Sheryl Crow

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Sheryl Crow Pencil Portrait
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At the height of her career, Sheryl Crow was diagnosed with breast cancer, despite having been dedicated to health and fitness, and having no family history of the disease. She survived thanks to a mammogram that detected the cancer in its early stages and has since become the ultimate advocate for breast cancer prevention and routine mammograms. However, since 2006 she has not been free of worry where her health is concerned.

When the singer/songwriter announced in September 2012 that she had a benign brain tumor, or meningioma, that had been diagnosed on an MRI scan the previous fall, she explained that the prompting for such a medical investigation had been her forgetfulness on stage, particularly in recalling the lyrics to her own compositions.

For now she remains active in her life as a musician and mother but her recent worries highlight our general lack of understanding in the field of female hormones. Meningiomas occur in about 1 in every 1,000 persons but tellingly, is more common in women who have previously been diagnosed with breast cancer. However, the obvious corollary between breast cancer cells and the formation of secondaries in the brain would appear to be a medical ‘blind alley.’

Instead, experts say it may be triggered by the same reproductive hormones that also played a role in Crow’s breast cancer. Apparently, both meningiomas and the most common form of breast cancer are associated with an increase in estrogen and progesterone receptors on cells, and they’re both most likely to affect women in their 50s and 60s.

Furthermore other studies have shown that women with the same brain tumor Sheryl Crow is currently afflicted with are 40 percent more likely to have breast cancer than those without and are 50 percent more likely to have endometriosis, the condition where the uterine lining grows outside the uterus causing pelvic pain.

If every medical cloud has a silver lining then there is mounting evidence to suggest that the use of chemotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer may also assist in reducing the meningioma. Since many brain tumours are untreatable due to their positioning this is welcome news.

For Crow, who turned fifty this year, her medical team has informed her that, for now, surgery isn’t necessary whilst they adopt a “wait and see” approach. If the singer requires further encouragement, then there is comfort to be found in the case of the veteran actress Mary Tyler Moore, who underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor. The Los Angeles Times reported that Moore’s surgeons were monitoring the meningioma for years and that this kind of brain tumor is usually only dangerous when it grows so big that it puts pressure on the brain.

Whatever the positive face she is putting on for public consumption, she must be worried about what lies ahead of her and I can but wish her well.

She is without doubt, one of my favourite “rock chicks” and in view of her musical roots that is hardly surprising. Her first big hit “All I wanna do” married an irresistible melody to a rhythm track already familiar to millions who bought the “Stuck in the Middle” 45 rpm release by Stealers Wheel in the 70’s. Crow’s influences range from jazz to rock and her parents played in a swing band; the 2001 duet with Tony Bennett on “Good morning heartache” being a prime example of her jazz sensibilities. Apparently, there was always music in the house. Ella Fitzgerald, Motown and the Brill building teams were constantly on the Magnavox* and the young Sheryl was soaking up these varied sounds whilst dreaming of a life in music. By her own admission, it never occurred to her that her goal was one shared by every other kid on her street.

It is interesting that Crow should have recalled her parents’ Magnavox* for the company’s console stereo of the 1960s was perhaps the most popular product in its Hi Fi range. These enormous pieces of furniture rivalled a couch in size and contained two speakers housed in a wooden cabinet with a record player and an AM or AM/FM radio built in. Later models also had 8 track cassette players. The company also made “portable” stereos, then in the 1990s, more modern home stereo equipment. Their current product line mimics the Bose line in sleek appearance, with a low price tag to appeal to consumers on a budget.

Today’s teenagers raised on ipods and MP3 players will invariably be unaware of the history of domestic sound reproduction systems. Stereos were the predecessor to surround sound and are still very popular. Before the Magnavox stereos, consumers had one horn-like “speaker” to amplify the sound. Listening in stereo made a huge difference in the sound quality and Magnavox was very popular because of it.

In 1974, the Magnavox Company was acquired by Philips and despite the popularity of its product range, those old “console stereos” were held in the lowest regard by hobbyist audiophiles for the simple reason that they represented in the main, elegant furniture rather than serious audio equipment. Magnavox equipment therefore, does not hold itsa worthy today unlike other audio reproduction systems marketed in the 60’s by companies such as McIntosh, Marantz, Dynaco, Quad, Fisher, AR, etc.


