Interview: Anthony Crawford of Sugarcane Jane
Multi-instrumentalist and prolific songwriter, Anthony Crawford, tells in this chat the stories behind numerous songs off of the new record. Crawford also reveals how the fairy tale life that he lives with his wife and children inspire his songwriting, why he left the Nashville music scene, and what he learned from being Neil Young’s sideman for over 30 years.
Laura Antonelli (Songfacts): Your new album Dirt Road’s End was recorded with Buzz Cason at his studio in Nashville. It was done on two-inch analog tape, which gives it a raw sound. Why did you decide to record the album that way?
Anthony Crawford: I think because I love recording and the process of recording is a part of my life. I know about analog music because I’m from that generation where that was the only option. There were no digital recorders back in my day. But now that you have Pro Tools and digital avenues to record the music, it’s so much more cost effective and you can manipulate the sound. I think ultimately the main reason for doing it analog is to keep it real. The further into the process you keep everything analog, the more live and real it maintains. It maintains the real human aspect. I think digitally manipulating sound can take the nuance out of it. People make their music so perfect these days that it loses something. It is about the sound. It does make it raw-sounding to some degree.
First of all, we recorded it live. Savana and I actually played and sang at the same time. The studio was set up like a live event. Although it was recorded to tape, we were set up with a PA. We didn’t have this perfect sterile environment. Therefore, the energy of this record is to say the least, a bit over-the-top. We’re so full of energy on this record. It’s borderline embarrassing [laughs]. We were just really in it.
Other times we’ve recorded guitar and then gone back to sing it. The album being recorded on two-inch tape and performed as if we were doing a live concert, I think has translated into people finding something in it that they don’t find in other recordings. It’s actually a mystery to me to some degree how it’s being received so well. I was worried about the sound of it because it was kind of raw. You hear everything these days and it’s so perfect. But so far people are just like, “Wow, it’s so different! I love it!” So far be it for me to think that anything is wrong with it.
But I went back and forth with Buzz about it. I was thinking, “Man, it sounds thin right here.” I was just caught up in the process of trying to make it sound like everything else. Buzz was insistent on leaving it alone and letting it be. I’m glad that he did because I think sometimes we can be our own worst critic. So I just let go of it and said, “Heck with it. Whatever happens happens.” We got a write-up in The Washington Times that said Savana and I were the new Johnny Cash and June Carter. You can’t pay somebody to say that. I guess you could, but we didn’t and we got it. So something about the record is translating.
Songfacts: Definitely. Buzz Cason also co-wrote seven of the 10 songs with you over the course of the last decade.
Anthony: Yeah, that’s true.
Songfacts: You were just getting into it a bit, so what was it like working with him?
Anthony: Buzz, he’s been around. Buzz has worked with Elvis Presley. When Buddy Holly died, Buzz went to Europe and filled in on some dates, so he’s been around. He’s written some great songs and had a #1 hit in four decades in a row. So Buzz is very successful as a songwriter and other ventures. He’s just a real business-oriented person. He might be older than some, but the fact is that he’s got such a young heart and mind. When he sings, he sounds like he’s in his youth. Buzz has a youthfulness about him that never seems to change. And his lyrical content is youthful and full of energy. My musical contribution to it kind of kickstarted it.
He and I actually got together when I was going through a divorce. I was down on myself, and life just seemed dark. He was a bright light to me. He brought a lot to the table to me as a friend and he believed in me as an artist. When we got together and started writing, the energy was prolific. We wrote a song every time we got together. It was amazing. We popped out about 25 or 30 songs in a short period of time. Then I found another woman and moved on, but he caught me when I was in-between. I was an insecure person in some regards at that time. So I was lonely and he was just a guy that could help me focus. He helped me focus on music instead of concentrating on my woe. We popped out of that about 30 songs that are really good. So I felt we had somewhat of a McCartney-Lennon relationship, not that we’re successful like them or as good as them, but the energy was the same. We write well together.
Songfacts: The songs “Pedigree,” “Heartbreak Road,” “Louisiana,” and “Sugar” are actually on your sophomore album, Alright with Me. Why did you put them on this new record, too?
