Chris Robinson has always been a heavy record-crate digger, reviving cuts by acts from the Band to Buck Owens in concert during his years with the Black Crowes and listening to vinyl compulsively on the road with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. The singer will mine his record collection with a focus on psychedelia for his new radio show, Chris Robinson’s Gurus Galore, to air on Sirius XM’s Jam On channel beginning Monday, April 4th, at 5 p.m. ET.
Robinson has ramped up work with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood since the Black Crowes completed what they say was their final tour in 2013. His brother Rich wrote a note last year announcing their breakup, with a series of accusations against his brother. “I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I must give up my equal share of the band, and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100% of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to,” Rich Robinson wrote.
Here, Chris Robinson responds to those allegations, and explains why the Crowes will never play again. “It’s just gross now,” he says. “I think everyone’s laid down their cards. If you’re a child and you’ve been hurt and someone took your toy, you have a temper tantrum, you know? You’re allowed to just want the money. You’re allowed to just want to be in that kind of band where you go out and play your hits and you don’t have anything else to say or offer anyone. In the same way, I’m allowed to not want to be a part of that.” He also discusses his passion for playing with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood and how psychedelic drugs affected his music.
What’s it been like to become a radio DJ?
We’ve taped the first six episodes. The show’s called Gurus Galore, which is an extension of when I was living in New York — the last time I was living in New York, a few years ago, must’ve been eight years ago, when my wife and I had kept her apartment before I made her a permanent Californian. We used to DJ a lot. My friend Michael Klausman, from Other Music, here in New York — we used to DJ a lot of parties, and stuff, and we were called Gurus Galore.
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I kind of kept that moniker. I’m an obsessive music fan. I listen to a lot of stuff that’s probably not played on the radio too much, as well. The last time I was there a few months ago, I had the opportunity to do, like, a guest DJ thing, and I was like, “Dude, why don’t I have my own radio show?” So that’s kind of how it got started. And you know, my initial idea was, I really liked the idea of those old, like, FM late-night DJ’s, someone that would come on once a week and play you, not just the Who, not just, you know, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Not just the the stuff that you constantly hear on AM or rock radio. Longer tracks, and then for me, like, again, I can get into New Age music. I can play BBC Radiophonic Workshop stuff. But I can also play obscure psych bands. And if I want, I can play Syd Barrett. I can play Skip Spence. I can play Gabor Szabo. I can play, you know, really, he said, “Whatever you want, whatever you feel like that sort of set would be,” or whatever. So, super exciting, you know? And for me, you know, if I can be a miniature Johnny Hempseed for psychedelic music, then so be it.
If you had to pick a couple of your favorite psychedelic records, what would they be?
I can’t even imagine what life would have been like if I hadn’t got The Madcap Laughs in 1986, or whatever. And I would say, probably “Dark Star” from Live/Dead is a quintessential LSD recording. I’m a huge Deadhead and there’s millions of better versions, people can argue, but this is a record that came out that was blowing minds, you know?
I would say, too, if I had to put something on the very top of the list though, I would probably say Gong, Daevid Allen’s Gong, and their record Angel’s Egg is an incredible dose of psychedelic genius. You can also throw anything that George Clinton did from 1970 to about 1978. Parliament/Funkadelic. The one thing about George that’s always been important to me, and our music and his influence on me, is he’s really one of the only R&B or black artists whose, you know… LSD really changed the game for them.
How do you define psychedelic music?
Well, psychedelic usually for me is music and people and the culture that revolves around the creative process being involved with psychedelic drugs. It’s not a haircut; it’s not a lot of reverb on your guitar, or whatever. I don’t think it’s just about the psychedelic, sort of infusion-driven experience, although that’s the basis of it. I think that’s that’s the catalyst for all this other sort of progressive and positive stuff. Again, it’s a doorway to enter through, and you leave behind a lot of the same old stuff, a lot of the same old dimensional realities that everyone’s involved with. The other thing about real psychedelic music, to me, is a lot of people wanted to make music and create beautiful things. It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with being “driven rock stars.” Not everyone was going to be Pink Floyd, you know what I mean? It was expression for expression’s sake, as opposed to, you know, kind of manipulating who you are and what you have to say.
Do you remember your first psychedelic experience?
Of course. It was a long time ago. It must’ve been 1985. I was in Atlanta, with Sven Pipien, who was the bass player in the Black Crowes for many years. We were still teenagers; we had all just moved out of our parents’ houses. Yeah, we just took a trip; we were all in Atlanta at a friend’s apartment, and it was the first time I felt the warm embrace of the cosmic consciousness. The holy mother took me to her bosom and said, “Everything will be all right.” It was a miraculous, beautiful evening, and then we spent the rest of the night at our friend’s house, probably just listening to Flying Burrito Brothers records, just getting super kooky. But the one thing I always remembered about it was when I was still attempting to be a student at the time, at Georgia State University, I went down to the campus, and as I was walking along, I kind of noticed how similar the experience was in a way to how I already envisioned the world, the way the light falls on the sidewalks, through an iron fence, or just sitting on the corner and watching people go about their days in my own sort of way. It wasn’t frightening or intimidating. It was, “Oh, this is a tool, maybe for the right person at the right time to get through some of the trials and tribulations that we all face.” But in a responsible, in a respectful way. Because you’re dealing with consciousness.
“We were all in Atlanta at a friend’s apartment, and it was the first time I felt the warm embrace of the cosmic consciousness.”
Do you think those psychedelic experiences helped you become successful, or pointed you in the right direction?
You know, it’s funny that you say that, because there’s a duality there. My interest in that gave me great insights as a young person who was kind of thrust into rock & roll stardom, which, you know, you step up to the plate and you take a swing. You know, that was the whole point.
