The Black Crowes: 'It's Cool To See How Our Songs Have Evolved And Changed'

28 October 2022 | 12:34 pm | Mary Varvaris

"Joni Mitchell was rock'n'roll. Bob Marley was rock'n'roll. Neil Young was rock'n'roll from his earliest days. Black Sabbath was rock'n'roll."

(Pic by Josh Cheuse)

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The Black Crowes have never been your ordinary rock band. They proved that over 30 years ago with their eclectic debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, which features elements of classic rock a la The Rolling Stones and a strong showing of blues music.

The band's rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson and his brother, lead vocalist Chris formed The Black Crowes (known initially as Mr Crowe's Garden, named after Leonard Leslie Brookes' fairytale book Johnny Crow's Garden) in 1984 when they were teenagers. As he was underage, Rich had to sneak in and out of venues they performed in and would be refused entry if he tried to attend gigs at other times.

When he was 15 years old, Rich Robinson wrote the music to one of The Black Crowes' most successful songs, She Talks To Angels. The band gained popularity in their native Atlanta, Georgia. By 1989, producer George Drakoulias saw the band play in New York City and signed them to Rick Rubin's then-newly formed Def Jam Recordings.

Shake Your Money Maker was released in February 1990. The opening riff to Twice As Hard was played by Robinson, proving that even in the recording sessions as a 21-year-old, he had some serious guitar-playing chops.

Before starting their tour in support of Shake Your Money Maker in 1991, the group opened for Aerosmith in 1990 and ZZ Top in 1991. Speaking to Robinson now, though, he couldn't be more humble and thankful for the band's success.

Making their way to Australia for the first time in 14 years is wild for Robinson to think about; so is the fact that Shake Your Money Maker is now 32 years old.

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"Playing the record in its entirety has been an exciting endeavour. We've never played one record or the same set every night. We went from recording Shake Your Money Maker to The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, and then we'd pepper in some Money Maker songs on tour," Robinson shares from a night off in Frankfurt. "From day one, we were changing our sets; we were doing all these different things. We were always trying to move forward and expand our horizons. And so, it's cool to see how the songs evolve and change. The band is getting tighter and tighter."

On this tour, The Black Crowes are bringing new members along. "We have Sven [Pipien], our bass player, who's been with us for 25 years. But, you know, the other guys are new. We have a great drummer named Brian Griffin; a great keyboard player named Erik Deutsch. We have another guitar player named Isaiah [Mitchell]. It's been such a cool time."

New members mean new influences, right? And Robinson has never pigeonholed himself in terms of inspiration: he is a guitarist who looks up to Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M., and Nick Drake.

"Our Southern music inspiration was R.E.M. When [the first R.E.M. album] Murmur came out; we were so drawn to their music because it represented the South in a way that we hadn't heard being represented before. There was a beauty to it. It was incredibly creative and interesting," he begins.

"I would say my two biggest influences are Nick Drake and Keith Richards. The posthumous Nick Drake compilation, Time Of No Reply, was my introduction to him. Then I got into Pink Moon, Five Leaves Left, and Bryter Layter. The horns freaked me out at first," Robinson laughs. "There was something about his playing that moved me profoundly; there was a beauty and a heaviness to what Nick was writing."

This year, Robinson partnered with Martin for a signature guitar. The new D-28 model is based on his 1954 D-28, initially his father Stan's guitar. He's nicknamed the model "The Appalachian" – a homage to the band his father played in, The Appalachians. It's an opportunity that doesn't come around every day, one that Robinson is honoured by.

"It's incredible, and from a Martin standpoint, they were really cool about it. On a personal level, to have a tribute to my dad is amazing. Before I got a guitar for Christmas, I picked up dad's guitar. My brother and I grew up with that guitar around; it was a significant thing to us," Robinson explains.

His dad's musicality was profound to the family and was always there. "When Martin confirmed that we could do this [make the Rich Robinson Custom Signature Edition D-28], I jumped on it because I was like, wow, what an amazing thing to do for my dad, who is the reason I play music." Stan Robinson passed away in 2013.

Rich Robinson has also been busy writing songs for a new Black Crowes album with Chris, which they will likely begin recording in February 2023. The band released their first ever EP, 1972 – a collection of covers – in May this year. "How many artists released amazing records in 1972 is phenomenal. That year shows how broad and big the umbrella for rock and roll was," Robinson says about their motivation behind releasing the EP.

"Joni Mitchell was rock and roll. Bob Marley was rock and roll. I know he was rocking later, but Neil Young was rock and roll from his earliest days. Black Sabbath was rock and roll. All these things encompassed rock and roll and the greatness of 1972."

On 1972, The Black Crowes covered The Rolling Stones, T. Rex, Rod Stewart, Little Feat, David Bowie, and The Temptations. "The guitar is such an expressive instrument. There's something amazing about hearing Pete Townshend ring out a chord and hear the vibrations.

Learning how different people write songs, like T. Rex, for example, allows me to get into Marc Bolan's head about how he wrote these songs, and that's enlightening. It gives you some more knowledge for your repertoire; your stained-glass window filled with the light of life experiences that you see the world through."

The Black Crowes will play at Adelaide's Harvest Moon festival and tour Australia next month, with Full Flower Moon Band joining them in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. You Am I also support the Crowes at Melbourne's massive Palace Foreshore event on Sunday, November 20. Find tickets on the Live Nation Australia website.



Sunday 13 November - Enmore Theatre, Sydney (Sold Out) *

Monday 14 November - Enmore Theatre, Sydney *

Wednesday 16 November - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane (Sold Out) *

Thursday, 17 November - Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane *

Saturday, 19 November - Harvest Rock Festival, Adelaide *

Sunday, 20 November - Palace Foreshore, Melbourne **

*with Full Flower Moon Band

**with Full Flower Moon Band and You Am I