Anthony: Well, the fact that nobody has ever heard that other record [laughs]. You can have a CD out, but thinking that everybody in the world has already heard it is funny. We live on the Gulf Coast of Alabama and a lot of tourists come through here. Sugarcane Jane plays music everywhere now, but, at the time, we were playing most of our shows here on the Coast. Tourists would buy the records but we never felt like the songs got exposed to the larger audience. However, we played them for four or five years, and knew that everybody loved them. So if you’re going to get an opportunity to put them out to the world, why not put your best songs out there? We thought we would just give those songs an opportunity to be a part of our first major attempt at being more than just a local act.
If Savana and I do a show, which we’re opening for Steve Winwood on May 2 in Birmingham, Alabama, we will be playing those songs because they are crowd-pleasing. They bring out the energy and the harmony that seem to be the elements that people love about Sugarcane Jane.
Songfacts: The title of the album, Dirt Road’s End, comes from a lyric from the first song, “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane,” when you both sing, “Built us a house at the dirt road’s end.” Why did you decide to name it that?
Anthony: We were talking about our previous release, Listen with Headphones. We were thinking how it’s a shame that people nowadays can download your song and unfortunately listen to it on computer speakers or an iPhone. So that’s why I was saying, “I wish everybody would listen with headphones.” I went, “Hey, we’ll call it Listen with Headphones!” It just planted a seed for people to maybe listen with headphones.
The title of Dirt Road’s End – my wife and I live at the end of a dirt road. It’s a mile-and-a-half long. We own a large piece of property that has been in her family for many, many, many generations. It’s over several thousand acres. We live at the end of the dirt road that goes into the property. I just thought it was romantic sounding. It has an imagery of where we live. I’m standing in the house at the dirt road’s end talking to you right now. It’s fairy-tale stuff. You want to create imagery for people because that’s what art is: it’s imagery.
The life that I live with Savana, it’s a little bit of a fairy tale. Our love affair with each other, our music, and our kids – the house at the dirt road’s end is just where we reside, and that’s where all the little episodes of our fairy tale transpire.
Songfacts: Let’s discuss “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane.” It’s autobiographical and it tells the story of how you and Savana met in Nashville, fell in love, and started the band. What was the songwriting process for it?
Anthony: I’ll often just pick up my guitar and start playing. More so these days, I like to be able to play and sing the song before I start the recording process. In days of the past, I would go out to my studio and maybe get a drum beat going, and then I’d start making some music up. The lyrics would be the last thing that I would add to it. I was more of a person that was interested in the groove or the musical direction of a song.
But being with Savana, I’m more lyrically inspired. She brings out my ability to describe a little bit of the fantasy that I live with her because she’s one of the sweetest people that I’ve ever met. I think the story, it’s worth people hearing. I was just recalling my little journey. I don’t really have that good fortune everyday that I pick my guitar up, but I did that particular day, and those words just came out of me like making coffee. It just poured out into my cup. I knew that I had something special. I believe that there’s something spiritually involved in our journey and this was an aspect of the journey that had to come to life.
Buzz actually wanted the song to be first on the record. He was just insistent upon it. I thought, “I don’t know about that.” I didn’t like the intro. The whole thing bothered me, but he was saying, “Man, you just have to have it first! It tells your story, man!” I thought about it and was like, “It really does tell our story.”
So I think it’s just a blessing that song came out of me. I didn’t try to write it. It’s all factual, even down to the lyrics, “We’ve got friends that come to the show and they buy everything that we record. We’re making a living doing what we love. We send our praise to the man above.”
We’re faithful people. We’re not freaks about it, but we do believe that there’s something bigger than us. We’re not people who are living on this planet that believe we just go away and that’s it. I just don’t believe that. I think energy keeps going on, and my energy with her energy makes way more than just double energy. It makes something exponentially bigger. I think that in this time of life where people are all fighting or singing about “woe is me,” I feel like Savana and I have the most success when we make people feel good after they leave the show. We want people to have a positive energy after they leave us because they can go get drenched in negativity elsewhere. People need positive energy. My Mom always said that it’s easier to smile than to frown. I think that song is just a spiritual gift. I didn’t have to try to write that one bit. It was just automatic.
Songfacts: There’s a lyric in “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane” where you sing about your children, “Levon and Loretta Raine come from the love called Sugarcane Jane.” And on your third album, Listen with Headphones, six of the 14 songs were inspired by your daughter including track four, which is named after her. Do you think your songwriting changed once you became parents, and, if so, in what ways?
