A most uncommonly sweet event occurred June 28 at Tahoe City’s Commons Beach: Sugarcane Jane, which recently “popped out of nowhere” and appeared on national music critics’ radar, performed.
Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee Crawford, who the Washington Times called “one of the best Nashville duos since Johnny and June (Cash),” is in California for the first time. Anthony and Savana, who actually now live in Alabama, are in the Golden State to play three shows and make a live studio recording.
“This is a treat for us,” said Savana, a mother of two who has another child on the way. “We most always play in the Southeast. This is almost like a honeymoon for us to get out this far. This is our fun in the sun tour.”
Sugarcane Jane was booked for a big show in Yreka, Calif., which enabled the trip, and the band was a late addition to the Sunday Commons Beach Concert Series to play before headliner Mojo Green. Rain delayed the start of the show. As the soundboard was moved to shelter, Sugarcane Jane performed acoustically, using a megaphone for vocals.
Opportunities to work as a sideman with Neil Young and other high-profile bands, co-write songs in Nashville and family life have prevented Crawford from becoming better known. But Crawford and Sugarcane Jane are drawing attention now for the album “Dirt Road’s End,” released April 28.
Seven of the album’s10 songs were co-written by Crawford and Buzz Cason years ago, before 2008 when Crawford left Nashville to move where he and his new wife both were raised at the end of a dirt road in Alabama, where they started Sugarcane Jane.
“When Anthony was touring with Neil, we (Sugarcane Jane) happened to get an opening for Randy Travis when he came through Mobile, Alabama,” Savana said. “We had just gotten together musically. We didn’t have a CD and really didn’t have a ton of material together that we knew because he was touring so much. I went through his entire catalog and picked out our set, and the songs happened to be the songs he co-wrote with Buzz. We’ve been playing those songs from the beginning since we’ve been together.”
The couple’s aspirations of big things for Sugarcane Jane were curtailed when Savana became pregnant. The duo has since only performed close to home.
Many of the songs on “Dirt Road’s End” appear on the second of three Sugarcane Jane albums digitally recorded at Crawford and Lee’s home studio.
“We weren’t trying to do anything nationally with our first three albums,” Savana said. “They were just recordings of our basic live shows. Anthony wanted to do something on a larger scale with Buzz who has an analogue studio in Nashville called Creative Workshop. We added a couple of our own songs and Buzz added one of his.
Cason, who wrote the hit song “Everlasting Love” and gave Jimmy Buffet his first publishing deal, released “Dirt Road’s End” on his label, ArenA Recordings.
“He got the record out to rest of country,” Savana said. “Our local fans have heard these songs for a long time but no one else has. We did it in two days. The vocals, rhythm guitar, snare and kick drum are all the original tracks.”
The album has received great reviews in the past few weeks, one of them exclaiming Sugarcane Jane “popped out of nowhere.”
“I can understand that sentiment,” Savana said. When you are in Neil Young’s band, you’re still invisible.
“Producer Pete Anderson started a label just to get Anthony’s music out there. There were people who believed in him and if he would have stayed on that path, I think he probably would have been a household name, but it’s hard to turn down an opportunity like when Steve Winwood calls. … Then Neil Young’s people called him after they heard Anthony sing background vocals on a Tanya Tucker record. I think Ben Keith had something to do with this as well but they just called Anthony out of the blue and said that Neil was recording in Nashville and can you come over. You can’t turn down those opportunities. Of course, he got in those bands and he was a huge asset to them, off and on for 30 years. It’s hard to get your solo career going when you’re on tour constantly as a sideman. So that’s why people don’t necessarily know his name but they’ve seen him probably a lot more than they realize.”