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Marshall Crenshaw

A celebrated songwriter, an accomplished guitarist, and an engaging performer, Marshall Crenshaw has had a strikingly diverse career in music. A master of pop classicism whose work sounds and feels fresh and timeless, Crenshaw's 1982 debut album was an instant classic that heralded the arrival of a major artist, and over the next four decades, he played Buddy Holly in the movie La Bamba, co-wrote a Top Ten single for the Gin Blossoms, had his songs covered by everyone from Bette Midler to the New Grass Revival, toured with former members of the MC5, and created the signature song for Judd Apatow's fictive music star Dewey Cox. Crenshaw has never lost his knack for great pop songwriting while showing a greater thematic maturity in his releases of the 1990s (1996's Miracle of Science) and 2000s (2009's Jaggedland), and a series of expanded reissues (beginning in 2023 with Marshall Crenshaw and Field Day) was a reminder that his early work had not lost its luster. Marshall Crenshaw was born in Detroit, Michigan on November 11, 1953. He was one of four sons born to Howard and Jeanne Crenshaw, who raised their family in the Oakland County suburb of Berkley. Raised on a steady diet of AM radio from Detroit-area stations like WKNR and CKLW, Crenshaw picked up the guitar when he was ten years old, and in his teens, he saw performances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream as well as local legends the MC5 and the Stooges. He played in a number of bands in high school, and after graduating, he formed a band called ASTIGFA, whose name was a mnemonic for "A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed For All." ASTIGFA gave Crenshaw an opportunity to define his musical personality and develop his skills as a songwriter, and they released one small-label single, "Wingnuts" b/w "Oh My Lady," in 1974. In 1978, Crenshaw moved to New York in search of his big break. Crenshaw passed an audition to join the cast of the Broadway musical Beatlemania, a live recreation of a fictive career-spanning Beatles concert; after six months of intensive rehearsals, he was an understudy for "John Lennon" in New York before going on to star in productions in Hollywood and San Francisco and then joining the touring production for six months. Crenshaw didn't especially enjoy the work, but it prompted him to work on his own music, and after leaving Beatlemania in 1980, he bought a four-track tape machine and began recording demos of his tunes. Marshall's brother Robert Crenshaw had followed him to New York, and, with Robert on drums, Chris Donato on bass, and Marshall on guitar and vocals, they formed a band and began making the rounds of the city's club circuit. Writer and producer Alan Betrock heard Crenshaw's demos, enjoyed his live show, and invited him to record a single for his new label, Shake Records. 1981's "Something's Gonna Happen" b/w "She Can't Dance" got great reviews, and the same year, another of Crenshaw's songs, "Someday Someway," was recorded by rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon on his album Are You Gonna Be the One. The Gordon track was also issued as a single and rose to number 76 on the Billboard singles chart. The buzz about Marshall Crenshaw grew loud enough that he landed a contract with Warner Bros. Records, which brought out his self-titled debut album in 1982. The album received rave reviews from critics, and Crenshaw's recording of "Someday, Someway" was issued as a single that cracked the Top 40. Despite the album's acclaim, Crenshaw wanted a sound that better reflected the rougher tone of his live show for his second album, and 1983's Field Day was produced by Steve Lillywhite, who gave the LP a booming drum sound and reverb-heavy mix that divided both fans and critics, though the songs were, if anything, even better than those on the debut. (A British EP, U.S. Remix, offered more-streamlined mixes of several Field Day tracks, though Crenshaw was outspoken in defending the original versions.) Field Day didn't fare as well on the charts as Crenshaw's debut, and 1985's Downtown, produced by T-Bone Burnett and dominated by a more organic, rootsy sound that recalled vintage sides from the 1950s and '60s, received more enthusiastic reviews but did not live up to Warner Bros. sales expectations. Crenshaw's relationship with Warner Bros. became strained; after cutting two more fine albums under their sponsorship, 1987's Mary Jean & 9 Others and 1989's Good Evening, he was dropped. In the latter days of his tenure with Warner Bros., Crenshaw got more exposure on the big screen than he did as a recording artist. He appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's 1986 film Peggy Sue Got Married, fronting the band at a high school reunion and singing the Buddy Holly tune that gave it