Anthony: Well, of course. I mean, I pretty much have to contain my emotions about that.
Songfacts: You have to contain your emotions about it?
Anthony: Well, I mean, [becoming choked up] talking about it because my kids – [Long pause] I never thought that I would have kids, first of all. I was just a lone drifter. My life is so different than back when I was playing in a band with Neil Young or any of the other things that I’ve ever done. I had different goals and I had a different outlook. So I’m quite emotional about that whole part of it because it’s the realization that success is not determined by money. It was like, Duh! I can’t believe it took me to be in my 50s to realize that you can re-define what success is by getting a closer look at the reality that you’re living. The reality is that my success is walking around my little house right now. I can hear her little footsteps. I can hear my success. I can feel it. I can go hug it. It’s not a currency. It’s life. My currency and my success are within my children.
So, yes, it definitely changed my songwriting. I beat myself up sometimes for thinking, “Who wants to hear about my kids? How boring.” But, in reality, I’m writing from my heart. So hopefully that translates to people and if our audience of listeners are in the same boat as me than they’re going to love my songs. I’m not singing to the same crowd that I used to anymore. We find ourselves being involved in a more family-oriented atmosphere. We’re not playing late-night bars with people drinking and smoking. I don’t condemn it – I’ve been there and done that, but I love writing about my kids because that’s what I’m doing.
I’ve read from great writers that you should write about where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. It’s the best way to be and that’s what I’m doing. I’m so committed to my family that when I try to write songs about things other than them, talk about falling flat on your face. I just don’t have it. But if you were to say, “Well, hey! I love songs about your family. Write me more!” I could do that all day long because I’m living it. I’m writing about what I’m living. So pardon me if I’m raising children and trying to live and think where my feet are instead of being outside of myself.
So, yeah, I do know that Listen with Headphones had a lot of the songs on there about my kid at the time. Now I have two and Savana’s having another one, which we didn’t know and was huge news for us.
Songfacts: Oh, wow, congratulations!
Anthony: Well, thank you. Oddly enough, Savana wrote in her high school yearbook, “I want a trustworthy man and three children.”
Songfacts: Oh, wow.
Anthony: I know. Not that we were trying to have three because we didn’t plan it, but she is pregnant. It’s been a big game changer for us because it limits where we’re going to play, but we have a full slate of shows this summer. It’s just unbelievable how busy we are, but, once again, I think that we’re being led by some spiritual journey. I can’t question it. My daughter’s going to start kindergarten in August so I’m going to have to be here anyway. Music is going to have to take somewhat of a backseat.
Songfacts: You said in an interview that you thought “The Game” had the most mass appeal. So what inspired that song?
Anthony: Playing “the game” references golf. Buzz and I used to play golf together and have fun. We’re both terrible at it, but we would just get out there and knock the ball around. You can be talking about golf but you’re also talking about just anything that you’re doing. It’s like that guy on the contest show, American Idol – there was a guy on there and his phrase was, “In it to win it.” I think sometimes musicians want to stroke their own egos – they want to prove that they are the best. The song pokes fun at that a little bit. I feel creepy singing it sometimes because I’m not actually that person saying, “Oh, look at me! I’m going to be successful. I’ll show you!”
It’s just a playful song. I think the energy and the music of it is powerful, and the lyrics are clever and catchy.
It does have some appeal if we were to release something to country radio or just radio, period. But “San Andreas,” that song is special to me. I like the way it starts. I love the sound of it. I just love the whole thing about that song. To me, that’s more of who I am. That sound is the influence of Neil Young on me.
Songfacts: Let’s talk about “San Andreas.” You wrote it when you were working with Neil Young. You were at his home in Northern California and constantly living in fear of the earthquakes that were happening there. What was the writing process for that song?
Anthony: Well, I can recall getting on the airplane to fly home after one of my trips out there. I was just looking out at the runway as I was leaving San Francisco airport and thinking about the place. I was just somehow comparing the fear that I had of an earthquake to the beauty that I was able to experience while being there. It was the yin and yang kind of thing – Okay, well, your biggest fear is here but you’re experiencing one of the most beautiful places on the planet – as far as the way it affected me as a person. I’m not saying everybody would love it.
