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Band members include Adam Duritz, vocals, piano, harmonica (born August 1, 1964, in Baltimore, MD); David Bryson, guitar (born November 5, 1961); Dan Vickrey, guitar (born August 26, 1966, in Walnut Creek, CA); Matt Malley, bass (born July 4, 1963); Charles Gillingham, keyboards (born January 12, 1960, in Torrance, CA); Ben Mize, drums (born February 2, 1971). Vickrey joined band just before release of debut album, while Mize replaced Steve Bowman (born January 14, 1967), who played on August and Everything After, after its release. Addresses: Addresses: Fan club--Counting Crows, P.O. Box 5008, Berkeley, CA 94705; e-mail address: http://countingcrows.com. Record company-- Geffen Records, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069-6197.
Counting Crows made their debut in 1993 with August and Everything After, an album recorded in a cavernous Los Angeles mansion. The sound of the band--and the vocals of its burly frontman, the dreadlocked Adam Duritz--instantly drew comparisons to such earlier rock giants as Van Morrison and The Band. Some critics subsequently dismissed the band as derivative, but other reviewers contended that the group was a creative, talented addition to the rock music universe. As Melody Maker remarked, "Counting Crows are unashamedly steeped in a classic rock tradition, but there's nothing stale or hoary about this music. It's vibrant and alive, bright and brilliant in the here and now." While critics bickered about the merits of the album, music fans came down solidly in favor of the band, making August and Everything After one of the best-selling albums of 1994. In 1996 the band released a second album, Recovering the Satellites, that received a predominantly warm reception from critics and fans.
As the group's lead singer, chief songwriter, and co-founder (along with guitarist David Bryson), Duritz was easily the most visible and recognized member of Counting Crows. He was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but his doctor father relocated the family several times during his childhood. Duritz's family eventually wound up in the San Francisco area, where he met Bryson. The two quickly discovered that they shared a long-held passion for music. "It's been my life since fifth grade," Bryson said in Guitar Player. "I can't even imagine wanting to do anything else."
By 1991 Bryson and Duritz were playing San Franisco-area clubs as an acoustic, folk-oriented duo, but both wanted to start a full band. They soon recruited keyboard player Charlie Gillingham, drummer Steve Bowman, and bassist Matt Malley. Subsequent jam sessions encouraged the quintet to continue working together. Soon Counting Crows, as the band called itself, was playing to packed clubs throughout San Francisco. The steadily building buzz around the band attracted talent scouts from a number of major record labels, and the group eventually signed with Geffen.
After securing noted producer T-Bone Burnett to help guide them in the creation of their debut album, the band sequestered itself away in an empty, crumbling Los Angeles mansion. "We got in there and stripped the songs and each other down to the bone," Duritz told Musician's Bill Flanagan. "It was a real painful process, but we needed to learn how to be a band. We needed to learn what it would really take to make this level of an album, what you have to demand of yourself. I had no idea. We knew what we wanted, but we didn't know what it was going to take." Two months later, the band had completed August and Everything After.
Released in September 1993, August and Everything After had an immediate impact, despite the fact that Duritz and the band had placed a number of restrictions on the marketing of the album (they successfully restrained Geffen from releasing a single from the album and quashed efforts to place advertisements in rock magazines). Instead, Counting Crows made certain that the band stood or fell on its own merits. "It's real natural that way," Duritz told Mark Brown of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "If you buy the record that way, you know you want to hear it. They have a lot of money invested with us. They're taking a risk. But it's working." Indeed, the album rose steadily up the charts, buoyed by the band's touring, a Saturday Night Live appearance, and the pervasive presence of their video for the song "Mr. Jones" on MTV and VH-1.
Another factor in the album's popularity (it eventually sold six million copies) was its largely favorable critical reaction. Melody Maker called August and Everything After "often awesomely assured, [an] exhilarating mix of soul, R&B, folk, country, and rock 'n' roll." Time reviewer Christopher John Farley concurred, commenting that "the Crows' debut CD . . . shows that this Bay Area band is capable of creating credible, sometimes beautiful, rock 'n' roll." There were dissenting voices, however. One of the most venomous reviews of August and Everything After was submitted by Entertainment Weekly's David Browne, who wrote that "it's bad enough that such blatant calculation has gone into the band's look. Even worse is the album itself. Sluggish and meandering, with tastefully correct organs and mandolins, the songs are mostly the sort of plodding, earnest 'rock music' usually made by men twice their age." He went on to call Duritz's lyrics "laughable attempts at rock lyrics-as-poetry."
