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Music / The Black Crowes

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Chris Robinson (middle left), Rich Robinson (middle right) and whoever else was in the band at the time.
"The Most Rock 'n' Roll Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World."
Melody Maker, summing up their place in the pantheon

The Black Crowes are a hard rock/blues rock/southern rock band active from 1989 to 2002, from 2005 to 2015 and 2019 onwards. Formed by brothers Chris (lead singer) and Rich Robinson (rhythm guitar), in Atlanta, Georgia, their sound is a deliberate throwback to the hard rock of the pre-punk era. They take influences from, and are often compared to, Faces, Led Zeppelin, and especially The Rolling Stones (Entertainment Weekly went so far as to say, in a review of their first album, "The Black Crowes are to the early Rolling Stones what Christian Slater is to the young Jack Nicholson : a self-conscious imitation, but fine enough in its own right.").

Regardless of whether you consider them as carrying the torch of roots rock, or plainly ripping off the past, one can not argue with album sales. The Black Crowes were one of the best-selling rock bands of The '90s, having sold over 30 million records. As everyone else went forward with electronic experimentation, The Crowes seemed to challenge themselves to go in reverse. While their first two albums are pure hard rock, their third (Amorica, the one with the female pubic hair on the cover) had a rougher, more garage rock sound. Their next album went for psychedelic rock, which was followed by a record of soul-influenced rock, then blues rock before going "on hiatus" (really, an unannounced breakup).

They reformed in 2005, putting out an album of southern rock, and finally a double album of live, acoustic folk/country rock songs. They broke up again in 2015, but got back together in 2019.

Band Members:

  • Chris Robinson – lead vocals (1989–2002, 2005–2015, 2019-present)
  • Rich Robinson - guitar (1989–2002, 2005–2015, 2019-present)
  • Steve Gorman – drums (1989–2002, 2005–2015)
  • Johnny Colt – bass (1989–1997)
  • Jeff Cease – guitar (1989–1991)
  • Eddie Harsch – keyboards (1991–2002, 2005–2006; died 2016)
  • Marc Ford – guitar (1991–1997, 2005–2006)
  • Audley Freed – guitar (1997–2002)
  • Greg Rzab – bass (2000–2001)
  • Andy Hess – bass (2001–2002)
  • Bill Dobrow – drums (2005)
  • Paul Stacey – guitar (2006–2007)
  • Rob Clores – keyboards (2006–2007)
  • Luther Dickinson – guitar (2007–2011)
  • Sven Pipien – bass (1997–2000, 2005–2015)
  • Adam MacDougall – keyboards (2007–2015)
  • Jackie Greene – guitar (2013–2015)
  • Isaiah Mitchell – guitar, backing vocals (2019–present; touring only)
  • Tim Lefebvre – bass guitar (2019–present; touring only)
  • Raj Ojha – drums, percussion (2019–present; touring only)
  • Joel Robinow – keyboards, backing vocals (2019–present; touring only)

In addition, the band cycled through five other members in their early years, when they were Mr. Crowe's Garden. Aside from the Robinson brothers, drummer Steve Gorman was the only Garden alum to become a Crowe (and he was still their second drummer).

Their studio album discography:

