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Black Crowes expand debut album for new release: Q&A

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, February 26, 2021

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Chris and Rich Robinson made news last year by reuniting as the Black Crowes and planning a tour to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the group's five-times platinum debut album, "Shake Your Money Maker."

The COVID-19 pandemic made bigger news, of course, and bogarted those plans. The Robinsons are waiting to see if the dates postponed to this summer will happen, but in the meantime they're celebrating the album turning legal drinking age (21) with a new deluxe edition out Friday, Feb. 26, a four-disc set adding outtakes, demos (including two from when the group was known as Mr. Crowe's Garden), covers (Humble Pie's "30 Days in the Hole," John Lennon's "Jealous Guy") and a hot homecoming concert from December 1990 in Atlanta.

"Shake Your Money Maker" merits such treatment, of course. Produced by George Drakoulias in Atlanta and Los Angeles and named after the Elmore James song, the debut reached No. 4 on the Billboard 200 and introduced the Crowes to the world with hits such as "Jealous Again," "Twice As Hard," "Seeing Things," "She Talks to Angels" and a revved-up version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." All those songs are still rock radio staples, and while the Robinsons are not by nature nostalgic, but on this occasion, via Zoom, they're happy to talk about how the Crowes took flight and how "Moneymaker" shook their world...

There weren't initially plans for a "Shake Your Moneymaker" reissue like this. How did it come to be?

Rich Robinson: They were tossing around the idea last year, before we knew that the world was going to shift. So after that we decided just to see what we had, and we wanted to work with George again and just kind of get in there and see what was still in the vaults. Apparently Rick (Rubin, producer and owner of Def American Records) had his own vault, so we got in there and found a ton of stuff -- cassettes of stuff that Chris and I had written and recorded and live stuff, old demos. And then we got to the "Shake Your Moneymaker" tapes, and I had totally forgotten about "Charming Mess," and I didn't even remember we recorded "Jealous Guy." So it was pretty cool to see all that..

Chris Robinson: Also, the idea of "Shake Your Moneymaker" being the focal point of the whole (reunion) project really was the best. It takes off so many other things to deal with -- boom, we're just dealing with this...George and Rich did way more on this. (laughs) I'm at home listening to Sidney Bechet records, drinking absinthe and stuff.

"Shake Your Money Maker" was an auspicious debut. What kind of challenges did that present over the years?

Chris Robinson: There were years we spent every waking minute trying to get away from "Shake Your Money Maker," just in the way that band would, like a real rock 'n' roll band would be that way -- except for AC/DC, but they're AC/DC. (laughs). But we're still proud of the music. We couldn't have been more crystal clear about what we were doing at that point.

Re-immersing yourself in the album, to play it on tour and now for this reissue, what did you know now that you couldn't back then?

Rich Robinson: There's a lot more AC/DC on that record than I remember. I think that we approached it more like AC/DC -- the rhythm tracks, we were doubling the parts more than we did starting with (1992's "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion"). And there's a focus there. Those songs were pretty concise and focused.

Chris Robinson: The effort we put in was the kitchen sink, as much as we could muster -- to the breaking point. We were criticized because we had, like, legitimate guitar tones, because I didn't sound like Vince Neil or Axl Rose (laughs) or I didn't have a screaming metal voice. Just playing midtempo things made people go, "What?! It's either slow for fast. There's not midtempo anymore!"

Some at the time felt you were too obvious about your influences -- the Rolling Stones, the Faces, Humble Pie. It seems ironic, or maybe appropriate, that "30 Days in the Hole" is on here as an outtake.

Chris Robinson: Y'know, before Mojo magazine culture, 1972 was like a wasteland of music for most people. Now that's changed. When I look at it I'm like, "We're a rock 'n' roll band doing an Otis Redding song. We have basically a Stax-style single in 'Seeing Things.'" If I thought it was tough or daunting to sing an Otis Redding song, singing Steve Marriott's most famous vocal, man...We weren't really good enough, as you can hear, but it's cool to put on there.

