AXS - Review
Review: On 'Ladders and Edges,' Sugarcane Jane finds a reason to slow down
By: Chris Griffy AXS Contributor Jul 19, 2017
A lot is written about an artist's home and how the area they hail from influences their musical lives. But just as important as where they are from is where they've been, the road traveled, the people they meet and the styles picked up along the way. Most importantly to any artist who has been at it a while is how all of those things color how they see the place, and the people, they come back home to. Alabama Gulf Coast based husband and wife duo Sugarcane Jane explore that and more on their new album, Ladders and Edges.
Certainly Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford have plenty of miles on life's odometer to pull from. While both originally from the Gulf Coast, they met in Nashville after Anthony had spent a long career as a sideman to the likes of Neil Young, Vince Gill, and Steve Winwood and Savana had settled into life as a successful songwriter and studio head. Since forming Sugarcane Jane, they have developed a reputation as some of the most collaborative musicians in the business, sitting in with numerous artists and forming the supergroup Willie Sugarcapps with fellow Gulf Coasters Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, and Corky Hughes.
For Ladders and Edges, Sugarcane Jane have found a kindred spirit as producer. Colin Linden is the Canadian multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who is currently best known as the musical director for the hit soap opera Nashville. Linden has logged his own share of miles and his production philosophy blends perfectly with the band's.
While Ladders and Edges isn't a concept album, there is a general theme across its eleven songs, best laid out in the song “Slow It Down.” The acoustic rambler is a call to unplug from the 24 information feed that is 21st Century life and enjoy the things and people around you. In the same vein is “Train of Information”, with its refrain “take your seat, enjoy the ride, you're never going back” backed up by some slick electric guitar licks by Crawford.
In the album's press material, Sugarcane Jane emphasized the importance of family in shaping their current musical philosophy, saying “family is everything to us and we are trying to give our kids some guidance and advice in song, without having to necessarily tell them everything repeatedly.” Nowhere is this more clear than in the album's standout track “Never Do We Know.” A bare declaration of the need to enjoy “one last kiss” or “the last time we look into each other's eyes” because life isn't a given is hardly a new concept in song, but the gentle harmonies and endearing earnestness of the pair's harmonies elevate a time-worn trope to something worth a second listen.
If you're familiar with Sugarcane Jane, Ladders and Edges is all of the instrumental prowess, tight harmonies, and diverse gospel, country, rock, and swamp influences you'd expect, with a serious rock and roll punch up from Colin Linden. If you're new to Sugarcane Jane, Ladders and Edges is a great jumping on point.
Lagniappe Mobile - Review
by Steve Centanni
Over the years, playing together as Sugarcane Jane and as two-fourths of Willie Sugarcapps, Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford have become the “first couple” of the Mobile Bay music scene. Sugarcane Jane’s infectious music draws an enthusiastic crowd to every performance. Fans now have the chance to sample new material from their favorite band.
On June 2, the duo released their latest album, “Ladders & Edges.” Sugarcane Jane kept the recording process close to home by utilizing Anthony Crawford’s Admiral Bean Studio. This also marks the band’s first release on vinyl.
“Ladders & Edges” is marked by layer after layer of rich and lovely instrumentation with acoustic guitar in the forefront. The Crawfords also expertly weave their beautiful harmonies throughout each song. “Ladders & Edges” could not have been released at a more ideal time of year, providing the perfect complement to warm, starry evenings on the Gulf Coast.
The Southland Music Line
After a long, extensive process following their successful 2015 album “Dirt Road’s End”, Sugarcane Jane delves into a more contemporary sound than some of their previous work yet stays true to every element of music that is very much their trademark Sugarcane Jane identity. They (Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford) enrich our lives with something very personal and intimate with the latest release. “Ladders and Edges” which features guest appearance by Colin Linden continues a mission of excellence that we have come to value and appreciate from the popular duo. In 2016, Anthony Crawford’s solo release “National Treasure” ranked among The Southland Music Line’s top albums. His latest with wife Savana is sure to merit that same recognition.
Sugarcane Jane has been featured in numerous articles and photo collections at The Southland Music Line. They were voted Music Artist of the Year in 2015 by the readers of The Southland Music Line and their album “Dirt Road’s End” was voted 2015’s Album of the Year by the readers too.
Some of the songs from the new album that stand out early for me are “Words”, “The Whistle Song” (you’ll catch yourself whistling along), the beautiful and moving “Never Do We Know”, “The Edge”, “New Love” and the amazing “13th Believer”.
We highly recommend “Ladders and Edges”.
The Washington Times Review
Vintage Guitar Magazine Review
Dirt Road's End
There are enough examples of married-couple acts imploding or having one spouse drag the other down that there probably ought to be a warning sign, if not a law. But the debut duo album by Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford as Sugarcane Jane is enough to give romantics hope.
Multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Anthony Crawford has worked with Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Forbert, Sonny James, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Eddie Rabbitt, and Rodney Crowell - often as background vocalist, which is ironic considering his prowess on electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddle, banjo, piano, bass, drums, lap steel, and harmonica, all amply demonstrated here.
The opening "Ballad of Sugarcane Jane" is reminiscent in mood and texture of Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road." The next track, "The Game", falls somewhere between the Georgia Satellites and Timbuk 3. And there might be a touch of Buddy and Julie Miller here and there. But by "Home Nights", the couple's vocal harmonies and entering/disappearing instruments merge into a singular identity.
With co-producer Buzz Cason penning one and co-writing six of the 10 tunes and WIll Kimbrough guesting on banjo, this is one of the liveliest, most engaging Americana CDs you're likely to hear this or any year. - DF
Guitar World Interview | 'Dirt Road’s End': Sugarcane Jane's Anthony Crawford Talks New Album, Touring with Neil Young and More
Anthony Crawford and his wife, Savana Lee, are both virtuosos. Crawford is a songwriter who plays guitar and mandolin while Lee alternates between rhythm guitar, tambourine and snare drum.
Sugarcane Jane’s new album, Dirt Road’s End,provides a rich, homegrown brand of Americana that draws deep from a well of influences, including country, jazz, rock and gospel. The album was conceived and co-produced by legendary Americana/roots singer-songwriter Buzz Cason.
Dirt Road’s End, which was recorded on a classic Otari MTR-90 tape recorder, traverses a spectrum of moods and stories, including the autobiographical “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane” which features Anthony’s driving guitar work, and “Heartbreak Road," which steams with rock energy and bluegrass spirit.
I recently spoke with Crawford about Dirt Road’s End, recording “old school” and what it was like touring as a member of Steve Winwood and Neil Young’s bands.
GUITAR WORLD: To someone who might not be familiar with Sugarcane Jane, how would you describe your sound?
"Saving the planet one good vibe at a time" is our slogan. Savana and I are energy pushers and write songs that make people feel good. Although we have songs in our repertoire that have deeper meaning, the lyrical content for Dirt Road’s End is more light hearted. Savana and I are in love with each other, and that shows in our music. Ultimately, it’s energetic Americana that’s positive and light hearted.
What was the songwriting process like for Dirt Road’s End?
At one time when I was working in Nashville I was forced to write, but I quickly learned that the best songs are never written. Instead, they’re born. For this record, songs like “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane,” “San Andreas” and “Pedigree” were my lyrics and melody.
For the other seven, I wrote a melody or a piece of music and my co-writer/producer, Buzz Cason, wrote the lyrics. Buzz is such a masterful lyricist who's had a lot of success over the years. He’s always inspired. Then Savana came in and with her vocal and energy. She organized everything and brought it to life.
When you record with Pro Tools or in another digital format, manipulating the music is easily done. But when you record on analog, not only do you gather a different approach sonically but it also keeps you from the temptation of manipulating what it is you’re doing. Buzz has a studio in Nashville with a 2-inch tape machine and an old analog board and invited us in to record. We wanted to record that way because we wanted to capture exactly what we sound like live and have it be authentic.
What was it like for you working and touring as a guitarist with guys like Neil Young and Steve Winwood?
It was a fabulous time. I was in Steve’s band back when he did the Roll with It tour. I remember when I was on the road with him I was out with some serious musicians, like drummer Russ Kunkel, guys who’ve played on some really big records. We recently opened a show for Steve Winwood in Birmingham at the Alys Stephens Center, which is a beautiful venue.