  • Shake Your Money Maker (1990): Debut album, contains some of their most popular hits. This album was a surprise success; in the era of heavy metal and the rise of alternative rock, nobody expected a blues-based album to reach number four on the Billboard 200. This is their only album with original guitarist Jeff Cease, and is named after a blues song by Elmore James (a track the Crowes had been playing for years, but which is not present on the record). The album brought them many comparisons to The Rolling Stones.
  • The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992): Building off the success of their first album, this one made it all the way to number one. Musically, it's very similar in style to their first, but with more counterpoint and syncopation. The debut of fan-favorite guitarist Marc Ford. The name of this album comes from the full title to William Walker's influential hymn book, originally published in 1835, which was the first written record of many Southern gospel songs.
  • Amorica (1994): The one with the woman's crotch on the cover. First, they recorded an album named "Tall," but decided against releasing it. Some of those tracks would be reworked and rerecorded for this record. This was their first stylistic change. While still definitely a hard rock record, this record saw much studio experimentation, with significant overdubs being used to create each track (in contrast, their first two records were almost "live in the studio" affairs). The record sees a more hard-edged, garage rock sound. Critics appreciated the growth, the general public was... less enthusiastic. Some accused them of attempting to jump on the grunge bandwagon that they had originally scorned (not knowing that the sound they were aiming for is the sound grunge evolved from).
  • Three Snakes and One Charm (1996): Feeling inspired after opening for The Grateful Dead a year earlier, this album carries a psychedelic rock flavor. Also, they felt that Amorica's studio experimentation did more harm to the tracks than good, so this album sees a return to a "no-frills" recording style. This is Chris Robinson's favorite Crowes record.
  • By Your Side (1999): First they recorded an album called "Band," but decided against releasing it. An attempt to recapture the commercial success of their first two albums. This record has a more soul/R&B influenced sound, with a polished, radio-friendly production (produced by Kevin Shirley, comparisons were made to Aerosmith's Nine Lives). Critical reaction was mixed, but sales did pick up slightly from their last two records. This record was supported by a co-headlining tour with Lenny Kravitz.
  • Lions (2001): Coming off a tour with Jimmy Page, this is their most Led-Zeppelin sounding record. More blues-influence than they'd done since their first two records, but with a harder sound. Some of the soul sounds of their previous record are still present, and a deliberate attempt was made to get hits. Ultimately, sales were about the same as for By Your Side, and after years of animosity between the Robinson brothers, the band broke up (though they announced it as "going on hiatus").
  • Warpaint (2008): The comeback album. After reuniting in 2005, they'd worked out a several new songs through live jamming. When it came time to record, they decided not to record these road-tested songs, feeling that the material wasn't representative of where they were now. So they made Warpaint. Being from Atlanta, they've always had a bit of a southern edge to them, but this was their first album that could explicitly be called Southern rock. The most controversial thing surrounding the album, however, had nothing to do with The Crowes: Maxim magazine ran a negative, pre-release review. The Crowes then pointed out that, since the album hadn't been released, and they hadn't sent an advanced copy to the magazine, that there was no way Maxim could have heard the album. Maxim was forced to admit that their review was based on hearing a few excerpts of select songs, and that they hadn't actually heard the record. The brothers Robinson, having disliked journalists since the band's earliest days, seemed more bemused than anything.
  • Before the Frost...Until the Freeze (2009): Double album of new material, recording live and acoustically in front of an audience in Woodstock, NY. Their most folk/country rock album by far. They took influence from, and got positively compared to, Gram Parsons. Only the first disc, Before the Frost... was physically released; it came with a download code to get the second half, ...Until the Freeze. A double disc vinyl set was also released, featuring the the full album, but with a different running order.

Other notable releases:

  • Live at the Greek (2000): Live, double album recorded at the Greek Theater with Jimmy Page. A surprising best-seller, it's notable for being one of the first albums sold as downloadable content over the internet. The digital copy was made available in February, while a physical CD wasn't released for another four months. Downloads were so much higher than expected that the server crashed multiple times. Somewhat uniquely, customers were able to create their own tracklist, and only pay for the songs they wanted. The album is mostly Led Zeppelin covers, with a few blues standards thrown in; The Black Crowes' record company refused to allow their own songs (which were played evenly with the Zeppelin material) to be released. Bootlegs of the lost numbers circulate amongst fans of both artists.
  • The Lost Crowes (2006): Double-CD of tracks from the unreleased Tall and Band sessions. Some tracks are early versions of tracks that would be rewritten for Amorica and By Your Side, while others were abandoned altogether. Still, these are not the complete sessions, as fan bootlegs contain several more tracks from both albums that were not included. It does provide a great insight into how albums take shape, What Could Have Been, and gives official release to some heavily bootlegged material.
  • Croweology (2010): Another double album, this time of live, acoustic recordings of their greatest hits. Many songs extend several minutes beyond their original album length, thanks to extended jams. Both hard rockers and ballads are present, showing the full range Crowe material getting the acoustic treatment.
  • 1972 (2022): A six-song EP, with covers of songs from the year 1972 that had a significant influence on the band. Chris has said it's meant to be a warm-up to recording an album of new material. Notably, this is the first recording to not feature Steve Gorman on drums, who seems to have permanently burned his bridges with e Robinson brothers after he published his tell-all book.

