A scan of the plaques on the walls of Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame practically reads like a discography of people Sheryl Crow has already sung with in concert or on record over the last three decades. So it’s no surprise that Crow was voted into the hall her very first time on the ballot, since it wasn’t going to happen through sheer osmosis after all. The hall’s announcement Thursday made it official that the singer-songwriter is part of the class of 2023, set to be inducted alongside one of the elders that didn’t make it in before her, old pal Willie Nelson, along with fellow female powerhouses like Kate Bush (who she grew up on) and Missy Elliott (whose production skills she particularly admires).
Crow got on the phone with Variety shortly after the news became official, between a bevy of congratulatory phone calls that must have made for a heck of a Thursday morning music club.
As if you weren’t already high from playing with Willie Nelson at his 90th birthday celebration the other night…
Crow: Oh my gosh. I was really surprised. I said this when I was nominated: It feels like you’re being nominated for an Oscar, but you haven’t finished writing your movie yet. It’s hard to think back on 35 years and even remember it all; it just seems like it went really fast. And to be even in the same sentence with people that for so many reasons I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for them — Stevie Nicks and the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson… Honest to God, I’m still processing it.
You got in your first time on the ballot, which is rare. Then again, you’ve been eligible previously, since your debut album dates back 30 years. We’d guess you’re probably not the type to confess thinking, “Why’d it take so long?”…
Not at all. I mean, there are people that aren’t even in yet that I think should be in, so I feel a little bit guilty. Like, I wanna give my plaque or whatever to Peter Frampton — he was my first concert, you know? It’s a little like doing the documentary [“Sheryl,” her Showtime documentary, released in May 2022]; you go, don’t these things happen after you’re long gone? So I’m happy to be here for it, and I’m happy to be here to see the Spinners and Willie and and Kate Bush get in. I mean, I was that weird kid; I went through my Kate Bush phase.
You’ve certainly been a part of Hall of Fame events before. Just last year you were paying tribute to Dolly Parton in song and inducting Pat Benatar. Do you have any idea how times you’ve participated in one of these ceremonies?
Well, I got to honor Linda Ronstadt (in 2014). I’ve been in that room countless times — including before it was televised. That’s when you feel the weight of it, when you’re in the room with people who are jamming together and you’re going, I can’t believe I’m in this room. So yeah, I have some astounding memories from it. And I got to play at the opening concert for the Rock Hall in Cleveland (in 1995), where I got to sing with Chrissie Hynde and Jackson Browne. But even more crazy than that, I remember vividly Chuck Berry picking me up in his arms and spinning me around. I mean, for a kid from Missouri, that to me kind of surpasses any kind of award I could ever get.
Very early on in your recording career, you seemed to be right in there, accepted amid rock royalty, which was kind of an astonishing thing. So it’s not surprising that all these years later you’re officially joining that circle, given that you’ve really been running with the veteran rockers for close to three decades.
Well, I will say, I have worn my influences like a badge of honor. I’ve always ripped off the people that I’ve loved the most, and I think that the first couple of records that I put out were records that I could hear that on. And at a time when music was not at all based in country-rock or blues-rock, I think I was sort of the person that was carrying the mantle of that kind of music. You know? And I did get embraced by people that had inspired me and whose shoulders I stood on, from certainly the Stones to Eric (Clapton) and to Bob Dylan and people like that whose music had meant so much to me. They kind of swept me up at a point when I wasn’t fitting in with my own peers. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. And Emmylou Harris, I have to pay tribute to her; she was (there for her) in the very beginning, man. She and Levon Helm, and even Elton John, were very vocal and supportive and came out and saw me and lifted me up. So I think that’s one of the reasons that the Rock Hall… I’m gonna get really emotional about it, but those people mean so much to me, but they also mean so much to the legacy and the history of music that it just means so much.
You’re someone who has paid homage to your elders at tribute events beyond the Hall. Here at this ceremony, there’ll probably be some young artists paying tribute to you, in the way that you’ve done so much over the years. The shoe will be on the other foot, from all the time you spent lifting up the generation that came before you.
Honestly, I’m more comfortable having the light shine on other people and being a part of that. So it is kind of weird. I’ve been a part of lots of MusiCares (dinners). And if I think about it and think about people having to dig through my catalog, it’s like somebody going through your underwear drawer. It makes you feel a little squeamish, you know? But it’s cool. I have to say, awards are like a compliment I’ve never handled very well. But I’m gonna sit and hold this one because it does mean a lot, maybe more than anything.
This would be considred a career pinnacle, but you can still look forward to other things. Maybe the Kennedy Center Honors someday.
Oh, gosh. Well, I mean, I’m working on music now and I still feel like my best work is still out in front of me. My favorite song I’ve written in 30 years was on the documentary, a song called “Forever.” And I feel like if I can just keep doing that, where I feel that way about music, then I want to be like Willie, where I feel like, hey, I got more in me. Witnessing that with him the other night, seeing that crazy light in his eyes, that young rebel, I hope at 90 I’m doing that.
