By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch


September 9, 2004

It's really not possible to overstate the impact Emmylou Harris has had on country and rock music, and on a generation of artists.

If she wasn't present at the birth of country rock, her association with Gram Parsons after his time with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers helped guide it through infancy. In more than two dozen albums since 1975, Harris' ethereal voice has been wrapped around the songs of a generation's best writers, many of them unknown at the time. On her first two albums alone, she covered tunes by artists ranging from Parsons to the Beatles, from the Louvin Brothers to Shel Silverstein, from Merle Haggard to Dolly Parton and to star-in-waiting Rodney Crowell, a member of her Hot Band.

The loyalty of her fans is mirrored in the musicians who have played with her. Her current bandleader, singer-songwriter-guitarist Buddy Miller, considers himself lucky to have the gig despite being able to support himself solo.

Asked if he could see a time when he'd leave Harris, he says: "Sure, the day she fires me really hard.

"I love her, she's the sweetest person I know, as you'd think she would be. And, musically, I've learned so much from her and been inspired by her."

Miller, who auditioned with a lot of other artists for the chance to lead Spyboy, her band, says he's sure the day will come when she'll want to change directions, as she's done before with the Hot Band and the Nash Ramblers.

"But I try not to think about that," he says. "I don't consider myself to be in the same class as a lot of people who've worked for her. I lucked into a good thing, and it's going on nine years, I think."

Today, with her hair turning silver, Harris remains restless, exploring soundscapes that are neither country nor rock, and writing much of her material for the first time in her long career.

Besides, there are people she hasn't sung a duet with yet -- as hard as that might be to believe.