8 Songs You Didn’t Know Rodney Crowell Wrote for Other Artists

Moving to Nashville in 1972 from Houston, Texas, where he was born on August 7, 1950, Rodney Crowell landed a job as a songwriter and was eventually penning songs for Jerry Reed, Guy Clark, Emmylou Harris, and a number of other artists. By the mid-’70s Crowell joined Harris’ Hot Band as a guitarist and formed the trio The Notorious Cherry Bombs with Vince Gill and Tony Brown before venturing into his own solo career with the 1978 debut, Ain’t Living Long Like This.

Videos by American Songwriter

Eventually hitting the charts in 1981 with “Stars on the Water,” Crowell amassed his own songbook of stories over the next four decades, including five No. 1 hits on his 1988 album, Diamonds & Dirt, including his cover of Buck Owens’ 1962 hit, “Above and Beyond,” along with his originals, “It’s Such a Small World,” a duet with Rosanne Cash, “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried,” “She’s Crazy For Leavin’,” and “After All This Time.”

More hits followed as Crowell continued to write for other artists throughout the 1990s into the 2010s,

Throughout his career, Crowell has collaborated with and had his songs covered by dozens of artists, including Johnny Cash and June Carter, Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Gary Stewart, Waylon Jennings, and Wynonna Judd, among many more.

Jennings’ 1979 rendition of Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” went straight to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. The Oak Ridge Boys also took his “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” to the top of the charts, while Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band’s even pushed their 1982 cover of Crowell’s “Shame on the Moon” into the top five of the pop charts. In 1983, Crystal Gayle grabbed a No. 1 country hit with “‘Til I Gain Control Again,” a song originally released by Crowell on his self-titled third album in 1981. (The song was covered by dozens of artists throughout the decades, including Jennings, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, and even This Mortal Coil on their 1991 album, Blood.)

By the early 1980s, Crowell also began producing and writing for his then-wife Rosanne Cash’s albums and released his fourth album, Street Language in 1986. Crowell has released 18 solo albums and several more collaborative ones during his career, including Triage in 2021.

Photo: Austin Lord / Courtesy of HBPR

In 2022, Crowell released his lyric-based book, Word For Word, featuring previously unseen photographs, handwritten song sheets, and the stories behind some of his most well-known songs.

“The longer I work at it, the more I’m aware that my inspiration comes from hard work,” Crowell told American Songwriter in 2022. “It’s more than lightning in a bottle, and that lightning, you cannot argue with it.”

He added, “I learned that perfection does not necessarily equal inspiration. Some of my earlier songs that I wrote when I was in my early 20s … now, if I got that youthful burst of inspiration, I would do a better job of it.” 

To honor the master songwriter, here’s a look behind eight songs Crowell wrote for other artists over a 40-year stretch from 1975 through 2015.

1. “Bluebird Wine,” Emmylou Harris (1975)
Written by Rodney Crowell

Early in his Nashville songwriting days, Crowell penned the opening track for Emmylou Harris‘ second album, Pieces of the Sky. The album featured a collection of singers and musicians, including Harris’ longtime friend Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals and Ricky Skaggs on fiddle and viola.

Harris and Crowell later rerecorded the song as a duet on their 2013 collaborative album, Old Yellow Moon.

Baby brought me in out off the highway
Made me put my money in the bank, bank
Straightened out my crooked way of thinking
Made it purely pleasure when I drank

And it’s all right
I’ve just hit my stride
Right off the bat
Lord, I’m drunk on bluebird wine

Now baby taught me a different way of thinkin’
Like how to spend my evenings here at home
Listening to the music on the radio
Drinking all the bluebird we can hold

2. “Angel Eyes,” Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris (1980)
Written by Rodney Crowell

Featured in the romantic drama Honeysuckle Rose, starring Willie Nelson and Dyan Cannon, Crowell wrote “Angel Eyes,” which was performed by Emmylou Harris and Nelson. Harris later released a solo version on her 1980 Christmas album, Light of the Stable, followed by Waylon Jennings on his 1983 album, It’s Only Rock & Roll.

Angel eyes angel eyes
The ways of the world are feeble
Don’t give up on simple people
Angle eyes stun those nights
The blues you can live without
It’s not what you song’s about
Angel eyes angel eyes
Tell me what would we’re doin’
Without the light from angel eyes

3. “I’m Never Gonna Roam Again,” Johnny Cash (1980)
Written by Rodney Crowell

Crowell worked with Johnny on and off over the years. He penned Cash’s “Bull Rider,” released in 1979 and later covered by Norah Jones in 2010 as well as Emmylou Harris and Crowell’s own version in 2013. Crowell also penned Cash’s 1980 song “One Way Rider,” featuring June Carter, and is featured on his 2000 release “Walk the Line Revisited.”

