Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee: “Learn how to get along with people”

Learn how to get along with people. That’s one of the most important things you can do to thrive in this or any business. I’ve been a musician full time for over 40 years. I’ve never felt burned out. You have to love what you do. As a part of our series about rising music stars, […]

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Learn how to get along with people. That’s one of the most important things you can do to thrive in this or any business. I’ve been a musician full time for over 40 years. I’ve never felt burned out. You have to love what you do.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee of Sugarcane Jane.

Sugarcane Jane is Anthony Crawford and Savana Lee — Americana’s husband-wife duo from Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Between them, they have decades of rich musical experience: Anthony is an in-demand multi-instrumentalist and producer who has worked with such notables as Neil Young, Steve Winwood, and Dwight Yoakam. The music they make together is simple and direct, rooted in country and rock, and anchored by their sweet and soulful harmonies.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up one of seven children, born to your average income family in Homewood, Alabama (a suburb of Birmingham). My dad was the administrative assistant to the Chief of Staff at the VA Hospital and my mom was a medical secretary. Most of my time was spent at the municipal pool, riding bicycles, or playing in the dirt. I was a typical kid.

Savana: I grew up in the rural town of Robertsdale, Alabama and graduated high school from Robertsdale High. (yes, the same alma mater as Apple CEO, Tim Cook) My father was the principal of my Elementary School and later the Assistant Superintendent of our school system and my mother was the counselor of my high school. We lived a block and a half away and I walked to school everyday. It was a K-12 school so I have many wonderful memories there hanging out with my mom during the summers. I was a very active kid… always involved in sports. I loved animals and being outside. I took piano lessons my entire childhood, then later was 1st chair clarinet and then coronet. I took an athletic scholarship and later a music scholarship to college.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Anthony: I picked up a plastic Mickey Mouse guitar that just happened to be tuned to an open chord and it was like getting bit by a bug. I was totally fascinated with it. I would go to sleep with that thing on my chest. And then eventually my mother and father bought me a guitar. That’s all I really did after that, I didn’t study any schoolwork, I was just obsessed with my guitar.

Savana: I’ve always been sort of a rebel if you will. My dad, looking out for my best interests, told me after high school that he would support my college education as long as I didn’t do the two things I loved the most, music and art. That alone made me want to pursue one or both of those. I chose music although I waited until I graduated college. I love my dad very much and now that I have kids of my own, I totally understand why he tried to steer me into something more secure. But I still love what I do.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Getting a call from Elliot Mazer, who happened to be producing Neil Young. I was eating a bowl of Cheerios when the phone rang. I answered the phone and he said “Be down at the House of David at noon today to sing harmony for Neil Young on what would become the Old Ways album. Thinking it was a joke, but better safe than sorry, I decided to go and was immediately sent to a small vocal booth to sure enough, sing harmony with Neil Young.

Savana: The most interesting thing for me was crossing paths with Anthony Crawford. He is a brilliant musician and writer, as well as just a great person. Without him I would probably be working in an office somewhere.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Anthony: I was playing with Steve Winwood at Royal Albert Hall and I drank too many glasses of red wine with Phil Collins prior to the show. We went out on stage and I started off a song called ‘Split Decision’ in the wrong key. My guitar tech said “What’s a semi-tone amongst friends?” My lesson was don’t drink too much before the show.

Savana: Well this goes way back to when I was five years old. I was a big fan of Annie and my mom had told me about a singing competition in Mobile, Alabama. She said you just have to sing an Annie song. I knew every Annie song there was and was extremely confident of my ability to pull it off. I had practiced the songs relentlessly and even had red hair… I felt I had this in the bag. When we got there, I noticed everyone else was dressed like Annie and even though I could have looked just like her, I came in regular clothes. I thought to myself, “Look at those fools who think they can win by dressing up like Annie”. Then I noticed that some people were singing along to the prerecorded tracks. I was baffled. But I sucked it up, sang ‘Tomorrow’ just as perfect as I’d practiced, but to my surprise did not even place. We found out later it was a look a like contest! I was so mad, I decided to get an Annie perm to prove to myself that not only could I sing like Annie, I actually looked like her. Lesson is know what you are signing up for, don’t depend on anyone to find out for you, even your mom.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Anthony: Any project we work on has its own mystique and level of excitement. However, it’s rare to create songs so fluently from thin air and record them just minutes after they were written, but Ruffled Feathers was exactly that scenario. It is an experience that transcends all others. Writing and recording the entire album, then getting it into production all within a week is about as exciting as it gets! It’s like picking fruit off the vine to enjoy.

Savana: We have created a production company (Admiral Bean Productions) and have worked with many artists that we love and admire (Steve Forbert, Edward David Anderson, Scott Nolan, Willie Sugarcapps). Just this year Anthony produced Arkansas based Ten Penny Gypsy’s sophmore album ‘Fugitive Heart’ and currently has a young artist working on her debut album, Tab Cooley, coming out in Spring ’21 that will rock your socks off!

