Emmylou Harris


b. 12 April 1949, Birmingham, Alabama, USA.

Starting as a folk singer, Harris tried her luck in the late '60s in New York's Greenwich Village folk clubs, making an album for the independent Jubilee label in 1970, GLIDING BIRD, which was largely unrepresentative of her subsequent often stunning work. It included covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Fred Neil, and Hank Williams, as well as somewhat ordinary originals and a title track written by her first husband, Tom Slocum. Harris then moved to Washington DC, where latter-day Flying Burrito Brother Rich Roberts heard her sing in a club, and recommended her to Gram Parsons, who was looking for a female partner. Parsons hired Harris after discovering that their voices dovetailed perfectly, and she appeared on his two studio albums, GP (1973) and GREVIOUS ANGEL (1974). The latter was released after Parsons died, as was a live album recorded for a US radio station, which was released some years later.
Eddie Tickner, who had been involved with managing the Byrds, and who was also managing Parsons at the time of his drug-related demise, encouraged Harris to make a solo album using the same musicians who had worked with Parsons. The cream of Los Angeles session musicians, they were collectively known as the Hot Band, and among the 'pickers' who worked in the band during its 15-year life span backing Harris were guitarist James Burton (originally lead guitarist on "Suzy Q" by Dale Hawkins, and simultaneously during his time with Emmylou, lead player with Elvis Presley's Las Vegas band), pianist Glen D. Hardin (a member of the Crickets post-Buddy Holly and also working simultaneously with both Harris and Presley), steel guitarist Hank DeVito, bass player Emory Gordy Jr. (now a highly successful Nashville-based producer), John Ware (ex-Michael Nesmith's First National Band, and a member of Linda Ronstadt's early '70s backing group), and the virtually unknown Rodney Crowell. Backed by musicians of this calibre (subsequent Hot Band members included the legendary British lead guitarist Albert Lee and Ricky Skaggs, later a country star in his own right), Harris released a series of artistically excellent and often commercially successful albums, starting with 1975's PIECES OF THE SKY, and also including ELITE HOTEL (1976), LUXURY LINER (1977) and QUARTER MOON IN A TEN CENT TOWN (whose title was a line in the song "Easy From Now On," co-written by Carlene Carter and Susanna Clark, wife of singer songwriter Guy Clark. BLUE KENTUCKY GIRL was closer to pure country music than the country/rock that had become her trademark and specialty, and 1980's ROSES IN THE SNOW was her fourth album to make the Top 40 of the US pop chart. LIGHT OF THE STABLE, a 1980 Christmas album also featuring Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young, was surprisingly far less successful. Two more albums in 1981 (EVANGELINE and CIMARRON—the latter featuring a cover of the Poco classic, "Rose Of Cimarron") were better sellers, but a 1982 live album, LAST DATE, was largely ignored. The following year's WHITE SHOES was Harris's final album produced by Canadian Brian Ahern, her second husband, who had established a reputation for his successful work with Anne Murray, prior to producing all Emmylou's classic albums up to this point. Harris and Ahern separated both personally and professionally, marking the end of an era which had also seen her appearing on Bob Dylan's DESIRE in 1976 and THE LAST WALTZ, the farewell concert/triple album/feature film by The Band from 1978.
Around this time, Harris was invited by producer Glyn Johns and British singer/songwriter Paul Kennerley to participate in a concept album written by the latter, THE LEGEND OF JESSE JAMES (Kennerley's follow-up to the similarly conceptual WHITE MANSIONS). Harris and Kennerley later married, and together wrote and produced THE BALLAD OF SALLY ROSE (a concept album which by her own belated admission reflected her relationship with Gram Parsons) and the similarly excellent THIRTEEN, but never marked a return to previous chart heights. 1987 brought two albums involving Harris: TRIO, a multi-million selling triumph which won a Grammy Award, was a collaboration between Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Dolly Parton, but Harris's own ANGEL BAND, a low key acoustic collection, became the first of Harris's not to be released in the UK, where it was felt to be too uncommercial. This fall from commercial grace occurred simultaneously with (although perhaps coincidentally) the virtual retirement of manager Eddie Tickner, who had guided and protected Harris through 15 years of mainly classic albums.
1989's BLUEBIRD was a definite return to form with production by Richard Bennett and featuring a title track written by Butch Hancock, but a commercial renaissance did not occur. 1990's DUETS, a compilation album featuring Harris singing with artists including Gram Parsons, Roy Orbison, George Jones, the Desert Rose Band, Don Williams, Neil Young, and John Denver, was artistically delightful, but appeared to be an attempt on the part of the marketing department of WEA (to whom she had been signed since PIECES OF THE SKY) to reawaken interest in a star whom they feared might be past her commercial peak. The same year's BRAND NEW DANCE was not a success compared with much of her past catalogue, and in that year, the much-changed Hot Band was dropped in favour of the Nash Ramblers, a bluegrass-based acoustic quintet composed of Sam Bush (ex-New Grass Revival, mandolin, fiddle and duet vocals), Al Perkins (ex-Manassas, Flying Burrito Brothers, Souther Hillman Furay dobro/banjo), Grand Ole Opry double bass player Roy Huskey Jr., drummer Larry Atamanuik and 22-year-old new boy John Randall Stewart (acoustic guitar/harmony vocal—the Rodney Crowell replacement). In 1991, Harris and the Nash Ramblers were permitted to record a live album at the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. The record was poorly received in some quarters, however, and at the end of 1992, it was reported that she had been dropped by Warner Brothers, ending a 20-year association. Harris remained in the incongruous position of a legendary figure in country music who is always in demand as a guest performer in the studio, but who cannot match the record sales of those younger artists who regard her as a heroine. Her 1995 album was the severing of the cord; she boldly stepped away from country-sounding arrangements and recorded the Daniel Lanois-produced WRECKING BALL. The title track is a Neil Young composition and other songs featured were written by Steve Earle, Lanois and Anna McGarrigle. Harris described this album as her 'weird' record, but its wandering and mantric feel creeps into the psyche and it is one of the most rewarding releases of her underrated and lengthy career.

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