She has never married, and in 2007 announced the adoption of her first child Wyatt Steven Crow. In 2010, she adopted another boy named Levi James Crow and all three live on a 154-acre farm outside Nashville, Tennessee.

The decision to adopt was taken in the aftermath of her initial brush with breast cancer and the breakup of her high profile romance with the cyclist Lance Armstrong. Unfortunately for the singer, it is a relationship that she has not been able to lay completely to rest for last year she was interviewed by officials as part of the long-running Lance Armstrong doping investigation.

The star was roped in to the scandal last year, when she provided information to federal agents as they were preparing a case against the seven-time Tour de France champion. Armstrong was eventually stripped of his titles in August 2012 after he announced he would stop fighting accusations that he used illegal techniques over the course of his career. Crow, who dated the sportsman from 2003 to 2006 and was engaged to marry him before their break-up, helped agents with their enquiries in late 2011 but it is not known what she told the officials who interviewed her, and representatives have refused to comment on the contents of the investigation.

Armstrong has gone on record as saying that his relationship with his former fiancée, singer Sheryl Crow, broke down because they were ‘up against her biological clock.’ The couple were together for two and a half years before splitting in February 2006. Sheryl was allegedly pressurising him to set a wedding date and was eager to have a baby with him. In view of the fact that Crow was forty three at the time of her engagement and childless, her sense of urgency appears perfectly natural and understandable. Armstrong has subsequently fathered another child by a younger woman so the “biological clock argument holds little water. Had he informed Crow as a matter of principle that he had no interest in rearing another child then she would have been presented with two options, namely to a) continue in a long term relationship with him, including marriage, which would not fulfill all her emotional needs or b) to break off the relationship. Had Armstrong not had another child then his recollections of the relationship would have held considerable weight. I find it inconceivable that any individual, in love with a woman, would allow the relationship to terminate on the basis of “when” a child is to be conceived as opposed to “if” such an event should occur.

Unfortunately, in the modern world in which we live, we struggle to move on from emotional hurt due in no small part to the insidious world of social media networking. Armstrong posted a photograph of his newborn son on Twitter and it was reported at the time that whilst his first three children were conceived using in vitro fertilisation from sperm he had stored before undergoing chemotherapy for testicular cancer 12 years previously, his newborn son had been conceived naturally. The announcement must have cut deeply with Crow.

All of this to the outside world, is of course, little more than trivia but again it raises the all important question of what exactly people are searching for.

Looking back on their relationship, perhaps Crow and Armstrong were just as equally attracted to each other’s status in their respective professional fields as they were by their individual personalities? Equally the age gap may have eventually become an issue for Armstrong, for the singer is nine years older. Whatever the reasons, and I cannot profess to be inordinately interested in the minutiae, the logical arguments in his mind may well have lain firmly in the field of superficiality and shallowness. As the novelty of a high profile girlfriend wore thin, survival from a serious bout of cancer may well have engendered a dogged determination to lead life at a specified predetermined pace. Finally, only weeks after the split, came news that his former fiancee had cancer too. It’s small wonder people carry such excessive “emotional baggage” around with them. From Crow’s perspective, perhaps she already had wind of his use of performance enhancing drugs for I very much doubt the side effects were confined solely to his time atop a racing cycle.

She is reportedly in another relationship now, but I would be surprised if she ever marries. She has achieved motherhood and is clearly financially wealthy in her own right. What would be the point of any such contract? Clearly she is not going to be motivated by the need for material security. Companionship? Well yes, but marriage is an extremely serious move to secure such ongoing interaction. The moment has probably passed for her now and the dual demands of children and career will always ensure that any male partner takes third place; a fact that can sit uncomfortably with many men even in marriage let alone in an unfettered relationship. When I was drawing her portrait I deliberately ommitted to fill in the final shadings to her hair since the unfinished imagery appeared to symbolically represent the tangled threads of her life. “Surrealism? – whatever next?” asked my wife surveying the finished product.

As for her personal happiness? – I doubt it, for there is clearly much emotional baggage. The long and winding road to material success has been punctuated with high profile failed relationships, trampled sensitivities, artistic clashes and death by tainted association. Motherhood, in the best tradition of the word provides – I would suspect – focus and a sense of purpose to her life but the dark nights and the early hours bring their own brand of maudlin reflections and regret.

