Growing up in the bootheel of Missouri, Sheryl Crow would make the trip down to Memphis about twice a year with her family, usually to see Santa Claus or buy school clothes.
When she grew up, she hung out at venues like the now-closed Bombay Bicycle Club and became enthralled with the lore of Bluff City and its vivacious musical history. Her eighth studio album and first soul project, 100 Miles from Memphis
, is informed by the music of Stax, Hi and Sun Records, as well as her memories of the place. “Memphis has always been mystical for me,” Crow says, “so this record is about emotion, about love and sensuality. It should be the kind of record that people could lose themselves in.”
Her first instrument: “I grew up playing piano. Everybody in my family took lessons, but I realized at a very early age that I could play by ear. I remember going into our living room, turning off all the lights and pretending I was Stevie Wonder.”
The first time she heard Memphis music: “I grew up with all of that stuff. That’s what we listened to at home. My parents played a lot of rhythm and blues. They were in a swing band and loved all kinds of music. I grew up knowing who Mavis was, who Aretha was, who Al Green was. I don’t remember not knowing that music.”
The first time she played Memphis: “We played Mud Island, and it was a huge deal because that was the first time anybody from my hometown could come and see me. The entire town got in cars and buses and drove down. It was a little nerve-racking. Everyone I’ve ever known in my life was there. But it was a great feeling: There’s a big legacy there for live music, so I felt like I was being welcomed into the fray.”
The first time she went to Graceland: “I went with my band about ten years ago, and I didn’t know what to expect. I was worried that it was going to be a little cheesy, but I was absolutely emotional about it. It’s a lot smaller than you think it’s going to be. They call it ‘the mansion’ but it’s actually the size of a pretty basic house. They give you headphones and you walk through—you listen to Elvis tell you about his house. There’s something really surreal about that. It was very affecting for all of us. We were cynical when we went in, but we came out of it feeling like we had experienced something cool.”
The first song that really clicked during the 100 Miles sessions: “I wrote a song at the piano called ‘Stop’,” which is a throwback to The Stylistics or The Temptations. When we recorded it, we all sunk into the music. We knew we were on the right track. We started putting strings and horns and back-up singers on it, and it just started coming together in a very committed way.”