In 1980, Cash also released a version of Crowell’s “I’m Never Gonna Roam Again.” A few years later Cash revisited the song with his friend Waylon Jennings. The duo recorded “I’m Never Gonna Roam Again,” for Jennings’ 1986 album, Heroes.

I’ve given up on running off each time I want to go
Quite a change has come to slow me down
I’ve set aside an empty search for something always wrong
And I took the time to look around

I’ve wandered down some lonesome lines and slept beside the road
Turned my collar to a freezin’ wind
And I faced the day I lived alone and drank til I was dry

Givin’ up for gone down to the bone
But I don’t believe I’m ever gonna roam, again

4. “Waltz Across Texas Tonight,” Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt (1994)
Written by Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris

“Waltz Across Texas Tonight” was first cut by Emmylou Harris, along with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. The trio released two albums together, Trio in 1987 and Trio II in 1999. Harris later released her own version of the song on her 1995 album, Wrecking Ball,

The wind can blow cold
It moans and it cries
When it carries the sound of a thousand goodbyes
But if you listen tonight on that high, lonely plain
You’ll just hear my voice as it calls out your name
You’ll just hear my voice as it calls out your name

You’ve been on a road that just don’t seem to end
Where that broken old heart of yours won’t ever mend
You’ve crossed over bridges and bridges they burn
So many rivers and so much to learn
So many bridges and so much to learn

5. “Making Memories of Us,” Keith Urban (2004)
Written by Keith Urban

Be Here remains Keith Urban’s best-selling album thanks to its two No. 2 hits—”Tonight I Wanna Cry” and”You’re My Better Half”—and three No. 1 singles”Better Life,” “Days Go By,” and the Crowell-penned “Making Memories of Us.” Though the first version of the song was technically recorded by country artist Tracy Byrd on his 2003 album, The Truth About Men, it was Urban’s rendition that took it to the top.

In 2004, Crowell and Vince Gill also The Notorious Cherry Bombs’ self-titled album. Several other artists have also covered “Making Memories of Us” over the years. Indie rocker Torres even released a version of the song in 2021.

I wanna sleep with you forever
And I wanna die in your arms
In a cabin by a meadow where the wild bees swarm

And I’m gonna love you
Like nobody loves you
And I’ll earn your trust
Makin’ memories of us

I wanna honor your mother
And I wanna learn from your pa
I wanna steal your attention
Like a bad outlaw

6. “Open Season On My Heart,” Tim McGraw (2004)
Written by Rodney Crowell and James T. Slater

For Tim McGraw‘s eighth album, Live Like You Were Dying, Crowell penned the heartfelt ballad “Open Season On My Heart.” The 16-track album debuted at No. 1 for McGraw on the Billboard 200 and earned him a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance in 2005.

Here’s to the corners yet to turn
Here’s to the bridges yet to burn
Here’s to the whole thing blown apart
It’s open season on my heart
The days go by like flying bricks
Leave gaping holes too deep to fix
I’d just stay home if I were smart
It’s open season on my heart

I can’t blame anyone but me
This reckless fool I’ve come to be
My tired excuses just don’t fit
It don’t look good from where I sit
I’ve tried to change without much luck
I reached the point where I get stuck
I hit the streets and the fireworks start
It’s open season on my heart

7. “Sing,” Wynonna Judd (2009)
Written by Rodney Crowell

Crowell wrote the title and closing track for Wynonna Judd‘s seventh solo album, Sing: Chapter 1. The uplifting ballad didn’t hit the country or pop charts, but a remix of the song took it to No. 4 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart.

Judd’s album also features her rendition of classics like Hank Williams’ 1949 hit, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” along with Merle Haggard‘s “Are the Good Times Really Over” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers

It’s in the wind, the noise and steam
Beneath your skin and in your dream
It’s who you are, it’s how you feel
Your guiding star, your driving wheel

Let it take you
Let it bend you never break you down

Let it mold you
Make you bold and never hold you down
Sing your heart out

8. “It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now,” Jewel (2015)
Written by Rodney Crowell and Jewel

Crowell co-wrote “It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now” with Jewel for her 12th album, Picking Up the Pieces, and also provided backing vocals on the track. The album, which also features a duet with Dolly Parton, “My Father’s Daughter,” was self-produced by Jewel and bookended her 1995 debut Pieces of You.

It doesn’t hurt right now
I can breathe again
There’s change in the air I can see and hear
It doesn’t hurt right now
And I can talk about it
The worst of the shape is the least of my fears

Could you ever see
Just you and me
Alone in this room
Or does he make it three?
I’m sorry sounds so small
Compared to what’s true
I lied to myself
When I lied to you

Photo: Courtesy of HBPR

Leave a Reply

10 Legendary Albums You Didn’t Know Feature Eric Clapton