Black Crowes influenced by where music came from and where it could go



By Steve Newton

The Black Crowes are one of the most popular retro-minded bands around, so when they hooked up with guitar legend Jimmy Page last year to tour the U.S. and record a live album, it was like a dream come true for many classic-rock fans. But performing with the Led Zeppelin cofounder wasn’t something that the Crowes’ Rich Robinson had been fantasizing about for a long time.

“It just sort of happened,” the guitarist explains from a tour stop in Fargo, North Dakota. “That’s what was so cool about it. You know, we’d actually known Jimmy for a long time. We had toured with Robert Plant in 1990 in one of our first arena opening tours, and a coupla years later he brought Jimmy to see us at the Royal Albert Hall. We really hit it off, and a week later Jimmy flew in to see us at a show in Paris, and he got up and played a coupla songs.”

The Black Crowes went on to open on the South American leg of the Page & Plant reunion tour, and in ’99 Page asked them to join him on-stage at a charity show, where they would perform some Zep tunes, a few blues standards, and a couple of Crowes tracks. The rest was retro-rock history.

“We learned the songs at sound check,” Robinson recalls, “and it was so natural, it was just so easy for us. We fit with the music and vice versa. So we said, ‘Hey, let’s do some shows in the States,’ and we did six shows in the States, and everyone was so psyched about it we made a record.”

Originally available only over the Internet, the double-disc Jimmy Page & the Black Crowes Live at the Greek pulled in enough dot-com action to go gold in the States. The Crowes—who have sold more than 17 million albums worldwide—followed it up with their sixth studio CD, Lions, which introduced former Cry of Love guitarist Audley Freed. Freed wasn’t given the opportunity to get many licks in on Lions, though.

“He plays a couple of leads,” notes Robinson, “but we just didn’t want too heavy a guitar record—we really wanted it to have a lot of space. We wanted everything to sort of stand out, and have Eddie, our keyboard player, come more to the forefront.”

Freed joined the Black Crowes just after they finished recording 1999’s By Your Side CD. That was the first album on which Robinson played all the guitars himself, having previously relied on Marc Ford and, before that, Jeff Cease to help out. But he wasn’t too concerned about going it alone. “It’s just sort of what I do,” says the cocky rocker, who writes almost all of the band’s material with his older brother, vocalist Chris Robinson. “You know, no one knows the songs better than me, so I’m pretty comfortable with handling the guitars. It’s not a big deal to me.”

For the tour that brings the Black Crowes to the Orpheum Theatre on Friday (August 31), Robinson has seen fit to pass on more of the guitar-playing duties to Freed. The two pickers had lots of time to get tightened up on a recent European tour with Neil Young and, before that, a much-publicized North American tour with Oasis. Since that band’s Liam and Noel Gallagher are famous for their violent squabbles—and the Robinson brothers have been known to go at it themselves—it may have been wishful thinking that caused the jaunt to be labelled the Tour of Brotherly Love. But no one actually suffered from a brotherly beating. “We really had a blast doin’ that,” says Robinson. “They were cool, and everyone got along.”

The Black Crowes are one Yankee band that can’t seem to get enough of British rock groups. As well as owing much to the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, they’ve been heavily influenced by the likes of the Faces and Humble Pie. Chris Robinson even paid tribute to Steve Marriott by donning a Humble Pie T-shirt for the photo that graced the back cover of last year’s greatest-hits CD.

“Well, they were a great band,” says Robinson. “We all really loved Humble Pie and stuff. But music as a whole was our influence, you know, where music came from. I mean, we love all kinds of music, from jazz and bluegrass to country blues to rock ’n’ roll music and where it’s come from and where it could go. We’ve just always been big fans of that.”

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