Crenshaw performing in 1987
|Marshall Howard Crenshaw|
|Born||November 11, 1953|
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
|Musician, singer, songwriter|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, percussion|
|Labels||Warner Bros., Rhino, Razor and Tie, Red River, 429|
Marshall Howard Crenshaw (born November 11, 1953) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and guitarist best known for hit songs such as "Someday, Someway," a US Top 40 hit in 1982, "Cynical Girl," and "Whenever You're on My Mind." His music has roots in classic soul music and Buddy Holly, to whom Crenshaw was often compared in the early days of his career, and whom he portrayed in the 1987 film La Bamba.
Born in Michigan, Crenshaw performed in the musical Beatlemania before releasing his self-titled album in 1982. Though Crenshaw could not replicate the commercial success of Marshall Crenshaw and follow-up Field Day (1983) with later albums, his work remains critically acclaimed. Crenshaw has also contributed songs to other artists, writing singles for Kirsty MacColl and the Gin Blossoms. A quote from Trouser Press summed up Marshall Crenshaw's early career: "Although he was seen as a latter-day Buddy Holly at the outset, he soon proved too talented and original to be anyone but himself."
He began playing guitar at age ten. During and after high school he led the band Astigfa (an acronym for "a splendid time is guaranteed for all", a lyric from The Beatles' "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite"). He got his first break in 1978, playing John Lennon in the musical Beatlemania, first as an understudy in New York, then in the West Coast company, then in a national touring company. He left the show in February, 1980.
After launching a trio in New York with brother Robert on drums and Chris Donato on bass, Crenshaw recorded his debut single, "Something's Gonna Happen," for Alan Betrock's Shake Records. He then signed to Warner Bros. Records, crediting its welcoming environment as instrumental in his decision.
Crenshaw's eponymous first album reached number 50 on the American album charts and included his signature US hit, "Someday, Someway". Neo-rockabilly musician Robert Gordon had covered the song in 1981, reaching number 76; Crenshaw's own version made number 36 the next year, becoming his only solo Billboard Top 40 hit; the single would also reach number 31 on the Cashbox charts and number 25 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Other songs from the album, including "There She Goes Again," "Cynical Girl," and "Mary Anne," have since become fan favorites. Crenshaw himself later expressed a dislike for the album's production, though the album saw critical acclaim and was ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 albums of the 1980s.
His second album, Field Day, was released in June 1983, sported a bigger production courtesy of producer Steve Lillywhite that divided opinion at the time. Despite positive critical reception, the album was a commercial disappointment, charting lower than his debut at number 52. Despite Crenshaw's enthusiasm for the song, lead single "Whenever You're on My Mind" failed to reach the Hot 100, peaking at number three on the Bubbling Under charts. Crenshaw later defended the album's production, criticizing the UK-released remix-EP "Our Town" that sought to water down the bigger production of the original releases.
Due to the commercial decline of Field Day, Crenshaw's relationship with Warner Bros. began to deteriorate and he sought to change his sound on his third album. 1985's Downtown featured a rootsier sound, stewarded by producer T Bone Burnett (though the album's "Blues Is King" was produced by Mitch Easter). The album reached number 110 on the US charts.
In 1986, Crenshaw and his band made a feature appearance in Francis Ford Coppola's film, Peggy Sue Got Married. Later that same year Crenshaw portrayed Buddy Holly in La Bamba, and contributed a cover of Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" to the album's soundtrack. The album reached number 1 in Billboard and was certified double-platinum. Also in 1986, Owen Paul's recording of "(You're My) Favorite Waste Of Time" reached #3 in the UK and was awarded a Silver Disc. Crenshaw had written the song in 1979 backstage at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh while appearing there with "Beatlemania".
Crenshaw released his fourth album, Mary Jean & 9 Others in 1987, featuring production by Don Dixon and Joe Jackson Band bassist Graham Maby on bass. Crenshaw's next album, Good Evening, was his final album for Warner Bros. and featured multiple covers, a decision Crenshaw attributed to his lack of faith in the album and his label.Good Evening featured the first released version of Diane Warren's "Some Hearts", later covered by Carrie Underwood.