A number of reviewers also commented on the similarity of Duritz's emotional singing style to that of Van Morrison, a comparison that greatly annoyed the Crows' lead man. "I really hate [the comparisons]," he told Brown. "I've gotten a lot of this flack. I threw one 'sha la la' in as a joke on the record. The next thing I know I'm the second coming of the Belfast Cowboy [a Morrison nickname]. I don't get it. I can see where I learned from his singing. [But] all these other writers jump on it as an easy reference point....Where did I borrow from an Morrison? Just singing emotionally? That seems an obvious given." Writing in Musician, Bill Flanagan called the Duritz-as-Morrison-imitator accusation "a dubious rap. Anyone who sings emotional soul- inflected vocals over acoustic guitar is going to sound a bit like Van....When the roll of Morrison imitators is called up yonder, Adam will be down in the middle of the list with Rickie Lee Jones, Joan Armatrading, and Bono--behind Seger, Springsteen, Costello, and the other twenty or thirty disciples we could all name if we had nothing else to do, or if it mattered."
By mid-1994 Counting Crows was one of the best-known bands in America. However, the band--and especially Duritz--found that their new fame had a sometimes disconcerting flavor. "It's really wonderful to be able to do this art, this thing that I am so moved to do and support myself by doing it," Duritz remarked to Flanagan. "That's a real gift, a blessing not to be scoffed at. But at the same time, there's all these really crappy parts to it. You bare your soul to these people and you don't think about it when you do it, because it's what you do as a writer. But you're making millions of people your confidant. And then they expect to come talk to you and be your friend. That's hard." Unnerved by all the attention--and the suffocating coverage of his personal life (he has dated actresses Mary Louise Parker, Courteney Cox, and Jennifer Aniston during the past few years)--Duritz came down with a case of writer's block that lasted for the better part of two years.
For much of 1994 and 1995 Counting Crows stayed out of the studio, stymied by Duritz's struggles and a band-wide recognition that the stakes had become very large for them. "It's hard," Duritz admitted to Flanagan, "because if we make a misstep right now we'll carry it forever. You can become a great, great songwriter and never get that 'Cougar' out of your name."
Eventually, the Crows returned to recording, bolstered by a new batch of confessional, relationship-oriented songs from Duritz, who eventually worked through his writing difficulties. The result was Recovering the Satellites, released in the fall of 1996. Many critics echoed the thoughts of Mojo magazine, which characterized it as the "work of a considerably improved band." Anthony DeCurtis added in Rolling Stone:"In song after song, [Duritz] searches for what can last in a world that too often generates hopes and aspirations that only end in disappointment. . . . The past few years haven't been easy for this band, but there's much more to come. Counting Crows are here to stay."
by Kevin Hillstrom
Counting Crows's Career
Band formed by Duritz and Bryson in August 1991 in San Francisco, California; signed with Geffen records, 1992; performed Van Morrison song at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 1993; released August and Everything After, 1993; Duritz contributed vocals to "Going Back to Georgia" for Nanci Griffith's The Flyer, 1995; released Recovering the Satellites, 1996.
- Selective Works
- August and Everything After, Geffen, 1993.
- Recovering the Satellites, Geffen, 1996.
- Audio, January 1994.
- Entertainment Weekly, February 10, 1994.
- Guitar Player, June 1994.
- Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 20, 1993.
- Melody Maker, March 5, 1994.
- Mojo, November 1996.
- Musician, May 1994.
- New York Times, April 3, 1994.
- People, October 21, 1996.
- Pollstar, January 17, 1994.
- Q, November 1996.
- Rolling Stone, October 20, 1993; December 3, 1993; June 30, 1994; November 28, 1996.
- San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 1994.
- Spin, May 1994.
- Time, February 14, 1994; October 21, 1996.
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