Recommended listening

Tuesday Night Music Club (1993)

A multi-million seller yet an album surrounded in controversy and an early indication of the relationship problems she would have with men. Crow was at the time dating Kevin Gilbert, who actually co-wrote most of the songs for the TNMC album along with Crow, Baerwald, Ricketts, Bottrell, Schwartz and MacLeod. Her relationship with Gilbert became acrimonious soon after the album release and there were disputes about songwriting credits. Crow claimed to have written them in interviews later. Both Gilbert and Baerwald castigated Crow publicly in the fallout, although Baerwald later softened his position. A similar tension arose with TNMC member Bill Bottrell after her second album, on which he collaborated during the early stages.

Artistic tensions will invariably arise in a recording studio in situations where the primary songwriter does not take charge of the situation. Observing Lennon, McCartney and Harrison at Abbey Road studios would have left any onlooker in little doubt as to whose composition was being recorded. With her prototype album deemed unreleasable, Crow may well have felt obliged to act acquiescently amongst her then peers when the time arose for a second attempt. Whatever the machinations surrounding the creation of this album, there were emotional reverberations that presumably resonate to this day within her.

Kevin Matthew Gilbert, her boyfriend at the time, was an American songwriter, musician, composer, producer and collaborator. He died at age 29 in Los Angeles from apparent autoerotic asphyxiation, a predilection that claims anything from 250-1000 lives in the US each year. For a young man experiencing the ultimate high of working in the music industry as an accomplished composer, singer and instrumentalist who played keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, cello, and drums his early death in the pursuit of extra sensory pleasure during masturbation beggars belief. During his lifetime, Gilbert worked on the projects of several established pop musicians, including Madonna, Michael Jackson, and Keith Emerson, acting as producer for the latter’s album Changing States. Later, Gilbert was part of the songwriting collective “The Tuesday Music Club” that met at producer Bill Bottrell’s studio in Pasadena, California where the young musician introduced his then-girlfriend Sheryl Crow.

Crow did mention Gilbert to a Dutch journalist in a 1996 interview to promote her second album. “I wasn’t surprised by his death,” the singer told Edwin Ammerlaan of Orr Magazine._ “Kevin was one of the most self-destructive people I’ve ever met. I don’t want to go into this too much, but it wasn’t a nice story.”_

\More than the piano player dumped by Sheryl\

In view of what happened to Kevin Gilbert and the common knowledge of actor Owen Wilson’s self confessed depression and suicidal tendencies, a pattern begins to emerge amongst Sheryl Crow’s male relationships.

\Kevin Gilbert remembered\

The comraderie on live music/chat shows such as Jools Holland’s “Later” when Sheryl makes an appearance promoting ‘new product’ is all discerningly agreeable but in order to make it to the top, the indefatigable fact remains that others invariably fall by the wayside. There are therefore, unanswered questions hanging over the singer’s relationships with men in the persuit of her professional goals.

Sheryl Crow (1996)

Crow’s rise to fame was a “slow burn” but vital exposure was secured when she opened for the Eagles on their reunion tour and played Woodstock II. As an unknown artist, she toured small theatres to support the Tuesday Night Music Club album and whilst attendance levels were initially modest, demand for her appearances increased markedly when “All I wanna do” charted.

Her self-produced, self-written, self-titled second album spawned two major hits, “If It Makes You Happy” and “A Change Would Do You Good” and was certified triple platinum. As with many of her releases, Crow struggles to maintain the quality of her writing two thirds of the way in to the album as if the new medium’s expanded playing time represents a leap too far for her capabilities. Nevertheless, there is no doubting her melodic muse on those earlier songs.

Much of the music pays homage to her greatest rock influence, The Rolling Stones, but the country tinge running seamlessly throughout allied to some razor incisive guitar riffs gives her in part, an individual sound. Further influences abound as she pays homage to Bob Dylan, Traffic, Bonnie Raitt and Neil Young. Her voice is rangy but she’s no Janis Joplin and numbers like “Ordinary Morning”’ and “Love Is a Good Thing” suffer accordingly. Yet a recognizable voice comes through the best songs; girlish but with the frayed edge of long lost innocence.

If Sheryl’s vocalising on “Love Is a Good Thing” had its detractors, the lyrics also found a dissenting voice in the form of Wal Mart who refused to stock the album. The American retail chain, selling guns only to adults through its catalogue, took obvious exception to the line ‘“Watch our children while they kill each other/ With a gun they bought at Wal-Mart”.