But my main claim to fame as a sideman was playing with Neil Young. He’s someone who’s on maximum power at all times. For me to have been around him was an honor because not too many people get his approval. You can’t get a better gig than to play with Neil Young. He’s just amazing. He’s one of the most incredible songwriters of our time.
What excites you the most about the future and the next phase of your career?
We’re excited about having a broader audience and continuing to keep our music attached to who we are. Our secret weapon is to be ourselves, and by today’s standards it’s something that’s almost unheard of. We’re real people and want to continue to be ourselves and hopefully inspire other artists to embrace that philosophy and do the same.
Acoustic Guitar Magazine Review
Review: "Dirt Road's End" by Examiner.com
The Alternate Root Interview with Anthony Crawford
Tahoe OnStage Review
Mobile Press Register and AL.Com Review
Lawrence Specker (2015)
"We are energy pushers," says Anthony Crawford. "We are entertainers. Savana and I don't fancy ourselves as songwriters or artists. We are entertainers."
Fans of Sugarcane Jane, the husband-and-wife musical team of Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford, will feel compelled to dispute at least part of that statement. There's definitely some artistry to what the pair do, both as a duo and as cornerstones of the coastal supergroup Willie Sugarcapps.
Their music might be categorized as Americana, but it's both too diverse and too personal to fit easily within the conventions of that genre. It's like they're carriers of an old-soul strain of tent-revival folk, come to show the Americana kids how to really kick up some dust. The imagery often would be at home in a country song; the hard-charging approach to acoustic instruments brings in an element of ragged rock 'n' roll frenzy that is sometimes softened – and sometimes heightened – by the harmonies at the heart of it all.
It's a distinctive brew that's been nicely bottled on the duo's new release, "Dirt Road's End." Crawford recently took time to discuss the project at his Admiral Bean Studio, which stands, along with the family home, literally at the end of a dirt road.
The space is "basically just a shed," says Crawford, who has worked in much swankier recording spaces during his time in Nashville. "It keeps me feeling like I can reach everything when I want to."
Small or not, it's where he mixed this project and recorded others. He's producing projects for several other local artists at the moment, he said.
As for the album title, it comes from a line in the opening track, "Ballad of Sugarcane Jane:"
"I followed my dream to the path of the crow
All to the way to the Music Row
fell in love when I heard her sing
so I packed my bag and my old six-string
Headed south in an all-out run
to the arms of my woman and a daughter and a son
built us a house at the dirt road's end
and that's just how this story begins ..."
For Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford of Sugarcane Jane, "Dirt Road's End" is partly about capturing their chemistry for local audiences, and partly about carrying their music to new ones.
"To me, it was almost like a fairy tale," Crawford said. "I always wanted to write a song about my connection with Savana."
Like a lot of Sugarcane Jane songs, "Ballad" manages to have an element of magic despite an approach that's completely direct. Like no few of their songs, it seems to be plainly inspired by their relationship and their experiences together. The appeal comes not from any sense of poetic mystery, but from their complete openness.
And yet, there is a mystery.
The first collaboration between Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee was a 2008 album titled "Redbird." He was a veteran, multi-talented music-maker living in Nashville; his extensive credits included playing on tour or in the studio for numerous stars, including Steve Winwood, Vince Gill, Dwight Yoakam and Neil Young. He was also a prolific songwriter whose tunes had been recorded by a wide range of artists, though without yielding any bona fide hits. "As a songwriter, on paper, I look real good," he said, laughing about his middling luck. She was a younger singer from Baldwin County, releasing her first album.
He wrote almost all the songs, recorded and mixed the album mostly at his home studio and played almost every instrument. Yet Lee owned the material: Her delivery was so natural and so committed that she seemed to be singing directly from her personal experience.
Seven years, a marriage and two children later, that chemistry is all the stronger on "Dirt Road's End" – and the mystery is all the deeper. While Anthony Crawford wrote several of the songs solo, the lion's share of the lyrics came from ace Nashville writer/producer Buzz Cason. Somehow, he not only wrote lyrics that perfectly suited the Crawfords' lives, sometimes he wrote them before events in their lives evolved to match them. Consider "Truck Song," one of the album's twangier, down-home numbers:
"Lord not another old truck song
where some old redneck done his baby wrong
This is a love song for you
Many singers got rich off their truck song
I'm happy for 'em, don't get me wrong
Honey, you deserve something new"
Clearly, Cason is having a little fun at the expense at a style of song currently in vogue among Nashville's hitmakers. But the Crawfords' gleeful delivery brings out the joy underlying their harmonies. They sound like a couple in love, have some silly, spontaneous fun and letting listeners come along for the ride.
"I didn't even know that song existed," said Anthony Crawford. Cason brought it in late in the session, he said, and it was just as fresh to him and his wife as it sounds on the disc.
"I really do believe that it's because we're in love," Crawford said of Sugarcane Jane's appeal to listeners. "Until Savana came into the picture, they were just songs. And when she came in, it was like adding water to flour."
From his perspective, "Dirt Road's End" is something of an oddity. Most of its songs are already very familiar to local audiences, and he frets a little bit that for them, the album says more about where Sugarcane Jane has been than where it's going.
But where "Dirt Road's End" excels is in capturing the dynamics of a Sugarcane Jane performance. For folks who've sat through a show and then wanted a recording that reflects what they just heard, this is it.
"Savana and I recorded them like we did them when we play live," said Anthony Crawford.
In promotional materials for the new album, Savana Crawford said, "The release of this album is kind of like watching your baby grow up an dmove out of the house ... These songs are such a part of us and are the very essence of Sugarcane Jane. We are so excited to see them reach a broader audience."
Initial recording was done with Cason at Creative Workshop in Nashville. Anthony Crawford then mixed the project at his studio.
Overall, it's a far-ranging set, with subject matter ranging from the charm of "Home Nights" to Crawford's appreciation of coastal California landscapes on "San Andreas." (It's a rustic reminisce that goes back to Crawford's days on Neil Young's ranch. He was horrified to learn that an upcoming movie of the same title is a big-budget earthquake disaster flick. "We're going to be out in California June 29. I'm not sure I want to go now," he said, after viewing the trailer.)
Anthony Crawford said that over the past year, the goal for Sugarcane Jane has been to expand its touring range, reaching new listeners in new areas. Their involvement with Willie Sugarcapps has helped take them to new markets they can revisit as a duo.
But no matter how far they go, he said, they won't be letting go of their hard-won, deep-rooted perspective. He knows what it's like to play for tens of thousands of people with Neil Young. Getting back to that particular mountaintop is not a goal.
"I've traveled the world and I've seen the world from a rock star's point of view," he said. "My imagination has been somewhat enlightened by what it's like to be in that rarified air. And I don't know, I like it here at sea level."
Tuesday, April 28, is the official release date of "Dirt Road's End." The album is being released through ArenA Recordings and eOne Distribution, and should be available through major online outlets. It also is available for download via www.sugarcanejane.com.
Upcoming tour dates:
- April 28: Sugarcane Jane CD release party, Fairhope Brewing Co., 6 p.m.
- April 30: Willie Sugarcapps concert, The Blue Nile in New Orleans, 10 p.m.
- May 1: Sugarcane Jane performs at the Gulf Coast Hot Air Balloon Festival, Foley, 5:30 p.m.
- May 2: Sugarcane Jane with special guests opens for Steve Winwood, Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center in Birmingham
- May 7: Willie Sugarcapps performs on for the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, Duling Hall in Jackson, Miss., 7:30 p.m.
- May 8: Willie Sugarcapps performs at the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Lawn event at Southern Napa in Daphne.
- May 9: Willie Sugarcapps performs at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, 8 p.m.
The Southern Rambler | Sugarcane Jane Finds Identity, Energy, and Success at Dirt Road’s End
The Southland Music Line | Why We Love Sugarcane Jane As Told By The Friends and Fans Who Love Them
PopMatters review of Dirt Road's End
Boomerocity: Anthony Crawford discusses Sugarcane Jane
Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam These are just some of the people who Anthony Crawford has worked extensively with.
Who is Anthony Crawford? He and his wife, Savana Lee, are the songwriting/singing team known as Sugarcane Jane. Some may say that their genre is Americana. Crawford describes it differently but more about that in a moment.
