By Dave Gil de Rubio Last Word
When Chris and Rich Robinson announced in November 2019 that the Black Crowes were reuniting, it represented a reconciliation between the siblings after the group broke up in 2015. The plan was to launch an extensive reunion tour in 2020 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the band’s 1990 debut album “Shake Your Money Maker”.
Then COVID-19 hit and the tourism industry. with the rest of the world, stalled. The 2020 tour has been pushed back a year, and now the Black Crowes are doing more shows this summer to celebrate that debut album.
For guitarist Rich Robinson, this unexpected respite has proven to be a mixed blessing, allowing him to take a step back, while quarantining at his home with his family in Nashville.
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“For 31 years, I’ve never toured, played music with other people, been in the studio, or done anything to that effect for more than a year,” he said. “It’s been interesting and a bit difficult because it becomes a part of you as a person just to have that feeling and that connection.
“But on the other hand, the positive thing was being able to spend uninhibited time with my children and being 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 homeschooling while trying to figure out how to use Zoom.”
But while it may seem simple for the Robinson brothers to pick up where they left off, reconnecting involved rebuilding a relationship that crumbled to the point where neither had been in contact for several years. It was bad enough that Chris had never met Robinson’s two youngest children and that Rich had been equally disconnected from his nephew Ryder and niece Cheyenne.
And while the two went on to other projects, Chris with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB) and As The Crowe Flies, and Rich with The Magpie Salute, the two were on the same page in terms of fixing fences. For young Robinson, it was even more apparent given the direction Magpie Salute was taking.
“The financial charges and a large part of the creative charges [in Magpie Salute] were on my shoulders and it was getting to a point where it was untenable,” he admitted. “I don’t feel like we’re 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 make the sacrifice and really give themselves five or ten years to reach a certain level. So besides that, I had written a bunch of songs and one of my main things is that I was still writing for Chris. It had been seven years since I had spoken to him and I kinda missed my writing partner. We brought these two [perspectives] at the table when we wrote these songs together. I remember saying to a mutual friend, “I wrote those songs and I really miss Chris. It wasn’t a pitch or anything – just a passing comment. Our friend said Chris told him the same thing the other day. We were kinda on a similar page.
With the pandemic-enforced downtime, the Robinsons were able to reunite with George Drakoulias, who produced the band’s first two albums, discovered the band and was a mentor during the band’s formative years when struggling musicians didn’t have a manager, lawyer or recording contract. The trio dove into the vaults and emerged with a multi-format “Shake Your Money Maker” 30th anniversary reissue. It features three previously unreleased studio tracks (including lead single “Charming Mess”), B-sides, demos, and an unreleased 14-song live recording of a two-night drive-home stand in Atlanta in 1990 after the album went platinum. While much of this period was hazy to Rich Robinson, he was pleasantly surprised by what was found on the tape demos that Drakoulias had recorded and ripped for this project.
“I was 19 at the time and I think we were so excited to be able to make an album,” he recalls. “We never thought about the future or its destination. We just knew we were making a record in a studio with gear. It was pretty much everything we expected and once it was done we never looked back on ‘Shake Your Money Maker’. From the first show, we were throwing new songs, covers and it was almost like we were so excited to get to the next album that we never got an update on what [‘Money Maker’] meant to us and what a great record it is. I haven’t listened to this record for literally decades. Listening to old stuff is just not my thing. So to listen to this record and make this tour the focus and have all this extra stuff and artwork, I’m really happy with how the process went. Everyone involved did a great job and I’m really happy with it.
The Crowes hit the road again this summer after releasing an EP, “1972,” featuring covers of songs released 50 years ago by the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, T. Rex, Rod Stewart, Little Feat and the Temptations. Rounding out the band’s touring lineup are guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, keyboardist Joel Robinow, drummer Brandi Carlile Brian Griffin, and background vocalists Mackenzie Adams and Leslie Grant.
The only former member of the band to return to the fold is Sven Pipien, who was bassist from 1997 until the Black Crowes broke up in 2015. Founding member/drummer Steve Gorman, who wrote the 2019 memoir “Hard To Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes: A Memoir,” was not interviewed, and when asked about the reunion tour during the 2019 “Variety” interview, he said: “I don’t blame anyone who goes to see it, but it’s sad. …it’s always going to be sad. For Rich Robinson, who said he hasn’t read Gorman’s book, taking a new leaving with his older brother is 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. “To come back, we really had to do this very specific purge where we focus on both of us and for it to be something that will be positive. We can be in charge of our own triggers, but if you have other people around that have a program, which a lot of older people around have done, it’s just going to crash and burn. We didn’t see it as a one-time thing. We want to focus and do things right for ourselves as human beings. For ourselves as brothers. For ourselves as writing and creative partners as well as for other reasons.