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'If music touches people, it'll always sell and be vital.' : Emmylou Harris Pushing Boundaries Again

July 22, 1988|HOLLY GLEASON

Right from her first album, "Pieces of the Sky," in 1975, Emmylou Harris has sung songs that have mattered to her, instead of simply following whatever trend was in Nashville at the moment.

"I don't make a conscious effort to say, 'Well, I'm going to do this or that'," the willowy, Alabama-born winner of four Grammy awards said. "I just try to find the best possible songs, songs that move me."

Several of her albums have gone gold, as listeners have rallied around the soft-spoken woman whose voice is so powerfully evocative of heartbreak and desolation and whose range is so broad that she has successfully recorded numbers by writers as disparate as the Louvin Brothers and the Beatles.

In her live shows, she is likely to segue from an acoustic gospel number to Chuck Berry's "C'est la Vie" to Buck Owens' classic "Together Again," then into a roaring rendition of "Ain't Living Long Like This."

Harris is on a tour with her Hot Band that will include two stops in Orange County in the next several days. This is her 13th year of touring, and she has found that life on the road really isn't as bad as it is often made out to be.

There is a certain sameness after a while: "You go back to the same places and sit in the same dressing rooms, stay in the same hotels, eat the same room service, and you spend a lot of time in the bus, traveling down the same highways," Harris said with a laugh. But, she added, "We're kind of like a family. Some of the guys (in the band) have been with me for 10 years."

Her time off the road has been spent finishing up her 15th album for Warner Brothers, which she is co-producing with Steve Earle guitar wiz Richard Bennet.

"This record isn't traditional at all," she said. "We're pushing the boundaries a little bit with an eclectic bunch of songs that place the emphasis on harmony. But, mostly, it's the textures, the sounds, the rhythms that really make it so wonderful."

Having knocked around the New York City folk scene and having hooked up with country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons in the early '70s, Harris is something of a veteran.

Ten years ago, "if you'd said to me, 'Do you think you'll be touring at 60?' I don't know what I would've said. Sixty to me when I was 30 seemed a lifetime away.

"But now that I'm a little older, I could definitely see myself on the road then, as long as people wanted to see me and I was able to do it in short, concentrated periods."

Harris is heartened by what she sees happening in country music. A lot of newcomers are pumping a lot of fresh blood and ideas into Nashville, and Harris couldn't be happier about it.

"I'm so pleased that there's good stuff around now, and you don't have to dig around for it," she said. "There was a time when I worked around country music when all the old-timers had exhausted themselves, and there weren't any real good young talents coming up. Now, they're breaking down the door: people like Steve Earle, the O'Kanes, K.D. Lang and Dwight Yoakam, to name just a few."

"I don't know that it's necessary for country music to sell as much as pop," she added. "I think it's more important to maintain the quality. I think if music touches people, it'll always sell and be vital and important. If we can do that, it'll be enough."

Emmylou Harris will sing at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, Saturday at 8 and 10:30 p.m. (Tickets: $29.50. Information: (714) 496-8930) and at the Crazy Horse, 1580 Brookhollow Drive, Santa Ana, Tuesday at 7 and 10 p.m. (Tickets: $29.50. Information: (714) 549-1512.)

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