The Black Crowes’ Chris and Rich Robinson credit their kids for reuniting the no-longer feuding brothers
‘My daughter was like: ‘What’s the deal with you and Uncle Rich, and why don’t I know my cousins?’ says singer Chris Robinson
The intense and extended acrimony between such famous musical siblings as Dave and Ray Davies of The Kinks, Liam and Noel Gallagher of Oasis, and Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes is the stuff of rock ‘n’ roll legend.
But the Robinsons — unlike the still-estranged Davies and Gallagher brothers — have buried the hatchet and reunited.
Their current reunion as co-leaders of The Black Crowes follows a 2015 split that lasted nearly five years. They credit their children for bringing them back together, after several years in which the Robinson brothers rarely spoke and regularly traded insults with each other in their respective press interviews.
“My daughter, Cheyenne (now 11), was like: ‘What’s the deal with you and Uncle Rich, and why don’t I know my cousins?’ ” singer Chris Robinson, a father of two, said. “Those are the kind of questions that will make you think and reflect.”
“Definitely. Kids are honest and curious, and they don’t have issues like Chris and I did,” agreed guitarist Rich Robinson, a father of seven, speaking from Nashville in a joint interview with his brother.
“And kids are literal,” Rich continued. “They are like: ‘Who’s that singing in that video with you? What’s going on?’ So, as Chris said, that opened a door (to reconciliation).”
With the bad blood of past years between them now dried and put aside, the Georgia-bred Robinson brothers are back on the road with their band for the first time together in six years. They perform here Aug. 18 with the newest edition of The Black Crowes at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre.
The tour belatedly celebrates the 30th anniversary of the band’s 1990 debut album, the 5-million-selling “Shake Your Money Maker.” The coast-to-coast concert trek follows the January release of the multi-format re-issue of that album. It is available from UMe/American Recordings
as a four-vinyl and three-CD box set that includes previously unreleased rarities, demo recordings and a 1990 Atlanta homecoming concert.
The recently launched concert trek was pushed back from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new tour marks the first time the brothers have performed all the album’s songs, front to back, as a piece and largely as they recorded them.
“Last year was the first in 30 years that I haven’t toured,” Rich noted. “It feels disjointed to have to had put this tour off by a year, like another mountain climb. But it will be worth it in the end.”
“Like everyone,” Chris said, “we were cast into this ocean of uncertainty and not knowing what was going to happen. It’s a global pandemic, and Rich and I are not the only ones who had had to sit tight, worry about our families and loved ones, and hold tight as this strange series of events unfolded. ...
“So, we’re really excited to be going back on the road and about making this noise, this glorious racket. That’s the essence of why we love rock, and we have to have people around to hear it and react.”
‘Hard to Handle’
With the Robinson brothers at the helm, The Black Crowes burst onto the national scene with the band’s debut album in early 1990. Two of its songs became hit singles: the moody “She Talks to Angels” and a high-octane, hard-rocking version of the 1968 Otis Redding B-side, “Hard to Handle.”
The Robinsons were inspired by such English bands as the Rolling Stones, Free, Humble Pie and The Faces, by way of American folk-blues, gospel, Bob Dylan and such Southern-rock staples as the Allman Brothers Band.
Delivered with infectious vigor, The Black Crowes’ retro-steeped sound set them apart from other young music acts in the early 1990s. The band’s energetic concert performances helped seal the deal.
Soon after the release of “Shake Your Money Maker,” The Black Crowes — whose lineup at the time also included guitarist Jeff Cease, bassist Johnny Colt and drummer Steve Gorman — were touring as the opening act for Aerosmith, ZZ Top and Robert Plant. In 1999, they hit the road as the backing band for Jimmy Page, Plant’s former partner in Led Zeppelin.
The Robinson brothers have been the only constants among the nearly two dozen musicians who have performed over the years in various editions of The Black Crowes.
Since reuniting, the siblings have written more than 20 new songs together. But there are no firm plans, at least not yet, to record a new album, especially when the focus of their current tour is to bring The Black Crowes first album back to life in full, 31 years after it was released.
Granted, their band also earned acclaim for its second and third albums, 1992’s “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” and 1994’s Latin-tinged “Amorica,” as well as for 2000’s “Live at the Greek” collaboration with Page. But The Black Crowes’ 1990 debut album remains its most successful, as the Robinson brothers are well aware.
“ ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ is the purest example of our love of rock ‘n’ roll music,” Chris, 54, said. “What’s funny is that when we made that record, we weren’t great musicians. But we used every bit of talent, fortitude and luck that we could, and one other element: soul.
“If I was interested in perfection, I would have been an architect. Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t perfect. The way everyone plays is the way they are. You just don’t hire someone because they look cool or have the best chops. You want the band to be tight, but rock ‘n’ roll has to be a little loose and come together in this cohesive, funky way.”
“Ultimately,” added Rich, 52, “it all comes down to feeling. How do we all feel (on stage) together?
“We have to understand how much to give to a song, because everyone has to serve the song first. Chris and I have always based our songs on our hearts, not our minds, and that has served us well.”
“It hasn’t helped us get an Apple commercial,” Chris quipped, “but it has served us well.”
Fame, fortune, potholes
After The Black Crowes’ debut album took off, the Robinson brothers embraced fame, fortune, and — at least in Chris’ case — drugs. With fame came pressure and with pressure came fights, mainly verbal, but sometimes physical as well.
Even so, the brothers stress, their fights were never about the music they made together. And the bumps and potholes they encountered were, at least in hindsight, as inevitable as they were imperative for growth.
“I believe any bumps were necessary,” Chris said. “We’re here on this earth, right now, in this lifetime, to learn. And if everything goes great all the time, you won’t learn much! Personally, the ego I had was probably a shield to protect me. ...
“You have to get challenged — and there’s been plenty of that — and it just makes you stronger, in my opinion. It makes you be able to stand where I’m standing right now. I had to go through those things to be able to stand in this spot now and play again with my brother.”
Both brothers have led their own bands. Starting in 2002, Chris fronted New Earth Mud, followed by jam-band favorites The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. Rich led Hookah Brown, followed by Circle Sound and The Magpie Salute.
But neither sibling fared as well on their own, commercially or artistically, as they did together as The Black Crowes. Why, then, did they split up?
“Really, there is no good answer,” Rich replied. “Just saying: ‘Oh, that guy sucks’; or: ‘He did this’; that’s not an answer.
“So, it forces you to look at things in a different light, and ask: ‘What did I do? What did I bring to this situation? How can I change this and make it better, for my kids and for me?’ ”
Chris agreed, adding: “I think we split up because we are sensitive people and being together in a band is like being in any relationship. We were so lucky to get to experience the first 10 years of this band when rock still (meant) something, and when getting a record deal and being successful in this industry seemed like just a dream.
“We were able to do that and to let our talent and imagination guide us through that first decade. Then, you find yourself in the next decade. How could we have learned without the mistakes?
“The end result is that no matter what the fighting or negativity was about, you feel used and abused. ... Ultimately, we’re musicians who want to be in the moment and emotions are what we are searching for. And you are always searching for the connection with the audience. It’s a continual process.
“We’re lucky to have those bruises and to have those scars. And that paid off, in the long run, for Rich and I to mend our relationship as brothers and songwriting partners, and to put this band back together. My goal for 2021 is not to step in the same (expletive) twice.”
The Black Crowes, with Dirty Honey
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18
Where: North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista
Tickets: $29-$135 (plus service fees)
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