its title. Then, after years of being compared to Buddy Holly, he got the chance to portray him in Luis Valdez's 1987 Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba, where he sang "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" in one of the Winter Dance Party concert scenes. (He'd also show off his acting chops with a bit part on the cult-favorite Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete and popped up in Yo La Tengo's 1995 video for their song "Tom Courtenay.") In 1989, Crenshaw compiled an annotated Hillbilly Music: Thank God!, Vol. 1, a collection of classic country and honky tonk tracks from the 1940s and '50s. He teamed with the MCA-distributed Paradox Records to release 1991's Life's Too Short, a tough, high-spirited album that featured Fernando Saunders (from Lou Reed's band) on bass and Kenny Aronoff (who frequently worked with John Mellencamp) as his rhythm section. The MCA deal proved to be a one-off, and his next release came in 1994 in the form of a collection of concert recordings from 1982 to 1994 titled Live: My Truck Is My Home, released by the independent Razor & Tie label. The same year, Crenshaw published his first book, a guide to music-oriented movies titled Hollywood Rock; he edited the book and was one of many writers who contributed essays to the project. In 1995, Crenshaw co-wrote the tune "Til I Hear It from You," which was recorded by the Gin Blossoms for the soundtrack to the 1995 movie Empire Records. While the film was a box office disappointment, the single "Til I Hear It from You" was a major hit, topping out at number eight on the Hot 100 and helping the film to develop a cult following. In 1996, Crenshaw issued his first studio album for Razor & Tie, Miracle of Science, which was divided between new songs and well-chosen covers. A splendid collection of Crenshaw's early demos, The 9 Volt Years: Battery Powered Home Demos & Curios (1979-198?), appeared in 1998 and included the original home-recorded take of "You're My Favorite Waste of Time," the 1982 B-side to the "Someday, Someway" single that would be covered by a number of artists, including Bette Midler and Owen Paul. A second studio set for Razor & Tie, #447, came out in 1999, and a superb, career-spanning compilation from Rhino Records, The Best of Marshall Crenshaw: This Is Easy, appeared in 2000. An acoustic live album, I've Suffered for My Art, Now It's Your Turn, was released by King Biscuit Entertainment in 2001, and the moody and lovelorn studio effort What's in the Bag? followed in 2003. In 2004, Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, and Dennis Thompson of the MC5 set out on a concert tour under the name DKT-MC5, and fellow Detroiter Crenshaw joined them on guitar and vocals. Crenshaw was one of several noted songwriters who were invited by producer/screenwriter Judd Apatow and director Jake Kasdan to write songs for 2007's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, a comedy about the improbably long and diverse career of a Southern musician. Crenshaw co-wrote two songs that appeared in the final cut, "Walk Hard" and "(You Make Me So) Hard." Following the movie's release, Crenshaw returned to his own work with the 2009 LP Jaggedland. Growing tired of the album format, in 2012, Crenshaw began releasing a series of 10" vinyl EPs, each of which featured one new song, a cover of one of his personal favorites, and a new version of a tune from his back catalog. Between 2012 and 2015, he released six such EPs, and the material from these discs (minus the re-recordings of his catalog songs) were compiled into the album #392: The EP Collection, released by Red River Entertainment. Crenshaw also ramped up his touring schedule, often performing in tandem with other acts who would also serve as his backing band. In 2014 and 2015, Crenshaw toured in this fashion with alt-country heroes the Bottle Rockets, and in 2017, he hit the road with celebrated instrumental group Los Straitjackets. Crenshaw wrote and performed music for the 2016 HBO series Vinyl, produced by Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger. An archival release, Live in New York, was issued in 2017, was drawn from a 1992 fundraising radio broadcast that found Crenshaw backed by members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, with guest appearances by Joey Ramone, Jules Shear, and Don Dixon. In 2023, after winning back the rights to his Warner Bros. catalog, Crenshaw kicked off a reissue program in tandem with Yep Roc Records, beginning with an expanded and remastered edition of his 1982 debut album for Record Store Day 2023. In July 2023, the second installment in the series appeared: a new release of 1983's Field Day that came with bonus tracks, new liner notes, and remastered audio.
© Cub Koda & Mark Deming /TiVo


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