Sugarcane Jane has released their debut CD, “Dirt Road’s End” and it’s a refreshing batch of great, innovative, inspiring music. I called up Crawford at his Alabama home to discuss the duo’s new CD. From the git go, he was enthusiastic.
“I’m excited about the record we have out. Working with Buzz Cason has been a goal of his and mine for the last decade- to try to get these songs out to more than just the few people who get to hear it when we play the music down on the Gulf Coast.
“The reason those songs are so tight on that record is because Savana and I played them probably four times a week for four years. We’ve just been honing our craft for that long. Buzz said, ‘Let’s put a record out. I’ll pay for it. Let’s see what happens’. We went up to Nashville and recorded the record on his two inch tape machine. We did it live. We set it up like we play in a bar, restaurant, or whatever. We had a PA and the whole thing. That’s why there are some weird tones in there every now and then. For the most part, we just wanted to capture what we do live, the energy of it. I think we did. It’s very high energy.”
In describing Sugarcane Jane, Anthony said:
“I’ve got a pretty concise answer to that question. When she and I first got together, she was taking me to meet her parents for the first time. We turned off of Co. Rd 64 down this dirt road. I thought, ‘Huh… this is a lot of dirt road’. We kept driving and driving and driving. We went about a mile and a half down this dirt road. Finally, we went over a bridge and through a tunnel of trees then – boom – there’s her mom and dad’s house. It’s an old piece of property they’ve had in their family since the 1880’s.
“I said, ‘Wow, this is your property?’ She said, ‘Yeah, my granddad used to have a sugarcane patch out here somewhere. He would carve sugarcane and give it to all the little children around here on Halloween.’ There would be a huge crowd in front of their house of people waiting to collect their sugarcane. It was so sweet. He was known for carving that up. I thought, ‘Sugarcane’, and I just started singing a song off the top of my head. “Sugarcane Jane….” – I just made Jane up. All of the sudden, we thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool. Sugarcane Jane!’ It’s better to not have a name that’s just, ‘Anthony and Savana’. I really think the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ is as big a part of why we are what we are as the music. It’s just inviting. It has an interesting origin. I’ve got to say it’s pretty lighthearted for a lot of people.
“If we were to go play with a bunch of moody people, we’d certainly be looked upon as being torn from different piece of cloth. The fact is we like playing for people who like to leave our concerts being lifted up, so the name ‘Sugarcane Jane’ evokes that. It was just a spur of the moment thing. Plus, we didn’t want anybody to know our names, it was a privacy thing. At the time we were getting together, we wanted to do shows, but we didn’t want to have our names out there. We just had ‘Sugarcane Jane’, and it stuck. We just kinda took off. That’s how we got started.”
I think a lot of people would easily place Sugarcane Jane in the Americana genre. I asked Anthony how he would describe it.
“We would probably have a hard time putting it out with that exact stamp on it. We usually do, because it does draw from a deep well of American music, however we think of ourselves more like energy peddlers. Ultimately, we’re peddling energy, not a style. It’s truth. It’s organic as we call it because it's homegrown and natural. It’s acoustic, honest, positive music. All those things describe it. It’s unfortunate when you put something out digitally, and you are forced to categorize it as, ‘Singer/songwriter, Americana, Alt Country, etc.’ Those things just don’t really go deep enough into the reality of what it is. Our influences being brought up in the South are vast including country, roots, gospel, blues, jazz, and classic rock. I think we are a Heinz 57 of genres and I guess that's why the Americana tag fits best because that's pretty much what that is.
“If we have to play a four hour show, we are singing a few cover tunes. But if we’re doing a forty-minute show like we did with Steve Winwood in Birmingham on May 2, we’ve got forty minutes to plow through our most popular songs. People would not know any different. They’d go, ‘Wow- that’s what they are!’ When we go do that type of show, we know we can count on most all of the songs on the new Dirt Road's End album; ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, ‘The Game’, ‘San Andreas’, ‘Home Nights’,‘Heartbreak Road’, that kind of thing. Those songs are tried and tested and we usually get apositive response from people. They are crowd pleasers. We’ve got some new songs too that we are integrating into our set; ‘The Ladder’, and ‘Never Do You Know’. We explore a deeper side of Sugarcane Jane with those songs that are insightful and actually say something enlightening, then we come back with the plain ‘ole make-you-feel-good lighthearted music. We just want people to have a good time. When they leave our show, we want them to feel like they are leaving with something positive.
“I have to say, our normal set may beconsidered a little bit on the G-rated side, just family friendly music. We don’t do anything that’s too risqué or anything. People can bring their kids. We can always jam on some Neil Young and be believable with it. There is a wide spectrum of what we can draw from which is why we rarely make a setlist. We try to just feel out our audience and let the songs pick themselves. It’s a little bit of a unique thing that we have. People relate to us, because we have two small children. We're in the trenches as some would call it. The "diaper changing era" and a lot of people have been there and know how much work and energy that entails. They have an appreciation for what we are doing and know it is not easy with both mom and dad working at the same time. I think it's what is endearing about Sugarcane Jane. We have a deep love for our children, family, and fans (which are more like friends). Typically, you’re out there just grabbing for success as hard as you can. That’s just not us. We’re trying to make a living and raise good kids. Don’t get me wrong, we'd love to reach a higher level of recognition, but not at the expense of our family.”
Crawford is obviously quite gifted. It would seem that everything he does turns to career gold in some way. Musicianship. Songwriting. Performing. Photography. Recording Studio ownership. When I said all of that, he said:
“Randy, let me tell you something. A wise man once told me, it's not what you've done, it's what you're doing right now. It's true that I have had a blessed journey, but I have worked hard and kept my focus throughout the roller coaster ride. While a lot of people around me were dabbling in drugs, I walked the line. I was always afraid of that scene and the path it may lead. I've seen a lot of great players and artists go down that road and the outcome was not where I wanted to be. And because of being clear headed, I think I was able to listen to my intuition, God, or whatever was telling me to do certain things. I took that photo for Neil Young’s album cover because I was led to walk out there and see those old cars and see the beauty in them. I’m really like Forrest Gump. I’ve ridden in a balloon with Richard Branson. I’ve toured with Neil Young on a private jet. Too many adventures to even name. Most people would give anything to do just one of them. I have been very fortunate but how I acquired these titles or became who I am is not because I am better than you or even the most gifted guy. I really just think that I’m one of those people that stayed on their path, listened to intuition, and tried to remain humble. Call it destiny, call it luck, call it what you want. I went down this certain pipe, if you will. Instead of going to the left, my water flowed me to the right. I followed the more enchanted path. Had I made one little decision wrong, the other way would have been my way, and I wouldn’t be talking to you today. A lot of it is just environmental fortune for me to have made the right turn at the right time.
“I look back at everything I’ve done, and know that I am one of the lucky ones. I have a book in my head I could write if I were ever able to devote some time to it. It can be challenging to focus with so many things going on. I’m so scattered in my thoughts. That's where Savana comes in and grounds me. She will probably be the one to help me make the book thing happen at some point. So yes, I have a lifetime of accomplishments and moments I am proud to be a part of, but more than any of that I’m excited about is what is right in front of me. I keep that saying in the forefront of my mind, that you’re only as good as who you are today. I think my best years are ahead of me. These are all great stepping stones, but what stage of success I reach is yet to be determined. It’s still being built, and I can hear the hammering.”
I asked Anthony how has all of this experience influenced the incarnation of Sugarcane Jane and how it shaped their “mission” and vibe.
“In the song, ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’… well, funny enough, it’s not a ballad. It just got named that. But the story of that song tells it all. I ultimately say that the very first time I heard Savana sing one of my songs, and I started singing harmony with her, I knew that she and I were going to be together. That’s just all there is to it. She is the reason why I can be patient. I trust her. I feel like she is anointed by some higher power to have some sort of life that is made of honesty and integrity. She is fantastic with all the things she does.
"I’m saying this in all honesty. The girl totally made whatever it is that I did before her become a reality. It was not a reality before her. I had songs. I had this, that, and the other. But I wasn’t touring. I wasn’t even working on a career. I would just go out with Neil Young and make a bunch of money. Then I’d go and act like I was supposed to be getting another call from him at any minute to go out and make more money. It wasn’t about a career. I would get lost in my studio. I recorded constantly. I guess that's part of the puzzle though. I have a treasure chest of songs from those days so it's all a part of the puzzle. Getting with Savana has made it to where everything makes more sense. Together, we have something special. She was the last piece to my puzzle.