But I just think that because of the contrast that it has and just the big wide open sky at night – where Neil Young lives is so magnificent. No wonder the guy writes the best songs, or at least at one time he did, living where he lives. About two or three miles over a hill and you’re on the Pacific Coast. You then go the other way and you just have the most beautiful rolling California hills. You then can go in another direction and you’re right in the middle of these sequoias, which are massive trees. It just had it all. It was just the most magical place to be was on his property, and, specifically, where I was sleeping. I would just get up and look at the stars. You could see a satellite go by. You just never knew what was up in that sky. The sky was just deeper than anywhere that I’d ever been.
So somehow I was comparing the energy that I felt of like – Oh, God! If one of these trees fell on me, I’m dead! When I go out there, I still always know that looms. But so does a tornado down here in Alabama. Fear is fear. I think fear is crippling and I don’t like to even dance with fear anymore. Fear, not sudden calamity, is my whole thing.
But the song is basically praising that area. We kind of make a joke, “If God had a home, she’d be living there.” When we sing that lyric, everybody always giggles because we reference God as a woman.
Songfacts: “Home Nights” seems to be about life on the road as a musician and missing being home and the family. What’s the story behind that one?
Anthony: Well, that’s one written with Buzz. He’s more than a lyricist in our connection to each other. I would always be the one inspiring the music or the lick. I think to really understand those lyrics it would be more of a Buzz question. However, I do relate to them – when you’re on the road and you’re just missing your home and family. I have to say, when you’re home too much, you miss getting out there on the road, too. It’s a little bit of a conundrum for a travelling musician. To be gone, you miss your home, but it’s just like when you’re doing anything for too long, you want something else. “Home Nights,” it’s just one of those clever little songs that Buzz and I put together.
I remember one night I wrote the music to “Sugar” – that little lick [sings guitar riff]. He and I got together and it just sounded so positive. The lyrics just came flying out. Buzz is a masterful lyricist. He can just pop out lyrics like you wouldn’t believe. Mainly, if you look at the lyrics of “Pedigree” and “San Andreas,” they are more in the direction of my lyrical writing. Buzz is a massive part of the lyrics for the other seven songs.
Songfacts: “Louisiana” has a real jazz flair and both you and Savana show off your scatting skills in it. How did that song come to be?
Anthony: Once again, I had that music. I was just interested in a certain tuning on my guitar. I tuned my guitar to Open D and came up with that lick. I didn’t really have a lyric at the time. I was just doing what I guess people call scatting. I didn’t know if it was jazzy, but it’s been described as scatting and somewhat of a jazz thing. It was just the fact that I didn’t have a lyric yet, but I felt like singing something. It just wound up becoming part of the song.
But, once again, Buzz has a brilliant way of finding the perfect words to go with whatever it is that I’ve written on the guitar. That’s the funny thing about it: the music and the lyrics go so hand-in-hand with each other, but it’s coming from two people. It’s hard to explain how that happened. It wasn’t like Buzz and I sat down and we’re saying, “Okay. What do you think we ought to say right here?” It didn’t go down that way. I would just write a piece of music to be doing something.
If I recall correctly, it was about ten years ago that I would come back the next day and he’d hand me a lyric and I’d be like, “Oh, wow!” I would sing something and I added to create the melody. I would say something here and there and he would put it in, but he’s just a lyric machine. I couldn’t believe it. It was like, “Fine, dude, that’s good for me!”
I’m normally really critical of my lyrics. I almost sabotage myself with them because I can’t seem to give myself credit enough for being a writer. I’ve always had a complex about it. But when I started writing about my children, now that’s just flat out truth. When you draw from the truth, it’s easy. When you’re just factiously making stuff up, it can get tedious. I don’t have the patience for tedious lyrical activity. I more want to be saying something brilliant or nothing at all. I think that writing about my kids gave me an outlet to say, “Well, first of all, I don’t care if anybody ever hears this. It’s just something that I got to say.” It gave me a sense of peace about my songwriting.
When I moved out of Nashville, I really had a recipe for success. Nobody was judging me. Nobody gave me parameters to work within. I came down here to the Gulf Coast of Alabama and found that it was the perfect culture for me to prosper in because nobody cares if you put two words together that shouldn’t be or repeat something five times just because you love it. There are no parameters. I operate most efficiently outside of parameters. I’ve written a lot of songs that people haven’t heard yet because of just having no parameters.