Speaking of "Hard to Handle," one of the more interesting bonus tracks is a version of the song with horns on it. Why wasn't that one used on the original album?

Rich Robinson: The horns are meant to be on there with a song that swings. It makes a lot more sense with more space, but we had turned that song into a kind of straight-ahead rock 'n' roll song.

Chris Robinson: Everything's hitting on the one (beat) so music -- the guitars, the drums, very simple. George is the one who really made "Hard to Handle" into (Aerosmith's) "Walk This Way," with all those breaks and things, which is genius. So to have horns on that is too much. When you hear the Otis version it swings and it's laid back and it's funky, and the horns just add to that more when it's a soul record than a rock 'n' roll record.

You've said that the band was relatively clean and sober while making "Shake Your Money Maker" -- which comes as a significant surprise to those who know the band well.

Chris Robinson: (laughs) Y'know, we were working so hard; I think we played "Jealous Again" 35, 40 times -- not in the same day but in course of recording. None of us were into drug-drugs yet. And no one had money for, like, weed. We would get some beer occasionally, but there was six of us and we'd only have enough money for a 12-pack, so everyone had a couple of beers. There was no ordering lunch or dinner or anything. We lived off what George didn't eat; he would order extra chicken or whatever, and we'd fight over (the leftovers). He'd get the biggest soda you could have, and we'd all share it. Everything went into making the music.

When you reunited for the tour, it's just the two of you rather than putting the proverbial band back together. How come?

Chris Robinson: I think, number one, the Black Crowes have always been about Rich and me, in essence. To be in a place where we feel safe and a place where we feel taken care of and nurtured, we have to being like it's day one, something new -- new people, new energy. I don't think we want to be triggered by any of the negative parts of our past. We want to go forward, not backwards.

Rich Robinson: There was a strong agenda in the band (previously) to keep Chris and I apart and keep Chris and I fighting. So it had to be this way in order for it to be what we want.

A lot of this is about your personal reconciliation, too. That still seems to be intact.

Chris Robinson: It feels good, man. It's incredible that Rich and I are so much alike. We're so on the same page about everything after being so NOT on the same page for so long. Right now it's just us and we don't have any stuff in the middle, and that's really nice. I think it was a big thing for me to accept responsibility that I was part of a lot of the negativity. I've told him a few times, "Hey, I'm sorry that my anger and negativity of my depression and whatever I was going through bubbled out onto the public stovetop of our lives." It was nice to be able to tell him that.

Rich Robinson: It sucked to hear a bunch of negative s*** about yourself in the press, but I also understood why. He was in a dark place and...was lashing out at me. Not having him in my life was odd...and playing music without him always felt slightly odd to me. Now matter how much I tried, every song I write I always had Chris in mind -- "Chris would be great on this," that kind of thing. So right now it just feels...right.

Have you used the enforced time off to write new material?

Chris Robinson: Yeah, we've written 20, 25 songs. Once summer rolled around Rich started sending me stuff, and I started working on them. George is involved. We have no concrete plans, nothing on the calendar. We want to get on tour, but when we're ready and we want to do it, we're gonna make a new record. And we can do whatever we want. We can make a Black Crowes record, which we really want to do. We can make a Chris and Rich Robinson record, which we've never done. It can be something different. So I think creatively we're in a good spot. It's funny; Through all our bulls***, and all the s*** we've allowed to be bulls**** and blah, blah, blah...no matter what's going on, the place that Rich and I never really got on each other's nerves is when we were writing songs. We've always tried to write songs we find interesting and soulful and meaningful. That hasnít changed.

Has having more time to think about it changed what you're planning to do on stage at all?

Chris Robinson: Not so much, really. There's gonna be some production things that are scaled down and things like that. I think we know what we want to do. We put a band together that...crushes. It's just limbo. It's just waiting it out. So put your...masks on out there and do it! Get it over with! It's been going on forever.

The Black Crowes are scheduled to perform July 29 at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Independence Township. Tickets via 313Presents.com. Tickets for the postponed 2020 date will be honored.

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