Why the Black Crowes are having fun playing again

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Last year’s 30th anniversary extension of the Black Crowes’ debut album bottles some of the Thunderbolts from their first year of touring in support of Shake your Money Maker.

Disc 3 focuses on the reunion concerts held at the Center Stage in Atlanta in December 1990, where the Black Crowes had a lot to celebrate, including singer Chris Robinson’s 24th birthday. They came armed with songs from their first album but also new material that was already starting to develop.

“You’re Wrong,” a driving rocker, debuted in a softer form on an episode of MTV unplugged with Tesla in November, although the trail was left on the cutting room floor. That same month, the Black Crowes released “Words You Throw Away,” an almost 14-minute epic, on a tour date in Indianapolis.

Parts of “Words You Throw Away” were harvested for “Remedy”, but otherwise both songs remained unreleased until they appeared on the concert-oriented part of the box. The 14-song disc is compiled from recordings from two of the Three Nights in Atlanta, which featured Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell reprising his role on the Money generator sessions.

Gigs like these helped the Black Crowes establish a solid musical foundation, with guitarist Rich Robinson later confirming that he and Chis wrote the equivalent of two albums of songs on the road. But it is also the beginning of a long period of friction between the brothers.

The band ended up taking a hiatus several times over the years, followed by a breakup in 2015 that seemed permanent. A long-awaited reunion, revealed in November 2019, came with certain conditions: bassist Sven Pipien is the only holdover from previous formations, as the Robinson brothers have chosen to move forward with a new group of players in order to help keep the peace.

The Robinsons began with a short series of acoustic duo concerts in early 2020 to help restore their musical partnership, a process featured in Brothers of a feather. The new concert film on the Coda Collection channel was filmed just days before the pandemic put the brakes on all tours, including the Black Crowes’ biggest summer tour.

Now the fully electrified Shake your Money Maker dates finally begin on July 20 with a pair of concerts in Nashville. The Black Crowes will kick off each night performing the first album in its entirety, something they’ve never done before.

Their second sets will feature other fan favorites from the Black Crowes catalog, and additional surprises are promised. UCR caught up with Chris and Rich Robinson to find out more as they took a brief break from rehearsals for the current tour.

Listen to Black Crowes’ You Are Wrong

The acoustic shows last year were so special. I’m glad that one of those nights was preserved with the new one Brothers of a feather movie. How did it go for you to go back together?
Chris: Doing acoustic shows is the most scary for me as a singer. You are completely naked and you really want them to look good. There is no bass and [electric] guitars. It was a great feeling, but for me doing acoustic shows is kind of like most work in a way – in a good way. But Rich and I have been doing this for a little over three decades now. I’m thinking of mending our relationship and playing music together [is really special]. I think one thing Rich and I have always been in agreement with too is that when you go up there you want to do your best. There’s no phone or anything. Of course, we want to put what we have in a performance like this.

Did you revert to past performances, be it videos or recordings of old shows in general, for some sort of benchmark as you worked to piece together the pieces?
Rich: Not really.

Chris: You know we have a new group. I think the only thing is we just want everyone to be comfortable. We focus on this Shake your Money Maker presentation, and that’s something we’ve never done. We never played these songs in order. Shake your Money Maker came out in 1990, and we never played all of those songs in one night. So for us we want to find the right place. Strangely enough, everything about the Black Crowes is dyslexic. [Both brothers laugh] And in a way, it’s okay. Cool, so now we play this record and how do we find it [way of] make it the strongest possible presentation? This is really new, you know what I mean? Because we never focus on something like that. So in a way it’s the oldest record and our most commercial record, but we’re finding this new way of doing it after three decades have passed.

I loved reading a quote from you recently about the realization that you heard again Shake your Money Maker, as much as there was AC / DC in the rhythm section approach at that time. Did you grow up as an AC / DC fan?
Rich: Yeah yeah. Huge AC / DC fans.

Chris: We’re old enough to have had a lot of great guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll music on the radio and in the summer around the pool. There were the Van Halen guys, and we were the kids of AC / DC and Aerosmith. These were our two groups. I think the only thing that separated the Black Crowes from a lot of modern rock bands or bands of our generation was that we loved AC / DC, but we also listened to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis. We also listened to BB King and Albert Collins. We loved blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Bands like AC / DC were really just a continuation of that in terms of sound and how they were the essence of what rock ‘n’ roll is. It’s something that I think has always appealed to us.