But when I was writing these songs with Buzz, I still lived in Nashville and I was under the impression that you have to do certain things to have a “hit.” I was writing to make money, and I’m not doing that anymore. I’m not writing to make a dime. I’m singing for my food and shelter, and whether I have abundance is not the issue. I can live from day-to-day and feel quite happy about it. Being hand-to-mouth does not scare me because I do trust that I will be okay.
But somehow being in “the game” of the music business is funny because I’m not really in the game. I’m not playing a game. I’m just living my life and if people want to observe it and find me to be cool than that’s fantastic. With this record, financial success or even making it onto a chart would be fantastic, but we’re successful already because we’re playing our music to people who buy it and love it. The further I get away from the status quo of the music business, the more comfortable I am. It makes me very, very nervous and upset to be involved in a contest. I don’t believe in music as being a contest. I can’t stand to see those kids get up there and sing and compete with each other. It makes me ill. Music is love and the exchange of it is godly. It’s not a contest and I’m not trying to beat anybody at doing anything. It’s not a sport. It’s an art. I’m going to my grave holding onto that. I can’t do it for the money.
Songfacts: Speaking of the whole Nashville scene and everything you just said, Buzz also wrote the tune “Not Another Truck Song,” which seems to poke fun at country radio and all the truck-themed-songs that occupy it.
Anthony: Oh, sure. I thought that song was brilliant. I like how he put that together, I got to say.
Songfacts: I was going to say, so why did you decide to record it?
Anthony: Because he asked me to [laughs]. He asked me to as a favor to him. I had never heard it ten minutes before we recorded it. I had never sung it. It’s why that song turned out to be so good. I think out of all the songs on the album, that song turned out to be the best to me. Because we didn’t even know it had existed. Seriously, ten minutes before we got there to sing it is how quick we were be able to learn that for him. We were just about to close it up and he said, “I got this song! I’d love it if you’d just listen to it and think about singing it!” I said, “Okay.” He started playing me whatever it was in his way and singing it to me. I think he also played me a demo and I listened to it thinking, “Oh, God. Oh, Okay.” I did it as a favor to him. After I started thinking about it and listening to it, and especially after it was recorded and sequenced into the rest of the songs, I thought, “Man, that thing should be first! It sounds really good.”
We actually don’t perform it live, which we’ve talked about learning it. But it just doesn’t have anything to do with me, writing, or our life, so in other words, it was just us singing a song. But Savana and I talked about it the other day. We thought, “Well, maybe we ought to learn that?” Because we’re going to be doing a CD release party and we want to play the whole CD, so we’re going to learn it.
I do think the song is clever. It shows Buzz’s heart. If you listen to the lyrics of those seven songs that I co-wrote with him, you’ll get a sense of just where he is. He lives in Nashville. He is a guy who has written successful songs inside that system. So lyrically I think that he is on the outskirts of town. He’s not writing the kind of lyrics that people write – you know, the bubba this and the truck that. He writes insightful songs – “Love’s the Only House” or “Everlasting Love” – that song was a hit in four different decades. The man’s got a good heart, but, however, he can also get clever.
I’m not a clever person. I’m not the guy to go to for clever lyrics. I’ve written songs about heartbreak. They have to be attached to me and what’s happening. Like on “Pedigree,” I wrote that because I was in a band with these guys in Nashville called Blackhawk. They had major radio success but one of the singers died so they asked me to take his place. I did and we were going to do a new album. I thought, “Well, I should write a country song,” because I wasn’t really a country writer. So I wrote “Pedigree” thinking that it’s the perfect country song for them. However, there are certain truths to that song. It’s lightly based on my life. My Dad did have a Cadillac Sedan de Ville. It was yellow but it wasn’t missing a grill and it didn’t have just one yellow door. I just made all that stuff up because it’s funny to me. My Mom didn’t work at a truck stop or wear a beehive haircut. We didn’t live in a trailer on five acres but I did live in an old log cabin. We had chickens and guinea hens and a three legged dog named Sweet Pea. So part of that song is truthful and part of it is not, however, that’s as clever as I can get is in “Pedigree.” Buzz, he can just turn out the lyrics. He’s a lyric machine.
