The reunited Black Crowes return to their roots and celebrate their debut album
When the Black Crowes released the EP ‘1972’ last month, featuring six songs from that year, the group, which performs Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, joined the heady troupe. Even well into lucrative careers based on their own songwriting, rockers like to go back to their roots, cutting covers from other people’s material.
John Lennon, who wrote or co-wrote many of the world’s most beloved songs, from ballads to screamers, released his Phil Spector-produced “Rock ‘n’ Roll” record in 1975, covering “Stand By Me.” ‘Be-Bop-a-Lula’, ‘Ain’t That a Shame’, ‘Peggy Sue’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ and other rock highlights.
In 2012, Counting Crows cut “Underwater Sunshine (or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)”, covering Big Star, Bob Dylan, Fairport Convention, Gram Parsons and Teenage Fanclub. Matthew Sweet, who had written and recorded 90s hits such as “Girlfriend” and “Sick of Myself”, had a side career, with Susannah Hoffs of the Bangles, releasing three albums of songs by others, each bearing the title ” Under the covers.”
Even Bruce Springsteen added three covers to his 2014 album “High Hopes”, the first time he let someone else’s songs on one of his studio records, although in concert he has long shown his love for Mitch Ryder, Dylan, Neil Young, the Clash, the Stones, Bob Marley, Prince and others.
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The Black Crowes beat them all the way in and out. Although brothers Chris and Rich Robinson compose most of their own material, the band released a tough revisit of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” as their first single in 1990. It became their first No. 1, followed by up close by a second chart topper, “She Talks to Angels,” written by the brothers. Both are from the 1990 debut record “Shake Your Money Maker”, titled after the song by bluesman Elmore James.
When the reunited brothers perform Wednesday at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, the show will both roll out the tracks for “Shake Your Money Maker” — a planned 30th anniversary tour had to be accelerated, thanks to the pandemic — and slip some- one of their many cover gems. Recent setlists show that they added “Rocks Off” by the Stones, “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by the Temptations and James’ song, the main inspiration, although not included on this original album.
“1972” was not a start for Black Crowes, Rich Robinson said in a phone interview. “Not for us, because we’ve spent our entire career doing covers, from Big Star to the Stones, KInks and Dylan,” he said. “It kind of runs the gamut.”
The two brothers took advantage of the pandemic’s enforced break from touring to write and share new work, getting around 25-30 songs complete or in progress for a planned new album, but first they created the record “1972 to help them get back into the workshop swing.
“It was literally just a fun project for us,” said Robinson, who as lead guitarist writes most of the music, while big brother Chris, the vocalist, handles the melodies and lyrics. . “It came from an idea last year, after the tour, something that we had just floated.”
The draft could just as easily have become 1969, ’70 or ’71, he added, all the years the brothers were still in single digits. They decided to focus on one year, like a snapshot, a mix record that could have been taken from FM radio.
“The broad spectrum of what music was then is the opposite of what it is today,” Robinson said. “There’s something like seven million bands in the world, or people claiming to be musicians, but the flood of that has made music smaller.
“I think there’s so much competition that people are competing and doing things, kind of moving away from the original idea, which was the creative expression of the artist. The music really took a turn when bankers started running record companies: results, money, all that (expletive).”
Of course, that element of greed, the manufactured cash-ins from Fabian to the Monkees to the Archies (and other studio-only pop “bands”), the Sex Pistols and many others, all existed. in those earlier times, but it seemed like a time when artists were expressing themselves more, he said.
“Basically radio or records are how you consume music in the daytime,” he said. On the radio you might hear “…Sly Stone doing a Doris Day song, or you might have Joni Mitchell on rock ‘n’ roll radio, just like Led Zeppelin, and Patti Smith later on, a bit.
“There was a deep connection between the artist and his expression. And the songs weren’t so me-centric. There was more of a broad spectrum of these universal themes of what it means to be human, what it means to be on this land. When you look back, you can see the extent of what that music really meant.”
