Defined by a reissue of their 1990 multi-platinum debut album Shake Your Money Maker and a summer tour featuring a full performance of it at 30, 2021 marked a rare look back for Black Crowes Chris and Rich Robinson.
Moving their reunion forward via the creation of new music was crucial and today marks the physical release of their first studio output since 2010.
The 1972 EP was released exclusively via Amazon Music earlier this week and is now available on CD or vinyl via the band’s own Silver Arrow Records. The new project features the group’s current lineup on record for the first time, a band putting its own spin on some of the greatest tracks ever recorded as they turn 50.
Chris Robinson is particularly effective on a cover of Rod Stewart’s “You Wear it Well” while Rich Robinson puts forth a rare Crowes lead vocal on Little Feat’s “Easy to Slip,” playing alongside guitarist Isaiah Mitchell on “Rocks Off” by the Rolling Stones.
“When I first played with Isaiah, we instantly jumped to this place,” said Rich. “It was such a cool vibe. And it just flowed very well. That’s ultimately what it’s about – just the two of us sort of being able to work in these little moments, to weave the guitars together. It’s not something you can teach. It’s really just a natural thing. When someone comes along and that happens, that’s what’s amazing about it.”
The challenge in tackling timeless and familiar songs lies in how to make the new takes their own.
MORE FOR YOU
“If we’re gonna take on something like ‘Rocks Off,’ that’s a holy relic to us!” said Chris. “That song is something that we have listened to since we were kids hundreds and hundreds of times. How do we show our devotion in the most authentic way?” asked the vocalist.
“Same thing with T. Rex. A song like ‘The Slider’ – one of the coolest guitar sounds ever. Just the whole idea of when he hits that chorus, ‘And I slide…’ You can never top the original, it’s genius. So how do we make that something that we’re proud of? You have to find things that are the Black Crowes, that are our things. I can’t sing like Marc Bolan. The whole thing was illuminating to where we started talking about loving rock and roll and why we want to do what we do the way we want to do it.”
I spoke with Chris and Rich Robinson about revisiting Shake Your Money Maker on tour again this summer, the significance of 1972 and taking advantage of the studio environment at Sunset Sound, a lost recording art in the digital era. A transcript of our video call, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows below.
So the simple idea of getting back on stage in front of people again after the last two years – what was that like for you guys last summer?
RICH ROBINSON: It was a long time coming!
CHRIS ROBINSON: It was a long time coming for Rich and I to get our sh-t together. But then you throw COVID on top and the whole planet’s issue, yeah. It didn’t come without its own trepidation of being out there while the second wave of the pandemic hit – but it was amazing, are you kidding?
We dedicated our lives many, many decades ago to playing music – to being on that stage, to writing this music, to creating this music and breathing life into a rock and roll band. And what that meant to us – what it means to us – it was epic, yeah.
Revisiting the Shake Your Money Maker album was kind of a rare look back for you guys. In doing that the way you did in the depth you did for both the album reissue and the tour, did anything surprise you during that process? Did you learn anything from that exercise?
RICH: For us, or at least for me, never playing the same set twice for 31 years and then to focus on one record was definitely different. And interesting. And it took a discipline that I don’t think we had really had to focus on in the past. It’s really interesting to do that – to come out and actually kind of know what you’re going to play, focus on this one piece that we wrote and do that. To me, that was a really cool element of it personally.
CHRIS: To me, coming back around full circle, it was like, “Wow. All of the things I love about rock and roll.” When we made that record, we had yet to really experiment in different sorts of textures and dynamics of what our music would become and the songwriting. And it just reaffirmed for me, “Wow. I f—ing love rock and roll music.” I think one thing that separated the Black Crowes for good or bad, is we have a romantic relationship with music – with rock and roll.
I’m based in Chicago and I caught the tour last summer. I also just saw you in the Mad Dogs & Englishmen documentary, Chris. It’s there in the preview video for the 1972 EP as well. It really seems like beyond just stepping on stage and singing, you’re really relishing the role of frontman right now. Was that a conscious thing going into the tour?