“Playing with Neil Young has given me the knowledge and experience to feel comfortable performing at this level. I played on stage with Paul McCartney. I’m not bragging, but I can honestly say I reached heights in the music business when it comes to at least being a sideman few people ever reach. And I did it multiple times. It’s like winning the Grammy of sideman. If they gave out a Grammy for sideman, I’d have at least three: Dwight Yoakam, Neil Young, and Steve Winwood. Those are three huge people who trusted me to be in their band. I was in there for more than just some weekend. I was in there for years. To me, that’s like having my Grammy. It’s not a Grammy, but it is a legacy that I'm extremely proud of.
“I’m not worried when I’m down here playing for people eating shrimp at Lulu’s, because I’ve seen what it’s like to be on a big stage and play in front of Glastonbury in England where there’s 200,000 people out there. That’s like playing Woodstock. I played at Live Aid in Philadelphia. I played Farm Aid. I played all these big concerts. In other words, I’m not anxious about figuring out, ‘What’s it like being on a bus? What’s it like to be at that level?’ I know what it’s like, and it’s not anything that’s a mystery to me anymore.
“I just know that making music with Savana is a beautiful thing, and I don’t want it to be over anytime soon. I want to take my time with my kids. I know that’s cliché-ish, but I love looking at my little kids sleeping when they wake up, their little faces… Things of that nature are what I define as success, not musical achievements. The fact that I’ve done all these things that you’ve mentioned gives me patience enough to be a good father, husband, and partner to someone like Buzz Cason who trusts me to do what I say I’m going to do. Years ago, I wouldn’t have, because I wasn’t grounded. I’m very grounded now about certain things, but I still have a lot of passion for music. Don’t get me wrong- if this record blows up and takes off, I’m going to be really excited about it. However, if this was the last thing that ever happens for it, just to be talking to you today, I’d be just as happy. It’s success to just have you even want to talk to me. That’s success to me. On a real basic level, you are taking your time to talk to me about me. It’s not money, but it’s your time and energy. That’s a commodity that I think is way underrated.”
Regarding receptivity to the music, Crawford said:
“Surprisingly to me, it’s all just positive. I didn’t know what people would think. I don’t listen to a lot of music, and I don’t really know what’s popular today. I really don’t. I’m not a music listener much. I’ve never been. I listened early on in my career to people and soaked it up. After awhile, I just quit listening. Occasionally, something will really interest me, and I’ll dig into it.
“In answer to your question, people tell me that what we’re doing is what people like these days. It’s really kind of a big thing. That’s a good sign. I don’t really know what that means. I’ve had several people tell me that we’re falling right into the pocket. It’d almost be like if I was wearing a Garth Brooks style of shirt and singing songs kinda like him, people would say, ‘Dude, you’re right in the pocket!’ It’s like, ‘Really?’ ‘Yea, there’s a dude, Garth Brooks, from Oklahoma. He’s big. Y’all got the same thing.’ I’d be like a knock-off of something or whatever. I don’t know what they’re talking about, but from what I understand, there’s a big folk music acoustic thing. What we’re doing, people like it... Shovels & Rope, The Civil Wars, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, whoever. I think Savana and I have a little thing that’s probably different than most people, yet it’s still kinda in the zone of what’s going on. I’m probably going to have to start checking it out to see what’s going on. I don’t know. We’re just doing our music, and if anybody calls us and gives an opportunity to come play, we’re probably going to do it.”
In the course of chatting (and since Crawford had worked with Neil Young), I mentioned Richie Furay’s new CD (Furay is a former band mate of Young’s) and asked if he had heard it.
“That’s something I’m interested in. When I’m interested in something, I’ll go dig it up. But as far as just randomly going and searching for music, I don’t know. I like to just keep my mind clear. I’m a minimalist when it comes to input like that. I don’t want to feel like I’m copying something. If I come across something, I can honestly say I just came across it through sheer coincidence.
“I produced something with a fella named Scott Nolan. Now, I hope you look that fella up. He’s got several albums out. His music is so beautiful. He drove all the way from Winnipeg to come down to the Gulf Coast and record with me and that group I’m in with Savana called Willie Sugarcapps. Then there’s another guy, Edward David Anderson. He’s out of Illinois, and I just produced an album on him. Those are two people that both have new fantastic releases coming out this fall that I hope you check out.
“My real true love is producing. I LOVE producing. I love being home, making music for people, and having them leave just ecstatic. That is what I love. It’s my passion when it comes to music. I love performing, but if you gave me my choice, I would probably lean towards being in the studio. I can be around my kids and drive them to school when that part of life comes calling. I’m good at it. I play all kinds of instruments. I learned how to make music through Neil Young, really. I know how to make a real recording and keep magical parts without erasing them, because you think it’s a mistake.
“Sometimes mistakes seem to be mistakes until you add something else. All of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Oh, cool. That works big time.’ That’s what he does. He doesn’t get rid of anything. He’ll keep something that you think, ‘Ah, that sounds terrible!’ Then all of a sudden, you go, ‘Why doesn’t that sound terrible anymore?’ It’s because something was added that made it work. It’s like, vinegar on its own is no good, but you add it to cucumbers and ice, you’ve got this nice dish. It’s just the way it goes. I learned a lot from Neil Young. I learned what to do and what not to do from him. He’s been a very big teacher for me.”
I asked Anthony if there is a song from the album that he would offer as a calling card, so to speak, to draw people to the rest of “Dirt Road’s End.”
“That is a tough one. I love the sound of ‘San Andreas’, but I love the story of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’. I had a little bit of a problem with the energy of ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’ being so over the top and being the first song on the record. But Buzz said, ‘Man, that’s gotta be first. It tells a story, and it’s the essence of who y’all are’. Given that, I would have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’.
“Then again, the next song ,‘The Game’, I love the way that song has that harmonica in there. I don’t know. It’s tough to pick one. I really have to say all those songs in there are very special to me.
“But because of the story and the lyrics, I have to go with ‘The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane’, for sure. It tells the story of me and Savana. If you were just trying to leave something in a time capsule for people to know about us, that clearly tells our story. None of the other songs tell our story like that one. That’s drilling for oil and hitting it, right there. The other songs are drilling all around it, but the lyrics on that song say what we are. It’s the truth about us.”
I love “Not Another Truck Song” on the album. I asked Crawford if it was a musical poke in Nashville’s eye.
“It is. I didn’t write that song; Buzz did. We had never even heard the song. I sat there around his computer while he played a demo of it. He just really wanted us to do it, and I was like, ‘Well, ok…’ It was the last song that we cut. Heck, that song turned out to be one of the best songs that we did on there as far as just the sound of it. The tone of it, to me, was pleasant.
“Buzz lives in Nashville. He’s had a lot of success with things up there, but he’s still outside of the box compared to people up there. As many songs as he’s written, he’s not one of those people. He’s not real hardcore Music Row writer. He comes from way deeper roots than that. I love that lyric, ‘This is not another truck song. Somebody done somebody’s baby wrong.’ I love the sentiment of it. It’s nice. It’s well written. I don’t think he’s being mean-spirited in any way with it, not that you’re saying he is. It is definitely a poke at the fact that most people think they’ve got to write a song about a truck or some sort of beer container being a certain color- red plastic cup, whatever that thing was. It’s just some kind of beer and truck party mentality that we just don’t fit into.
“I’m not sure Savana and I would really fit into being around hardcore country-loving fans. Our demographic is really your upper echelon, affluent educated people. They love us! They tip us great. They’re all well-to-do people, but for some reason, they just can’t believe little old me and Savana are entertaining them until they’ve had enough. We go and try to play for country folks that would go watch Kenny Chesney and they don’t seem to get us. I don’t know why, but I'm guessing it's because they haven't heard us before. They like something familiar, that they know the words to. And maybe they will now that we have this record out. But in the past, we’ve found that we aren’t singing the kind of songs that speak to them, like going mudding in a truck or buying beer at the gas station and meeting around a burning barrel somewhere out in the middle of the woods, talking about stuff after you’ve been laying concrete all day. I don’t know, I'm probably all wrong about it. Hopefully I am. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, radio, Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, and all other music media educate people on what they "should be" listening to and they believe it. People don't have time to dive into the unknown artists and decipher what's good and what's not. That's why we're hoping that having national distribution and radio play will put our music into the ears of the country fans that otherwise might not have heard of us. I'm not giving up on them.