Speaking of Willie, who is getting in the hall with you, is there anything you could say about what it was like backstage or onstage singing with him Sunday night at the Bowl?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten really emotional about these experiences, mainly because, you know, we are all sort of on the back nine. And music has brought all of us together, and he and his wife are two people who mean a lot to me in their life and in the kids’ lives, his sons’ as well. So it’s deeper than the music, even though I’ve told him ad nauseum that he’s my favorite person to sing with. One of the reasons is that it’s unpredictable.
Because of his unique phrasing?
You’re so present when you sing with Willie. Willie brings a lifetime of experience into every time he opens his mouth. Singing with someone like that, especially Willie, you are forced to be in the moment and to be in the spirit of somebody else. To me, that’s so much bigger than just going out and performing a song. It forces you to be present, and it’s never gonna be the same any given night. I did tell the audience the other night that when I sang with Willie for the first time, I was standing in the wings with Kris Kristofferson, and Kris said, “Don’t try to sing with him. Just sing louder than him.” [Laughs.] I’ve always taken that with me. And Kris was there the other night, and… you know, life is sweet.
You mentioned you’ve been working on new music. About four years back, you said after the “Threads” album that came out in 2019, you were gonna be done with the album format. You’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to that promise. Have you had any occasion to rethink that at all?
You know, I put out a song here or there, and that’s been really satisfying. A couple of things came out of the documentary. I don’t know how I feel about it. I will tell you that I’ve really felt compelled to write, especially lately here in the state of Tennessee, raising kids in this environment. Not political songs — but just for me, it’s very self-soothing. I don’t know what I’ll do with the music. Maybe I’ll put out a handful of songs. It feels antithetical to put out a whole body of work when I know that people don’t listen to music like that anymore. I might put something out every month and let people make their own albums out of it. I don’t know, but I am writing a ton and I’m really inspired, and I’m loving it, man.
Of course people talk about representation for women in the Hall of Fame. There have been strides — four out of seven last year were women or female-fronted, and three out of seven this year. Some of those strides may be as a result of incorporating more performers from outside of “rock”; pop and R&B is where we’ve found more of the women coming from. When it comes to actual female rock stars, people still think of you, as then not as many others as we’d hope. But do you have any thoughts about going into the hall with Missy Elliott and… ,
… and Chaka (Khan). Oh my God, Chaka. If we just talk about that for a second… and Kate Bush, who has been nominated several times. I do think they’re doing a good job of making up for last time, You know, I think loosening the definition of rock ‘n’ roll… we’re sort of at a moment right now with what that means. I wouldn’t say Missy Elliot is necessarily rock ‘n’ roll, but I would say that she has had a monstrous influence, not only on young female rappers, or hip-hop, but also male artists as well. I mean, her production… I think if we start looking at the influences that people have on a generation of young artists, there are a lot of women that should be in. So I’m happy that I’ve been nominated and inducted and I’m glad to see that they’re aware of it. We’ll see what happens.
Anything you could mention about what the year holds for you, other than songwriting?
It’s interesting. My kids are turning 16 and 13 next week. Last year I toured, and about a week before the end of the tour, they’re like, “We’re bored. Can we go home?” I only have a few more summers with my 16-year-old. I don’t see myself spending a vast amount of time away from them, but I also don’t see myself taking them out of their social scenes to drag them out on the road with me. So, I am writing, and I’m doing a bunch of festivals this summer. We’re gonna go to Europe at some point during the year. And then I’ve written a one-woman show, which is really, really immersive, which I think we’ll start trying to get up into production next year. That will be kind of all-consuming. And then, other than that, we’ll see what life kind of dishes me.
The one-woman show sounds intriguing. When people hear a description like that now, their minds go to “Springsteen on Broadway.” So are you thinking anything along those lines…
I mean, this is different. One of the things that compelled me to do it is that, because I’m older, I’ve seen audiences change from being 10,000 people in a room that don’t know each other to 10,000 people in a room holding up phones and trying to capture it so they can watch it later or post it. And I thought, well, how unique it would be to invite people in, and that they be a part of the show? And that’s what it is. I mean, really, it’s 4D. The storyline is not specific to, like, documentary style. It is specific to emotional experiences that everybody has experienced, one way or another, and taking everybody on a very scenic journey.
It was just, honestly, kind of a pipe dream. I wrote it, and then I had a company that was like, “Dude, we are so on board for this” — so we’ll see what happens. My business management said, “So, are you wanting to go broke on this thing?” And I’m like: It can’t all be about money. So, yeah, I think if we can pull it off, it will be something that no one’s ever experienced before.
How interesting. Would it be a show you would be touring, or in a fixed location?
It’ll have to be fixed, but at some point I think we’ll be able to install it in different places.
People enjoying hearing you speak, as well as sing, so it’s not difficult to imagine the appeal of that.
I’ll just say one last thing. I grew up with musical parents, but my dad — and he still is this way — would read to us from, like, “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” by Mark Twain, and from detective novels and stuff. We would be in junior high, and my dad would be like, “You’ve gotta listen to this,” and he was such a (literary guy). So I’ve really been inspired to write from the standpoint of storytelling, and I’ve never done it. I’ve always used music to tell stories, so I hope people like it.
Thank you. Man, I’m stoked.