It’s been said for a long time that birds of a feather flock together. And for Rich Robinson, founding guitarist and songwriter of The Black Crowes, he’s doubling down on that idiom.
The Magpie Salute, Robinson’s new 10-piece, (once again) avian-titled band was born of the blues-rock outfit that launched his career. But it’s also built to transform into something completely different.
Alongside his brother Chris, the younger Robinson founded The Black Crowes over 30 years ago. After eight studio albums and more than one hiatus, the band finally called it quits for good in 2015.
Last year, while on tour for his fourth solo record, Flux, Rich was asked to do a series of performances at Woodstock, New York’s Applehead Recording and Production Studios. Part of the venue’s “Woodstock Sessions” series, he invited Black Crowe alums Marc Ford, Ed Harsch (who unexpectedly passed away last November), and Sven Pipien to join him. Playing selections from their solo albums, a slew of covers, and a mixture of Black Crowes tunes, The Magpie Salute was born.
It’s now morphed into a full-time band with Robinson’s old bandmate John Hogg taking over vocal duties. And while their debut album is almost exclusively taken from those Woodstock sessions, plans for a brand-new double album are set for next year.
PACIFC recently spoke with Rich Robinson ahead of his new band’s upcoming stop at KAABOO Del Mar on Friday.
PACIFIC: How did The Magpie Salute come to be?
RICH ROBINSON: It was happenstance, more than anything. I was on tour with Flux (2016) and the opportunity to do another Woodstock Sessions came up - a series of shows where they invite about 100 people in to watch you record. When it came up, I wanted to do it, but I wanted to do something different.
So I reached out to Marc Ford (former lead guitarist of The Black Crowes) and Ed Harsch (keyboardist for Bulldog and The Black Crowes who passed away in 2016). They came down and it instantly felt like it was where it needed to be. It felt special for us, and the fans.
It was a three-day weekend, I was finishing my tour, and that was going to be it.
But really, it was just getting started.
It was. Both Marc and Ed really wanted to keep it going. And so did I. So I started thinking about what to call it, what kind of songs we were going to play, how would it work - these kinds of things. And then ultimately, it grew from there.
We put up a show at New York’s Gramercy Theatre and it sold out in 20 minutes. We put up three more and they sold out in 20 minutes. It was like, “hey, there’s some interest here.”
Did you know you had a full-time band at that point?
Well, that was just the impetus of us going on tour. But once we decided to go on tour, I was like, “Oh, s**t. We have a whole record that we did in Woodstock.” And everyone but John was on it. And I knew we could bring him in.
So while we were rehearsing for the Gramercy show, John sang on the tracks. And we already had the song Omission. That was originally going to be for a solo record and John had sung on it. It all was perfect. It was just one of those things.
The Magpie Salute
When: 5:20-6:30 p.m. Sept. 15
Where: KAABOO Del Mar, Trestles Stage, 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar
Going from a small solo band to a 10-piece that draws from a 170-song catalog is quite the difference. Not to mention plans for a double album next year.
It really started about inclusion. I love playing with everyone in my solo band. We have that thing. And it’s that thing that made me want to bring Marc and Eddie into this.
And it’s the same with John. We were in a band together. He’s such a brilliant guy and an amazing singer. So it was more about all of that.
And pulling from all these songs is about us becoming this band. And the best way to do that is to dive right in. It’s a steep learning curve. And I wrote the music for 98% of the Crowes’ records. All of these things go into it.
And the reason I want to make a double album is because I have about 35 songs I’m working on right now. These are things I haven’t finished. I’ve sent them to John and Marc and they have some things as well. We’re going to go in and make our statement next year. It’s going to be great.
And with the connection between everyone involved, it should be easier to manage such a big outfit.
Well, we’re also vigilant about not falling into all of the traps people fall into with negativity. It’s hard to be on tour sometimes. It wears you down. And we’re getting older.
But if we can maintain our focus, and talk about it, instead of sitting in the back of the bus bitching about each other, a lot can happen. And we don’t do that. We try not to take anything too seriously and give each other the space to be human.
It has to help knowing what’s coming next as well.
This wasn’t planned. So this year we’re going to spend being a band. And by the time we get in to make a new record, we’ll be firing on all cylinders. We can do anything. And that’s what so great about it.