Southern Rockers The Black Crowes Dominate the 1990’s
At a time when America was drunk on bleak Seattle grunge and overdriven-soaked alternative rock, The Black Crowes were taking the country by storm with their classic rock-oriented mix of sturdy jams, blues & R&B influence, and strong southern rock ties. While they were never the most popular band in the world at any given time, since their inception in 1989 in Marietta, Georgia, they managed to sell over 30 million albums. That is nothing to sneeze at. The Black Crowes managed the slick trick of sounding both heavily nostalgic for a time when the Allman Brothers were one of the biggest bands in rock, and yet The Crowes could fit in with 90s rock radio alongside bands snarling alterna-bands like Pearl Jam, Collective Soul, and Live.
The Black Crowes were able to strike gold with an ambitious, energized cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”. While Redding’s original take climbed no higher than #38 on the R&B charts, the Crowes’ take, full of macho swagger, climbed all the way to #1 on the American Rock chart. With a veritable United States smash hit, the Crowes were, so to speak, flying high. The band, not content to rest on its laurels, followed “Hard to Handle” up with another #1 US Rock smash, the lush and acoustic-driven ballad “She Talks to Angels.” With two major #1 rock hits in a row under their belts, the now nationally famous and ubiquitous Black Crowes were sitting on top of the musical world, Nirvana and company-be-damned.
The band’s lineup, as it stood on their debut, US #4 hit album Shake Your Moneymaker, was comprised of brothers Chris Robinson on vocals and Rich Robinson on guitar duties, along with Jeff Cease (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass), and Steve Gorman (drums). The Robinson Brothers had been working on some incarnation of the band since the early 1980’s when other local Georgia acts like the indie, alternative rockers R.E.M. were making waves on underground college radio. Building upon those influences of jangly guitar driven psychedelic pop as well as a more classic Allman Brothers / Lynyrd Skynyrd driven southern-rock sound, The Black Crowes evolved to begin incorporating more of a 1970’s blues-rock influence into their sound. Originally known as “Mr. Crowe’s Garden”, members of the band came and went. However, the core of the band was always the real-life brother duo of Chris and Rich Robinson, who were dedicated and driven to The Black Crowes project. Their sweat and tears would finally pay off by the 1990’s.
TROUBLE IN THE THE BLACK CROWES’ NEST
Today it seems that The Black Crowes have come to the end of the road, and for good. An unbridgeable rift seems to have grown between the once musically close pair of Chris and Rich Robinson. The true driver behind the band’s demise has been disputed by the duo.
According to Rich, Chris Robinson has come down with a mean old case of Grateful Dead-itis. As the years went on, as Rich tells it, Chris Robinson began to eat, sleep, breathe, and of course sing The Grateful Dead. Robinson has pursued this psychedelic jam band vision formally with his new band the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which he formed in 2011 during a Black Crowes hiatus.
The new band featured Neal Casal on guitar, Adam MacDougall on keyboards, George Sluppick on drums, and Mark “Muddy” Dutton on bass guitar, although over the last couple of years there have been several lineup changes. And while the Chris Robinson Brotherhood hasn’t found the kind of major chart success that The Black Crowes were able to achieve in the Lollapalooza-dominated days of the 1990’s, they’ve certainly developed their own rabid following who deeply enjoy the bands bluesy jam band Grateful Dead grooves. As Rich tells it, Chris has had to follow his Jerry Garcia-inspired muse in a new direction that excluded what The Black Crowes were playing with.
Perhaps a bigger issue has been the financial disputes that have hit the core members of The Black Crowes, most especially Chris and Rich Robinson. Chris has essentially accused The Black Crowes of trying to be a financially driven greatest hits nostalgia act without the ambition required to maintain their greatness as artists. Meanwhile, Rich has argued that Chris had been demanding that other members of the band reduce their financial shares of the band’s profits. All of this sounds ugly and like an impossible situation to maintain while trying to keep a band together. Even a really great band.
The unfortunate truth is that the world needs great, high-flying classic rock influenced bands maybe now more than ever. I’m not going to tell you that the state of mainstream music is bad, per se. If you love pop music, the 2000s have been something of a contemporary golden age (at least in terms of commercial success if not artistic). Country music is a blazing force lead by the recent bro-country movement like Florida Georgia Line. And hip hop is as big as ever, especilly with its pop-oriented leanings and collaborations.
But where has all the good new rock music gone? It’s not easy to find on mainstream radio these days. Practically impossible even.
And yes, it’s fortunate that we have plenty of alternative sources: satellite radio, MP3 players, streaming music. And there are plenty of less famous, less commercially huge rock bands producing solid, innovative rock music that deserve to be listened to and explored and appreciated.
But sometimes you just want that classic sound coming through your radio waves that’s so dear to your heart.
Heal up, Black Crowes, and bring it on back to us. We’ve been talking to angels, and they’d like a reunion too.
Make it happen, please. Thanks.
– J&R Adventures
So, if you dig classic rock as much as we do, especially if you are interested in southern and blues rock influenced bands, you might want to head over to the Joe Bonamassa Official Store and browse our amazing collection of Officially Licensed Apparel. We have everything there from The Grateful Dead to Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin plus a whole lot more. It’s definitely worth a look, rock fans.