“I was in a band called Blackhawk. When Van Stephenson passed away, Henry Paul and Dave Robbins asked me to come into the band. They made me a partner. I was like the ‘new guy’. Nobody really gravitated towards me. We’d go do a meet ‘n’ greet, and nobody would talk to me. But that's probably my insecurity showing through. That and the fact that Henry Paul and Dave looked like giants next to me. I didn't visually fit in. With Savana, I do. We're practically the same size so it's just a more attractive package. It's the opposite now. You just have to find where you belong. There's always a place."
I asked why he felt the 40+ crowd dug Sugarcane Jane.
“Well, I think it’s the style of writing. Sometimes, when we’re doing a longer show, I will pull out a Neil Young cover, because I played with Neil. Or we’ll do ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ with Steve or ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere’ with Dwight. People just love the song selection we have, because they relate to it. People who are in that place in life, whether it’s economic or whatever, seem to be more laid back about things. They just want to have a good time. They’re not wanting somebody to tell them a song about ‘Woe is me’, and they don’t really relate to somebody talking about a truck or drinkin’ or whatever. They want substance. And I think that it takes them back to their childhood because they grew up with that music like I did. The newer artists don't do those songs because they don't know them. But they should. I love it when I hear younger artists covering The Beatles or Stones or something like that.
“When we go play down near Destin, Florida, like Santa Rosa Beach or any of those wealthy seaside towns, those people have a lot of things going on for them individually. They have nice houses and cars and clothes, but they kinda like to go slummin’ with our music. It's an escape that's just on the edge of where their willing to go. It's fun to take them there.
“There’s a contrast that they love. We’re happy people, and we put on a smile. My wife has a very angelic energy, and I’m over there playing the crap out of the guitar. We’ve got tight harmony, so what’s not to love? We show up, and we’re real professional. Professional meaning we’re not late, and we’re not rude to people. We engage everybody. We’re very approachable. Being approachable is one of the biggest things I can say, because ultimately, people who like those other songs don’t necessarily even think about approaching people. There’s just some sort of different vision that they have of the world that doesn’t feel the need to belly up to what we’re doing. These other people have some sort of gravitational pull towards us because of the elements I described: nice, approachable, beautiful harmonies. The music is fresh, and they leave happy. We just peddle happiness, and those people like happy. Most affluent people don’t like unhappy. They've probably all been there before and who needs to be reminded of bad times? We deliver happy. We’re like pizza delivery people coming up to a mansion. We’re just bringing music instead of pizza. Then we go back to our little hut somewhere. We know how to hang on the rich folks’ property, and when they’re ready for us to go, we know how to leave without trashing their yard. They’ll ask us back. ”
On the subjects of positivity and faith, Anthony shared:
“I thing being representatives of good energy is God’s plan for me and Savana. I do believe in God. I’m a huge believer in that. I’ve been a doubtful person of it, and I’ve been proven that it exists. It’s even happened here lately. I asked God to show me, ‘Hey, if you exist, I need some proof RIGHT NOW. This is such a huge thing, and I need you to show me you’re with me on this.’ I got an answer an hour later. It’s amazing. I believe in God, and I believe in the fact that I’m being a vessel for him. I’m a representative of that. The best way I can do it is through song, my energy, and being positive with people. If I’m going somewhere, and somebody really wants to get in the door quicker than me, by all means. Just step right on in. I’m not going to be trying to beat somebody through the door. If they really need to get in, GO. Who knows? They might get in there and get slammed in the head. It would have been me. I don’t care. I don’t want to slow people down or make them pissed off. I yield. I’m a yielder for the most part. I try to be as much as I can."
As for tour plans in support of “Dirt Road’s End”:
“We have a lot of things coming up. We have a full-packed summer of shows. First of all, we just did the show with Steve Winwood in Birmingham which was a huge milestone for Sugarcane Jane. Savana and I are going out to Northern California to do a couple shows out there in June. In July, we’re touring with Steve Forbert for two to three weeks up the northeast. Then we come back to a string of our own personal southeast dates including Chatt Hills in Serenbe right outside of Atlanta at the end of July, a place Savana and I fell in love with. We’re also in another group called Willie Sugarcapps, and we’re playing the Targhee Bluegrass Festival in Wyoming in August.
“We have several very high-profile gigs in support of this record. I talked to Steve Winwood’s road manager/sound guy who turns out to be somebody I’ve known a long time. I was like, ‘James, you’re the main man now!’ He said, ‘Believe it or not, yep, that’s right.’ I said, ‘Well, if you get any more of these Steve Winwood gigs, we’d love to do them. We’ll travel anywhere.’ So the possibility of doing more with Steve is out there. We would also love to get back in with Dwight Yoakam. He just released a new album, Second Hand Heart, where he cut one of my songs, V's of Birds. So yeah, we’ve got big things on the horizon for Sugarcane Jane.
“I have high hopes for the records I’m producing for these people who are out there working: Scott Nolan, Edward David Anderson, Cary Laine, Lauren Kay. We have so much on our plate right now. We’re very diversified. If we were in the stock market, we would have a fantastic looking portfolio. Our eggs are not in one basket. The Dwight Yoakam cut- who knows what that’s going to do for me. I’m not sure if those things generate a lot of income anymore, but it sure looks good on paper. People love to talk about it.”
I know that Crawford gets asked a ton of questions about Neil Young. However, I’m more intrigued with his work with Steve Winwood. Sugarcane Jane opened for WInwood recently. When I suggested that it speaks volumes about his respect for Anthony as a friend and musician, he said:
“Oh, yeah. I’m going to give you something a little juicy here. Here’s the difference between Neil Young and Steve Winwood in a nutshell. When I was playing with Steve Winwood, early on in the tour after he’d finished his Back In The High Life tour, which was huge, we were doing the Roll With It tour. I’m over there playing the guitar, and I’m singing the harmony with him. He comes up to me in the middle of the song, he looks at me, and he says in that English voice, ‘Anthony, I just love what you’re playing. Love it. But could you just please stick to the parts on the record? Ok, thank you.’ When I did one little note wrong with Neil, he just looked at me like he could kill me.
“The differences in people are just amazing. Steve is such a nice person. Now don’t get me wrong. If you do something that he doesn’t like, you’ll just wind up not working with him or something. Maybe I did something. As a human being, there’s no better. How we got that gig was because I was walking out of my studio about two weeks ago. We were going over to play a show in Destin, and I knew that they have a house in Destin. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just e-mail Genia (his wife) to see if they’re down here and invite them to the show’. She e-mailed me back and said, ‘We’re not in the States right now, but thanks for asking. We hope to see you soon’. About two or three days later, we get a call from our booking agent that Winwood’s management was inquiring about us opening for Steve in Birmingham. Because I refreshed their brain about me, they thought, ‘Let’s let Anthony and Savana open for you in Birmingham’. Now that’s nice, ok?
“When in reality, Neil comes and plays at the Mobile Saenger Theatre eight miles from my house, and he gets somebody else to open. He doesn’t even think about letting me do it. I spent twenty something years of my life with him. So that’s the difference.
“Steve is a generous man. That’s not to say Neil is not a generous man. He just doesn’t think about the fact that I gave him years and years and years of my life. It’s like, ‘Hey, dude, throw me a bone!’ Whether he did it on purpose, or he just didn’t even think about it, that’s the difference. Steve thinks about people. He’s a generous, thoughtful man. There’s nothing I could ever say about that guy that wouldn’t be glowing. He’s tops for me as a human being and a musician.”
Because Anthony has been in the music business for such a long time, I asked him what are the most positive and negative changes he’s seen in it.
“The most positive thing that comes to my mind immediately would be that the music business is back in the hands of the musicians. Due to the Internet, social media, and if you get out there and just love what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to make a living playing music. It’s wide open again. It’s not owned by a few record companies. That’s positive to me.