In any event, she’s more convincing as a world weary balladeer than a true renegade and in “Home” provides the perfect musical backdrop to a failing romance; an experience she could clearly relate to.

If Elvis truly did leave the building in 1977, Crow acknowledges those eternal disbelievers in “Maybe Angels” and the ephemeral nature of fame in “Superstar.”

The Globe Sessions (1998)

Opening with the languid guitar riffing so indelibly associated with the cream of west coast axemen, “My Favourite Mistake” heralds the arrival of Crow’s third studio opus. The lyrical content, about a philandering ex-boyfriend, has been the subject of much speculation; perhaps it was Clapton although she has continued to work amicably with Eric in live performance in the ensuing years and has categorically denied any romance. Perhaps it was Dylan’s son Jacob. However, Crow has refused to say who the song was about, telling Billboard Magazine on the release of her album, “Oh, there will be just so much speculation, and because of that there’s great safety and protection in the fact that people will be guessing so many different people and I’m the only person who will ever really know. I’m really private about who I’ve had relationships with, and I don’t talk about them in the press. I don’t even really talk about them with the people around me.” Crow compared “My Favorite Mistake” to “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon. Whoever it was and its of no consequence to anyone but the protagonists themselves, her reluctance to discuss anything personal is evident of a life perhaps lacking in self esteem and a sense of true self worth. The need for some form of self affirmation is often inextricably linked to a litany of affairs.

I bought this album upon release and the same criticism applies here as to virtually all her albums; namely the overall sense of “flagging stamina” two thirds of the way through the project. Of course, factoring in the option to sequence the album in whatever fashion suits the artist and producer, perhaps the true artistic process was punctuated with the undulations of compositional highs and lows and a “commercial view” that forty minutes of initial killer material compensates for twenty minutes of tail end filler. “Mississippi” provides indelible evidence of Bob Dylan’s late 90’s compositional rennaissance, as Crow powerhouses her way through a near perfect delivery of a drifter’s love lament. Utilising radically reworked phrasing and instrumental arranging, Dylan purists might have objected but there can be little doubt that the man himself happily collected his royalties. “There goes the neighborhood” is a paean to disolute suburbia ably supported by arresting percussion, grunge guitars and horns as Crow recounts her tale with world weary indifference;

“This is the movie of the screenplay
Of the book about a girl who meets a junkie.
The messenger gets shot down
Just for carrying the message to a flunkie.
We can’t be certain who the villans are ‘‘cause everyone’s so pretty
But the afterparty’s sure to be a wing-ding as it moves into your

As if captivated by this alternative lifestyle, Crow’s literary subject slumps down and joins in;

“Sunshine Sally and Peter Ustanov
Don’t like the scene any how
I dropped acid on a Saturday night
Just to see what the fuss was about
Now there goes the neighborhood”

Tchad Blake picked up a Grammy for his mixing work on the album whilst “the Globe Sessions” also garnered top prize for “Best Rock Album” at the 1999 awards. The album was recorded at and named for the sessions recorded at Globe Recording Studio in New York owned by Robert FitzSimons and Tracey Loggia.

\Sheryl Crow & her producers\

A “Sound on Sound” magazine article from 2003 with interesting insights into Crow’s musical collaborations.

C’mon C’mon (2002)

At last, for me personally, a Sheryl Crow album that worked from beginning to end which put me at odds with all the critics from Billboard magazine. She doesn’t produce thematic albums like Sinatra did, rather her collection of songs run the full gamut of life’s highs and lows. Lenny Kravitz guests on C’mon, C’mon giving backing vocals to the bluesy “You’re An Original” which features one of those irresistible dual interlocking guitar hooks so heavily mined by the British Invasion bands of the mid-60’s.

Crow was in therapy between the release of “The Globe Sessions” and its follow up and she experienced a songwriting drought during the four year interim period. Nevertheless, her fourth studio album is an eclectic mix from the souped up opener “Steve McQueen” to the hit single “Soak up the sun” which perfectly encapsulates all that is good in “pop sensibilities”.

“C’mon C’mon” is an exuberant offering of bluesy soft-rock and plaintive ballads, with sunny, upbeat lyrics and choruses. If its more predictable than earlier releases then its also more consistently even as a listening experience.

