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Members include Jeff Cease (group member, 1988-92), guitar; Johnny Colt (left group, 1997), bass; Marc Ford (group member, 1992-97), guitar; Audley Freed (joined group, 1998), guitar; Steve Gorman (born on August 17, 1965, in Muskegon, MI), drums; Eddie Harsh (born in Toronto, Canada; joined group, 1992), keyboards; Sven Pipien(group member, 1998-2000), bass; Chris Robinson (born on December 20, 1966, in Atlanta, GA; married Kate Hudson (an actress), December 31, 2000. Education: Briefly attended Georgia State University and Wofford College, majoring in English), lead vocals; Rich Robinson (born on May 24, 1969, in Atlanta, GA), guitar; Greg Rzab (group member, 2000), bass. Addresses: Record company--V2 Records, 14 East 4th St., New York, NY 10012, website: http://www.v2music.com. Website--The Black Crowes Official Website: http://www.theblackcrowes.com.
During the early 1990s, R&B rock group the Black Crowes catapulted their first record, Shake Your Money Maker--which Rolling Stone's David Fricke aptly dubbed ``a guitar-party cracker that marries white Southern R&B crunch and Anglo cock-strutting attitude in the beloved early-Seventies manner of the Faces and the Rolling Stones''--to multiplatinum sales by playing no frills, old-line rock 'n' roll. Throughout 1990 and 1991 they entranced audiences across the United States and Europe opening for Heart, Aerosmith, Robert Plant, and ZZ Top. Following their debut, the Black Crowes released Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which entered the charts at number one. The group released several successful albums during the mid to late 1990s, including Amorica, Three Snakes and One Charm, By Your Side, and Lions in 2001.
The masterminds of one of the few rock debut albums to go platinum in 1990--indeed, it had been a year since a rock band had hit number one on the Billboard album chart--the Atlanta quintet went from relative obscurity to pop celebrity in a matter of months. They topped both Rolling Stone's 1991 readers and critics polls as Best New American Band, won an Elvis Award for Artist of the Year and Album of the Year at the 1991 International Rock Awards, and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist, also in 1991. According to People magazine, after late night television host David Letterman heard the Crowes perform the single ``Jealous Again,'' led by the Robinson brothers--Chris, a captivating singer and the band's lyricist, and reserved, guitar-playing Rich--he summed up their improbably wanton success by asking ``Isn't that rock and roll the way God wanted it to be?''
Sensitive to claims that their sound and style is unduly derived from early 1970s-era British R&B rock bands, the cheeky and effusive Chris retorted to Kim Neely in Rolling Stone, ``There's no new music ever, period. It's all an interpretation of music that's come before.'' Nicknamed the ``Rotten Twins'' by bassist Johnny Colt, Chris and Rich--a basically loving, though occasionally squabbling twosome--nonetheless depart from their influences in avoiding the drug binges and groupie orgies that purportedly characterized the heyday of the Stones' Keith Richards and Faces-era Rod Stewart.
Exotic Stage Trappings
The boys insist that though they are a Southern group, they are not a rebel band. The Tibetan human-bone jewelry, ``gris-gris'' charm pouches, voodoo paraphernalia and candle-burning featured in their stage shows, they assure their public, signify nothing more than an interest in the exotic. Stressing that they don't rely on some ``black magic'' image to promote themselves, Chris--who also eschews the scantily-clad women customary in rock videos--passionately assured Rolling Stone's Neely that he can sell his band on performance alone. ``You know, there are people out there who really care and who don't call records product. A Pop-tart is a product. I make music. I don't want to be a f**king product, I want to be a piece of your life.''
Born three years apart in the late 1960s, in Atlanta, Georgia, Chris and Rich Robinson are the only children of Stan and Nancy (Bradley) Robinson. Former singer Stan briefly landed a pop single, ``Boom-a-Dip Dip,'' in the top 40 charts in 1958, but after four lean years of touring, his performing career dwindled to a close. The elder Robinson happily introduced his sons to a sundry collection of blues, R&B, gospel, and rock. Neither parent was pleased when Chris and Rich decided to pursue music. By the early 1980s, however, their mother relented and purchased the boys guitars. A few months later, dispensing punk rockish numbers--the only tunes they could play--the brothers named their first band Mr. Crowe's Garden after a childhood fairy tale.
