Editor’s note: The Black Crowes will perform Friday, July 22, at Grand Sierra Resort in Reno.
When Chris and Rich Robinson made the November 2019 announcement that the Black Crowes were reuniting, it represented a reconciliation between the siblings after the band was blown up in 2015. The plan was to launch a lengthy reunion tour in 2020 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the group’s 1990 debut album “Shake Your Money Maker.”
Then COVID-19 struck and the touring industry along with the rest of the world ground to a halt. The 2020 tour was pushed back a year, and now the Black Crowes are doing more shows this summer celebrating that debut album.
For guitarist Rich Robinson, the unexpected respite turned out to be a mixed blessing, allowing him to get some perspective, while quarantining at home with his family in Nashville.
“For 31 years, I’ve never not toured, played music with other people, been in the studio or done something to that effect for over a year,” he said. “That’s been interesting and a little tough because it becomes a part of you as a person just to have that feeling and connection.
“But on the flipside, the positive of it was to be able to spend time unfettered with my children and be able to do that for 15 months without having to leave.” He added with a laugh, “Also being able to see them every day and experience all the joys of home schooling while trying to figure out how to use Zoom.”
But while it might seem simple for the brothers Robinson to pick up where they left off, reconnecting involved rebuilding a relationship that crumbled to the point where neither had been in touch with each other for several years. It was bad enough that Chris had never met Robinson’s two youngest children and Rich had been just as disconnected from nephew Ryder and niece Cheyenne.
And while both had gone on to other projects, Chris with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and As The Crowe Flies, and Rich with The Magpie Salute, both were on the same page in terms of mending fences. For the younger Robinson, it was even more apparent given the direction Magpie Salute was headed.
“The financial and a lot of the creative burdens (in Magpie Salute) were on my shoulders and it was reaching a point where it was untenable,” he admitted. “I don’t feel like we were growing as fast as we would have liked. It was a much longer road for us and I don’t know if everyone was ready to take the sacrifice and really give it five or 10 years to get to a certain level. So alongside that, I’d written a bunch of songs and one of my main things is that I always wrote for Chris. It had been seven years since I’d talked to him and I just kind of missed my writing partner. We brought these two (perspectives) to the table when we wrote these songs together. I remember saying to a mutual friend, ‘I wrote these songs and I really miss Chris.’ It wasn’t a pitch or anything —j ust a passing comment. Our friend said that Chris said the same thing to him the other day. We were kind of on a similar page.”
With the pandemic-enforced downtime, the Robinsons were able to reconvene with George Drakoulias, who produced the band’s first couple of albums, discovered the band and was a mentor during the band’s formative years when the struggling musicians didn’t have a manager, lawyer or record deal. The trio dove into the vaults and emerged with a 30th anniversary, multi-format “Shake Your Money Maker” reissue. It includes three unreleased studio tracks (including the first single “Charming Mess”), B-sides, demos and a 14-song unreleased live recording of a 1990 two-night Atlanta homecoming stand after the album had gone platinum. While much of that time was a blur for Rich Robinson, he was pleasantly surprised at what was found on the cassette demos Drakoulias had saved and pulled out for this project.
“I was 19 at the time, and I think we were so excited just to be able to make an album,” he said. “We never thought about the future or where it was going. We just knew we were making a record in a studio with gear. That was about as far as we were looking forward and once it was done, we never looked back at ‘Shake Your Money Maker.’ From the first show on, we were throwing in new songs, covers and it was almost like we were so excited to get to the next record that we never took stock in what (‘Money Maker’) meant to us and what a great record it is. I haven’t listened to that record in literally decades. Listening to the old stuff is just not my thing. So to listen to that record and have this tour be the focus of it and have all of this extra stuff and artwork — I’m really happy with how the process turned out. Everyone involved did a stellar job and I’m really happy with it.”
The Crowes have returned to the road with a lineup rounded out by guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, keyboardist Joel Robinow, Brandi Carlile drummer Brian Griffin and backing singers Mackenzie Adams and Leslie Grant. The one former band member returning to the fold is Sven Pipien, who was the bassist from 1997 until the band splintered in 2015. Founding member/drummer Steve Gorman, who penned 2019’s memoir “Hard To Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes: A Memoir,” was not asked back, and when asked about the reunion tour during 2019 “Variety” interview opined “I don’t begrudge anybody that goes to see it, but’s it’s sad. … It’s always gonna be sad.” For Rich Robinson, who said he hadn’t read Gorman’s book, getting a fresh start with his older sibling is the key.
“Steve was one of the incredibly negative and manipulative forces in the band that (we) really didn’t want to deal with,” he said. “In order to get back, we really had to do this very specific purge where we focus on the two of us and let this be something that will be positive. We can be in charge of our own triggers, but if you have other people around that have an agenda, which a lot of the older people around did, it’s just going to crash and burn. We didn’t look at this as a one-time thing. We want to focus and do it right for ourselves as human beings. For ourselves as brothers. For ourselves as writing and creative partners as well as the other reasons.”
-Dave Gil de Rubio, Last Word Features