ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 19, 1996
By Steve Newton
Lucky Black Crowes fans holding tickets to the band’s virtually sold-out show at the Orpheum on Wednesday (September 25) should consider themselves doubly fortunate, since it looked for a while as if Crowes concerts could become a thing of the past. Last year the band was on the verge of breaking up, as lead vocalist Chris Robinson and his younger brother, guitarist Rich Robinson, were at each other’s throats. For three months of a U.S. tour, Rich even travelled in his own tour bus!
“Chris and I weren’t really gettin’ along very well,” confides the younger Robinson, on the line from his Atlanta home, “for whatever reason. I just said, ‘Look, we need to get out of each other’s hair, ’cause we’ll beat the shit out of each other.’ We had a month off before we went to Europe to do this specific leg of the H.O.R.D.E. [Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere] tour, and we just decided, ‘We really need to either figure this out or break up, because we’re not doin’ anyone any good the way we are right now.’ So Chris and I decided to work it out, and then once we worked it out everyone else sort of fell in line.”
When the Robinsons finally got back onto a brotherly basis, they set about renewing their sense of family by recording the band’s fourth album, Three Snakes and One Charm. Rather than risk the often band-busting pressure of being in a time-sensitive studio, they recorded it at a rented residence dubbed Chateau de la Crowe, with Jack Joseph Puig, who also produced the previous amorica CD.
“It’s a totally different vibe doing it in a house,” says Robinson, “much more conducive to being creative.”
The result of the band’s sojourn at the Chateau is an album of diverse musical stylings that’s a far cry from the straightforward, Faces- and Stones-influenced approach of its hit 1990 debut, Shake Your Moneymaker. Robinson—who sings lead for the first time on the new disc—says he’s not worried about the band’s early fans getting turned off by the less boogiefied, more psychedelic music the Crowes are flying with now.
“On every record I feel like we’ve grown,” he says, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean, it’s rare that anyone evolves nowadays. Now it’s just this middle-of-the-road, ‘Let’s repeat everything we do, and try to sell some records.’ I just don’t think that that’s very cool.”
Another thing Robinson doesn’t view as cool is the way America’s “war on drugs” has made unfair targets of the reefer-loving crowd. It was no surprise when the blatantly pro-pot Black Crowes recorded Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (which sports the famous line “Everybody must get stoned”) for last year’s Hempilation CD, which raised funds to support the legalization of cannabis.
But even though the band has used a huge depiction of a marijuana leaf as an in-concert backdrop—and was featured on the cover of High Times magazine a few years back—Robinson says that his band doesn’t take Dylan’s lyrics literally.
“If you don’t want to smoke pot, then great,” he says. “We don’t take the stance like ‘Hey, everyone should get stoned.’ But we don’t feel people should be persecuted for doing it. And there’s people that are in jail for smokin’ pot, in some states, longer than people who are raping and murdering.
“You have to look at it like… I mean, if you take a 16-year-old kid, what’s worse for him? Say if he smokes pot, and whatever the ill effects of smoking pot are—say he’s lazy or whatever it may be—but then what if you throw him in jail for fuckin’ 10 years and he comes out when he’s 26 and he can’t get a job because he’s a convicted felon. Basically, the guy’s life is ruined. So, I mean seriously, what good is it to do that? It makes no sense at all.”
Robinson says that he hasn’t been busted for pot himself yet, and that, taking into consideration the severe laws in his home state of Georgia, that’s a good thing.
“They have these no-tolerance things,” he explains, “where if you have a car and someone pulls you over and they find something in your car, the cops can take your car and then auction it off for money. And I think that’s just very Nazi-like. I think it’s bullshit. I mean, as long as you don’t hurt anyone, shit, how can you justify that? I’m speaking for myself mainly, but I think that’s everyone’s stance in the band.”
One way that the Black Crowes are changing things that they don’t think are cool is by going against the normally strictly policed concert rule of “no recording devices allowed”. Like the Grateful Dead before them, the Crowes don’t mind turning the concert hall into thousands of little tiny recording studios.
“A lot of our fans come to a lot of different shows,” says Robinson, “and we play different set lists every night, so they like tapin’ the shows to get somethin’ different, and why not? If that’s what they want to do, cool.”