What's So Bad About The Black Crowes?

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Everyone who's ever worked with or gigged with Chris and Rich Robinson for any length of time has at least one good story about their brotherly brawling. When Pete Angelus flew to Atlanta to see the Crowes perform for the first time and to discuss possible management, Chris and Rich picked him up at the airport. Angelus wasn't in the car thirty seconds before they were at each other's throats in the front seat. "They were arguing about which route to take to the club," Angelus says. "And there was an argument in the dressing room after the show about whether or not it was a good show."

Johnny Colt vividly remembers his first Robinson rhubarb. It was during his first week on the job, right in the middle of a Crowes rehearsal. One minute, the band was hitting a good groove. The next minute, as Colt tells it, "Chris is making faces, Rich is making hand gestures, Chris's mike stand goes up, Rich goes at Chris, and they're both falling down. They hit the ground and roll around. I just keep on playing, and when I look at Steve and Jeff, they're still playing, looking at each other and smiling.

"Then right when we go to a new part of the song, they stop fighting and Chris goes: That's it! That's what we need!' They jump up and start playing again. They fight, we get to the change, and suddenly their minds are back on the song."

"Those guys are closer than anyone you'd ever meet," according to Gorman, who, because of his size and strength, has been called upon more than once to pull them apart "They're always together, always going in the same direction. They don't always know it, though."

Actually, the Robinsons only fight about two things. One is, in Rich's words, "just bullshit. Chris will be yapping away, and I'll just tell him to shut up. It's a brother thing. Anyone who has brothers would know this."

The other is their songwriting, which is such a frequent source of friction it's amazing they get anything written at all. "Rich sees writing songs like building a house," Chris explains. "And I look at songs as taking buckets of paint, throwing them on a canvas and then jumping on it. There's no rules. So what you get after all this screaming and yelling is a well-built house with a whole lot of shit on it.

"Or," Chris continues, chuckling to himself, "you can look at it as a really beautiful paint job."

If the Robinsons agree on anything, it's that neither brother can imagine doing this rock & roll thing without the other at his side. And for all of their bickering and battling, they are in genuine awe of each other. Rich is amazed by Chris's daily superhuman diet of music and literature and claims that Chris, in a sense, was his most significant musical influence. "As my older brother he would go through the phases before I did," Rich says. "I'd take those records he was tired of and get into them myself. Because he would change phases every five minutes."

Rich also rushes to Chris's defense when asked about the latter's predilection for putting his foot in his mouth during interviews. "You ask Chris his opinion, and he'll tell you," Rich says. "And he knows sometimes he doesn't come off saying it right. Like the whole taping issue. All Chris said is, he's disappointed because great bands he's loved all his life were made to resort to using tapes in concert, and it bums him out because he feels they're better than that. It didn't come off sounding that way, but it disappointed him and made him look at the world and think, 'Man, things are fucked up, the music industry is just for shit.' "

Chris, in turn, is humbled by Rich's guitar prowess and astounded – a little worried, too – about the way his brother bottles up his feelings until he's ready to spit them out in song form. "He can be on the phone, twenty-one years old, discussing business deals and contracts that I have no idea what they're talking about," says Chris. "And the next second he can turn around and play me something new that makes me so excited I can't sleep for two days.

"I get worried when he gets stressed," Chris continues. "He doesn't relax like everyone else. He doesn't drink. He does no drugs. But he loves ice cream. That's his big thing. He'll get into a hotel, and he'll order up some ice cream from room service."

The fighting has eased off a bit in recent months – not because of success per se but because, Gorman says, "they're realizing that other people are paying attention – they're looking over their shoulders more." Just for the record, however, you should know that the Robinsons have two basic ground rules for combat: They never hit each other in the face, and unlike those other legendary warring siblings Ray and Dave Davies of the Kinks, Chris and Rich never fight onstage.

"I think that's unprofessional," Rich comments with a sniff.

"Plus, we have so much fun playing," he adds with a devilish smile, "why worry about that asshole?"

Chris is well stocked with books and music for the unexpected four-week vacation the Black Crowes are getting courtesy of ZZ Top. Scattered on the floor of his hotel room are dozens of CDs – a compilation of early Sixties folk-gospel sides by the Staple Singers is on the box right now – and a small library's worth of paperbacks, including Adventures in the Skin Trade, by Dylan Thomas, Jim Thompson's Killer Inside Me, short stories by Joseph Conrad and Minefield, an anthology of poems by Gregory Corso.

"I guess it looks pretty pretentious and eggheady," Chris says, grinning. In fact, Chris briefly contemplated a career as a writer, majoring in English during his abbreviated stays at Georgia State and Wofford College, in South Carolina. "My mom thought I'd just fade away and go write the Great American Seedy Disgusting Perverse Novel," says Chris. Instead he's writing songs with lines like "You must keep pepper in your pussy to act this mean."

"I like that because it's funny," Chris says, flipping excitedly through a notebook full of new jottings that may well end up on the next Crowes album. "Ain't that weird? It just sounds right."

"Okay, this thing," Chris continues, reading from another page. " 'You sting me just like Halloween/And you kiss me like Judas between the sheets/You burn me right to my rotten bones.' I know that's going to be in a song. I like that picture.

"I just love language," says Chris. "And to me the cool thing about rock & roll is that it can be a 'mind' thing and it can be a 'gut' thing. Regardless of what I'm singing, when you hear Rich up there doing his thing, that's primal, man.

"But when you hear that line 'The sunshine bores the daylights out of me' [from "Rocks Off," on Exile on Main Street], that's poetry, man. It's rock &, roll, that attitude."

Chris Robinson has dedicated his life to that attitude, and he's savoring the rewards that have come to him because of his fealty. But like any young man who finds that his greatest wish has come true sooner than he expected, Chris doesn't entirely trust his good fortune. "I sometimes wonder if there's anything weird about being young and reaching your goals," Chris says with a nervous apprehension that sounds odd coming from this otherwise cocksure rocker. "Like, you go to the self-help section of the bookstore, and the books are all about attaining your goals. But no one tells you what the fuck you do when you get here. That's a whole new can of worms."

The cloud passes quickly though. "But you just make it your environment – your reality," he proclaims. "It's cool. And I dig it."

This story is from the May 30th, 1991 issue of Rolling Stone.

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