In January 2017, Rich Robinson decided to resurrect the music of the Black Crowes during a four-night stand at New York's Gramercy Theater with a little help from his ex-bandmates Marc Ford and Sven Pipien. They called the group (which also features singer John Hogg and members of Robinson's solo band) the Magpie Salute. Much to their shock, the shows sold out within minutes and before they knew it over 75 gigs were booked all over America and Europe. "We really became a band on that tour," says Robinson. "That's what it takes, getting out there and touring and playing to where everyone can start to read each other's minds. We became a single unit."
Their set list consisted largely of Black Crowes songs and Rich Robinson solo tunes in addition to classic-rock covers like Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells a Story" and Elton John's "My Father's Gun," but during downtime between shows they began working on original tunes. "We wrote some during soundcheck and others in the back of the bus," says Robinson. "Some songs I just wrote at home on my acoustic guitar."
They've demoed all of the tunes and plan on cutting them in Nashville later this month for the Magpie Salute's debut album. Robinson will produce the sessions himself. "Normally it's just me and our drummer Joe [Magistro] when I make records," he says. "So it's cool to have Sven and this whole band in there recording us live as a band in the live room. We're all really excited." There's no exact timeline for finishing the album or getting it into stores, but Rich thinks they should have a great deal of it done after just about six weeks in the studio. They'll support it later this year with another tour. "I see this group as my main outlet now," says Robinson. "I share such a strong musical connection with these people. Marc Ford and I have this thing and it's something you can't put your finger on and understand, but he and I just go to these places when we play together. The older I get, the more I realize how important that is."
Rich's estranged brother/ex-bandmate Chris Robinson referred to the Magpie Salute as a "Black Crowes tribute band" during an interview on The Howard Stern Show last year, but weeks ago he announced that his new project, As the Crow Flies, would also be playing the group's old material on a tour this year. "He has a tendency to run his mouth," says Rich. "And actions speak louder than words. So now he's in a Black Crowes tribute band." When the group split up in 2015, Rich said in a press release that the final straw came when Chris wanted to put founding drummer Steve Gorman on salary and change the group's profit-sharing agreement. "He pretends to be this peace-loving hippie that doesn't care about money," says Rich, "while trying to take everyone's money."
Rich is also irritated with the way that Chris has described the Black Crowes' songwriting process. "For a long time he's tried to diminish what I've done in the band," he says. "Chris wrote the lyrics and I wrote all of the music and arranged the songs. He's kind of hinted that that wasn't the case and him saying I'm in a Black Crowes tribute band is him trying to diminish the fact that those are my songs and I'm out there playing my songs with the guys that actually played on those records. That being said, I wish Chris well. Ultimately, I love him. He's incredibly talented and a great singer. I wish him well. I'm really more excited about what I'm doing now and moving forward and making this great record and getting out there just exploring music with the people that I admire and want to play with."
All of this means a Black Crowes reunion remains nothing but a remote possibility. "I kind of feel like it's in the Kinks realm where it's just done," says Rich. "I'm really happy not to play with him. I don't think it's healthy for anyone to be around that. If he's truly happy playing CRB [Chris Robinson Brotherhood] songs and that it's silly to play Black Crowes songs until he's ready to do it, then it's great. So be it."