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The Black Crowes

Biography

The Black Crowes
Matthew Mendenhall
The Black Crowes became stars in the Nineties by reviving the look (long hair, velvet flares, fur-trimmed vests, impossibly skinny physiques) and the bluesy, boozy, two-guitar rock sound of the early-Seventies Rolling Stones and Faces.

Stan Robinson was a onetime singer who had a pop hit in 1959 with "Boom-a-Dip-Dip." He discouraged his sons Chris and Rich from becoming professional musicians, but by 1984 they had formed the band Mr. Crowe's Garden (named for a favorite childhood fairy tale). This group evolved into the Black Crowes, with Chris dropping out of college along the way. Their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker (Number 4, 1990), sold a million copies and won them Best New American Band in the Rolling Stone readers and critics polls. In true album-rock throwback fashion, its singles were only minor hits: "Jealous Again" (Number 75, 1990), "She Talks to Angels" (Number 30, 1991), and a cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" (Number 26, 1991). They've had success on and off ever since, with at least 13 other musicians passing through the Robinsons' ever-revolving door.

In March 1991 the Black Crowes were fired from their opening-act slot on ZZ Top's Miller Beer-sponsored tour after Chris Robinson, onstage in Atlanta, made sarcastic remarks about commercialism. That May the Crowes launched their own tour and three shows into it fired opening act Maggie's Dream, after hearing that band in a Miller Beer radio ad. Also in May, Chris Robinson was arrested for assault and disturbing the peace after a post-show argument with a female customer at a Denver convenience store. Before pleading no contest three months later (he got six months' probation and a $53 fine), he collapsed of malnutrition and exhaustion during a British tour. Upon his recovery, the Crowes played Moscow on the Monsters of Rock Tour of the Soviet Union.

With new guitarist Marc Ford (from L.A. band Burning Tree), the Crowes acted on their pro-marijuana rhetoric by playing the April 1992 Great Atlanta Pot Festival, staged by the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). Two months later the band's second album The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (named for an antebellum hymnal) entered the Billboard pop albums chart at Number 1; again its singles were not major hits: "Remedy" (Number 48, 1992) and "Thorn in My Pride" (Number 80, 1992).

In February 1993 the band played a free show in Houston, with its own handpicked security, to make up for a show the previous October, at which, the band felt, security guards had roughed up fans. The next month the band ended a Louisville, Kentucky, show after one song, ostensibly because of a backstage fracas between its road crew and plainclothes narcotics officers. The band's security chief and merchandising supervisor were charged with assault and resisting arrest. The band's 1994 album, Amorica, reached Number 11, but again yielded no hit singles. Amorica's original cover, depicting a closeup of a woman's bikini underwear with pubic hair showing, was changed after some chains refused to carry the album.

The making of the band's 1996 release, Three Snakes and One Charm (Number 15), was fraught with tension. The group returned to Atlanta to record, but was distracted by a lawsuit brought by a former manager (the case was later thrown out of court). During the next year, guitarist Ford was fired and original bassist Johnny Colt quit (he was replaced by Sven Pipien, a friend of the band's from Atlanta). A career-spanning box set, Sho' Nuff, came out in 1998. And in 1999, the group resurfaced on a new label, Columbia, and with an album, By Your Side (Number 26), that was greeted as a rollicking return to form. The single "Kicking My Heart Around" reached Number 3. Later that year, the band joined former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page for concerts at L.A.'s Greek Theatre, which were documented on the 2000 release Live at the Greek (Number 64, 2000). The artists also toured to support the recording. On New Year's Eve 2001, Chris Robinson was in the news again, when he wed 21-year-old actress Kate Hudson. The daughter of actress Goldie Hawn and singer/songwriter Bill Hudson, Hudson had starred as the groupie Penny Lane in director Cameron Crowe's autobiographical Seventies rock saga, Almost Famous.

The band's 2001 album, Lions, peaked at Number 20, and the band toured extensively to support it. But in January 2002, drummer Steve Gorman left the band, and the Crowes took what they called a "hiatus." Chris Robinson subsequently put out solo albums in 2002 and 2004, and Rich Robinson one of his own in 2004. Live, recorded in Boston in 2001, came out in 2002, but never climbed higher than Number 137 on the Billboard 200.

The Robinsons reunited the Crowes in 2005, and put out another live album — Freak 'n' Roll…Into The Fog (Number 18), recorded at San Francisco's The Fillmore — in 2006. The lineup continued to morph; in 2007, guitarist Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars officially joined the band. And in 2008, the Crowes released Warpaint (Number 5, 2008), their first studio album in seven years and highest charting since 1992. An associated two-disc concert album recorded on the subsequent tour, Warpaint Live, came out in June 2009 but didn't chart. Two months later, though, the Crowes released the rustic Before The Frost…Until The Freeze, recorded in five days at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY, and the album once again hit Billboard's Top Twenty, peaking at Number 12. Several critics hailed the record as a return to form.

Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Chuck Eddy contributed to this article.

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