In the December 2004 issue of Spin, columnist Chuck Klosterman named the Black Crowes as one of the 10 most accurately assessed groups in music history. "Stoned people like this band, drunk people think they're okay, and sober people hate the overwhelming majority of their catalogue," he wrote.
Actually, sober people haven't heard the majority of the Crowes' catalogue, since drug-free America stopped paying attention two discs into the band's six-album career. And Klosterman's premise that the Crowes aren't superlatively praised ignores the fact that Melody Maker once called them "The Most Rock 'n' Roll Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World."
Semantics aside, Klosterman's dismissive blurb suggests that Spin won't subject the Black Crowes to one of its sprawling oral histories anytime soon, so we'll have to use our imaginations (and actual sources, where noted) to conjure what band members and random observers might say about pivotal entries on the Crowes' career timeline.
Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson grew up in Atlanta. Their father Stan was a musician who scored a Top 40 hit ("Boom-a-Dit-Dip") in the '50s. His record collection, heavy on early blues and jangly country-rock, informed their musical tastes. In 1984, when Chris was 18 and Rich 15, the brothers formed Mr. Crowes Garden, which bore a strong resemblance to Peach State neighbors R.E.M.
Chris Robinson, Black Crowes singer: "I always felt uncomfortable in the alternative scene. If you played a Led Zeppelin record at that time, you were just a fuckin' stoner. Led Zeppelin was kids' music. I'm like, hey! You call this kids' music? That's a heavy, heavy band. The kids were into the MTV bands of the time -- Loverboy, Night Ranger, Van Halen, and Quiet Riot, music I don't even know about, except I don't like it. While most kids were listening to Ratt, I was listening to Blonde on Blonde." (Q, August 1991)
Stephen Pearcy, Ratt vocalist: "Dude, I thought we were bros. We shopped for blowsy shirts together! Now you're choosing some blonde over me? Shame, shame, shame."
In 1988, Def American executive George Drakoulias signed the group for a $5,000 advance. After changing its name and solidifying its lineup with its seventh bassist (Johnny Colt) and fourth drummer (Steve Gorman), the group unveiled its debut disc, Shake Your Money Maker, in 1990. The group made its first Cleveland appearance at the Agora Theatre as the opening act for Junkyard, a hair-metal also-ran. On the strength of an Otis Redding cover ("Hard to Handle") and a strikingly spiritual ballad ("She Talks to Angels"), the album eventually climbed into Billboard's top five. While some critics lauded the group's return to rock's roots at a time when gritty Stones-style sounds were absent from the airwaves, others branded the Crowes scavengers.
Rich Robinson: "Blues-based British Pop bands got it from the South. Listen to an Otis Redding record. It has everything a Rolling Stones record has and more. At the time, unfortunately, it wasn't marketed as well as the white bands. People were closed-minded, and it's a shame." (Seconds 'zine, 1995)
Mem Shannon, bluesman: "Uh, yeah, those were different days, when white boys got all the attention for playing blues or soul music, while the black pioneers got stuck on the chitlin circuit. Man, look at Jonny Lang or in the damn mirror -- ain't a damn thing changed."
In May 1992, The Crowes' second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, debuted atop the Billboard charts. The Black Crowes recorded and rejected a third album, titled Tall, in 1993, replacing that aborted project with 1994's Amorica. The Crowes co-headlined the third edition of the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, with attractions like the "LSD Flight Simulator," and started speaking up for the legalization of marijuana.
Chris Robinson: "Just say no to lying. Once I got into rock and roll for real and saw people doing anti-drunk-driving commercials and don't-do-drugs commercials, and they're fuckin' wasted -- it's like, 'Man, you're a fucking' pussy.'" (Rolling Stone, November 17, 1994)
Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Saved by the Bell star: "That reminds me of a very special episode when this rock star came to Bayside to do an anti-drugs spot, then tried to get Kelly high. The Zack Attack would never do anything like that. Sure, Jesse got hooked on speed, and Screech does coke at comedy clubs across the country, but at least they're not hypocrites."
After 1996's Three Snakes and One Charm came 1998's By Your Side, the group's groove-heaviest album. Sales were slow, so the Crowes booked one of those small-club tours that manufactures frantic desire for tickets, turning fading headliners into Beatlemania-style sensations. After 2000's intriguing yet uneven Lions, the Crowes declared a hiatus on October 31, 2001. The New York Post blamed Chris Robinson's wife, actress Kate Hudson.
Chris Robinson: "I just told everyone the last time we met, 'I'll see you when I see you.'" (MTV.com, October 25, 2002)
Kate Hudson: "I resent being implicated in the group's breakup. I don't interfere in his musical matters, just as he doesn't get in the way of my movies like Le Divorce and Raising Helen. In fact, he refuses to watch them, and I'm guessing it's because he doesn't want to cross that line between business and personal concerns."
In January 2005, the Crowes reunited to play a week's worth of sold-out shows in New York. They later performed at Bonnaroo on June 11 and recently joined Tom Petty for a string of summer dates.
Tom Petty, musician: "For some reason, I have a special affinity for unattractive, pot-smoking musicians with southern accents."
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