But it’s funny because those early sort of forays into psychedelic experience and culture definitely gave me the perception and the strength to see, “Oh, these people don’t care about my music! These people don’t care about me! They care about money and they care about all the other bands that can make money.” It’s like being the owner of a sports team or something. “You break your leg? Shit for you, huh, kid?” It gave me the vantage point of being able to see some of these illusionary things that happen in entertainment and showbiz, and made me sort of back away from it. On the other hand, it probably upset all the other people, because not everybody else was on the same trip as me. You know what I mean?
And subsequently, as the Nineties sort of progressed and hard drugs became a part of the routine, it seemed like the psychedelics took a seat on the back of the bus until I got that out of my system and started to find myself again. It’s funny, though. I found myself true happiness and more complete and more secure the farther I was away from the thing that made me successful, or the people that I came up with. You know what I mean?
Farther away from what?
From the Black Crowes. Or from people I felt probably never had my best interests, or my back. But, you know, 20/20. What happened, happened. I think as we get older, and we have different responsibilities and dynamics in our life. The point is not to make the same mistakes. With the CRB [Chris Robinson Brotherhood], this is our little community. It’s still small. I was laughing. We sold out two nights at the Fillmore in December. Some friends said, “Jesus, you have this connection with the audience.” I said, “I kind of know the first 18 rows by their first names, in a weird way.”
I like that there’s no hassle. You can walk to the bus and you kind of know everyone: “Hey, how’s it going?” I like that sense of community, that sense that everyone’s at a party that no one knows about yet. It’s super fun. I really want to nurture that feeling.
I imagine having a smaller audience pushes you to write better material.
That’s another philosophical quandary. Success came before anything because I wrote the songs. In the Black Crowes, I wrote those songs as a collaboration with my brother, Rich, who would have a little piece of music that wasn’t a song, and I could sit with him and arrange the lyrics and melody and show it to everyone. Which is super cool! That’s what I’m still interested in.
But as time goes on, and the rules of money and the rules of ego come into play, it’s kind of like being a painter who’s not allowed to paint because the gallery owns everything you do, even a little sketch on a napkin. At dinner, someone’s going to come by and take it and put it in a vault. But for me, everything was about the writing. I’ve never stopped. That was an inherent problem for me. Here I am, sitting on all these songs. What am I going to do?
Now that [Chris Robinson Brotherhood] have played, you know, Jesus, 600 shows together, three hours a night, that’s starting to be a lot of hours of communication. It’s about nurturing — I say it even though it’s a cliché — the song, the band, the music; that’s our garden. If you can make a decision in your life that isn’t based solely on financial gain, and if you’re surrounded by people who understand that, and understand that this is about the hard work and the love that we put into it, then we’ve already won. You know what I mean? We were already more successful, in our mind, than any that we’ve ever been a part of separately.
What was the last Black Crowes tour in 2013 like for you?
For me it was great. I was happy. I got to sing those songs one last time to the people who gave me so much. I would be writing these songs and doing all this on any level, whether it was in my garage to friends or whatever. So for the opportunity to be a part of people’s lives and those shows to be important, that never goes without my respect. So that was special. And I’ve wanted to go, you know what I mean? So I wanted that to be the emphasis. And also I think that summer, touring with the Tedeschi Trucks Band was probably the best touring experience. Great friendships were forged on that.
It also opened my eyes to kind of how dysfunctional — and I don’t really want to get into it — how dysfunctional and how disappointed I was with where the Black Crowes ended up. Which hurt. It hurts a person like me who’s very altruistic, in those terms. But you know what? No matter all the ugly shit that people try to say about me … it doesn’t matter. I’m getting to do exactly what I want to do. It makes me happy.
We don’t sit around and have some douchebag pull up in his Porsche and come to the studio and start telling us that the bass isn’t loud enough or that he doesn’t like the lyrics or that he doesn’t like the edit. The same people that basically killed the music business are the same people who are still trying to control it. We’ve just removed ourselves from that and we’re completely happy to be independent of it.
Do you ever see a scenario of the Black Crowes playing together again?
It’s just gross now. I think everyone’s laid down their cards. It’s easy to sit back and say, “Oh, well, that guy said that he wanted all my money!” It’s not true! That’s not how it works and I’ve said it before. I don’t think people should discuss their business. But then again, if you’re a child and you’ve been hurt and someone took your toy, you have a temper tantrum, you know? Like I said, man, you’re allowed to just want the money. You’re allowed to just want to be in that kind of band where you go out and play your hits and you don’t have anything else to say or offer anyone. In the same way I’m allowed to not want to be a part of that!
It doesn’t take away from what we did. It just means that I’m not going to spend my life around people who don’t like each other or are all there for the same reason. The reason any of this is interesting at all is because we all jumped into the river, the music. That music starts with us as human beings in our earliest, ancient past, and it will take us to our distant future. That will not change. That’s where we are.
How long do you plan on doing the radio show?
As long as people listen, or until they fire me.
And how is the next Chris Robinson Brotherhood record sounding?
It’s called Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel. It comes out in July. We made the record as a four-piece, because you know, our bass player told us last fall that he wanted to get off the road and he didn’t want to tour anymore. Making this record up here in Marin County, and you know, I would rank it as easily one of my favorite sessions, and the coolest studio I’ve ever worked in. We didn’t do any pre-production. When you’re on a limited budget, you have to work harder to make it all happen. And we’re well aware of that since we started this band. To be in Los Angeles, we’ve made records at beautiful studios. There’s just a completely different mindset. I think it shows itself in the material and the performances and the sonics for the landscape that we’ve created. I think the depth of the songwriting is there. It has some of my favorite lyrics. It just turned out to a super, super positive and super creative energy up here.