Rich Robinson is scurrying around his Atlanta home
cooking chili, consulting with a plumber, picking up after his
toddler son and modestly discussing his latest labor of love, the
new Black Crowes album, By Your Side. Off
the road for just two days, the twenty-nine-year-old guitarist is
making up for lost time. And yawning a lot.
“He just called his toy shark a ‘silly billy,'” Robinson chuckles
while juggling the phone and feeding two-year-old Taylor, who
recently joined his dad for a soundcheck backstage at the Cajun
House in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he proudly sported an enormous —
and undoubtedly darling — set of hearing-protective headphones.
Born around the time 1996’s Three Snakes and One Charm was
released, Taylor has reined in his father’s rock & roll
lifestyle somewhat, but he’s done nothing to soften the Robinson
family wild streak.
On Dec. 14, brothers Rich and Chris Robinson
(vocals, mayhem) tied up the winter leg of the Crowes’ on-again,
off-again Sho ‘Nuff tour, which supported their entire back-catalog
box set. On Jan. 12, the commotion will resume with the release of
By Your Side, and yet another open-ended tour that may see
the Crowes headlining next year’s H.O.R.D.E., Robinson says.
Not ones to bide their time with lost tracks and studio outtakes,
the Black Crowes are returning a mere five months after Sho
‘Nuff with eleven new songs that shake and shimmy with a
familiar Southern spirit. From the gritty rock standard “Kicking My
Heart Around” to the gospel-tinged love song “Diamond Ring,” By
Your Side demonstrates what the Black Crowes do best: rock
“The gospel has always been there,” Robinson says of the Crowes’
current sound. “There were more spiritual and gospel undertones on
Three Snakes, and I think that is an element we brought
back over to this album.”
“Diamond Ring,” which Robinson calls a “really cool Al Green song,”
and the guitar-rock tune “Go Tell the Congregation” were tacked on
to the album at the eleventh hour, pushing its release date back
into the new year. The Black Crowes wrapped up the first draft of
By Your Side last May, but then created a host of
marketing department headaches by continuing to create and
experiment on the road while supporting Sho ‘Nuff.
Robinson says he returned home for a break in September, wrote two
more songs, handed them off to Chris for lyrics and promptly
returned to the studio.
“I don’t question why I write songs or how I write songs. I always
get scared that if I do that I will jinx myself,” he says. “But
this shows that just one or two songs can change the entire outlook
of the record — they can turn it into something completely
Born and bred on the same Dixie influences as its predecessors,
By Your Side lays claim to at least one distinct calling
card: producer Kevin Shirley. The man behind
Silverchair’s Frogstomp and Aerosmith’s Nine
Lives, Shirley was recommended to the Crowes by Aerosmith
guitarist Joe Perry.
“Kevin brought out a lot of energy that we haven’t had for a
while,” Robinson says. “He said, ‘Forget everything that you have
learned in the last ten years and just play the songs. Quit being
so dramatic.’ We sometimes get caught up in making everything
perfect, but he said ‘fuck it and play the songs.'”
And his word became gospel. The Black Crowes played with a new
excitement and enthusiasm, spurred on by the band’s two new
members, bassist Sven Pipien (Mary My Hope) and
guitarist Audley Freed (Cry of Love). “We were a
little worried at first,” Robinson says. “But Audley and Sven
really love music — not in some really weird industry
compartmentalized way … they really love music, and that’s
Sounds like the rookies are in good company.