Sheryl Crow finds new groove as "Memphis" belle

Fri Jul 23, 2010 9:55pm EDT
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By Ann Donahue

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - As a young child one Christmas in Kennett, Mo., Sheryl Crow received a present that would change her life: a copy of the Jackson 5's "ABC." It was the first record she ever owned.

"Every Saturday morning, we were in front of the TV watching the Jackson 5 cartoon," she recalls. "I grew up watching 'American Bandstand' and learning all the current dances ... my parents were in a swing band. When they came home after gigs they were listening to a lot of rhythm and blues. The music that lured me was the music that came out of Memphis -- a lot of Al Green, and obviously Elvis and Sun Studios."

After a two-decade career, Crow has the credibility and star power to record an album in any genre she wants. "100 Miles From Memphis" (released July 20 on A&M Records), whose title refers to the distance from her hometown to the music mecca, is an ode to her formative memories of music -- and one that the label hopes can inspire young music fans to investigate the landscape beyond processed pop and Auto-Tune.

"She came of age in an era that can too easily define you by your hits, which she's had a lot of," says Crow's manager, Scooter Weintraub of W Management. "We both thought this is a good time to not be so concerned when radio looks at you a little bit differently than they did when you were 25 or 30. Younger audiences are learning about the Black Keys and the Raconteurs and the White Stripes, and that music is steeped in the same thing."


But even classic soul requires new marketing techniques. "We looked at places where her audience may be that may not be traditional music spots," Interscope Geffen A&M vice chairman Steve Berman says.

Crow made appearances at the corporate headquarters of top companies -- in particular, at Starbucks and at the shareholders' meeting for one-time sparring partner Walmart -- and both retail giants have committed to promoting the album in-store. "It's funny, because (Starbucks) is kind of a throwback for me since the record-store tradition is dying," she says. "The fact (that) you have a social place where you can be a part of that is great."

Crow, who has long been vocal in her support of environmental issues and charitable organizations, recorded a public service announcement for the Humane Society that will be played extensively on TV.   Continued...