STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
“It’s never an easy decision to walk away from your life’s creation,” says Black Crowes guitarist and co-founder Rich Robinson, from New York City, referring to the official end of the group. “My whole adult life I was in that band making music and that’s what I did. It afforded me a really cool life. You could see how people were moved by what we did. We would play songs and it would be a release and people would weep and you could see joy and connection. There’s nothing better on Earth than that. That’s the whole point of being in a band.”
Formed in Marietta, Georgia with his brother, lead vocalist Chris Robinson, The Black Crowes earned critical praise and commercial success with the release of their Platinum selling debut album, “Shake Your Money Maker” (1990). The singles “Twice As Hard,” “Hard to Handle” and “She Talks to Angels” received heavy radio airplay. Their follow-up Platinum album, “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion” (1992), featuring the hit single “Remedy,” became their highest charting album in the U.S. and abroad.
By the mid 90’s, the Black Crowes (who had continued to tour at a feverish pace, headlining shows and festivals in both Europe and Japan) reached the pinnacle of their commercial success. A loyal fan base continued to follow the band in spite of their declining popularity.
After the release of the album “Lions”(2001) and concert tour, the Black Crowes took an indefinite hiatus. Rich Robinson seized the opportunity to pursue solo and collaborative efforts, recording and performing with his bands Hookah Brown and Circle Sound.
In January 2005, Rich and Chris Robinson joined each other on stage for the first time since 2002, performing an acoustic show in Las Vegas. In the months to come, the Robinson’s performed a series of concert dates, “Brother’s of a Feather,” capturing one of their shows at the Roxy in Los Angeles for a CD/DVD release.
Rumors that the Black Crowes were reuniting surfaced a couple of months later. The band then hit the concert trail, headlining throughout the U.S. and Canada, guest appearing with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and then at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. A late summer five night run at the Fillmore in San Francisco was captured on film and released as a live CD/ DVD, “Freak ‘n’ Roll Into The Fog” (2006).
On the surface, the future of the Black Crowes looked promising, yet internal dissension was growing within the band.
“Early on when we would make records,” says Robinson, “it was always great because our roles were defined. My role was music and Chris’ was lyrics, and that’s really how it went. And then the band came in and played what they played and they were such great players. It wasn’t until later when the horse—t would come in.”
“What contributed to the end of the Black Crowes was more like ego,” adds Robinson. “The environment was really negative — not the band. It was coming from one source. It created a tremendous amount of negativity. To me, if you didn’t want to be in the band anymore and if you were bitter or whatever and you didn’t feel like it moved you anymore, I think you have to take into consideration the fans. Those people have been there with us the whole time and those people have an invested interest as well. Why not do at least a string of shows — one last tour and then just go away. Everyone would go into it knowing that this is done. Let’s have a celebration, not unlike “The Last Waltz.” So now it’s kind of freeing to be away from that and to just be in a more positive place.”
In spite of his disappointment over the demise of the Black Crowes, Robinson continues his journey of rebirth and discovery.
Robinson shines on his latest solo effort, “Flux” (Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2016). Offering a 13 song collection of what might be his finest solo work to date, Robinson is backed by a stellar line-up of musicians, including Matt Slocum (keys), Marco Benevento (keys), Danny Mitchell (keys) Zak Gabbard (bass), Joe Magistro (drums/percussion), and vocalists John Hogg and Danielia Cotton. “Music That Will Lift Me” is the record’s first single. The album showcases Robinson’s ability to deliver straight ahead rock and roll as well as emotionally charged, heart felt, thought provoking composition. Other stand-out tracks include “The Upstairs Land,” “Everything’s Alright,” “Life,” “Astral” and “Time to Leave.”
“I think it’s a progression, the next step,” says Robinson. “I really didn’t go in with anything. I just had parts. I’m thinking, ‘Well, I want to use the energy of the studio.’ We went ahead and just started doing it. I love the concept of flushing out these things while they’re happening. To me, the process is seeing this one small piece of music and then literally throughout the day seeing where it goes. Trying different beats, different riffs, adding this and that, and it’s really cool. I like to work with broad strokes and also with feeling. ‘How does this make me feel? Where is this going?” Those are the things that I really look at when I write. We get in there and really just do it and there’s really nothing better than that.”
Robinson, who currently splits his time by playing guitar for Bad Company on their 2016 U.S. co-headlining tour with Joe Walsh, is excited to perform songs off his latest release on his own solo concert dates.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out and playing and doing my thing,” says Robinson. “I really love my records and I love playing them live, and I really love my band. There are really no decisions to be made. We just get out there and play. It doesn’t have to be anything. It’s just there in front of us. It’s like when we’re in the studio. ‘Hey what do you think? What’s your part going to be?’ It’s just normal back and forth. We’re all there for one purpose — to play this music.”
“It’s been a few years of trying to convince people that I’m not trying to be the Black Crowes,” adds Robinson. “Crowes fans tend to want the Black Crowes. It can open some doors, but it can also shut them as well when people just want the Crowes. So there are pros and cons. It would be just really cool to have people come out and check us out and give it a chance. I think it’s good and hopefully you’ll like it.”