Band of brothers
The Robinsons formed their first band, named Mr. Crowe’s Garden, after Leonard Leslie Brookes’ children’s book “Johnny Crow’s Garden”, in 1984 in Marietta, Georgia while still in high school. They drew inspiration from southern progressive rockers like fellow Georgians REM and Drivin’ N Cryin’, the latter being longtime friends who open for the Black Crowes on the southern leg of the tour.
Changing names as they evolved into a style drawing deeper inspiration from blues-rock, they exploded with the multi-platinum “Shake Your Money Maker” and its 1992 follow-up “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion “, their first album number 1. . They have sold over 30 million albums from eight studios and four live records, and scored No. 1 singles with “Hard to Handle”, “She Talks to Angels”, “Remedy”, “Sting Me”, ” Thorn in My Pride” and “Hotel Sickness”.
Rolling Stone readers voted Black Crowes the best new American band of 1990. Ramping up their Stones-esque swagger, Melody Maker named Black Crowes “the most rock ‘n’ roll rock ‘n’ roll band ever.” world”.
Although the lines often turned, the Robinson brothers remained at heart.
“He was the vocalist and I was the guitarist, and that’s how it went,” Robinson said, although in his work outside of Black Crowes he also sings and writes lyrics and songs. melodies.
“There was never really a discussion. We just did it, ‘Oh, we’re a band’, and we kept doing it for 36 years, starting at 14 or 15, whatever the year,” he said. , laughing.
The band members spanned the decades, and the Robinsons found themselves at odds at times, for a variety of reasons, most of which were cut from their lives.
“We’ve come to this place where we’re a lot more mature now and loving, in a way,” Robinson said of the sibling relationship. “Anyone who comes from a family knows that when two of the characters come into contact with each other, sparks can fly. You have the peacemaker, you have the antagonist… In a group, this n is no different.
“We’ve had people around us for a long time who brought a lot of negativity… But it’s always been Chris and me’s band; it’s always been me and chris and a few other guys.
“When we came back, we wanted it to be positive, brothers first, and with us as creative partners. In order for us to do it right, we had to stop letting people speak for us. C This is when it all starts to go south. …
“We’re really protecting each other now.”
During extended hiatuses, each dove into solo projects and other group projects, but in 2019 Chris and Rich announced a reunion. They were able to play on the East Coast, including the last live show in New York before the pandemic and were working in San Francisco when the Grand Princess cruise ship docked offshore there, with more than 3,000 people quarantined. The first death directly attributable to the virus in California came on board.
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“What are you going to do? You can’t fight it,” Robinson said. “For the first time in 30 years, I haven’t toured.”
Robinson wrote from his home studio, sending songs in progress to Chris.
“From February 2020 to June 2021 I stayed home,” he said, “and it was really the first time in my adult life that I had time off, time to be. with my family and being there. All we could really sort of do is watch it on TV. And we were blessed to be on a farm, with lots of acreage, insular and protected.
Coming back, the Robinson brothers lined up with people they knew, not just top players, but with the right kind of positive attitudes. The shows on this tour celebrate the first record, spiced up with later songs and a few covers.
“It’s a moving show,” Robinson said. “There’s not a lot of air in it. We put a fair amount of songs, with less jamming. It’s a really big show, and Chris sounds better than he’s ever sounded. … The crowds have been amazing.”
This will be Black Crowes’ first gig at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, although earlier, circa 1986 and 1987, Robinson recalls the fledgling band frequently playing at a bar in Tuscaloosa, although the name escaped him.
“It was a club like (Birmingham) The Nick,” he laughed, “but not as depressed as The Nick.”
Wednesday’s show begins at 7:30 p.m. with the opening of Drivin’ N Cryin’. All remaining tickets can be found for $18 and up — not including fees — at www.ticketmaster.com or at the Amphitheater box office. For more information, visit www.tuscaloosaamphitheatre.com.