The Black Crowes provided examples of:

  • Aloof Big Brother: Chris, to Rich.
  • The Band Minus the Face: After their second breakup, Rich Robinson formed The Magpie Salute with other former Crowes Marc Ford and Sven Pipien.
  • Band of Relatives: The Robinson brothers formed Mr. Crowe's Garden in 1984, and they've been the only constant members of the band since (they changed the name in 1989).
  • Blues Rock: A sound they often adopt, to one extent or another.
  • Cover Version: They've been known to throw in live covers while jamming. When Jimmy Page was touring with them, he basically turned them into a Led Zeppelin tribute band.
  • Double Entendre: The scrapped album that became Amorica was named Tall. A pretty innocuous title, it could reference them being at "the height of fame" or something. It's also old jazz slang for getting high...
  • Epic Rocking: They've got a handful of songs that stretch past the six-minute mark. However, they're less "epic" and more "hippie jamming."
  • Garfunkel: Is their last name Robinson? No? Then they're this. Although, lead guitarist Marc Ford, who was with the band from touring for their first album (which he didn't play on) through their second, third, and fourth albums (which he did play on), plus associated tours, was as close to a non-Robinson star as this band could produce. Sadly, he was fired for a heroin habit that was affecting his playing. He is clean now, and playing in Rich's band, The Magpie Salute.
    • Their drummer Steve Gorman is, as of 2017, well-known as the host of his own sports talk show on Fox Sports Radio.
  • Genre Throwback: Their whole style of music went out of popularity in the late-70s. Alice Cooper once praised them as "a band out of time."
    • Do yourself a favor and do a Google image search for "Black Crowes poster" or "Black Crowes art." For nearly every one of their live shows, they have a unique poster painted, something that few (if any) bands have done since the mid-70s. Their preferred art style is also a throwback to 60s era psychedelic rock bands. Many posters feature their "mascots," a pair of stoned, blues-musician black crows, who look suspiciously like Heckle and Jeckle.
  • Genre Roulette: While they're most easily classified as hard rock, their specific sound/sub-genre shifts with each album.
  • Hair Memento: "She Talks to Angels" makes allusion to this with the following verse:
    She keeps a lock of hair in her pocket
    She wears a cross around her neck
    They say that the hair was from a little boy
  • Hard Rock: Their main genre.
  • Hot-Blooded: Chris, in his younger days. Perhaps only Axl Rose is more infamous than Chris for ranting to an audience about whatever is pissing them off. He has also come to blows with his brother Rich many times. To see Chris now, as an old, bearded hippie, it's almost impossible to imagine how he once was.
  • I Have Many Names: From '84 to '89 they were known as Mr. Crowe's Garden. Since hitting the big times, they've done secret, one-off gigs under such names as O-D Jubilee (now the name of a Black Crowes tribute band), Blessed Chloroform, Jelly Donut (where everyone dressed as Elvis Impersonators), BC/DC (an AC/DC tribute band where everyone dressed like Angus Young), and The Thunderbolt Grease Slappers.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Chris in more recent years, as seen here.
  • Mascot: Kinda. They have a named character, but a pair of cartoon crows show up on a lot of their posters and merchandise. Early on, they were drawn like stoned versions of Heckle and Jeckle, but in later years, perhaps in an effort to avoid lawsuits, they've changed into a more unique design. Nowadays, they usually appear to be tired blues musicians.
    • Fun fact: bassist Johnny Colt has the original Heckle and Jeckle design tattooed on his left forearm. One has to wonder how he felt about that ink after quitting the band in '97.
  • Myspeld Rφkband: There's an extra "e" in "crowes," either to look cool or for copyright reasons.
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: They've gone through four bass players. On the Lions album, Rich played all the bass parts himself. However, Johnny Colt is a pretty well-respected bassists, and the rhythm section formed by him and Steve Gormon was especially praised on Amorica and Three Snakes and One Charm.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: The band never defined their sound strictly enough to qualify for this, however, it was certainly out-of-genre for "Weird Al" Yankovic when he directed the music video for their single, "Only a Fool." It's not even a particularly humorous video. But for some reason, it was shot by one of the funniest satirists in music.
