The Black Crowes are from Atlanta, but Chris Robinson never cared for southern rock

black crowes


By Steve Newton

Chris Robinson, of Atlanta, Georgia, was nine years old when southern-rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the historic live album One More from the Road at that city’s Fox Theatre. Robinson was a little young for concerts at the time, but even if he’d been of age, he surely would have passed on the show. You see, he’s one of that rare breed: a rocker from the south who never cared for southern rock.

“I couldn’t stand Lynyrd Skynyrd when I was a kid,” says Robinson, “and I never liked the Allmans. I was more influenced by the blues and R&B and English bands, actually.”

Downplaying a band as revered in redneck territory as Skynyrd might not be a particularly healthy move for an Atlantan, but you could say that he’s earned the right to spout off a tad. At 23, the singer for the Black Crowes has already seen his band’s debut album go gold in Canada and sell 350,000 copies in the States. And the group has just finished a two-month tour with Aerosmith.

You could say that the band—which plays Club Soda this Sunday (August 12)—is on its way up.

But it was only five years ago that Robinson and his brother, Black Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson, played their first paying gig. It took place in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the band was paid 50 bucks. The cheque bounced, but Robinson was not swayed.

“It was still like the greatest rush, the greatest high I ever had,” he says. “I was 18 years old and playing in a club—my first gig out of town. Kinda cool, you know.”

Three years after that gig the current Black Crowes line-up was solidified, and the band took to playing Georgia clubs and writing new material, usually with Chris penning the lyrics and Rich the music. The sound the band came up with—as featured on the LP Shake Your Moneymaker—has more in common with early ’70s Faces than with any southern-rock bands, but that wasn’t a handicap for the group.

“I guess people who haven’t done what we’ve done would think it’s been difficult,” says Robinson, “but how difficult was it? I mean, I never sent a tape anywhere. Basically, we always knew that when it’s time to make a record, someone’s gonna find us and we’re gonna make a record.”

That someone turned out to be producer George Drakoulias, who saw the band in New York and got them signed to Def American, the Geffen-distributed label whose stable includes such uncompromising acts as thrash-metal kings Slayer and controversial comic Andrew Dice Clay.

“We just wanted to go with the label that would give us the freedom to do whatever we wanted in the studio,” says Robinson. “We could have signed with a lot of different labels, but we knew to avoid the hassles.”

The band also took the path less travelled when it decided to have first-timer Drakoulias helm the album, rather than a better-known, proven producer.

“Big-name producers are basically about making their name even bigger,” says Robinson, “which sometimes gets in the way of a band wanting to be a band. I mean, I’m not here to make Bruce Fairbairn or Bob Rock famous, I’m here to make me famous.”

While Robinson does come off as somewhat of a brash know-it-all, a heavy dose of confidence never hurt a new band that’s out to make it. He claims that the Black Crowes’ motive is to stir things up a bit in today’s too-safe music biz.

“I don’t think something that safe is healthy,” he says. “There’s no room for anything weird to happen, so what good is it? But thing’s are looking up—there’s some new bands out there that are really good. Like Lenny Kravitz is amazing, and there’s a band in L.A. called Burning Tree that is great.”

To help out its own cause, the Black Crowes recruited keyboard whiz Chuck Leavell (Allmans, Stones) to play piano and organ on most of Shake Your Moneymaker‘s tracks.

The Robinson brothers wrote all but one of the album’s tunes, the exception being Otis Redding’s ’68 number, “Hard to Handle”.

“We just decided to work up a couple of soul classics and see how they went, and that one turned out real good. Plus we’re all huge Otis fans anyway.”

One of the most memorable tracks on the album is “Thick ’n’ Thin”, a rollicking boogier that opens with the sound of a car colliding with a dumpster. The idea for the intro came from drummer Steve Groman’s habit of crashing his ’66 Dodge Dart into garbage cans whenever he pulled into a parking lot.

The band took a portable recorder and taped Gorman, the old fogie of the band at 24, as he rammed his car into the dumpster out behind the studio. Lucky there were no cops around, ’cause he had to do it seven times to get it right.

“That was basically just five guys in their early 20s getting bored,” says Robinson. “It’s a good way to break the monotony for about an hour.”

To hear the full audio of my 1990 interview with Chris Robinson subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can also eavesdrop on my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Steve Earle, 1987
Gabby Gaborno of the Cadillac Tramps, 1991
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover of Deep Purple, 1985
Matthew Sweet, 1995
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, 1995
Steve Hackett from Genesis, 1993
Grace Potter, 2008
Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, 1998
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
Albert Lee, 1986
Yngwie Malmsteen, 1985
Robert Cray, 1996
Tony Carey, 1984
Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1996
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Colin Linden, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Roy Buchanan, 1988
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Joey Spampinato of NRBQ, 1985
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
John Bell of Widespread Panic, 1992
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Jason Isbell, 2007
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, 1998
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
John Doe, 1990
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
Tommy Emmanuel, 1994
Rob Baker of the Tragically Hip, 1997
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Alex Van Halen, 1995
Eric Johnson, 2001
Stu Hamm, 1991
Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers, 1988
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Rob Halford of Judas Priest, 1984
Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
Paul Rodgers, 1997
R.L. Burnside, 1999
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
David Gogo, 1991
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
James Reyne from Australian Crawl, 1988
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Country Dick Montana of the Beat Farmers, 1990
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Lindsay Mitchell of Prism, 1988
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Gaye Delorme, 1990
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Roy Buchanan, 1986
Gary Moore, 1984
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
Ronnie James Dio, 1985
Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
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….with hundreds more to come

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