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Sheryl Crow says loss of masters in Universal Music fire feels 'apocalyptic'

Master tapes by some of the most iconic names in music were lost in the 2008 fire

Roisin O'Connor
Wednesday 26 June 2019 09:44 BST
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Louise Thomas

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Sheryl Crow has spoken of her distress at learning that all of her masters were destroyed when a Univeral Music archive burnt down in 2008.

The “Steve McQueen” singer only discovered the loss of the tapes, which included her albums Tuesday Night Music Club and The Globe Sessions, after her name was mentioned in a New York Times report that revealed many of the artists whose work was lost.

“It absolutely grieves me,” she told the BBC. “It feels a little apocalyptic. I can’t understand, first and foremost, how you could store anything in a vault that didn’t have sprinklers. And secondly, I can’t understand how you could make safeties (back-up copies) and have them in the same vault. What’s the point?”

In the New York Times investigation, published two weeks ago, it was revealed that the fire destroyed thousands of master tapes by some of the most iconic names in music history, including Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Nirvana, Chuck Berry, Iggy Pop, Sidney Bechet, Dave Brubeck, Merle Haggard and Etta James.

At the time, Universal Music downplayed the damage the fire had caused to its archives and said that many of the affected tapes had duplicates that were in separate storage. The company’s head archivist, Peter Kraus, said the extent of the losses had been “overstated” in the Times article.

However, Crow, who performs at Glastonbury Festival this weekend, has since beome the first artist to confirm the loss of her work, including demos, alternate takes and unreleased songs.

“There are many songs on my masters that haven't come out,” she said. “My peace of mind in knowing I could come back someday and listen to them and mine those [sessions] for basement tapes and outtakes, are gone. But what grieves me more than any of that is the fact that Buddy Holly and Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington - all this important music has been erased.”

A number of musicians are currently suing Universal Music for $100m (£78m) over the loss of their masters.

Rock bands Soundgarden and Hole, country music legend Steve Earle, Tupac Shakur’s estate and a former wife of Tom Petty filed the case last week, accusing Universal of breaching its artist contracts by failing to properly protect the tapes.

They are seeking class action status, which means other affected artists will be able to join the case at a later date.

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