In 1989, he compiled a collection of Capitol Records country performers of the 1950s and '60s called Hillbilly Music...Thank God, Vol. 1. In 1993, he made an appearance in the cult TV show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, in the role of a guitar-playing meter reader, and in 1994, he published a book, Hollywood Rock: A Guide to Rock 'n' Roll in the Movies. In 1995, he appeared in the music video for Yo La Tengo's single Tom Courtenay.
Crenshaw released two more studio efforts, Life's Too Short (1991) and Miracle of Science (1996). "Better Back Off", a song from the album Life's Too Short, reached number 17 on Billboard's Alternative Songs Chart.
In 1996, Crenshaw co-wrote "Til I Hear It From You", with Jesse Valenzuela and Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms, for the latter band's contribution soundtrack of cult-film Empire Records. The single was a hit in the US, reaching number 9 on the singles chart. Crenshaw received a Gold album for the film's soundtrack.
Crenshaw has released three more studio albums since 1997: #447 (1999), What's in the Bag? (2003), and Jaggedland (2009). In 2015, he released #392: The EP Collection, a collection of EPs he had released between 2013 and 2015. In 2004 he played guitar as a special guest with the reunited members of the MC5.
Crenshaw penned the title track from the 2007 film Walk Hard starring John C. Reilly; the song, as sung by Reilly, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and a Grammy. From 2011 until a hiatus in 2017, Crenshaw hosted a radio show called The Bottomless Pit on WFUV in New York, featuring his vast collection of recorded music. The show went on a hiatus in 2017 while Crenshaw works on a documentary about producer Tom Wilson.
Crenshaw continues to perform about 40-50 concerts a year, most of them within driving distance of his family home. Crenshaw himself has dubbed these shows part of "the NPR singer-songwriter circuit". Crenshaw has also performed as a guest vocalist for the Smithereens since the 2017 death of their lead singer Pat DiNizio. Crenshaw alternates touring duties with Robin Wilson of the Gin Blossoms and other guest lead vocalists.
Crenshaw has been lauded by critics as one of the key musicians of the new wave and power pop genres, though he has expressed a dislike for the latter connection, stating, "Some of the stuff I've done you could call power pop, but the term does have sort of a dodgy connotation." Crenshaw has named 1950s and 60s-era Top 40 music as his greatest influence, stating, "I hold that music and that kind of pop approach in really high regard. I have those records in my head. They really won't go away." Crenshaw has frequented comparisons to Buddy Holly. Crenshaw said of Holly:
I've been a Buddy Holly fan all my life. The joy still comes across in his music. It's really got its own je ne sais quoi. It really stands apart from a lot of '50s rock, because it conveys a sense of intimacy. I think it's because it was made in this little building on the side of a highway late at night with this isolated group of people.
In 2014, Marshall Crenshaw was voted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
Many notable artists have recorded cover versions of Crenshaw's songs, including Lou Ann Barton, Ronnie Spector, Robert Gordon, Marti Jones, Bette Midler, and S Club. British musician Owen Paul's had an international hit with his version of Crenshaw's "You're My Favorite Waste of Time" in 1986, peaking at number 3 in the UK singles charts.
|Year||Song||Peak chart positions||Album|
|Hot 100||Cash Box||Main Rock||AUS|
|1981||"Something's Gonna Happen"||--||--||--||--||single only|
|1982||"Someday, Someway"||36||31||25||57||Marshall Crenshaw|
|"There She Goes Again"||110||--||--||--|
|1983||"Whenever You're on My Mind"||103||--||23||--||Field Day|
|1985||"Little Wild One (No. 5)"||--||--||--||--||Downtown|
|"Blues Is King"||--||--||--||--|
|1986||"The Distance Between"||--||--||--||--|
|1987||"Mary Jean"||--||--||--||--||Mary Jean & 9 Others|
|"This Is Easy"||--||--||--||--|
|1989||"Some Hearts"||--||--||--||--||Good Evening|
|1991||"Better Back Off"||--||--||--||--||Life's Too Short|