The following is a continuation of the interview with Avett Brothers’ bassist Bob Crawford that appeared in Friday’s CLT section. Crawford rejoined the group in August (his daughter Hallie, 3, has been being treated for brain cancer). In addition to the Avetts’ Grammy nominated 2012 album “The Carpenter,” Crawford has another project in the works. The Overmountain Men - his cross-Carolina group with Gaston County songwriter and band leader David Childers - will release its second album in January. He’s with the Avetts at Greensboro Coliseum Monday.
Did you still feel like you were a part of the band during the time away? We were always in contact. They came to see us every time possible. Scott (Avett’s) family came to see us. We felt plenty of support and love. Still you walk out there (on stage) and think do “I even belong here anymore?” These are all the things I went through.
How close in age are your and Scott’s children? Hallie is a year younger than Eleanor. And then my son Sam is two months younger than Scott’s son.
You had an infant while you were going through this? He was born June 7, 2011. Two and a half months before Hallie got sick.
What was that like? Really, really nuts. When Hallie got sick she wasn’t going to make it. My wife and I were there 24 hours a day. My wife would come home one hour a day to breastfeed. I only bonded with Sam when we got home because I was always with Hallie. We took a woman that volunteered to be our nanny to Memphis with us. She and Sam lived in one place and Hallie, my wife and I lived in another. We felt like we had to do it for Hallie, but there’s a whole period of Sam’s life we weren’t there.
When did you have time to do another Overmountain Men record? That was also before Hallie got sick. My part of it was finished and then I asked David last year, “Can you just give me a little time?” He wanted to put it out Spring of last year. I was like, “Give me a little time and let’s see what the world looks like.” I love the first one. This one has a different character to it. I just love David and we’re talking about more songs. It’s out January 22 and it’s called “The Next Best Thing.” We’re going to shoot some video for it to go along with the release. I hope it continues to introduce people to David Childers. The Avetts play Childers’ “Prettiest Thing.” It’s become a staple of our set. People ask me who he is. I tell ‘em get “’Room 23.’ It’s a great album.” Hopefully these videos will help to introduce more people to who David is; to let the world know about this great artist that you guys have there in Mt. Holly. He’s a wonderful man and very creative and very thoughtful.
Also I produced a Christmas album (“My Favorite Gifts”) that was a benefit for (longtime Avett tour manager) Dane Honeycutt’s mother, who died of cancer. She was a teacher. The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation gives money to families of school teachers who have cancer. We’d also completed that before Hallie got sick. One of the little boys we met at Saint Jude’s - Carter - his family got money from the Vickie Honeycutt Foundation. Teachers don’t make very much money. When someone in your family gets cancer, the whole family gets cancer. The Vickie Honeycutt Foundation helps people in North Carolina. We’ll continue to do that.
I also noticed you playing fiddle in one of the online videos. Is that something you’re incorporating into the shows? A little bit. One of the things I did at St. Jude’s when I got a moment to help me relax and do something musical - I started playing the fiddle. There’s a room for the patient and then there’s a parent room. I’d go in the bathroom and play very quietly and then I’d do it at the apartment we were staying at. I’d play the fiddle and have the neighbors complain. That was something that was cathartic.
We have been introducing fiddle to the live show since August. Some nights it’s more successful than others. I always say you’re not going to learn how to play something unless you do it in front of people and make a lot of mistakes. When the song “Sorry Man” was being written, Scott wanted to do this high harmony. Every night we’d play it and his voice would crack and he’d fall on his face a lot, but in six months he could do the high harmony.
For me to walk out on stage with a fiddle when I know how to play it about twenty percent - that’s a credit to the guys I get to travel with.
Why don’t the Avetts play Charlotte more? I think we have it in our mind that we can only play North Carolina so many times a year. We try to spread that out. We may be in Wilmington one year and Greensboro and Raleigh and Charlotte the next.
You’re scheduled to go to Europe in 2013. How do you feel about it? I don’t want to go. I would rather not go, but I have to. As long as Hallie’s doing well I’ll go and we’ll have it arranged where I have constant contact at home. I would prefer not to go on this trip, but I and the guys feel like I need to do it. Hopefully it’ll go smoothly and it won’t be scary.
Have you had a lot of support and outpouring from the fans? I know there was a website at St. Jude’s in Hallie’s name. Oh yeah. Hallie raised $60,000 on that website. You can still go to that link. In Raleigh we did a walk. Hallie’s team raised another $15,000. It’s not just financial support. We’ve gotten a lot of cards and letters. When I got out I always hear, “Hey Bob, we’re praying for Hallie” when I’m on stage or people stop me all the time and ask me how she’s doing. We always ask for prayers.
Many musicians don’t have health insurance. Did this happen at a time after the band was on a major label where you were in a better position to handle it? There are people in the band that still don’t have insurance. It’s the one thing I listened to my parents about. When I moved to Charlotte in 1996 from New Jersey and started working in the film business the first thing I did was get myself personal health insurance. It really paid off this time. We also got a lot of support from the band and from other organizations and charities. St. Jude is a place where if you can’t pay, you don’t pay. That’s what is so important other than research and the fact that its child-centered. They only began taking insurance 15 years ago and they will only take seventeen percent of your maximum. They have housing and transportation. They treat the kids so well at Christmastime. Santa comes and brings toys for everyone. They have a great Halloween there. They go as far as you can go to allow the child to have fun and excitement and to get to feel like a child.
When Danny Thomas established St. Jude in 1960 the most common survival rate was twenty percent. Today it’s over eighty percent. Now they’re trying to do that with brain tumors. It costs 1.5 million dollars a day for St. Jude’s to function. That’s why it’s important for me to continually be out there trying to raise money for them.
So what does Hallie like? What’s she enjoy? She loves people. She loves music. She loves dancing. She’s not standing on her own or walking. You hold her up and play music. We take her to kindermusic classes. She actually goes crazy for that. In her therapy in Charlotte they realized that she responded very well to music and they brought in a music therapist. She loves to shake the shaker. And she loves (the 1982 movie musical) “Annie.” I could quote the whole movie.
(Photo of Crawford and Hallie presenting a check to St. Jude's last year is courtesy of the Team Hallie Prayer Chain Facebook page)