Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crystal Bowersox's Secret Songs

Before going on Fox's American Idol, the Crystal Bowersox cut tracks at Englewood studio
BY THOMAS CONNER AND MIKE THOMAS Staff Reporters/Chicago Sun Times

Ron Prince got a phone call earlier this year from a friend telling him to turn on the TV. Like, right now.

"He said, 'Ron! Ron! That's your girl on TV! On 'American Idol'!"

When Prince clicked on Fox, he saw Crystal Bowersox, the young woman who used to come by his Englewood home studio, sit on the floor and play her guitar. Prince had been intrigued enough by what he heard that he'd recorded some of her songs -- nine of them, and she said she had 40 ready to go -- and wondered what could be done with them.

That was late in the summer of 2008. Then Bowersox blew town.

"She got pregnant, and she said the kid was going to be her only priority," Prince said Monday at his studio. "So she went back to Toledo. And the next thing I heard, she's on TV."

So Prince now owns an album's worth of recordings by someone who could be the biggest name in music. Like, tomorrow.

On a purely sonic level, he thinks the country, folk and rock tunes have huge potential -- especially now that Bowersox has garnered global acclaim.

But because Bowersox disappeared to another life so quickly and now has been essentially quarantined for several months by "Idol" producers, not to mention crazy busy thanks to rehearsals and a flurry of personal appearances, she hasn't even heard these finished recordings. And Prince hasn't been able to get in touch.

Until she reaches out, he says, these tracks of hers will stay safely tucked away.

"I would like to speak to her first and try to see where her head is at before I start distributing her music," says the 53-year-old Prince, long affiliated with the Gary-rooted blues-funk-reggae band the Kinsey Report as well as his own blues band Ron Prince and Hard Time. "Because I really care about Crystal and it's not just about the money, it's about her trusting me to do this together. Although I footed the whole bill on this, I still want to give her a chance to have some say."

Bowersox couldn't be reached, but her friend Brian Walker, a Chicago musician, confirmed she had worked with Prince. Fox declined comment.

Word of the recordings follows the national release of two locally made CDs of songs by Bowersox's "Idol" rival, Lee DeWyze of Mount Prospect. "So I'm Told" and "Slumberland," by the Lee DeWyze Band, were recorded in Oak Park by the independent WuLi Records.

Prince says he worked with Bowersox "at a time in her life when she was really opening up with her expressiveness, and I just really kind of tapped into something with her."

That something, he adds, was "probably the desperation that she was experiencing here in trying to make it as a musician. I know the story myself. I could just see it in her."

Although Bowersox recorded the songs accompanied only by her acoustic guitar, Prince put "a whole band behind her" during the ensuing production process, bringing in session players to add saxophone, mandolin, piano, strings, horns and backing vocals.

"She likes her music really raw. ... If she had it her way, she would like all of her music to be mostly her and her guitar," Prince says with a laugh. "But I think since she's been on 'Idol' and had a bigger production behind her, she's probably grown a newer perspective. I would hope so."

Asked if he'll ultimately try to sell the songs to a bigger label than his own Ron House Recordings, Prince again defers to Bowersox.

"I would like for Crystal to take a look at them and see if we could, because I think it's really worthy material. It's probably some of her best stuff. I probably heard every song that she'd come up with, and we kind of picked out the cream of the crop."

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