“Something that disturbs me about the music business is how many people are willing to copy your music and share it with everyone they know for free. It's stealing and they don't seem to have a problem with it. They do it because they can. And a lot of people don't even realize that it's not only illegal, it's just wrong. I know some artists give away their music for the exposure but that is their choice. There are a lot of other artists that need the downloads and cd purchases to survive. It's no different than stealing a candy bar at the grocery store. Wrong is wrong. I just wish people would realize this. Considering how much artists put in to making a record and the process of learning to play and writing the songs, music is cheap. So I am happy to support people and buy their music. It's an easy concept to grasp. Our record label for Willie Sugarcapps (The Royal Potato Family) said most music gets out before albums are even released. It's just out there on the internet for people to steal. It's a constant task of shutting those sites down. Seems impossible. All you can do is hope that people will just stop doing it.
“As far as the business, I don’t know. I think the positives are way bigger. Right now, you can get out there and make a living at music. At least, we’re doing it. I consider myself one of the most unknowledgeable guys about the music business there is. If I was really smart about it, I probably would have been a millionaire by now with all the people I’ve known and opportunities I’ve probably had but didn’t take people up on it. Like Joe Galante giving me the opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby- I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I was like, ‘Nope, thanks’. This was back when I was a kid.
“About a month later, I see him on the Grammys getting, like, seven Grammys. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not good’. I’ve had my chances, and I’ve just been kinda uninformed, if you will. The other version is just being a dumbass about certain things in my career. I mean, man, I had an opportunity to be produced by Bruce Hornsby. I didn’t jump on it, because the contract said we will mutually decide. I wanted Mark Knopfler. I just thought he was so cool, but I didn’t know who Bruce Hornsby was. I made a foolish mistake. I should have gone, ‘Okay!’, but I didn’t. It goes back to my song. I have no regret to the past I claim. I have no regret for anything I’ve done in the past, because had I done that with Bruce Hornsby, I might not have my daughter today. I harbor no resentment towards myself. I’ve been given a green light to feel better.
"One more negative is the confusion about how to pay people. It’s awful out there. I get a statement that says, ‘You got 40,000 plays.’ I get like six cents. I have to have two million spins to make a hundred bucks. That’s the music business that I don’t like. The electronic tracking and payment system- that is what is broken. In the old days, if you had a record out, somehow people got rich. Not now days. I don’t know how people are making millions of dollars. These people that are getting sued for sounding like somebody, and they have to pay Tom Petty four million dollars. That means those people made four million. I’d love to get sued by somebody and pay them four million. That means I’m going to be, at least, famous for it. Tom Petty just recently got four million or something for somebody sounding like ‘Free Fallin’’. I heard both copies. I did not get it.” But the business is always changing and everyone is just trying to keep up and figure it out. I think there are great strides being made about writers getting paid. I know Roseanne Cash is one who is on top of it. I am thankful for people like her that stand up for everyone else who are clueless about what is really going on."
I asked Crawford if he was named Music Industry czar and tasked with fixing the industry, what would he do to fix it or does he think it needs fixing and if he thought it was fixable.
“I think those are people who aren’t out there doing it themselves. You asked me what’s wrong with the music business. It is so not wrong to me, because I don’t even think about them. I don’t care about the music business. I really don’t. The business is out there to go get. It’s better than it’s ever been for people, because ultimately, you can make your own records at home. I’m sitting here in my little chair in my studio, and I’m looking at Pro Tools kit. I’ve got Neumann speakers. I’ve got a Neumann U67. I’ve got Neve preamps and Universal Audio. I’ve got everything that a big studio used to have that you would have to pay an arm and a leg to do. I’ve got vintage guitars on the wall. I’ve got a beautiful wife in there that knows how to sing. We’ve got enough money to make our own records. It’s enough for us to get some action in a specific area. When you start tracking what areas really like your music, then you go, ‘Guess what? Minneapolis for some reason loves Sugarcane Jane’. Well, guess what? I’m going to get my booking agent to book me some gigs in Minneapolis.
“It’s not broken. It’s better than ever. You can do it. People still like to see live music. If you play live, there is no music business. It’s your business.
“The best thing that’s happened to the music business is the ability to have your phone tell you how to get to the gig. That, to me, is amazing. We went and did a gig in St. Augustine then had to get over to Tampa the next morning. It was complicated. The phone was like, ‘Turn left. Ok, in three quarters of a mile, go right’. Fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d be like, ‘Oh god, we’re not going to make the gig’. There are a lot of positives about touring now. I’m just a guy out there that’s going to play my music. I don’t care if electricity stopped happening, I’d look for campfires to play around. I’d take my acoustic guitar. I don’t need electricity. My wife and I could sing and get somebody to give us a deer leg if we were hungry.
“That’s the problem with living in Nashville. They started depending on somebody telling them how to go do something. Down here, we’re in the middle of the woods. We’ve got to go out and get it. We learn how to hunt and fish, metaphorically-speaking. We’re living and playing music. We’re doing what we love. That’s BIG.
And connoisseurs will have no complaints listening to “Dirt Road’s End” and, when they do listen to it, they’ll become fans for life.
No Depression Interview: Singer/Songwriter and Guitarist Anthony Crawford, From Neil Young's Band to Sugarcane Jane
SongFacts Interview: ANTHONY CRAWFORD OF SUGARCANE JANE
Guitar International | Anthony Crawford of Sugarcane Jane: Inspiration is Essential
Exclusive Magazine Review
Sugarcane Jane, the Alabama Gulf Coast-based duo, will release their new studio album, Dirt Road’s End via Cason’s ArenA Recordings / eOne Entertainment on April 28th, 2015.
Conceived and co-produced with legendary Americana/Roots singer-songwriter Buzz Cason, Sugarcane Jane aka Anthony and Savana Lee Crawford bring us the organic music follow-up to 2012's Listen With Headphones. You may not have heard of the before, and that's quite alright to admit. But one listen to Dirt Road’s End will have you hitting repeat; of that I can promise you.
Savana has a particularly lovely voice, and Anthony can play anybody under the table on anything with strings, it has to be said. Indeed, every move these two make, whether as SugarCane Jane or as a part of the Americana group from Lower Alabama, Willie SugarCapps, they seemingly can not put a musical foot wrong.
For those not in the know, multi-instrumentalist Anthony Crawford is known in most circles as a sideman to the stars. Over the course of the last 25 years, he has performed with Neil Young, Sonny James, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, and Rodney Cromwell, and has written / co-written songs recorded by Kenny Rogers, Steve Winwood, Pegi Young, Lee Greenwood, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, to name a few. Yet, even with his history of working with heavyweights, Crawford feels Sugarcane Jane – his musical venture with multi-instrumentalist wife Savana Lee Crawford - is his life’s calling.
Dirt Road’s End opens with the autobiographical 'Ballad of Sugarcane Jane,' a track that is not only the longest on the new album at just over five minutes, but is - for my money - also one of the true highlights of this delightful recording. Combining all forms of instruments, it's the harmonica that drives this little puppy across the line, for sure. 'The Game' is next, a bass drum, poor boy slice of organic blues, the storytelling lush of 'San Andreas' follows, and then come both the mid tempo 'Home Nights' and the stomp box, New Orleans-inspired hillbilly appeal of 'Louisiana.'
'Pedigree' tells the (possibly true) story of Papa Crawford and his Cadillac Sedan de Ville, that "had one yellow door and was missing a grill", before the only song, to my ears, that finally allows Savana's vocals to come to the fore, 'Heartbreak Road.' The bluegrass banjo appeal of 'Not Another Truck Song' is next, and then the album comes to a close with the 70's-sounding 'Sugar,' and then the euphoric gospel-tinged 'Glory Bound.'
Drunken Werewolf Review
The Weekly Single Recap: May 1, 2015 - Roughstock.com
Just over 30 years ago, Neil Young made his only Fredericton appearance to date. One year before the release of Old Ways, he was in pure country mode. One of the driving forces in Young's band of veterans that night was in-his-20s kid on the block Anthony Crawford on banjo, guitar, and tenor vocal wails.
Today, Crawford is 57. He has forged a stellar niche as a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter - a sideman par excellence in studio and on stage.
The collaboration with his wife Savana Lee is his personal musical statement. Together as Sugarcane Jane, their April 28 release Dirt Road's End delights.
Both born in Alabama but based in Nashville, Crawford and Lee stake their claim as the ultimate husband and wife country duo, 2015 style.
