Sheryl Crow knows all about the prescribed roles for women in the music industry. The Missouri native moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and earned some stellar gigs as a backup singer for Michael Jackson, Don Henley, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Joe Cocker and Foreigner. Tabloids even labeled her a Jackson love interest during his 1988 tour. The work was good, but Crow found it all too easy to be typecast.
"When you're a hired gun, you definitely get a taste of what the female role is in the music business," she explains. "The social lines get pretty distorted as to what's permissible and what's not."
Crow demurs from revealing seamy specifics, but the music on her "Tuesday Night Music Club" album does plenty of talking. "What I Can Do for You" in particular offers a graphic look at sexual harassment, with Crow adopting the male perspective in the come-on. But most of Crow's songs — which she claims are "lightly biographical" — have broader intentions. As she sings in her hit "Leaving Las Vegas," they're about: "The things you want/And the things you have to do."
"My characters all seem to be misfits to society," says Crow, 31. "They seem to sort of cut and bail when times get too tough or people get too close to them."
Is Crow like that? "Well, in my first two years in Los Angeles I lived in seven different places," she says with a laugh. "I don't like to have too many friends. I find that I change my phone number when I have too many people in my life. I could be a great case study for some psychologist, I guess."
Music was in Crow's genes; her parents played in a swing band and would often bring friends back to the house to jam. Her father, Wendell Crow, plays trumpet on one of her album's songs. Crow taught public school music classes until she left for Los Angeles. Besides the backup singing, she was able to sell songs to Eric Clapton and Wynonna Judd. Now, with "Leaving Las Vegas" dotting the playlists on a variety of radio formats, Crow is excitedly putting those background roles in her past.
"There was a time in San Diego when I introduced the song and a bunch of people clapped really loud," she says. "I didn't think about it. I just said 'Oh, there are some people here from Las Vegas.' After the show some people came up to me and said: 'You nut. People know this song now.'"
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
April 7, 1994