Marshall Crenshaw Talks the Perils of Airport Food and Hearing His Songs Played at the Hardware Store

December 15, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?

I just grab a rent-a-car, or use my own car, which these days is a 2012 Volvo S80 with about 78,000 miles on it. No breakdown stories, fortunately. Oh wait, I did once have to change a tire in the rain on the way to a gig, then drive the rest of the way on one of those shitty little spare tires. That happened.
There was one time years ago when the bus we were on developed an electrical problem and we had to drive through the desert with no AC, no interior lights. But nobody got hurt.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

It’s hard to keep moving and always be able to find decent food. I often wind up eating things while traveling that I would never eat at home. By far the worst thing I’ve seen lately was a breakfast pizza at La Guardia Airport; it was about 5 AM and I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I was doing. Order one of those if you ever want to lose your appetite for a few days.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

In fact I can’t remember a single time when I broke a guitar string onstage, maybe since high school. I’ve had amplifiers catch on fire, but… If it’s an acoustic guitar I get it cranked up loud in the monitors; if it’s an electric I crank the amplifier up, and then I don’t attack the guitar very hard, as a rule. These days, before I go on the road I take whatever two guitars I’ll be using to get new strings and a set-up: $30.00 a piece at my local music store, and Mark does a great job. Back in 1991 I took a band on the road where we used a bunch of guitars, acoustic, electric, 6 str., 12 str., 6-string bass, etc. A string company gave me a massive stash of strings for the tour. I think I still have about half of them in the attic.

Where do you rehearse? Are there any particular peculiarities or crazy experiences that you’ve had there?

You know the cover of the UK release of “Electric Ladyland” by Jimi Hendrix? That cover was shot at my rehearsal space; we had a massive orgy afterwards..
Just kidding, can’t think of any crazy rehearsal-space stories.
My space now is the back half of an old barn behind our house. It’s a mess back there.

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

I wrote a song called “Shut the Door” when I was about four years old. I don’t remember it anymore, but I imitated Elvis Presley when I sang it..

Describe your first gig.

An American Legion Hall in Berkley, Mi., 1966. Four guys in the band, two High Schoolers and two 12-yr. olds, one of them being me.  Severe height-disparity situation. We played “Louie Louie”, “Gloria”, “19th Nervous Breakdown”, etc…

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last non-music gig was delivering newspapers, in the dead of night, trying to put a few extra dollars together to move out to LA, urged to do so by a friend of mine from high school who lived there. I’d finish my 5-night a week bar band gig, then go deliver the Detroit Free Press at a couple of apartment complexes. Did it for about a month and a half, I think.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

It’s stayed in the same range for awhile, maybe slightly up or down from year to year. I have a couple songs that just always get played somewhere in the world year-in and year-out. Sometimes I hear them myself, at the hardware store, the airport. I had one international hit that still gets played a lot in Europe; the payments are better on that song than on the US ones.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Hugely loaded question, leaves me speechless.

Over the course of a career that’s spanned three decades, 13 albums and hundreds of songs, Marshall Crenshaw’s musical output has maintained a consistent fidelity to the qualities of melody, craftsmanship and passion, and his efforts have been rewarded with the devotion of a broad and remarkably loyal fan base. After an early break playing John Lennon in a touring company of the Broadway musical “Beatlemania,” his growing fame in his adopted hometown of New York City helped to win Crenshaw a deal with Warner Brothers Records, which released his self-titled debut album. With such classics as “Someday, Someway” and “Cynical Girl,” that LP established Crenshaw as one of his era’s preeminent tunesmiths.

Along the way, Crenshaw’s compositions have been successfully covered by a broad array of performers, including Bette Midler, Kelly Willis, Robert Gordon, Ronnie Spector, Marti Jones and the Gin Blossoms, with whom Crenshaw co-wrote the Top 10 single “Til I Hear It From You.” He’s also provided music for several film soundtracks, appeared in the films La Bamba (as Buddy Holly) and Peggy Sue Got Married, and was nominated for a Grammy and a Golden Globe award for penning the title track for the film comedy “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”

Crenshaw’s latest release is #392: The Ep Collection.  You can connect with Crenshaw online and on the road.