How We Met: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell - Profiles - People - The Independent

How We Met: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell

'She told me she had an extra ticket; I went the next day and stayed for seven years'

Emmylou Harris, 62

A 12-time Grammy winner, Harris has been at the forefront of country music for 40 years, selling 15 million albums and collaborating with artists including Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams and, most memorably, Gram Parsons. She lives in Nashville with her mother.

The first time I heard of Rodney I was in Toronto with my producer Brian Ahern. It must have been 1974 and I was there to choose material for the LP I was going to do later that year, but there wasn't anything that interested me. As the day went on there was still nothing. Finally Brian said, "I've only got one more recording by this young songwriter." It was still in the mailing envelope. He stuck it in the machine and there was Rodney singing "Bluebird Wine". It was so fresh and real and his voice was incredible. I said, "OK, this is the one."

Brian asked Rodney to fly to Washington DC, which was where I was living, and we got along great. We talked about music all night. It was great to find a new writer who was of my generation. He was like a kid brother. If we had grown up together we would have been making music together all our lives.

It was obvious to me that he would end up playing in my band. He was a great energy source and a great compadre. A few months later the band and I came through Austin, Texas, where he lived. He came to the show and I said to him, "Why not come on out to LA with us?" So he did, and he stayed. Rodney and I were both pretty young in those days. We were these two kids who were learning as we went.

We have a rich, rewarding friendship. So many other friends and so much great music has come from it. We had always talked about making a duets album together, but the right time, when neither of us were touring or doing other things, never seemed to come.

I was the one who finally made the call this time. I hadn't written any songs since making [2011's] Hard Bargain and I think perhaps I was tired of it all being me. It's quite a thing being out front on your own all the time.

Also – and this may sound a little morbid – you get to a stage where you start losing friends and a sense that you have a finite amount of time. I didn't want Rodney or me to regret that we didn't get around to doing it. So finally, we made an album together. And I have to say, I think it's a good one.

Rodney Crowell, 62

The Grammy-winning country musician was a producer, guitarist and songwriter-for-hire before finding solo success with the album 'Diamonds & Dirt' in 1988. His songs have been recorded by artists including Bob Seger and Crystal Gayle. He lives in Nashville with his wife, the singer Claudia Church.

I had known of Emmylou before we met. I'd heard her singing with Gram Parsons on record and had happily climbed into the intimate world that they had created. The first time I laid eyes on her, she was playing a show at a folk club in Washington DC. There was talk of her recording one of my songs, so I had gone to meet her. Afterwards, we went to the house of one of her friends and sat until the wee hours with guitars talking about songs. I would sing an obscure Townes Van Zandt song, or a Louvin Brothers song, and she would say, "I know that!"

Of course, me being a 24-year-old male, it was love at first sight, but she was actually the first person to teach me about the beauty of a real friendship with a woman. I also had huge respect for her as an artist – and of course the fact that she drew the attention of the music industry to my songs.

We met again in Austin, where we played on stage together, then she asked me to come to LA. She told me she had an extra ticket so I went the next day and stayed for seven years. I was writing songs and providing her with new material. I joined her band, half of whom were also playing in Elvis's band, so I knew I'd gone up a level. The world was beautiful, big and all out in front of us.

Our friendship is not unlike a sibling relationship: intense and held together by love. Our conversation hasn't changed much over 40 years – it's about our faith and passion when it comes to music, and our sense of wonder that these songs that we love even exist.

A lot of the time we're in different parts of the world and five years can go by not seeing each other. Then I'll run into her backstage somewhere or at an airport and it's as if no time has passed.

What has changed is that I have grown into my own skin. It's only in recent years that I've been truly comfortable both as a performer and as a person, which makes it a perfect time for us to collaborate. Making an album together has been great, not least because I've had dinner with my friend more times in the past year than we have in the past 15.

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell's 'Old Yellow Moon' is out on 4 March

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