Songwriter says he has no malice for Augusta

Nashville singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell wants to get it straight that he really didn't mean it when he wrote in his song Voila An America Dream:


I beg your pardon momma what did you say

My mind was drifting on a Martinque day.

It's not that I'm not interested you see.

Augusta, Georgia, is just no place to be.

Crowell was supposed to be in Augusta today for a benefit concert at the Morris Museum of Art auditorium, but the concert was canceled "due to unforeseen circumstances," according to a media release.

I was interviewing him last week on the phone about the same time the release was going out. He obviously did not know about the cancellation.

Crowell first put his song Voila An America Dream with its put down about Augusta on his late 1978 debut album Ain't Living Long Like This .

Two years later, it became a hit single by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Linda Ronstadt.

In a column in October 1978, I wrote about it, saying, "The album is a very good product by an unknown singer but I can't figure out why in a song call Voila An American Dream Crowell sings, 'Augusta, Georgia, is just no place to be.' Wait till the Greater Augusta Chamber of Commerce finds that out."

Crowell told me in his call, "I did get a letter from them. So you succeeded in getting their attention. The letter said something like, 'We hereby declare that Augusta, Ga., IS some place to be.'

"It was just poetic license simply creating that character in the song that didn't have any money to go anywhere. I could just have easily used Knoxville, Tennessee, but for some reason Augusta popped in my head. It was just the sound of the words.

"I will tell you that I framed that letter and kept it on this desk of mine for several years. That letter along with my first royalty check I framed that said zero-dot-zero-zero were my first two trophies for a long time."

For those who know good music, Crowell is regarded as "a singer's best friend" in writing so many classic songs.

The No. 1 hit singles he wrote or co-wrote for other artists include The Oak Ridge Boys' Leavin' Louisiana in the Broad Daylight; Waylon Jennings' I Ain't Living Long Like This; Crystal Gayle's 'Til I Gain Control Again; The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's Long Hard Road (The Sharecropper's Dream); Roseanne Cash's I Don't Know Why You Don't Want Me; Highway 101's Somewhere Tonight; and Tim McGraw's Please Remember Me .

Crowell himself had No. 1 hit singles with his songs I Couldn't Leave You If I Tried, It's Such A Small World (recorded with his then-wife Cash), She's Crazy for Leavin' and also After All This Time, which won Crowell a Grammy Award in 1989 for Best Country Song of the year.

Crowell said about 95 percent of his songs are based somewhat on real life experiences, including Lee Ann Womack's 2001 hit single Ashes by Now, which Emmylou Harris also had a hit single with in 1981.

"That was about a girlfriend I had back in the day who did me wrong in the early '70s," he said.

When it came to writing his recent biography Chinaberry Sidewalks, about growing up in a lower class section of Houston, Crowell also reached deep to recall life's experiences.

The title comes from the three chinaberry trees that Crowell and his mother planted along the edge of their sidewalk.

He talks about his often violent father, who drank heavily and beat up his mother; his holy-roller and epileptic mother, who tried to protect her kids; the day that the Crowell family survived Hurricane Carla; the quirky neighbors and Crowell's sometimes weird running buddies.

He also writes about the good times of hearing great soul and blues and hard-core country music played on jukeboxes; about his father playing in honky tonks with his band J.D. Crowell and the Rhythmaires; and also the night his father took the family to see Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in an outdoor concert.

Much to most readers' surprise, there is very little about Crowell's life and career after moving to Nashville in 1972.

"I decided from the get-go that if I was going to write something that I wanted to take a swing at it being real literature. I knew that if I wrote some sort of a self-congratulatory account of my life that it wouldn't put me on the map and certainly would not have gotten me the lead review, as it did, in The New York Times ."