CHRIS: Yeah, most definitely. I think the last – 2013 not included – the last decade of my life and my solo world definitely was a different presentation. And it’s funny. Because I think it’s perspective. To get away from that kind of performance, it kind of… It made me realize that I sowed my wild oats in the wilderness of psychedelia, you know? I really enjoyed being an entertainer. I’ve enjoyed getting back into that role. To put on a show! Whether it’s what I’m wearing or the pace of the show and the performance itself.
Again, I think that coincides with rock and roll in general – and bringing me back to a lot of the motivations and a lot of the dreams that I had as a kid. That kind of persona doesn’t exist anymore if it’s not Steven Tyler, Mick Jagger or Robert Plant or people like that! I know for a lot of the younger people that came to the shows – and we have a lot of people our age too – but for people who haven’t seen that type of presentation, it made it very exciting.
Well, the new EP… How important was it to you guys to keep this thing forward moving by creating new material, especially after doing the album in full?
CHRIS: You know, it’s funny. I’ve said it, Rich has said it. But when we started even having any sort of fuzzy ideas about being in music or putting our feet in that water, it always revolved around composition. It always revolved around writing songs. Shake Your Money Maker is a great example. All of our energy went into the songwriting. I don’t think I was an accomplished vocalist at the time. I think I had my moments and I was a good performer but we didn’t know. So the writing was the impetus for the whole thing.
Rich and I have had our ups and downs of course. Any relationship personal or professional that spans three and a half decades is going to have its ups and downs and its good and bad. But one thing that has never been an issue is writing. Give Rich and I any time and space and he has an idea. And when Rich plays me something, the way he plays, whether it’s the smallest detail in a song, that sets the mood for the melody or it sets the mood for what I want to write as a lyricist. And that’s just something that’s always been there for us.
And, again, I think doing this 1972 project, getting back in the studio after many, many years – and with this new band that we’ve put together – it kind of answered a lot of questions about the new material that we’re writing. What the focus of this next project could be, where we want to do it, who we want to do it.
So, yeah. It’s very forward and it’s very positive.
So 1972 – a lot going on in the world, a lot going on musically as well. What, aside from being 50 years out, made you guys want to revisit that year in particular?
CHRIS: It kind of fell into our laps. The project was brought to us from Amazon
RICH: And, to me, 1972 in particular, it was part of an era that I would say is sort of the heyday of expression. It wasn’t all of the genres. You could have T. Rex and [Rod Stewart’s] “You Wear It Well” and you could have [the Rolling Stones’] “Rocks Off” or Little Feat. Or throw in some Joni Mitchell or Aretha Franklin. The spectrum of artists that existed in music… And everyone was unique. And that uniqueness was celebrated.
To me, that’s what is so cool about it. To look at that year – to look at years at the burgeoning of this creative endeavor before sort of the corporations took over and saw how they could monetize it and make it more consumer-driven? There was a freedom there – and it was a freedom of expression.
Chris, taking on those Temptations vocals and harmonies on “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” – were you a fan of those Barrett Strong/Holland-Dozier-Holland-written songs early on?
CHRIS: Of course! Growing up in Atlanta, R&B, funk and soul were always a huge influence on me personally and I think on our music. Our inspiration through Black artists and Black music has always made us a little bit different than some of the rock bands of our generation – embracing those things and finding a natural relationship with them. I always talk about a band like Mother’s Finest from Atlanta that was a multi-racial rock band – that basically when you listen to their records now, it’s just hard funk music. But that stuff was on the radio. I think we’ve always been able to find the soul, you know? The deep seed of the things that inspire us have this soulful quality. And I think that’s part of 1972 as well.
Like Rich said, if you look at random, even the pop charts – before there were multiple charts about all of these things – R&B acts and rock acts and pop acts could all sort of exist in this world together. And I definitely wanted to include some more R&B sounding stuff on this project. Even though, you know, no one can sing like The Temptations!
