Catching Up With Emmylou Harris

A model wears an outfit by Junya Watanabe during his Autumn/Winter 2007-2008 ready-to-wear collection show on Feb. 27, 2007. AFP/Getty Images

She has a crystalline voice that can melt chrome off a fender. Over the last three decades of almost constant touring, Emmylou Harris has recorded dozens of albums, and that's no small accomplishment for a woman who started out not liking country music. CBS News Correspondent Russ Mitchell reports for CBS News Sunday Morning.

With all her success, a couple of years ago, Emmylou Harris decided she needed a change. So she dropped her label, changed her manager, and changed her producer. Was it a mid-life crisis?

"Well, what I actually did was, I just tried to clear the slate, take away the pressure of being on the road all the time, keeping a band working, and make writing songs my priority," says Harris.

So she has reinvented herself as a singer and a songwriter with her own stories to tell, and so she is revealing more of herself these days. "Of course, that's the nature of the beast if you write songs," explains Harris. "I think I have to go back to a pretty deep well of personal experience."

Her father, Walter Harris, died in 1993. He had been a fighter pilot in World War II and was later shot down in Korea, where he became a prisoner of war.

"I think, when you lose a parent, there is a hole in the universe, and I don't think it ever really goes away. It becomes part of your being, really," Harris muses.

After her father's death, Harris' mother, Eugenia, came to live with her. Of her mother, Harris says, "She's just about my best friend. She has an extraordinary gift of making a home a home without being intrusive."

When she was growing up, home tended to be down South, near whatever military base where her father was stationed. But after college, Harris decided to move North, to New York's Greenwich Village, to try her luck as a folk singer. She lived there for two years, living in at least half a dozen places. One of her old apartment buildings now houses a boutique.

She left the city when she had babies and decided it wasn't a good place for children. Those babies are both grown women now, and Harris has had three divorces. But one of the most important men in her life was someone she didn't marry: her mentor, musician Gram Parsons.

"I loved Gram very much," says Harris. "We were not romantically involved...but I do believe that if he had lived beyond the ripe old age of almost 27 that, possibly, we would have become involved."
She adds, "When he came into my life, I was a folk singer with a pretty voice without a great sense of style or direction, and he brought country music into my life. I had pretty much, like most of my generation, dismissed it as music with no redeeming value whatsoever. It was politically incorrect. And Gram made me see the beauty and poetry in it."

A traditionalist by nature, she is a proud member of the Grand Ole Opry. But her career has always been one of restless innovation.

"I always thought countrcould encompass so many textures and colors, that there was no limit to how far the envelope could be pushed, as long as you kept enriching the stew instead of watering it down," she explains. "And that's really what I've been trying to do. So we decided to call it Gumbo...hopefully pretty spicy, and nice and strong."

For now, Emmylou Harris is concentrating on a tour that, over the next few months, will take her across the United States and Europe. And she is content to let the future take care of itself. She says she does not fret about tomorrow.

"I don't know (what's going to happen), and I don't really worry about it," she says. "I've had such a good run already that I really can't complain or worry. I've been really blessed."

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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