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Anthony & Savana: Diversity is huge, not only in music, television and film, but in life. That’s why we are promoting tolerance of other people’s ideas. That is what a true democracy does. To have everyone thinking the same way gets us nowhere. Our hope is that more people allow others to speak their truth without criticizing, shaming, blackballing, or worse! We can all love each other without agreeing with each other. That is what we are striving for. Tolerance and acceptance. Love and kindness. Let us all embrace diversity.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Anthony: 1. Allow others to do their job…don’t try to control everything. (I once had a deal with Joe Galante in Nashville who had hired Bruce Hornsby to produce my album… at the time I did not know Bruce and my contract allowed me to produce my own work so I turned them down. They dropped me like a hot potato. Bruce then went on to win multiple grammys on his own. 2. Never ask for advice from someone unless you know that they are more qualified than you. (I’m going to leave this alone… no need to call people out on this) 3. Just because someone has money does not mean they deserve your respect. (Another one to leave alone.) 4. Make sure you put all your instruments in your case after a show before you start drinking (I left my banjo at a club for 2 years and didn’t know it until I opened the case and realized I hadn’t put it in there. Amazingly I remembered the last time I played it, called the club and they still had it) 5. Take your time when choosing a spouse (Having bought a marriage license that was about to expire on the day I was leaving to go on tour, in order not to waste the money, we decided to get married that day. The justice of the peace was also a 9–5 gynecologist so we were married in the gynecologist’s office. Needless to say, that marriage didn’t work out)

Savana: 1. Be prepared (I’ve embrassed myself more times than I’d like to admit by getting on stage attempting to play new songs that I did not know well enough) 2. Have a backup plan (I am glad my parents pushed me to get a college degree…it’s always good to have a plan B just in case your dreams of being a musician don’t pan out) 3. Build relationships, not fans (Connecting with people is way more rewarding than the number of people you can collect on a facebook page) 4. Be true to yourself (Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs..that’s the advice my mom gave me prior to releasing this album) 5. Beware of the vultures (There are many in the music business and unfortunately I learned this lesson the hard way at the age of 24 in Nashville, Tennessee)

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Learn how to get along with people. That’s one of the most important things you can do to thrive in this or any business. I’ve been a musician full time for over 40 years. I’ve never felt burned out. You have to love what you do.

Savana: Try to visualize a ten year plan. Make goals that are attainable. Allow yourself some time off. Don’t do it for the money.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Anthony: Allow yourself to be spiritually driven.

Savana: Gonna go back to my ‘TOLERANCE’ idea. Allow people to BE WHO THEY ARE. We don’t all have to agree but we can all be kind to each other. It’s not really that hard. Don’t say anything to anyone that you wouldn’t say to your mother.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Anthony: My parents, Vaughan and Mary Crawford. They were always a constant source of love and support in my life. I am so grateful for all they did for me and miss them every day.

Savana: Buzz Cason. He’s been an enormous believer in Sugarcane Jane. He has been our mentor, co-writer, co-producer, Godfather to our children, publisher, and friend. He recently included us in a mural painted by Scott Guion outside of Creative Workshop in Berry Hill, Nashville, Tenn. They were celebrating 50 years of music at Buzz’s studio and we were lucky enough to be on the tail end of that…. it was such an honor to be included among legendary artists such as Roy Orbison, Leon Russell, Dolly Parton, Jimmy Buffett, The Judds, Olivia Newton John, the Gatlin Brothers, Kenny Rogers, and more. He also put out two records on Sugarcane Jane via his ArenA Recordings record label — Dirt Road’s End and Southern State of Mind. He is the only person I know who has had a song cut by The Beatles! To hear John Lennon sing lead on his ‘Soldier of Love’ from Live at the BBC album blew me away. He also wrote ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Love’s the Only House’ by Martina McBride, and gave Jimmy Buffett his first publishing deal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Anthony & Savana: Well Anthony’s dad, Vaughan Crawford aka Poppi, used to say “Small holes sink big ships”. It’s a pretty easy concept to grasp and we try to remind ourselves of it daily. What can we fix or get rid of that is weighing us down? It could be people in your life or it could be monthly subscriptions to Hulu that you aren’t using. It’s always good to pay attention to the small holes!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Anthony: Paul McCartney. He is the person I patterned myself after. He played bass, drums, piano, guitar, everything… and I wanted to be just like him. He was probably the biggest influence on me. We differ in politics but musically we are similar.

Savana: I’ve got to agree with Anthony here. Paul McCartney for sure and I actually DID in my dream recently. Paul and I hung out all night into the wee hours of the morning in New Orleans and then he cooked me a vegan veggie breakfast. It was a night I’ll never forget! But of course, in person would literally be a dream come true. He has got it all for me musically… I’ve always been enamored with his melodies and kind hearted personality. In fact, I imagine he and Anthony to be very similar.

Ironically, Anthony did get to hang with him a bit while playing his part on the piano (A Day in the Life) at Hyde Park with Neil Young when Paul came out on stage with them to finish the song. Afterwards, they were backstage and Paul said “Hiya” to him. He said for the first time in his life he was speechless. Paul’s energy totally cancelled him out…. ha ha! but that he was just a genuinely kind person. Of course he is!!! Anthony is my Paul McCartney. ❤

How can our readers follow you online?

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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