Q&A: Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes

The singer on fighting with his brother, meeting Dylan and what makes him nervous

Chris Robinson Credit: Michel Linssen/Redferns/Getty

The Black Crowes almost split up last year due to the brotherly squabbling of Chris and Rich Robinson. The two had glared at each other throughout the recording of the band's last album, 1994's Amorica. It showed. Fortunately, the brothers have worked it out. Their buoyant Three Snakes and One Charm once again provides a perfect soundtrack for throwing that Frisbee around in front of your dorm with a bandanna-wearing dog on a hung-over Sunday afternoon. And while singer Chris Robinson has a bare-footin,' pot-smokin,' free-to-be-you-and-me image, he is not afraid to let fly with a cranky opinion.

Your album is good driving music, particularly the single "Good Friday." Is it about a specific person?
"Good Friday" is about what we were like 10 years ago — that mentality, the relationships we had with women then. But it's not about anything in particular. With my wife, I never tell her if a song's about her, but subtly she figures out which ones are which.

Never?
You never write a song about someone and say, "This is for you," because then when you break up, they'll always have that to use against you. Why empower them with more energy to use against you eventually? This is relationship realism.

Speaking of relationships, you and Rich are getting along now. Did you ever share a room? Which posters were on the wall?
We were into animals. I had a tiger poster, and we had a big one of elephants. For summer school, I went to Wofford University, up in Spartanburg, S.C. I got into my dorm room, and I had my fuckin' Dream Syndicate poster up, and a fuckin' Tom Waits poster, and I went downstairs, and guys had the chick with just the bikini bottoms, like, spread-eagle on a Porsche. I was like, "Hey, I like a hand-job just like the next guy," but even at 18, I was into music.

What was your worst day job?
Construction work, because in our family we had, like, a screwdriver and a pair of pliers. You could get out of mowing the lawn just by dumping all the gas out behind the house. "Something's wrong with the lawn mower!" So I wouldn't consider myself a handyman. On this job they'd say, "Hey, you know how to work a jackhammer?" And I'd just be laughing, like, "Yeah! Sure! Give it to me!" I'm surprised I didn't burn the whole fuckin' place down.

You guys have gotten some flak for being retro.
We can live our little clandestine cult status. And people think something traditional is not going to be cool or sell anything, and they forget — traditions live.

You opened for the Stones and Bob Dylan in Europe. Was that nerve-racking?
It was cool when I was standing backstage and Bob Dylan came over to me and extended his hand and said (nasal Dylanesque inflection), "Hey, Chris, m'name's Bob." I was like, "Yeah, I know!" It was better than my first acid trip.

What gets you nervous?
Having to order food from room service. I can get in front of 100,000 people and sing, but . . . I don't know, it's weird. I just don't like to order things on the phone.

What was it like to meet the Stones?
I met Keith when they were mixing the last record. And he was the most charming person in the world, the way that the devil would have to be really charming. Wouldn't you imagine the devil would be a great conversationalist?

Absolutely.
Keith's a big reader, too.

What's a book you've reread the most?
I've read Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac, about a dozen times. I like Arab and ancient Indian folk tales. Because it's the same: All the things they teach about what's right or wrong. I mean, the only thing that deviates is basically . . . what everybody was wearing at the time. [Laughs] I used to be a literature major. I'd rather read Thomas Wolfe than Bret Elliot Easton — no, that's the guy from the Cars.

Do you watch MTV much?
Nah, I don't watch it much. Although everybody just wants to be on MTV! [Grumbles] Fuckin' Smashing Pumpkins.

Pardon?
I've never seen anything like that. I saw them interviewed on MTV about the guy who died [keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin] and the drummer [Jimmy Chamberlin]. These little kids are the most pompous . . . he [lead singer Billy Corgan] goes, "I guess we're a cliché." Well, what did you think you were? You fuckin' make videos! And you run around talking about things that you don't know about! They were talking about the drugs, and it was like, "What?"

I don't follow you.
A guy's dead, and you kick your drummer out, and you guys sit around and pat yourselves on the back. You know why? Not because he was hurting the band. He was a liability financially. And just say it! Say it! You people are the most corporate thing I've ever seen! He's a liability now. And you're not gonna get paid.

You guys almost broke up. What is the secret to getting along now?
Realizing that we might not be in the band anymore. Holy shit, this isn't the last time we'll go through some times that suck with each other. But that's the way life is.

When was the last time you two fought?
It was . . . Rich wrote a set list right before the show, and I was gonna write it. And we just looked at each other and started beating the shit out of each other. Every crew guy there was trying to break us up. Oasis, my ass! We're from Georgia; we fuckin' knuckle! [Phlegmy laugh] Literally, me and Rich have fought a lot, but we have one rule: You can have fuckin' body punches and fuckin' choke holds, and fuckin' throw bottles at each other, but we never crack each other in the face.