This is a duet record between me and Rodney, and that’s the main thing,” the 12-time Grammy-winning singer told me earlier this week when she was in town for the All for the Hall benefit concert for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where she sits on the board of directors.
“It’s looking like we’re going to have the original [Hot] Band, at least in some form, and everybody’s excited about it,” she said. “But I don’t want to lose track of the fact that this whole idea I’ve been carrying around for so long is that for about a week, the Hot Band was me and Rodney, sitting around, with my little songbook of all the songs I’d written down in pencil in my little notebook: the Geroge Jones songs, the Don Gibson songs, all the songs I was learning.
“It was Rodney and me with two acoustic guitars just going at it doing duets: ‘Sweet Dreams,’ wonderful stuff,” she said. “So that’s what we want to get back to. And of course the Hot Band would be the icing on the cake.”
The Hot Band grew out of Harris’ brief time singing with Gram Parsons when the country-rock pioneer emerged as a solo act after his stint with the Flying Burrito Brothers. After Parson's death in 1973 of a drug overdose, Harris, living in Los Angeles at the time, began to regroup and think about a solo career. Largely on the strength of her work with Parsons, she was signed by Warner Bros. Records, where she was told she would need to form “a hot band” to back her.
The Hot Band, as revered among country aficionados as Johnny Cash's Tennesse Three, Buck Owens' Buckaroos and Merle Haggard's Strangers, originally consisted of celebrated guitarist James Burton, who had played with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ricky Nelson and countless others since the mid-'50s, along with Presley’s longtime pianist Glen D. Hardin, steel guitarist Hank DeVito, bassist Emory Gordy Jr., drummer John Ware. And Crowell.
In the process of Harris recording her major label debut album with producer Brian Ahern, Ahern introduced her to Crowell and brought him to Los Angeles to sing and play on her album. He also signed Crowell, then a rising writer whose songs quickly caught Harris’ ear, to a record deal of his own.
“Rodney was the only thing Brian played for me that I liked,” Harris recalled. “We didn’t know if we were going to have a Hot Band, we didn’t know if we were going to have a rhythm section. But Brian figured, ‘Put him in the band.’
“I loved his harmony singing,” she said. “We had already recorded ‘Bluebird Wine’ and ‘[Till I] Gain Control [Again]’. He was entrenched.”
Recording is slated to start in November, and the group also is expected to include guitarist Albert Lee, who joined the Hot Band shortly after it was formed because Burton’s duties with Presley precluded him from touring with Harris, although he did continue to record with her until 1981.
Harris said songs for the duet album are still being chosen. As for the prospect of a tour of the Hot Band, which staged a brief reunion in 2004 when Harris was given ASCAP’s Founders Award ...
"I think we should do at least a few shows,” she said. “It wouldn’t be a long tour, but it would be a shame not to do a few showcases. That’s way far ahead, like figuring out where you’re going to send your kid to school. We’ve gotta get this baby out first."
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Emmylou Harris. Credit: Jack Spencer / Nonesuch Records.