She looks very nice on the album’s booklet photos; clearly the fake tan was subtly applied!

Wildflower (2005)

Here’s where I really go out on a limb and state unequivocally that this release is my favourite Sheryl Crow album. Artistically and commercially, she’s carving out a comfortable niche for herself and if the production techniques have by now smoothed out the rough edges, the album is nevertheless consistently melodic. John Shanks contributes a killer extended guitar solo on the opener “I know why” and “Live it up” ramps up the tempo nicely on an essentially mid paced collection of songs.

I purchased the deluxe version with a bonus DVD that contains stripped down “acoustic” versions of seven of the songs plus the complete “Good is Good” video. Featuring Sheryl on piano/vocals with John Shanks on guitar the lip synched performances are pleasing enough and offer the merest hint of the album’s ‘over production.’ Still, whilst there’s little bite to her vocalising, her tonality, unlike several earlier recordings, is pleasingly catarrh free.

The album received mixed reviews and heralded the all imposing crossroad every middle aged artist reaches. It wasn’t all over by any means but she’d already peaked. Whatever the critical reception, I’m into ‘mellow’ now, hence my partiality to the collection,

Recommended viewing

Sheryl Crow – Rockin’ the Globe Live – DTS (1999)

An 83-minute romp through Crow’s available catalogue recorded during the “Globe Sessions” tour of early 1999. Appearing in black leather pants and a black string-strap top, Cheryl’s poised and professional, driving through 15 songs (9 from The Globe Sessions) with studio-set precision, despite the handicap of a receptive but oddly lifeless audience. Moving from acoustic guitar to bass, electric guitar, harmonica (on “It Don’t Hurt”), and finally piano (for an exquisite rendition of “Home”), the Grammy winner is versatility herself.

Accompanied by a flawless six-piece band (with honorable mentions to guitarist Peter Stroud and violinist Lorenza Ponce), Crow rocks when it’s time to rock (the climactic jam on “Riverwide” and “If It Makes You Happy” being standouts), but her strength remains in the more delicate passages of “Am I Getting Through,” “The Difficult Kind,” “Stong Enough,” and the aforementioned “Home,” an encore visually enhanced by rural images projected on an upstage scrim.

Camera coverage is slick and editing tight, although the overall mix suffers from a less than prominent sound positioning of Peter Strout´s lead guitar. As his parts invariably represent an important melodic counterpart to the lead vocal many of the songs suffer accordingly. As if to underscore much of what I have written about her in this commentary, the significant but much under appreciated aspect to her music is her band which plays a significant role in everything she does. The arrangements suffer accordingly when any one element in the overall mix is suppressed.

Minor quibbles aside, Crow dedicates the set-closing rocker “Mississippi” to Bob Dylan, and despite the ommission of a few favored hits this remains a noteworthy performance.

Sheryl Crow : Wildflower Tour: Live from New York (2006)

I have continued purchasing Crow’s work since 2005 and her albums remain interesting, particularly “Detours”(2007,) if a little uneven. The “Wildflower” tour therefore, to my mind, reflects the culmination of hopefully, her first great period.

The stereo sound sparkles, the overall mix is razor sharp and Crow’s languid vocals encapsulate the reflective mood of the new songs. If she appears a trifle tired at the end of an arduous tour, the overall slower mode of the material suits her on stage projection.

Recommended reading

There’s little biographical material on Crow that isn’t wildly out of date and I’m not about to recommend “If It Makes You Healthy: More Than 100 Delicious Recipes Inspired by the Seasons” [Hardcover] Sheryl Crow (2012). They may or may not be delicious depending on one’s tastebuds but either way I’m not going there!

However one US import title does dish the dirt on her rise to fame and in particular her penchant for dating men who could, and often did, help her attain her next goal.

Sheryl Crow: No Fool to This Game (Richard Buskin) 2002

Buskin has near unstinting praise for the singer’s determination and talent and provides excuses for her morally questionable behavior. Unsurprisingly, Crow, her family and manager declined to be interviewed and its small wonder as the author essentially creates a compelling and occasionally dirty portrait. Hardworking, a fast learner and a master of self-promotion, Crow eventually made her way to Los Angeles, determined to land a record deal. What followed thereafter is the stuff of legends where self recrimination is concerned. Perhaps its true that life comes back to bite us all.