Songfacts: “Glory Bound” is the last song on the new album and was previously recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys. Why did you decide to release your own version, too?
Anthony: I love the song. “Glory bound” is meaning that there’s somewhere we’re going after this life. It’s a God related lyric and that “all things are fine because I know I’m glory bound” kind of thing. I just somehow inspired Buzz with that piece of music and he started writing all those lyrics. It’s almost like Buzz should be doing this interview if it came down to lyrical content. But without the music and the music of that song – I think every song on this record that I co-wrote with him has its own power of the music that elevates the lyrics. I think they hold each other up. But for the most part, he and I see eye-to-eye on a lot of things. If I didn’t like what he was writing, I’d certainly just go, “I don’t know about that.”
But “Glory Bound” to me, the Oak Ridge Boys did cut the song. They did a fine job, but, of course, it became Oak-erized. They took it in a different direction. I personally think that it’s a great thing to have a song cut by another person. Right now I have a song that I wrote that Dwight Yoakam recorded on his latest CD. As proud as I am of that accomplishment, I still love to hear Savana sing it more because she sings it in a way that I think the song should be sung. It’s just a beautiful rendition that she does even though it’s not on any of our records yet. I’m just saying like how the Oak Ridge Boys did “Glory Bound.”
We did “Glory Bound” just because it was a crowd favorite. People just love when we sing that song and I think that we do it in its truest form. I don’t think anybody else can do those songs as true as we can do them because they are a part of us more than the Oak Ridge Boys. It was just a song to them. For us, it means way more and I think that it translates in our performance.
Songfacts: Definitely. You and Savana are both part of the band, Willie Sugarcapps, as well. Can you just explain that project and how it came to be?
Anthony: Sure. It’s been very successful for us as far as just elevating Sugarcane Jane – the presence of our duo through that band. Will Kimbrough is a fantastic songwriter, performer, and human being. He’s from the Gulf Coast. So are Grayson Capps and Corky Hughes – those two have a duo together. Grayson and Corky play all the time around here. We met at a songwriter event and it went so well that we said to ourselves, “We should do this again.” When we did, we thought, “Well, we should call ourselves something.” We just came up with the name Willie Sugarcapps because we took a little piece of each thing. It could’ve been called Sugar Williecapps or Grayson Sugarwillies, but Willie Sugarcapps just seemed to fit.
Sometimes you can be together with different people and it just doesn’t click, but we clicked and we still do. I think that what we’re doing in that band is what’s really happening right now in modern music. It’s a string band type of thing: we have banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. I play a kick drum, sing, and the bass or guitar. We have four vocals going and it’s just powerful. All of us sing in-tune and are intuitive to each other. It’s just a brilliant combination of people. They call it a “Gulf Coast supergroup,” which is funny. Somebody said that, and a lot of the times people just cut and paste parts of articles and I understand why, but, individually, we’re all proficient and don’t need each other to make a living, and that’s why it works. We get together because we want to and that’s why we did it in the beginning. Now we’re actually getting paid pretty good to do it so it has changed a little. It’s like – Okay, do I want to go and play one show with Willie Sugarcapps and make the same amount that I would make going to do three Sugarcane Jane shows? Nah, I think we’ll do the Willie Sugarcapps. It’s just a bigger band that makes bigger money because we play for bigger audiences. So we’ve been real fortunate that the band won Independent Americana Album of the Year. We’ve played at some nice festivals all over the Southeast and sometimes travelling outside of it up into the Midwest. We’re going out to do some fantastic things this summer. Gosh, it really has been great for Sugarcane Jane just to be a part of that process.
Songfacts: How does the writing dynamic in Willie Sugarcapps work?
Anthony: Well, we all bring our own songs to the table. We don’t write together. We don’t even rehearse. We just show up and say, “Hey! What kind of beer did you bring?” We all just do our own music. Savana and I play “Sugar,” “Home Nights,” and “Louisiana.” We’ll do songs that we’ve written and then we’ll do songs that we have on Willie Sugarcapps record. We have another record coming out in August. But it’s the Sugarcane Jane show when it gets to be our turn. It’ll start with Grayson doing a song and then Will will do a song and then Savana and I will do a song. So we’ll do stuff that we do as Sugarcane Jane with Willie Sugarcapps backing it up. It’s just an awesome explosion of musical energy. Nobody has ever left bored. There’s too much music and personality happening. We’re comedians. We do everything. We’re just a combination of a lot of stuff.
