'Dirt Road’s End': Sugarcane Jane's Anthony Crawford Talks New Album, Touring with Neil Young and More

Sugarcane Jane have amassed an extremely loyal following by performing what they like to call, “organic music at its finest."

Anthony Crawford and his wife, Savana Lee, are both virtuosos. Crawford is a songwriter who plays guitar and mandolin while Lee alternates between rhythm guitar, tambourine and snare drum.

Sugarcane Jane’s new album, Dirt Road’s End, provides a rich, homegrown brand of Americana that draws deep from a well of influences, including country, jazz, rock and gospel. The album was conceived and co-produced by legendary Americana/roots singer-songwriter Buzz Cason.

Dirt Road’s End, which was recorded on a classic Otari MTR-90 tape recorder, traverses a spectrum of moods and stories, including the autobiographical “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane” which features Anthony’s driving guitar work, and “Heartbreak Road," which steams with rock energy and bluegrass spirit.

I recently spoke with Crawford about Dirt Road’s End, recording “old school” and what it was like touring as a member of Steve Winwood and Neil Young’s bands.

GUITAR WORLD: To someone who might not be familiar with Sugarcane Jane, how would you describe your sound?

"Saving the planet one good vibe at a time" is our slogan. Savana and I are energy pushers and write songs that make people feel good. Although we have songs in our repertoire that have deeper meaning, the lyrical content for Dirt Road’s End is more light hearted. Savana and I are in love with each other, and that shows in our music. Ultimately, it’s energetic Americana that’s positive and light hearted.

What was the songwriting process like for Dirt Road’s End?

At one time when I was working in Nashville I was forced to write, but I quickly learned that the best songs are never written. Instead, they’re born. For this record, songs like “Ballad of Sugarcane Jane,” “San Andreas” and “Pedigree” were my lyrics and melody.

For the other seven, I wrote a melody or a piece of music and my co-writer/producer, Buzz Cason, wrote the lyrics. Buzz is such a masterful lyricist who's had a lot of success over the years. He’s always inspired. Then Savana came in and with her vocal and energy. She organized everything and brought it to life.

What made you decide to record this album "old school" style?

When you record with Pro Tools or in another digital format, manipulating the music is easily done. But when you record on analog, not only do you gather a different approach sonically but it also keeps you from the temptation of manipulating what it is you’re doing. Buzz has a studio in Nashville with a 2-inch tape machine and an old analog board and invited us in to record. We wanted to record that way because we wanted to capture exactly what we sound like live and have it be authentic.

What was it like for you working and touring as a guitarist with guys like Neil Young and Steve Winwood?

It was a fabulous time. I was in Steve’s band back when he did the Roll with It tour. I remember when I was on the road with him I was out with some serious musicians, like drummer Russ Kunkel, guys who’ve played on some really big records. We recently opened a show for Steve Winwood in Birmingham at the Alys Stephens Center, which is a beautiful venue.

But my main claim to fame as a sideman was playing with Neil Young. He’s someone who’s on maximum power at all times. For me to have been around him was an honor because not too many people get his approval. You can’t get a better gig than to play with Neil Young. He’s just amazing. He’s one of the most incredible songwriters of our time.

What excites you the most about the future and the next phase of your career?

We’re excited about having a broader audience and continuing to keep our music attached to who we are. Our secret weapon is to be ourselves, and by today’s standards it’s something that’s almost unheard of. We’re real people and want to continue to be ourselves and hopefully inspire other artists to embrace that philosophy and do the same.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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James Wood

James is a guitarist and freelance writer who's interviewed some of the biggest names in music. He is the author of four books and his writing credits include work for Guitar World, AXS and Yahoo! as well as for his hometown newspaper where he writes on a variety of topics with both passion and humor. As a guitarist, he's performed everywhere from local bars and nightclubs to some of the biggest stages in front of thousands of music fans.