This debut album is a down-home, sassy blend of hillbilly vocals done just right combined with true masterwork playing of guitar, banjo, lap steel, harp, bass, percussion, and expert song construction.
They charm with autobiography in the punchy album opener "Ballad of Sugarcane Jane" and the ode to forebear and car "Pedigree".
Their wide set of chops and mastered styles lend to nice spices in the country/roots framework. Examples include N'Awlins in the scat-fest "Louisiana", gospel in "Glory Bound", blues in "The Game", and seminal rock from the country roots "Heartbreak Road" which would do Fred Eaglesmith proud.
The Daily Gleaner
Fredericton, NB, Canada
The Daily Gleaner Review of Dirt Road's End
From their fine Dirt Road’s End album that hit stores this week, “The Game” showcases why fans in Alabama and the Southeast have grown to appreciate the husband and wife duo. There’s a old-time feel to the track but one that still feels fresh today too.
Ricky Flake with the Sun Herald Reviews Dirt Road's End
Andy Andrews Article
Spreading the word about certain people whose work (I believe) deserves a larger audience is one of my favorite things to do! Privately and publicly, I do it constantly.
Frankly, it aggravates me to hear people complain about the books and songs that are at the forefront of our society’s consciousness. I agree with their complaints, but they still aggravate me. Why? Because so few do anything but complain.
Do you promote Miley Cyrus? I didn’t think so. But while you and I ignore her, someone is fiercely promoting every move she makes and doing a heck of a job. In the seven months since Miley’s VH-1 appearance that had everyone up in arms, her newest video on YouTube has been viewed more than 601 million times.
Allow me to repeat that: 601 MILLION views…in less than seven months.
Do you think Justin Bieber is likely to come to his senses, stay out of trouble, and become a good influence for your children and grandchildren? Probably not. Bieber has figured out that the more he misbehaves, the richer he gets. And it’s true. The kid is closing in on 1 BILLION views on YouTube.
So this is the lesson our children are learning: It doesn’t matter how you get attention as long as you get it. And if you get enough attention, you’ll be famous. And rich.
How about Sugarcane Jane?
Never heard of them, you say? Yeah, my point exactly…
Anthony Crawford and his wife, Savana, are incredibly talented, long time friends of mine who had the audacity to get married before they had children. Curiously, they have stayed married and out of trouble, all while raising a family somewhere other than New York or Los Angeles. This very cool couple, performing together as “Sugarcane Jane” and with a couple other buddies as “Willie Sugarcapps,” don’t have a single song on YouTube with more than 15,000 views.
If I had a goat, this would get it.
You will never convince me that the majority of America’s population LOVES Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. But if you argued that the majority of America’s population quietly shakes their head and goes about their business, I’m all in. (Gently…don’t loosen those blinders.)
We are dangerously passive when it comes to promoting people who deserve it. Is there anyone whose work or influence we should passionately get behind? Or do we carry on with our timid retreat as the culture we have allowed to overwhelm us continues to marginalize most of what we consider right and good?
Promoting a person and their work is a way that we can change this world. What book or song or person might the world never read or hear or know about…if not for you?
It was just a simple answer to a question from the press. If not for a few words, spoken with genuine enthusiasm, we might never have heard of the insurance salesman who had written a book in his spare time. The Naval Institute Press published a few thousand copies of that book in 1984 and, as expected, it went nowhere. Then, one day, a reporter asked, “Mr. President, what are you reading?”
Answering with excitement, Ronald Reagan said, “I’m reading a book given to me by a friend and I can’t put it down. It’s called The Hunt for Red October!”
Today, few people remember that Tom Clancy sold insurance, but his book sales have soared well past the 100 million mark.
Billy Graham is one of the most influential men in our nation’s history. Yet, were it not for a two-word telegram sent in 1949, we might never have heard of him.
William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, sent a telegram to the editor of every newspaper he owned. The message was: Puff Graham. The very next day, papers across America released enthusiastic, admiring articles about this young Christian minister. Curiously, Hearst never directed his newspapers to stop “puffing Graham,” and obediently, they never did.
In his book, Just As I Am, Graham wrote that he never knew when, how, or why such a powerful figure had taken an interest in him. For the record, he stated, “Hearst and I never met, talked by phone, or corresponded in any way as long as he lived.”
Yes, Billy Graham was and is an incredible communicator, but you could probably name other incredible communicators who are less well known. Why? One reason could be that no one became a “promoter” of their work.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to Anthony and Savana.
One evening, after dinner at our home in Orange Beach, Anthony was showing something on the guitar to our boys. Very quietly, he began to sing the classic ‘60s song California Dreamin’ and we held our breath in awe as Savana harmonized. It was truly one of those magical moments.
Several months later, Polly and I were out of the country with friends and told the story of that moment. The next day, I called Anthony and asked if he and Savana could recreate that and email it to me.
“Just set up your iPhone and sing,” I said.
“No problem,” he answered, “but be warned…the kids will be in the shot!”
Anthony and Savana have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
I have watched the little video they sent many, many times. It is, for me, another, different kind of magical moment that reminds me not only of their talent, but the love they have for each other and their family. I thought you might enjoy it, too. Be sure to watch until the very end.
After California Dreamin’, I’ve included a song they recorded recently with their friends Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, and Corky Hughes.
Birmingham's Anthony Crawford finds the sweet spot in his music with Willie Sugarcapps
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Anthony Crawford is measuring success with a different yardstick these days, and he’s mighty happy about it.
For many years -- about three decades' worth of music-making -- the Birmingham native sought a traditional measure of fame and fortune in Nashville. Crawford did pretty well for himself, too.
He parlayed his guitar expertise into a solid career as a sideman, touring with the likes of Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill and Blackhawk. Crawford did session work, performed on music videos and even produced a concert documentary, "On the Road With a Rock Star."
Crawford also wrote songs, more than 400 of them, and chose a few dozen for the playlists of four solo albums. But personal and professional satisfaction remained frustratingly out of reach.
“The search for success was so elusive,” he says. “I thought I’d wake up one day and have a notice: ‘You’re successful!’ Like that.”
But at age 56, Crawford knows where his true success lies -- in his marriage to singer Savana Lee, in their two young children and in the home they’ve built on the Gulf Coast.
“I’ve been on stage with Paul McCartney in London, sitting there at the piano with Neil, and Paul McCartney comes out,” Crawford says. “That’s one of the highlights of my career. But to have two kids to provide for, to see them smile at me and call me Daddy ... I’m pursuing the greatness of being a father. Family is huge for me.”
Music remains a big part of their lives, of course. Crawford and Lee perform in a roots-rock duo they call Sugarcane Jane. The couple also signed on for a new Americana band, Willie Sugarcapps, with Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes.
It’s a Lower Alabama supergroup, of sorts, with a self-titled album set for release Aug. 20 and two shows this weekend in Birmingham and Mobile. Crawford’s pleased with the partnership, which feels natural and right to him, and he’s looking forward to their collaborations on stage.
"We all got together by accident," he says, "and now we go and try to let the accident happen again. This has a feeling, to me, like I was supposed to do that with these people. There are no egos involved. We're just hoping that the magic carpet ride goes on."
Actually, Willie Sugarcapps owes its existence to Cathy Steele of Blue Moon Farm, who assembled the musicians in 2012 for a single performance at her Frog Pond venue near Silverhill.
Anthony Crawford is best known as a guitar slinger, but he's a multi-instrumentalist at heart. "I just love music," Crawford says. "Give me a shaker and you can't get me off the stage."
(Mike Kittrell | firstname.lastname@example.org)
"It felt like a band right out of the bag," Crawford says. "And I could tell after that show that we really wanted to do it again."
Willie Sugarcapps started as a democracy and fully intends to continue that way, he says. Everyone sings leads; everyone provides harmonies. Influences are pooled, from swamp blues to folk-rock to hillbilly country. Many instruments are played, including mandolin, banjo, harmonica, fiddle and lap steel.
Kimbrough, Crawford and Capps are the primary songwriters, but there's an open-door policy in that quarter, as well. The basic idea, Crawford says, was to split the album's playlist among three entities: Kimbrough, Sugarcane Jane and Capps/Hughes.