Developed Bluesy Barroom Sound
In 1984, 18-year-old Chris and 15-year-old Rich made their professional stage debut in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Though the check covering their $50 performance bounced, the boys persisted. School was decidedly secondary as the brothers honed their skills, performing at area gigs. Rich attended five different prep and public schools before high school graduation; Chris made an abrupt exit from Georgia State University. ``Look, Jack Kerouac, you want to be a rock star,'' Chris's father told him, according to People's Steve Dougherty, ``you can sleep in the backyard.'' Chris left home to room with drummer Steve Gorman. The two began developing a demo tape of original numbers with Rich in 1987. The makeshift group's bluesy barroom sound took shape over the next two years, featuring Rich's experiments with Muddy Waters-style open-G tuning and what Rolling Stone's Fricke termed ``six-string slash and slippery country-funk grease,'' and was bolstered in 1988 by the addition of second guitarist Jeff Cease and bassist Johnny Colt. After some advantageous exposure and a name change, the Black Crowes signed a contract with Def American Records in January of 1989 and released their first album roughly a year later.
``There's a flip side to the bottled razzle-dazzle of Milli Vanilli: bottled authenticity,'' remarked John Leland in Newsweek after the Crowes' debut recording went top ten and had sold a million Copies within a year of its release. ``It's the neatly packaged return of the real thing. And no one hawks it with as much spunk as the Black Crowes.'' Hawking the album was of paramount importance to the Crowes, whose 14 months of opening sets, along with heavy radio airplay of the mega-hit single ``She Talks to Angels''--written by Rich Robinson back when he was 17--and enthusiastic MTV rotation of their videos deftly marketed their classic rock 'n'roll. Rolling Stone reported that Shake Your Money Maker ``sold 108,000 copies in a single day.'' The group largely considered a contemporary oddity--``a youthful American band that shuns the alternative and metal scenes,'' according to Rolling Stone--had made a record Audio called ``one terrific rock 'n' roll album. Nothing real progressive or strange. Just some damn fine, down-the-line, bluesy rock.''
Bounced from ZZ Top Tour
In March of 1991 the Black Crowes found themselves dismissed from the ZZ Top tour, over the course of which they had received almost as much attention as the headlining Top. Chris Robinson's routine reminder to audiences--this time in front of a hometown crowd of 16,000--that the Crowes play live rock 'n' roll, as opposed to just doing ``commercials'' for their ``product,'' finally rankled corporate tour sponsors Miller Lite beer. By Rolling Stone's account, Robinson had been cautioned against ``saying `anything about commercialization, commercials, sponsorship or endorsements.''' Unwilling to bow to what he saw as censorship, Robinson recalled, ``I said, `Don't tell me what to say. Kick us off.' And they did.''
On May 29, 1991, Chris Robinson's formidable verbal facility again brought the Crowes controversy. After a Denver, Colorado, concert appearance--according to an early June report on MTV News--Robinson was arrested and charged with assault and disturbing the peace, the result of an altercation with a Twinkie-buying 7-11 convenience store customer. The brouhaha, as represented by the Rocky Mountain News's coverage of the customer's story, was sparked when she remarked to a star-struck friend that she didn't know who the Black Crowes were and did not recognize Robinson, thus apparently raising Robinson's ire. The scene developed as Robinson, perhaps already irritated that he and his entourage could not--by Colorado law--purchase beer as it was after midnight, allegedly insulted the woman and spit on her.
7-11 Incident Resolved in Court
For his part, Robinson told MTV News that in fact, he had spit on the floor at the customer--not on her--after the customer had verbally abused him. Before his court date, the Crowes' downright skinny frontman collapsed while traveling in the U.K. Exhaustion and malnutrition were deemed the culprits. Finally, MTV News revealed in early August that Robinson had pleaded ``no contest'' to the charge of disturbing the peace. The charge would be dropped from Robinson's record if he were able to clear six months' probation. The singer was fined $53 in court costs.
Fall of that year saw the Crowes perform for 500,000 Soviet heavy metal fans at the Moscow stop of the mammoth Monsters of Rock tour. Though maybe a bit light for many of the attendant ``headbangers'' and not yet ``mature'' enough to shine in such a setting, Rolling Stone correspondent Artemy Troitsky nonetheless enjoyed their set. Early in 1992, Black Crowes guitarist Jeff Cease was replaced by Marc Ford, formerly of the group Burning Tree. Though the band's lineup had seemed solid to many of their fans, this shakeup was actually one of a long line of early personnel changes. Keyboardist Eddie Harsh was added to the group in 1992. In 1997, Ford left the group, along with Colt. Sven Pipien and Audley Freed joined in 1998; Pipien was replaced by Greg Rzab on bass in 2000.
