Dirt Road’s End is more than the title of Sugarcane Jane’s new album. It is where Anthony and Savana Crawford live outside of Loxley, Alabama, in a dogtrot house on 2,400 acres of family land. The pine trees and corn fields were an escape from music careers in Nashville, and the dirt roads, live oaks, and family they sing about are their identity, their energy, and their success.
Anthony grew up in Birmingham and describes the first time he played a guitar when he was eight years old as “being bit by a snake.” A job at Opryland playing in ‘50s Rock’n’Roll show took him to Nashville, and for 20 years Anthony toured and recorded with legends including Sonny James, Neil Young, Steve Winwood, Vince Gill, and Dwight Yoakam. He played in stadiums and arenas and sang with Roy Acuff on the Grand Ole Opry. His songs have been recorded by Steve Winwood, Kenny Rogers, Lee Greenwood, Dwight Yoakam,the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Sawyer Brown.
“Playing with icons precedes me, but you are only as good as who you are today,” Anthony says. “My existence was supposed to be singing with Savana. My songs make sense when she sings them.”
Savana grew up singing and playing in bands in Baldwin County and New Orleans. She moved to Nashville and co-owned and managed the vintage analog studio, Deepfield Studio. She met Anthony during a recording session and demos she recorded for him led to Redbird, their first album together (2007). They fell in love, moved to the Alabama Coast, formed Sugarcane Jane in 2009, and recorded Listen with Headphones in 2012.
“When we met, our parents lived eight miles from each other, mine in Loxley and his in Daphne,” Savana says. “When we were friends, I rented my apartment to him and sold him all of my furniture. There was such a connection and the first time we heard our voices blend on the Redbird album we knew we were going to be in each other’s lives forever.”
Dirt Road’s End begins with “The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane.” “That song is our story from Nashville to our kids,” Anthony says. “Moving here was a housecleaning for my whole being. It was a time to flush myself and reboot my whole outlook.”
When Anthony stopped thinking of success as money, fame, or notoriety, things fell into place. “There are no regrets over what has or hasn’t happened for me,” he says. “I used to meditate on the negative of why I am not doing this or that, but if some of those things had happened, I wouldn’t have our kids, Loretta and Levon.”
Well the road of life with its twists and turns /There’s always a lesson out there to learn /I was busting my hump gaining no ground /Like a rat on a wheel going round and round /Comes a time when I knew in my heart /Gotta give it up to get a new start /Never in my life have I felt so free /Like a bird on a branch of a live oak tree
“The Ballad of Sugarcane Jane”
Dirt Road’s End was recorded and produced by Buzz Cason, whose own songs have been recorded by The Beatles, Green Day, and U2. Crawford and Cason co-wrote songs on the album, including “Sugar” and “Heartbreak Road.” Cason funded the production and publicity for the album.
“I have written songs with Anthony for a long time and we always wanted an outlet for it,” says Cason. “We had a dream of doing an album for Sugarcane Jane that captured the energy of them playing live and they pull it off well. The album has received considerable airplay and it has been a joy to get their music out to other parts of the country, such as California and the East Coast, that haven’t heard them before. We have had good press and promotion people behind the album and their songs have been climbing up the charts.”
Anthony and Savana struggled with the album and selecting the songs to record. “This is our first album in several years and we have so many songs we wanted to include,” Anthony says. “I had hefty arguments with Buzz because he is an energy freak and the album is over-the-top energy. We wanted it to be a bit more insightful and smooth with other songs such as ‘The Ladder,’ and ‘Self to the Dark.’ However, the opportunity was for us to do these songs on this album that Buzz was paying for because he loves what we do. I realized that I am our own worst critic and I needed to step back and let it happen. We recorded the album in four hours and never did a second take. People are embracing it and this is an opportunity to get our songs out nationwide.”
The new album is getting positive reviews and Anthony’s song “V’s of Birds” was recorded on Dwight Yoakam’s new album Second Hand Heart, and Sugarcane Jane recently opened a show for Steve Winwood at the Alys Stephens Center in Birmingham. The pieces are coming together for Anthony and Savana, but their family comes first. They have two young children and a third coming in the fall.
“We waited on the kids to get out of diapers, before we put out a new album and toured more with Sugarcane Jane,” says Savana. “It was scary when we found out that we are pregnant again and it took a little time to think about what it means to experience this again. With everything that is going on, how do we have time for another baby? We have to trust that there is something bigger out there directing our path and we have to follow it.
“We are kids-first people. Our careers won’t take first place and we have never been out to be famous. We will be happy touring and seeing the country in our car with the kids.”
A summer break in touring with the popular Coast supergroup Willie Sugarcapps also gives more time to play as Sugarcane Jane. Willie Sugarcapps formed in a Sunday round with Will Kimbrough, Grayson Capps, Sugarcane Jane and Corky Hughes at the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm. Their first album Willie Sugarcapps was an Americana success and opened many doors for Anthony and Savana.
“Savana and I came in as the lesser-known and it has been so good for us and playing with those three monsters of musicians and human beings,” Anthony says. “Starting a new band was a leap of faith that has elevated us, but we let Sugarcane Jane go down to almost no pulse for a year and a half while we totally focused on Willie Sugarcapps. It is time to focus on Sugarcane Jane again and give Willie Sugarcapps a break and rejuvenate the spontaneity.
“We just finished a new Willie Sugarcapps record and it will show us where it wants to go. The first album was such a fairy tale. You start to formulate how to go farther with the next album and that is a bad thing to do when something is born on spontaneity. The new album is masterfully mixed and recorded and I am looking forward to it coming out.”
Anthony also started Admiral Bean Studio, recording and producing albums in the studio shed behind his house, including upcoming releases from Edward David Anderson, Cary Laine, and Scott Nolan. Savana helps with website, graphics, and album designs. “There aren’t a lot of recording options down here and people don’t know where to begin,” she says. “We are happy to share our experience and help wherever we can. I didn’t have that and learning how to do it yourself takes a lot of time away from your music.”
Influenced and educated by Neil Young’s recording sessions, Anthony is an out-of- the-box producer with a Rock’N’Roll mentality. “My approach to production is keep it raw and as close as it can be to capturing what was played,” Anthony says. “My process is a work in progress and I am always learning. Recording is the first love of music for me and I have had a recording studio since I was 14. I want to be known for my style and being good at what I do. “
The music that Anthony and Savana make for themselves and bring out in other musicians is real and shows what happens in the moment. “Our music is who we are, even the mistakes that we don’t try to cover up,” says Savana. “We aren’t trying to be perfect and I want to listen to music that is real, not perfect or fixed up.”
Despite having the experiences and respect that most musicians dream of, Anthony says they are better entertainers than musicians. “I am good at guitar, but there are many people who are much better. We deliver energy, that is the well for us. Energy comes from being around Savana and my kids and being 58 years old and still able to be at the level it takes to do this.”
We’re making a living and we’re doing what we love /Sending the praise to the man above /Especially knowing where we’ve been /Losing it all to it get it back again /I thought it was luck but I dare say /Things don’t often happen this way
“Ballad of Sugarcane Jane”
“We still live a little bit hand to mouth, but I don’t worry about that because we are on a journey and so far it has taken care of us. We give people an opportunity to escape from reality and what the world dishes out every day, and they give us inspiration. Together we just keep going.”