Songfacts: That sounds really cool.
Anthony: It is. It’s a fun thing to be a part of; however, it has its downfalls. You have to take three different vehicles and any time you want to do something, you have to ask all the opinions. So we usually all say yes to everything and if somebody says no than we all just go, “Okay, well, forget it.”
Songfacts: Yeah, save from fighting, right?
Anthony: Oh, yeah. We’ve had a few difficult moments for sure but who doesn’t?
Songfacts: Yeah. So both you and Savana have just had such prosperous careers in your own right. You’ve worked with Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Vince Gill, and Rosanne Cash. And Savana co-owned and managed a recording studio in Nashville while also releasing her own music. What do you think is the most important lesson you’ve learned from the various paths your career has taken?
Anthony: Sometimes learning what not to do is better than learning things to do. I learned not to take drugs. I’m 58 years old and there are times when people look at me and they say, “No way!” I think that I was really afraid of drugs when I was out with Neil Young and all the potential for getting into that serious rock and roll atmosphere. The pressure is massive and somehow I just wasn’t interested in it. So I certainly learned not to be involved in drugs. I don’t believe in them. I don’t consider marijuana a drug. I don’t think it’s something that should be so frowned upon. However, I’m not a partaker in it. For the most part, I try not to do anything because I’ve got kids to look after. I’m a responsible person more so now than ever because I want to live to see my kids grow up. So I learned to take care of myself in the music business because inside the music business should a person become successful financially – when you make money doing something you love, I think you can also get in trouble with it. When you have to go out and dig a ditch, you’re going to have a different perspective of the money you have in your pocket, like, “I had to work hard to get it.” Well, with the music business, I mean, come on. I was riding on a rock star jet flying around the world making more money than anybody would ever even suspect a little kid from Alabama to make. Not that it was rock star money, but I made really decent money for being a sideman for Neil Young or Steve Winwood or Dwight Yoakam. I could have gotten myself in trouble.
But on the music aspect of it, I learned from Neil Young how to record – how to capture magic and how to identify magic in music, and how to work around the constant desire of the temptation to make your music perfect. It’s what’s wrong with music from these days right now to me is that people can make it perfect. They can line it up to a grid and fix anything that’s out of space and time. I think the music takes a hit because of it. So I just learned how to record. As many times that I’ve been in on a session with Neil Young, and he’s pretty much the mantel piece because he is a purest about recording. I was fortunate to grow up with him. My growth for my life of music – I met him when I was 23 years old and I’m 58. So off and on throughout all my years, I’ve been involved with him.
I think that now when I produce other people – Scott Nolan, he’s a Canadian. He drove all the way from Winnipeg to come down and record with me. I’ll tell you what, he is as brilliant of a writer as Neil Young was when he had his Harvest album. You might look up the name, Scott Nolan. He’s got an album coming out in August called Silverhill. You’ll want to do an interview with him because that man has some beautiful music. He came all the way down to my home and recorded it. He wanted Willie Sugarcapps to back him up. He heard the debut album of Willie Sugarcapps and fell in love with it, so he came down here and recorded with us. He’s a Canadian so he’s just brilliant and it’s sad to me that he can’t get across the border and freely play the United States because there are so many constraints on getting in over here. It’s sad because he’s brilliant.
But I learned a lot from Neil Young. I learned a lot from Steve Winwood. He is the best musician that I have ever known in my life. He can play anything and he’s just such a fabulous person. He’s a great human being. He’s accessible. He’s not a rock star 24 hours a day. Neil Young is, you can’t approach him, but Steve Winwood is a friendly dog. Neil’s got a sign that says, “Caution! Will bite!” Neil’s got a very loving side to him, too. I just think that he’s such a serious artist. He’s deep. He is deep and dark. He goes way deep. He’s a cave. Steve is a mountain.
Songfacts: So what’s in the future for Sugarcane Jane?
Anthony: More of it. Just more of it. There’s always a new record being baked. We are doing music all the time in the studio. We’re just always writing music.