You wouldn't know it to look at them. Chris is a hyperactive beanpole with a floppy mop of stringy brown hair, a stick-figure physique bordering on anorexia and a mouth that, like the rest of his body, is in perpetual motion. He externalizes every thought, no matter how marginal, at machine-gun speed but yaps mostly about music, his No. 1 obsession. And the chatter doesn't stop, not even when he's bouncing around the room and striking rock-star poses to his favorite records.
"Chris is just exhausting to be around," says Steve Gorman, who found out while sharing an apartment with Chris during the band's early days. "He puts on a Humble Pie record he's heard 8000 times, and he still acts like it's the first time he's heard it – 'Listen to this beat!' He's a marvel.'"
Rich is the strong, stoic type, almost to the point of invisibility when he's standing next to Chris. He has long, wiry blond hair and ruggedly handsome features that light up on those infrequent occasions when he cracks a smile. Rich, too, is obsessed – with his guitar playing, his songwriting and the Crowes' business affairs. Despite his age, he was the Crowes' manager until Pete Angelus (who also handles David Lee Roth) took over shortly before the release of Shake Your Money Maker last year. He still acts as the band's point man in all meetings and negotiations.
Yet at the heart of this extraordinary chalk-and-cheese act is a shared faith in the enduring power and glory of rock & roll and a mutual desire to taste it firsthand, without compromise. "Chris and I didn't decide to be in a band," Rich says. "We just assumed it." Rich got a guitar for Christmas when he was fifteen; he immediately started writing songs with Chris, who was all too keen to be a singer and lyricist, since "I didn't have the motor skills to pick up the guitar." Also, Chris confesses, "I didn't want to carry all that shit." Six months later, in the summer of 1984, the brothers played their first gig as Mr. Crowe's Garden, at a bar in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (The name came from a children's story.) They would have made fifty bucks, except the check bounced.
The Robinsons' ambition was, in part, genetic. Their father, Stan Robinson, flirted with pop stardom in 1959, when he scored a minor chart hit with the doo-wopish "Boom-a-Dip-Dip." The elder Robinson opened for Bill Haley and the Comets, shared a bottle of wine with Jimmy Reed and appeared on American Bandstand. (According to Chris, "We still have the TV Guide that says, 'Dick's guest tonight: Stan Robinson'") As a folk musician in the early Sixties, Stan also toured with Phil Ochs and got a pat on the back from Earl Scruggs at the Grand Ole Opry.
Rich says his dad – who also did some off-Broadway drama, played semipro football and is now a manufacturer's representative – never counseled his son the pitfalls of their chosen vocation. "He totally stayed out of it," says Rich. "Our parents were big on letting us do what we wanted to do." But Stan and his wife, Nancy, presented the boys with plenty of source material to draw from. "Very eclectic tastes my parents had," says Chris. "From Joe Cocker to Sly Stone to the Modern Jazz Quartet." Rich remembers hearing a lot of Irish folk and traditional blues; he claims that, Keith Richards comparisons to the contrary, he actually started playing guitar in open tuning because of repeated exposure to Muddy Waters.
Chris does not deny being influenced by – and head-over-boot-heels in love with – the Seventies bash 'n' sass of the Stones, the Faces, Aerosmith and Humble Pie. What he can't understand is why so many reviewers think it's a crime and why they can't hear everything else – the echoes of, among others, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bob Marley, Ry Cooder and Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes – in the mix on Shake Your Money Maker. Actually, if the Black Crowes are guilty of anything, it's of tapping the same roots as their mentors, reaching many of the same musical conclusions and then, in songs like "Jealous Again" and "Twice As Hard," blazing a parallel trail to power-chord and bent-note nirvana.
"What is original?" Chris asks with evident frustration. "I'm not going to bang two badger carcasses together and recite poetry and say, 'Hey, here's the new thing.' We sing a traditional type of music in a very untraditional way. It's country music, and blues, and R&B, and other things. It's ethnic music. That's what we do."
He's also sick of hearing about his great debt of influence to Rod Stewart. "Hey, the Replacements could have been the Faces," Chris cackles, "but Paul Westerberg was chickenshit. Westerberg didn't have the haircut, but Tommy Stinson did. To me it's so obvious I'm a Steve Marriott rip-off that I never think about Rod. I admit it. Steve Marriott is the guy, him and Paul Rodgers and Gregg Allman. The thing I do with the mike stand, I picked that up from Steven Tyler. When I was a kid, I'd see films of Aerosmith on The Midnight Special, and the next day I'd have Toys in the Attic on in my room, running around like Steven."
Still, Chris argues: "I know deep down that regardless of what anyone thinks – whether it be the musicians flipping pizzas here who said we sold out or people who think I owe Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart something – you can't deny that the Crowes are a living, breathing band. If we could, we'd make two records a year. Because that's what you do, man. You're a band. You grow. Okay, now I have a credit card, and I can go to Tower Records and the bookstore and go buy a couch or whatever. But if I couldn't do that, do you think I wouldn't be trying as hard as I could to be here anyway?
"I knew, if given a chance to get in the game, we were going to show up with a big bat and a fucking big glove, and I was gonna swing for the fence. You go around once, man, and you gotta do what feels best."
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