When you listen to the original, it’s what nine minutes with all of that orchestration? It’s a song with no chord changes or anything. How do we take a song like that and turn it into something that’s representative of us as well as of this time? Just adding a backbeat to the chorus. Now it’s a Temptations song but we add the backbeat and it’s a little bit like Funkadelic. Some of the vocals would be like War or bands like that.
I think it’s a very natural thing for us.
And then tackling, of all Bowie albums, Ziggy Stardust. What does that album mean to you guys?
RICH: I remember listening to it as a kid. What a f—ing far out musical endeavor. On so many levels. So creative and interesting. And sort of honest. I don’t know, just musically it always was striking. “Moonage Daydream” in particular – what a f—ing cool song.
CHRIS: I mean, you have Mick Ronson on guitar. Creating that sonic soundscape with Bowie’s sort of art leanings and his conceptual side and his unique singing style. And then you put Mick Ronson in there? F-ck. It’s explosive.
Just to confirm, these were primarily analog recording sessions, right?
RICH: Primarily. It’s all through analog gear. But trying to find tape nowadays is really difficult. But everything in our power and arsenal is analog. We use guitars. We use amps. We use cables. We use microphones. And it all goes into a Neve console. It all goes here. And then we use Pro Tools as a tape machine.
CHRIS: It’s like the force: you could use the force for good or you could use the force for bad.
RICH: All of those things have a little color. They add a little color to what you’re doing. Even if it’s just on a spiritual level. Or literally – you plug into a Neve board and it sounds a little different than plugging into an SSL or an API. And all of these things are part of our color palette that we use to paint whatever painting we choose to paint. It’s a deeper meaning to me.
That idea of the studio impacting a recording session has sort of become a lost art in the digital era. How did Sunset Sound impact the proceedings this time around?
CHRIS: I was blown away. I’ve worked at studio one and two at Sunset Sound. We did the Croweology record at studio two. But we’d never worked in studio three.
Again, it’s these moments. F-ck… You sort of forget. There was a time in our lives where it was the first time we were in a real studio. It was the first time in front of real gear and mics. It brought me back to that – the excitement of that. Just that energy.
As the future goes, most people book giant studios and don’t even use the tracking room because they’re on a f—ing computer. Just sitting behind that giant Neve board, I was like, “Look at this machine…” Because it is a machine. A recording console is a machine. I was like, “Look at this grand, antiquated, beautiful thing.” It’s like a sonic locomotive at this point, you know what I mean? And it’s beautiful. I love it.
RICH: The sort of movement where once technology hit and everybody could record a little record in their bedroom or whatever, it seems easy and convenient. But studios were built to sound amazing. They had acoustical engineers come in and design these rooms specifically to sound great. The boards were designed to sound a certain way. The control rooms were designed. I always thought to be able to change your surroundings and go into a place that’s designed for these things makes you take it a little more seriously because you’re actually at this place. It’s also the brilliance of those places. There’s so many records made at that studio because of the way that it sounded. Because people wanted that sound.
CHRIS: They were in studio one but the Stones finished Exile on Main Street at Sunset Sound. I mean, we’re in the same place. I think that’s part of it too when you’re a romantic.
RICH: It’s always such a cool trip to go to these amazing studios that we’ve been fortunate enough to work in over our career.
CHRIS: It doesn’t go without notice that I think there’s also a lot of great things in terms of DIY too. But I agree with Rich – if you’re a devotional person, you make your way to the temple. Especially in Los Angeles, which was arguably the center of the recording universe at different times, they’re just magical buildings and magical spaces. And they’re made to do what we’re doing in this situation.
The myth – the mythology of rock and roll is something that I think we firmly believe in. We firmly believe in the artist that can create this kind of thing that has been with us and continues to inspire us in a lifetime full of loving music and making music.