Controversy Followed Amorica Release
The group released The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in 1992 to positive reviews. According to the group's biography at MTV.com, "The musical progression of the band, and of the brothers as songwriters, was obvious [on the album], with more complex arrangements than the debut...." The album's lead single, "Remedy," peaked at number 48 on the charts, and the album has since earned multiplatinum sales. The release of Southern was followed by the High As the Moon tour, which featured a special anti-scalping voucher system that helped ensure that concertgoers first in line would receive the best tickets instead of those buying from scalpers or ticket brokers. Amorica was released in 1994 after a difficult creative process; the group recorded 17 songs, then decided to toss them and start over. Controversy also surrounded the album's artwork, which featured a female crotch covered by a bikini bottom with protruding pubic hair. The hair was airbrushed out for artwork featured on albums sold in store chains such as Kmart, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target.
In 1996, the group released Three Snakes and One Charm to lukewarm reviews. "[T]he production is distressingly monotonous and the songs lack strong hooks," Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide commented. By Your Side, produced by Kevin Shirley (who worked with Aerosmith on that group's Nine Lives album), followed in 1999. The group collaborated with Jimmy Page in 2000 for a series of concerts in the United States. An album capturing two live shows at the Los Angeles Ampitheater, called Live at the Greek, earned gold sales status in November of 2000. On May 8, 2001, the group released Lionson the independent label, V2 Records.
``Rap and computer-driven dance music have pushed orthodox rock into the margins,'' summed Newsweek's Leland, explaining the appeal of the Black Crowes' ``loving rehashes'' of early 1970s British rock. ``The success of the Black Crowes is a response to this. These guys are orthodox with a vengeance: they wear the red velvet pants and the scarves, and purse their lips just right, even when there isn't a mirror in sight.'' One review, in Rolling Stone, began ``Imitations of imitations ...,'' but went on to qualify this initial pronouncement: ``The Black Crowes aren't merely trying to `reinvent' the Faces' gin-soaked rock; instead, they manage to reinvest it with innocent fervor and a swaggering grace.... This is how the Stones might sound today if Keith [Richards] had spent his salad days banging steroids instead of smack.'' To retain the spirit of rock forged in the epoch of their elders, the Black Crowes conform to a personal tenet Chris Robinson related to Billboard contributor Chris Morris. ``I want to stir the soul,'' he confessed, ``or at least mine.''
by Marjorie Burgess
The Black Crowes's Career
Band formed in Atlanta, GA, as punk ensemble Mr. Crowe's Garden, early 1980s; debuted in Chattanooga, TN, 1984; style evolved into barroom R&B and rock, c. 1988; name changed to the Black Crowes, late 1980s; signed with Def American Records, 1989; released debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, 1990; toured the U.S. and Europe, opening for Heart, Robert Plant, Aerosmith, and ZZ Top; released Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, 1992; released Amorica, controversy surrounds album cover art work, 1994; released Three Snakes & One Charm, 1996; released By Your Side, 1999; released Lions, 2001.
The Black Crowes's Awards
Named Best New American Band, Rolling Stone readers and critics polls, named Artist of the Year and Shake Your Money Maker named Album of the Year at the International Rock Awards, 1991.
- Selected discography
- Shake Your Money Maker , Def American, 1990.
- The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion , Def American, 1993.
- Amorica , Def American, 1994.
- Three Snakes and One Charm , Def American, 1996.
- By Your Side , Def American, 1999.
- Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes: Live at the Greek , TVT, 2000.
- A Tribute to a Work in Progress... Greatest Hits 1990-1999 , Def American, 2000.
- Lions , BMG/V2, 2001.
- Amusement Business, January 18, 1993.
- Audio, August 1990.
- Billboard, January 19, 1991; November 12, 1994; January 27, 2001.
- Guitar Player, October 1998.
- Newsweek, February 11, 1991.
- People, March 11, 1991.
- Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), May 31, 1991.
- Rolling Stone, May 31, 1990; June 14, 1990; December 13, 1990; January 24, 1991; May 30, 1991; November 14, 1991.
- Spin, May 1991.
- Variety, January 7, 1991.
- "The Black Crowes," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 3, 2002).
- "The Black Crowes Biography," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/az/black_crowes/bio.jhtml (January 3, 2002).
- Information for this profile was obtained from MTV News reports broadcast June 4-5, 7-10, 12-13, and August 1-2, 1991.
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