Listen to Struttin Blues by the Black Crowes

You are rehearsing right now. How was it really working with the band?
Rich: It really is natural. It’s just us walking into a room and having fun playing. No one has really played together for 18 months. So walking into a room and playing with everyone was pretty amazing. And everyone has that extra enthusiasm that it’s finally here. It’s like a mountain we had to climb, and now we’re good to go.

Chris: I think the other part is, Rich and I, as different as we are in some ways, we don’t like to overdo it either. We like things to fall into place. I mean, it’s probably the most rehearsal we’ve ever done. We would still be among the worst. We had a big show at the start, and we would go and be like, “Oh, damn. Here we are in the rehearsal room. But I think part of that, again, is you don’t want to overdo it and kill that. You want to be prepared, but the real dynamic comes when the audience is in front of you. There is an electricity that can never be reproduced in the rehearsal space. We kind of like to let it all fall into place. I’m sure there are little details we won’t even know about until we hit the stage Tuesday night.

In addition to playing the Shake your Money Maker album in its entirety, are there any other songs that you haven’t played from the other discs or just haven’t played in a long time that you wanted to try that you did you work in rehearsals?
Chris: There are songs on Shake your Money Maker like “Could I’ve Been So Blind”, “Struttin ‘Blues” and, to a certain extent, “Stare It Cold”, which were kind of out of the repertoire. I think we revisited some things from By your side, which we haven’t played for a while. It’ll be in the second half of the show – “Kickin ‘My Heart Around,” “Go Faster,” “Only a Fool,” songs like that that we haven’t really played. Our goal is a true high energy, guitar focused rock ‘n’ roll show. There aren’t many in the world. We don’t have in-ear headphones and digital amps. And amps in boxes on trucks behind the stage. You know what I mean? We’re pushing some air up there. I think it’s the excitement of rock’n’roll.

Outside of the tour it looks like there is a lot of music going on. Heard it’s worth like two albums, maybe? Can you talk about this music and what is stylistically developed in it. Have you already recorded any?
Chris: There might be two albums worth, but we’re in no rush to make a record. I think Rich and I had a great time enjoying the writing process. The totality Shake your Money Maker the emphasis we have pushes us towards [the idea that], “Oh wow, like, it’s fun playing rock music. It’s fun playing verse / chorus / verse / chorus / middle eight / chorus.” It worked for the Rolling Stones and it works for AC / DC and it works for Metallica – you know, bands. I don’t think it dwells on anything. I think it’s just, like, getting older too, it’s like, “Oh wow, we were really into punk music.” You know, college radio, Replacements were a huge part of our influence and a band that was part of our rock’n’roll vocabulary and the culture that we were building. The expansion of the Black Crowes has always been something we’ve been in, but now I think we really want to tighten it up and focus on rock’n’roll music. At least today I think that would be the kind of record we would like to make.

Listen to “Only a Fool” by the Black Crowes

I think the fans are really excited that you are coming back with [A&R executive, mentor and producer] George Drakoulias for this next round. It’s pretty exciting.
Chris: Really exciting. George is the catalyst. Without George, I don’t know if Rich and I are sitting here. You know what I mean?

Oh yes.
Chris: He taught us so much and he took a chance on us and he believed in us. He was truly our lifeline. Being kids from Atlanta, we weren’t in the music business. We weren’t in New York; we weren’t in LA George was the guy. He saw something in our talent and saw something in our writing, and he pushed us. I think it’s the same today. I don’t think there would be a lot of people we trust as much as George.

In general, has the break and the time apart been helpful and beneficial in any way as we sit here to speak today?
Rich: Yes, of course.

Chris: Yeah yeah. We had a lot to learn on our own. We have had a lot of experiences together. Lots of good stuff and bad stuff. We had to go out alone. It was a learning curve for both of us, a truly moving experience. And again, I can’t speak for Rich – it looks like I am right now, but I can’t. I think people – well, I’ll tell you this, it would’ve been a big mess ten years apart if we couldn’t come back and be even stronger today.

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