Black Crowes Overview:
The Black Crowes make old-fashioned Southern rock during an era when forward-looking musical styles were far more popular. Nonetheless, since their 1990 debut, this Georgia band, led by frontman Chris Robinson and his guitarist brother Rich, have proven to be a popular touring act, churning out sensual blues-rock that recalls the Rolling Stones
and other classic-rock groups. The Black Crowes disbanded during the early years of the 21st century but have recently reformed to put out new music.
Black Crowes Origins:
The Black Crowes came together in the mid-‘80s thanks to Chris and Rich Robinson. Over the course of their tumultuous career, the Black Crowes have gone through a series of band members, but the Robinsons have remained the group’s spiritual center, even though these brothers have been known for their bitter disagreements as well. At the end of the decade, the Crowes signed with American Recordings (then called Def American) to release their debut.
A Cocky, Confident Blues-Rock Debut:
Coming early in 1990, the Black Crowes’ first album, Shake Your Money Maker, clearly established the band’s musical vision. Preferring a stripped-down, sexy sound that combined R&B, blues, arena rock and boogie, Shake Your Money Maker came along at a time when grunge and alternative rock would temporarily do away with the notion of rock as a place for playful, soulful good times. The Black Crowes stood in opposition to that tendency, and while songs like “She Talks to Angels” were undeniably somber, the band exulted in their cocky rock ‘n’ roll attitude.
Refining Their Sound:
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion followed in 1992, offering a more refined musical approach than Money Maker, although it was clear that the Crowes still worshiped at the altar of ‘70s Southern rock. If their sophomore album didn’t have as many breakout crossover singles as the debut did, it still sold very well, earning double-platinum status. (Money Maker went quintuple-platinum.) By this point, the Crowes were staples of rock radio, placing six songs at No. 1 on the mainstream rock chart, and Chris Robinson was hailed as a charismatic frontman whose laid-back style made him extremely likable.
The Black Crowes’ reputation for being a revivalist rock band began to work against them around the time of 1994’s Amorica, a record that was only moderately successful commercially but has proven to be one of the group’s strongest creatively. Amorica sounded weary and disillusioned, resulting in a series of reflective ballads like the beautiful “Wiser Time.” But at the height of the Seattle sound, the Black Crowes felt horribly anachronistic, and Amorica signaled the beginning of the band’s declining popularity.
The Black Crowes failed to reverse their commercial fortunes with 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm, the group’s first not to even earn gold status in sales. The band continued to have a following on mainstream rock stations, but they were starting to cement their status as a tireless touring machine whose creative heyday was behind them.
A Return to Their Roots:
For 1999’s By Your Side, the Black Crowes were on a new label (Columbia) and trying to reconnect with their blues-rock roots after the somewhat more adventurous sounds of Amorica and Three Snakes. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean that the group had come up with a new Money Maker or Southern Harmony – rather, By Your Side felt like a rehash of past strengths. Two years later, the group moved to V2 for their next album, Lions, but the Crowes simply seemed out of gas.
Hanging It Up:
The band announced their hiatus in early 2002, prompting Chris and Rich Robinson to pursue albums on their own. During their time apart, though, the Black Crowes released a live album and a two-disc set consisting of songs recorded for studio albums that the band never put out.
The Black Crowes Fly Again:
In 2005, the Black Crowes reformed. The band released Warpaint
in 2008 and followed up that album with the double-record Before the Frost...Until the Freeze
Black Crowes Lineup:
Black Crowes Discography:
Shake Your Money Maker
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion
Three Snakes and One Charm
By Your Side
Greatest Hits 1990-1999: A Tribute to a Work in Progress
Live at the Greek
(live album with Jimmy Page) (2000)
(live album) (2002)
Freak ‘N’ Roll ... Into the Fog
(live album) (2006)
The Lost Crowes
(outtakes collection) (2006)
(live album) (2009)
Before the Frost...Until the Freeze
Black Crowes Quotes:
Chris Robinson, responding to critics who dismiss the Black Crowes as “retrorockers.”
“We get really defensive, because this isn’t something we fabricated to make music. This is where we live every day. I have Grateful Dead
posters at my house.” (Rolling Stone, August 25, 1994)
Chris Robinson, discussing the band’s hiatus in 2003.
“I think ‘hiatus’ was a nice way to ... I think it’s more about me and my brother, you know what I mean? It was a nice way to put it. But we don’t really speak. I mean, I speak to him, but there’s no real plans. I don’t really see it happening, you know, for quite awhile.” (Livewire, Feb. 16, 2003)
Chris Robinson, discussing the band’s 2000 tour with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
“I didn’t really have that much fun doing it. I mean it was all right and Jimmy’s a phenomenal guitarist, but to me it was just a job. I’m not a big fan of Robert Plant’s lyrics or his singing, so that part of it was a little boring for me.” (NYRock.com, October 22, 2002)
Black Crowes Trivia:
- Chris Robinson married actress Kate Hudson in 2000. They separated in 2006 and were divorced a year later.
- In 2001, the Black Crowes toured with Oasis on “The Tour of Brotherly Love,” so named because both groups are fronted by brothers who are known for their contentious relationship.