Backstage: Yes, Black Crowes are about to take flight again

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Chris Robinson is rumored to be reuniting with his brother Rich.

Editors note: News broke on Nov. 9 that The Black Crowes will reunite:this summer to recreate the “Shake Your Money Maker” album on tour.

A Wall Street Journal article on Oct. 11 started to churn the waters on a possible reunion of The Black Crowes, which would mark the 30 year anniversary of their landmark album, “Shake Your Moneymaker.”

The story is intriguing for a few reasons. First, the band has a deep song catalog, led by the aforementioned “Shake Your Money Maker,” which contains mega hits “Jealous Again,” “Hard To Handle,” “She Talks To Angels” and “Twice As Hard,” not to mention iconic Crowes tunes such as “Sister Luck,” “Seeing Things” and “Thick ‘N Thin.”

But the second and third records “Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” and “Amorica” are often tabbed as the die-hard fan favorites, with “Three Snakes and One Charm,” “By Your Side,” “Lions,” “Warpaint” and Before The Frost… Until The Freeze,” all consisting of stellar songs in their own right.

In addition to all of the great music though, are personality conflicts. Singer Chris Robinson and brother/guitar player Rich Robinson have had a long, widely aired feud off and on over the decades, resulting in hiatuses, and in 2015, Rich declaring the band was over once and for all because Chris wanted virtually all of the profits, eliminating the three-way share between founding members Chris, Rich and drummer Steve Gorman.

Speaking of Gorman, he just released a book about the history of the band from his perspective – “Hard To Handle: The Life And Death of The Black Crowes.” The book is entertaining and chock full of fireworks between the band members. Needless to say, the brothers are often painted in the book as spoiled brats, jealous and consumed by maximizing making money for themselves.

According to recent interviews from Gorman, he claims he has known about a reunion between the brothers, but hasn’t been asked to play. He doesn’t believe he will, primarily because he feels like a potential reunion is motivated by a good ‘ol fashioned money grab by the Robinsons (Shake Your Moneymaker indeed) with them not being interested in paying him his share … and potentially being miffed about how they are characterized in his book.

That being said, this all went down a similar path in 2005 when the Crowes were on hiatus and came back … and it took an 11th hour phone call from Chris to Steve to get the band rightfully back together. Never say never, until the band is onstage. As it is, they all seem to be back in the news regularly these days, so the PR effect is bringing attention.

Tahoe Onstage

Rich Robinson and The Magpie Salute played a show in January at Cargo Concert Hall.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

The biggest question is what are they going to do about a lineup, and will it be any good? Chris, of course, has spent most of the past decade in his psychedelic folk-rock jam outfit, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, while Rich has released several of his own solo records, played guitar in Bad Company and started a band with many former Black Crowes members – The Magpie Salute, which coincidentally just released its second full-length LP, “High Water II.”

CRB suddenly cut short its touring schedule after July, and Magpie hasn’t played since the winter, fueling further speculation a Crowes reunion is in the works. Magpie has former Crowes Marc Ford on guitar, as well as Sven Pipien on bass. A founding member was Eddie Harsch on keys, although Harsch died before the band really ever got a chance to get going. Chris also had his own band with former Crowes in it, As The Crow Flies, which played about a month’s long tour last year as well as a few festivals. That lineup contained former Crowes member Audley Freed on guitar, as well as Andy Hess on bass and Adam MacDougall on keys.

Of course, if Live Nation is at the helm with the makings of a 30 year anniversary tour on the table, that all sounds like big money for the brothers. My hope is that they don’t cut corners on the music. There have been many Black Crowes band members over the years, 17 I believe. Of course, the fans want to see a classic lineup, which the closest to that right now would be Chris, Rich, Steve Gorman on drums, Sven Pipien or Johnny Colt on bass, Marc Ford on guitar, and Adam MacDougall on keys, plus the girls singing harmonies.

The Crowes tried to make a go of it without Gorman on drums once before, in 2005, and Chris had to personally insist that Steve return, because the sound wasn’t right without him. That’s a real issue. There are other great drummers out there – Tony Leone did a very solid job with As The Crow Flies, and Joe Magistro (one-time drum tech for Gorman) played the Crowes songs well with Magpie but there is a sound that the hard hitting, but sticky Gorman brings, along with Rich’s open tuning mastery. It can’t be replicated.

My take: Give the fans what they want, make the music as great as possible, say a proper goodbye (if they don’t want to play with each other again), and people will pay to see it. The ensuing quality of the shows will justify everything.

— Jon Siembieda

About Jon Siembieda

Writer Jon Siembieda plays guitar in the Southern California-based touring rock 'n' roll band Hunter & The Dirty Jacks. He is an avid concertgoer and album collector. His top five favorite bands are The Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Faces, Mother Hips and Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

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