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The Black Crowes Fly High

In the days when hair metal dominated mainstream radio, critics and older fans thirsted for the classic rock that was lost. Corporate pop songs and commercial glam from the 1980s “rockstars” were all the rage for a younger crowd. Until 1984, when two brothers united for the inception of one of the foremost rock ‘n’ roll bands in the history of music. The Black Crowes had been considered by journalists to be one of the most authentic groups in music at the time. Displaying a gritty, carefree attitude in their music and personal life, the group iterated the 1960s rock craze left by their predecessors. For a band that’s been out of sync with time, The Black Crowes have flown high with a legacy that stretches over 30-years.

Bitter rivalries, repeated lineup changes and extended hiatuses are only part of the story for two brothers from Georgia. Chris and Rich Robinson shared a passionate love of music through their father who had minor hits in the 1950s. The two would branch out their musical preferences and appreciated every genre during their youth. But the core sound of rock held close talons to the Robinsons as they added to their already diverse catalog of tastes. Chris was encouraged to pursue an education for his future and set an example as the older brother. But his obsession with music grew beyond his dorm room as a student at Wofford. “Even at 18, I was into music.”, says Chris. Upon returning from college, Chris grew tired of listening to the mainstream metal of his era and missed the classic rock from his youth. One day, he grabbed his brother and took him along for a ride to change all of that.

The Robinson brothers started their career in Atlanta’s indie rock scene with a hybrid infusion of southern rhythm and blues. After assessing their sound, they experimented with various musicians before settling on their permanent drummer, Steve Gorman. The trio would bring in other musicians for recording but never fill a core lineup as local fans became intrigued. By the time they began writing their first album, the band included noted guitarists Johnny Colt and Jeff Cease. Their blues-rock background influenced the Robinson’s musical talents which fueled the group’s debut album, Shake Your Money Maker in 1990. A title that pays respect to the late blues legend Elmore James. The album was an instant success as it went double platinum within its first year of release. Hit singles “Hard to Handle” and “She Talks to Angels” shattered their contemporaries as both tracks obtained immense airplay. The latter hit single marveled critics with its acoustic vibe and harrowing voice that drew comparisons to The Rolling Stones.

The band enjoyed their year of success as fans and critics voted them as the “Best New American Band” in Rolling Stone. But Chris was less enthusiastic about corporate exposure following the band’s firing from a ZZ Top tour. “They weren’t allowing us to be the Black Crowes,” the lead singer stated with MTV, “They were trying to censor what I was trying to say…I don’t need a big corporation telling me about the only thing in my life I have control over really, which is my music.” Coming off one of the hottest debuts in years, the band released a 1992 follow-up. The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion entered the charts as an instant hit and launched a summer tour that sold-out in minutes. While its singles were more lackluster, “Remedy” still found success within pop culture shows and movies. But the album would also start a chain of events that saw rifts grow among the band members. Specifically, between Chris and Rich.

After the additions of newer members grew the band’s sound, the Robinson brothers began squaring-off on creative directions. The sibling rivalry would grow while the group kept releasing albums into the next century. Lineup changes and hiatuses broke out randomly after each album which spawned heavy drug usage for the brothers. A boiling point had reached when the two clashed over income compensation and official ownership of the band. The media had covered their infamous break-up which led to the two venturing into solo careers. However, after years of rumors, the brothers would reconcile and reform again on the Howard Stern Show. The return culminated the anticipated anniversary of their debut album. Announcements of a summer tour would follow as 2021 looks to kick it off. With the promise of future music, the brothers assure fans, young and old, that “the pain is gonna make everything alright”.

Written by Trenton Luber


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