  • PunBased Title/Stealth Pun: America + amor ("love" in Spanish) = Amorica
  • Punk Rock: Totally averted by the band, as The Black Crowes. However, when they first formed in 1984, as Mr. Crowe's Garden, they were a punk band. They took inspiration from fellow Atlanta alt rockers R.E.M., and even performed a showcase gig at CBGB's. While their musical style would move past punk into their more well-known sound, they held tight to many alternative rock ideals, e.g. a disdain for corporate sponsorship (which got them kicked off a tour with ZZ Top), support of alternative media (the High Times cover), and free distribution of their music (the Before The Frost...Until the Freeze album).
  • Revolving door band: Chris and Rich Robinson were the only members to last through every incarnation of the band. Drummer Steve Gorman is a close second, having joined them a year after Mr. Crowe's Garden formed, and only briefly being absent for a few months after their 2005 reformation before leaving for good following the 2015 breakup.
  • Rockumentary: Who Killed That Bird Out on Your Window Sill. Released in 1992, and mostly focusing on their tour in support of The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Also has interviews, music video shoots, and select live performances, including some of their MTV Unplugged show, and part of their 1991 Monsters of Rock set, where they played in front of 1.6 million people in Moscow, Russia.
  • Shout-Out: They were originally named Mr. Crowe's Garden, as a tribute to the children's book Johnny Crow's Garden by L. Leslie Brooke; the Robinson bros. used to be read the book by their parents when they were children.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Oh yeah. In fact, in 2001 The Crowes went on a tour with fellow famed sibling-rival band Oasis on the ironically named "Tour of Brotherly Love." It actually worked out really well, and reportedly Chris Robinson and Noel Gallagher are still close today (closer than Chris is to his actual brother, at least).
  • Special Guest: As mentioned above, Jimmy Page did a whole tour and album with them.
  • Spiritual Successor: Both brothers have started their own bands to carry on the Crowes' legacy. Chris now fronts The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a jam band. Rich has rounded up several former Crowes to form The Magpie Salute.
  • The Stoic: Rich is much calmer and more level-headed than Chris. Interviews with the two of them make him almost appear as The Quiet One, in comparison to how talkative and opinionated his older brother is.
  • The Stoner: The band made the cover of the July, 1992 issue of High Times magazine. Chris spent most of the 90s breathing more marijuana smoke than oxygen, and his taste for drugs only broadened as the band went on. This in contrast to his brother Rich, who'll you'll find listed below under a certain other trope.
  • Take That!: The first verse of "A Conspiracy" off their third album, Amorica, was a shot fired from Chris to the whole Grunge scene. "Did you ever hear/ the one about last year?/ It was all a lie/ Ain't it funny how time flies" was meant to put-down all the Seattle bands as nothing more than marketing hype that would soon disappear.
  • The Teetotaler: Rich Robinson, standing in stark contrast to his older brother, Chris. In a Rolling Stone interview given in 1990, Chris said he worried for his brother, since he didn't drink or do drugs, and he wanted to make sure he could unwind. After breaking up, Rich was said to have been the only one sober throughout all the band's history. In Steve Gorman's book, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes, he recalls Rich occasionally drinking, but that doesn't change how Rich is often seen as the most sober member of the classic lineup.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: while never as public with their fights as their British pals Oasis, the Robinson brothers have never gotten along well. Stories circulate of rehearsals often degenerating into brawls between the pair. They did go on record as saying that they'd never fight onstage, as they find it unprofessional and unfair to the fans. The matter was likely not helped by Rich being the only member who was sober through their entire career, while Chris has gone through multiple phases of using multiple substances.