In the end, 10 songs took shape -- including "Poison," "Mud Bottom," "Energy" and "Up to the Sky" -- during a single recording session on the dogtrot of Crawford and Lee's house in Baldwin County.
"The music we're making is fresh, just like getting fresh drink from a stream that's never been touched yet," Crawford says. "We have a good synergy together. It's like being in the middle of music-love-comedy-energy stream."
He has nothing but praise for his colleagues, lauding their musicianship, class and good humor. Because Willie Sugarcapps is a side project for all concerned, expectations for the future are kept in check -- and that's exactly the way Crawford likes it.
"For one of the first times in my life, I'm really staying away from that," he says. "If we can keep our baggage off the magic carpet, it flies higher. We're not thinking about making some chart or being on the radio. That's why I left Nashville; people get consumed by it. I'm a preacher of the opposite: Go find real people and make real music.
"I don't want to be a millionaire," Crawford concludes. "I don't care to be Neil Young. He's got more money and real fame, but he's not in Willie Sugarcapps. I feel sorry for him."
Sugarcane Jane hits its stride, branching out from Baldwin County
The first thing you notice about Sugarcane Jane is probably the amazing harmonies. Or maybe it’s the energy, or the originality. Or the sheer talent.
Or maybe, all of the above.
Sugarcane Jane, in case you don’t know, is a high-energy acoustic duo, sometimes with backing musicians, that blends the talents of husband and wife Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee Crawford. The band is based in Baldwin County, playing often at Lulu’s in Gulf Shores, but lately has been branching out toward Fairhope, Mobile, Biloxi and other places in the region. (They also opened for country star Randy Travis at the Saenger Theatre in 2009.)
If you’re a fan of bluegrass or other acoustic roots music and enjoy tight harmonies such as the Everly Brothers, Alison Krauss & Union Station or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, this is a highly professional act that you’ll want to check out.
They call it 'mutt music' because it's a mixture of styles
Savana sings and plays guitar while Anthony, a talented multi-instrumentalist who has toured with Neil Young, Steve Winwood and others over the years, plays primarily guitar, including some truly stunning solos, but also picks up other stringed instruments as they are called for. Lately, the group has been augmented with mandolin and percussion.
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Sugarcane Jane, comprised of Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, performs May 17, 2009, at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile, Alabama, before headliner Randy Travis takes the stage. The Baldwin County, Alabama-based band is branching out as it hits its stride. (Lyle W. Ratliff/Special to the Press-Register)
“I call it ‘mutt music,’ ’cause it’s a mixture of things,” Anthony Crawford said. Sugarcane Jane performs mostly original material as well as some cleverly re-arranged Neil Young pieces, and can often surprise audiences with well-chosen cover songs such as “California Dreamin’,” “Ode to Billie Joe” or “House of the Rising Sun,” always showcasing their sibling-like harmonies.
The 2 met in Nashville several years ago, and Anthony produced a Savana Lee solo CD called “Redbird,” for which he wrote most of the songs. They played a few shows together as a duo and realized there was magic there, he said.
“The energy was so strong, I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
She had lived for 7 years in Nashville, chasing a career in music, but wanted to return home to the Gulf Coast area. He is a native of Birmingham but wanted to be closer to his parents, who have lived in Daphne for many years.
“Sugarcane Jane is the pinnacle of my musical career,” he said. “There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that I’m meant to be down here for this time in my life.”
Making life sweeter for the couple is their nearly year-old daughter, Loretta. The three live near Savana’s parents in Loxley, and Anthony has a studio on the property, called Admiral Bean Studio, where he is producing projects for others and where they are working on their fourth Sugarcane Jane CD release.
Oh, and about the name: “Savana was telling me a story about how her grandfather used to cut up slices of sugarcane and feed it to the kids in the neighborhood. I just thought it was a nice image. Later, we were riding in the car and said, “Sugarcane Jane” — that would be a good name for the band! We don’t want to call it ‘Anthony and Savana’ or anything like that.”
Author Jim Hannaford is a longtime journalist who performs music in the area as Jimmy Lee Hannaford.
Sugarcane Jane making tidal waves along the Gulf Coast
A few months ago, we introduced Sugarcane Jane, the singer/songwriter duo that has been steadily carving a name out for itself while earning a legion of fans all over Pleasure Island. From Tipseas Steam Shack in Orange Beach to venues in Gulf Shores, this dynamic duo is making quite a splash..
Sugarcane Jane is the collective effort of Savana Lee and Anthony Crawford. The pair met each other in a Nashville, Tenn. recording studio ten years ago. It was during that chance encounter that pure music magic would be born.
As Lee explains the name, Sugarcane Jane stems from a conversation about how her grandfather used to cut and give out sugarcane to the local children on Halloween. Somehow, the Jane part just seemed to fit. Lee recalls a road trip the two were on when the words came out of nowhere.
Crawford calls Birmingham, Ala., his native soil, while Lee hails from the rural area of Loxley. Both had lit out from their respective homes in search of musical fame and inspiration. Where? Nashville, of course. After seven years of cutting her teeth in the musical landscape that is uniquely Nashville, Lee said she arrived at the conclusion that home is where her heart lived, "and so I packed it up and headed back south and now I reside in the same area I was raised, Loxley, Alabama."
And the music landscape has only witnessed a revitalization since their relocation. The two will perform on the heels of their recent appearance at two major venues in the last few weeks ago. And they've stayed busy night after night.
"We have been extremely busy lately, but we're not complaining. Of course, we just had our big shows, Bayfest in Mobile and the Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, which went great," Lee said. "We released our new album at the Shrimp Festival, titled 'Alright With Me.' The CD has a very organic acoustic sound that truly represents our live performances."
Part of Crawford's claim to fame is his close association with musical icon Neil Young, with whom he's toured. As Lee explains, that experience with Young now comes into play when it comes to Sugarcane Jane. "One thing Anthony learned from Neil Young is to not try to perfect a recording because in doing that, you can easily lose the groove of the song," she explained. "Vacating the box of Nashville standards, we opted to keep the new CD simple and real."
The CD contains some SCJ favorites, songs that are steadily becoming area standards such as "There is a Time," signature cuts such as "Sugar and Pedigree" and some new numbers including the title track, "Alright With Me," which Lee says "is one of those songs that just feels great to sing. The message could easily be our personal mottos.
"And then there is 'Home Nights' which is a personal favorite of mine."
On "Home Nights," Crawford flexes his mandolin muscles.
"Anthony breaks out the banjo on 'Butterfly,' " Lee says. "It's a song that is so cleverly written, it makes me chuckle when I sing 'I got myself an attitude I can't blame it on genetic code/my mama tried to send me send me off in the right direction but I took that other road.' "
Indeed, it's that kind of clever writing that makes "Alright With Me" a superb collection of numbers from this quickly rising duo. SCJ's appearance at LuLu's should be a real treat for fans familiar with Lee and Crawford and for those that have never sat before the magic of this duo.
"We have no idea what works or doesn't work for us," Lee says. "It's always just a guess, but as long as we are able to continue making a living doing what we love, we feel we have won the game. It's a process that hopefully will keep us busy for many more years to come. We both moved out of Nashville wanting to be closer to our parents and found a lot of peace and serenity down here on the coast. We can't imagine anywhere else we'd rather be."
~Brian Kelly, Pensacola News Journal
Sugarcane Jane visits Callaghan’s Irish Social Club
Comprised of Alabama natives Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee, Sugarcane Jane made quite an impression on the Port City when they opened for Randy Travis back in May. Crawford is a seasoned musician in his own right. In the past, he has shared the stage with Roy Acuff at the Grand Ol’ Opry. Crawford has also spent many days on the road backing rock icon Neil Young. In addition to performing, Crawford has also proven himself to be an extremely gifted songwriter. Artists such as Lorrie Morgan, Kenny Rogers and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are just a few of the artists who have performed his songs. When Lee recruited Crawford to produce her debut solo effort “Redbird,” the two felt a musical connection that seemed almost star-crossed, and Sugarcane Jane was born.
Sugarcane Jane’s homespun acoustic sound is organic music at its finest. These two reveal their musical passion and soul through their powerful harmonies. Together, they conjure up spirits from the early days of country music and make them slaves to their musical whims. Sugarcane Jane released their self-titled debut in July. In addition, they have also released “Live at the Saenger” for all those who were moved by their performance.