From a debut record known for its timeless radio hits to an ever-growing reputation for their epic live shows, the Black Crowes are celebrating a 20-year career of rock, soul, blues and jam. They’re commemorating the occasion with a new live album of stripped-down classics and a tour — which is rumored to be their last. Metro caught up with lead singer Chris Robinson mid-tour to get some answers.
Could you talk a little bit about “Croweology” and where those versions came from?
Living in our constant theme of never having any gratitude or trust for record companies, especially former record companies, we decided that instead of putting out a retrospective, we would go it alone and revisit these iconic gems with an acoustic treatment. I think that we really hit on something, I think this is really a fitting inner-tribute to show that the least-career oriented people you’ve ever met actually managed to somehow stay together for 20 f—ing years.
Explain the last studio record. There was a live aspect to that as well.
Well it was a conceptual record. We had made many studio records and due to the success of “Warpaint,” I decided I wanted to push it more. I wanted to have our audience in the studio to be part of the recording, which is something different for us. It’s funny, if people don’t know the back story, and many don’t — people are surprised when the audience comes in. Technically it’s a live album and technically it’s a studio record as well. Again, it was a conceptual sort of place we found ourselves.
Looking back, the industry has certainly changed. When you started out you had radio hits, but since then it hasn’t been an atmosphere for that sort of thing.
Yeah, for me it’s a way better situation now. It’s like those parasitic fish that live on sharks— the industry seems to be like that now. Again, like it was in the past, the most interesting music seems to be from an indie standpoint. For us, we grew up in Atlanta, Georgia; we were indie-rock politics with a roots-rock sound and we found ourselves in the right place at the right time to have commercial success in that era. Music has so much more to offer than celebrity or money. In this day and age I think its much easier for a band with creativity and talent to do it all themselves.
Is it strange to be on classic rock radio when you’re still alive, recording and touring?
Well, I don’t really listen to commercial radio. I can say this—we made “Shake Your Money Maker” in the summer of 1989 and what we were and what we wanted to accomplish had absolutely nothing to do with being around this long. To us, great careers were Syd Barrett and Gram Parsons. I mean that’s far out, man. I am of the mindset that if the Black Crowes are on the airwaves then it has to be a smoke-signal for the freaks in the world.
So many bands from the time you started are already in their reunion tour phases, to what do you attribute your longevity?
Well, I think that we get off on the music. After a certain amount of time with a body of work, it’s important to us. We also think that our audience is the most important thing to us. I mean people want to hear it. People travel around, people buy tickets from Europe and Asia to come and see us and as our story gets longer, so does theirs.
So how do you respond to the rumors that this is the Black Crowes final tour?
Well, I mean hey man, some days it feels like it. We’ve decided to take an extended break from each other. It’s just a decision to not do anything for a while. What happens between A and B, we don’t really know. For us, we look at it as a very progressive step. It’s been a very intense five years in Black Crowes culture. It was three records, getting the band back together, having the right members, knowing what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So we’ve fulfilled what we wanted to do in the past five years. So we’re going to put it away for a bit. When the bug hits us, and the wind changes direction, I’m sure Rich and I will be on the phone writing songs, making a record or touring.
What are you going to do with all your spare time?
I’m going to roll around with my wife and my kids in California. The Black Crowes are a great trip for me personally, but it also takes away from the other stuff. I have some production things on the horizon and I’m doing 15 to 20 songs myself. I have a little Los Angeles-based group that’s going to start probably in the spring. We’ll see what happens.
Do you have any favorite moments in the past 20 years of your career?
Well, there is lots of stuff. When we played with the Rolling Stones in the South of France, I was smoking a joint onstage behind Keith’s amp and they asked Dylan to sit in on “Like a Rolling Stone.” He went out and didn’t sing it the way they wanted to and it turned into a big catastrophe jam session in front of 70,000 people and as he walked off Keith said, “Thanks a lot” and Dylan put up his middle finger and said “F— you!” That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in my life. Then a couple of weeks ago we got inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and when we walked in the back door we met the governor. I haven’t lived in my home state of Georgia in 20 years, but the governor was there, a man named Sonny Perdue. And on the way there we drove past the governor’s mansion and there was a torrential downpour and we saw his house. When we got to the venue, Sonny Perdue said, “How you doing?” and I said “I don’t want to tell you your business, but I think you should get someone over there to clean you gutters.” That was a highlight for me. You know what, something great might happen this week.