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The Black Crowes: The Party Continues for the Bad Boys of Rock & Soul, by Gabriella
Steve Gorman and Chris Robinson

With roots firmly planted in bands such as the Faces, Aerosmith, and early Stones, the Black Crowes have steadfastly retained their blues-based sound, despite the fact that many of their contemporaries are adopting a more sonic approach. Critics may find fault with the band’s outrageous public behavior, but it has always guaranteed them plenty of headlines. Quite fearlessly, the band (Chris Robinson, vocals; Rich Robinson, guitars, vocals; Steve Gorman, drums; Eddie Harsh, keyboards; Sven Pipien, bass; Audley Freed, guitars while touring) has openly supported the pro-marijuana organization, NORML. As singer Chris Robinson puts it: “Some guys know how to party, and some just don’t!”


NYROCK:
Nine years later, how do you feel about your first album, Shake Your Money Maker [it went straight to number one on the Billboard charts in 1990]?

     CHRIS:

Very relaxed! It was slightly annoying when our first album came out. You know, we got labeled and that was it. Somehow the press and the public have the desire to label everything and it was our first album. We were little more than kids and I remember thinking, "Hey, we need a bit of time! Could we have some time, please?"

    STEVE:

But now we're the Black Crowes and I don't think we owe anything to anyone. We made it all on our own. I really used to hate it when we got compared to other bands all the time, but now I think it's quite all right. You know, if people compare us to the Rolling Stones or the Allman Brothers, then it's OK, really OK. They're great bands. And I'd rather be compared with some of the most famous and influential bands of all time than with some shitty band who got the spotlight for ten seconds and then nobody knows or remembers them anymore.

NYROCK:

You had changes in your line up and rumor had it that you were close to splitting up. Guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Johnny Colt left and there were speculations about whether the Black Crowes would survive...

     CHRIS:

We asked Marc to leave and Johnny decided to pack it in. That's it, basically.

    STEVE:

The Black Crowes lost its meaning for them, for various reasons, I imagine. I don't really know what the reasons were. Of course, I have my speculations, but bear in mind that I could be completely wrong. I can't look inside their heads, you know.

In Johnny's case I think it was a conflict of interests. I think his head was somewhere else, not with the band anymore. It didn't happen over night. Things like that take their time. You don't wake up and lose interest. You don't wake up and say, "Hey, I got a couple of things on my mind and I'd rather try them out." It happens gradually. With Marc, well, I think it was a similar story. They were just drifting away. They weren't with the band anymore.


NYROCK:

How about the friction between Chris and brother Rich? For a while it looked as if family trouble would prevent the band from going on...

     CHRIS:

The fighting did stem from being brothers and songwriting partners. We sat around with guitars and were writing songs together. That's not easy. Being siblings is not easy. Being fellow songwriters is not easy, but being both is really a bit much.

    STEVE:

That's true, you know. I write stuff all the time just for me. If I showed it to somebody and they said, "That's great, but if you change this paragraph here..." I'd be like, "Get the fuck out of my way." I think it's really intense. Chris and Rich have been songwriters and bandmates for years, but never friends. They've changed that now. They're actually talking to each other and asking for each other's opinion. First I thought it was pretty strange, but hey, it really helps getting along. I'm glad it worked out.

When you're in a band, it's a band, not two brothers and the guys they hire. We are all in the same boat. When two guys have a relationship like they had, it affects everyone – no one is immune to it. You can't go from fighting with your brother to being all hugs and smiles. It just doesn't work. The tension doesn't just simply disappear.


     CHRIS:

I guess we all sort of grew up – at least as much as you can when you are a Black Crowe. We have to take care of each other; we are the only family we have when we're on the road.

NYROCK:

Your new album By Your Side, is more rock and less psychedelic than your previous album, Three Snakes and One Charm, and you changed labels, going from Def American to Columbia. It's also the first album you didn't produce yourselves, but secured the help of producer Kevin Shirley. How did that come about?

     CHRIS:

Freed, R. Robinson, Pipien, C. Robinson, Gorman, Harsch

Aerosmith's Joe Perry told us we should work with Kevin if we're aiming to record a rock album. So we hired him and he was great. It was rather funny; he told us that we're going to have fun together and we just looked at him and said "Yeah, man. Whatever you say." Like we wouldn't know how to have fun.

    STEVE:

Kevin is very straight forward. He knows what he's doing and he has a plan. He works absolutely logically, because he's got a system in his head. He claimed that producing an album is like directing a movie: you have to keep an eye on every aspect. Kevin cared for all the little things, all the nuisances and the planning. So all we had to do was play. We could rely on him. It was fantastic, real teamwork. Every body did his part.

NYROCK:

It does sound like you had a lot of fun. Even the album does...

    STEVE:

Well, our last album more or less dealt with how to keep your wits about you with a hangover, how to survive a hangover, the morning after the party. Well, By Your Side isn't the morning after, it's the night of the party, one gigantic party.

     CHRIS:

We have this bizarre sort of courage. We have a fanatical devotion to what we are and to not having rules. And as long as it always feels like a source of inspiration – and a source of desperation – to be out there, then it will be all right. At least, so far our success has proved us right, hasn't it?

February 1999

Click here for a review of the Black Crowes sold-out concert at the Beacon Theatre, New York City, February 27, 1999.


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