Chris Robinson gets candid about The Black Crowes’ reunion, his mended relationship with brother Rich and the early Atlanta days

Rich (left) and Chris Robinson are the core of The Black Crowes. The Atlanta natives have a reunion tour planned for summer 2020. Photo: Courtesy Big Hassle Publicity
Caption
Rich (left) and Chris Robinson are the core of The Black Crowes. The Atlanta natives have a reunion tour planned for summer 2020. Photo: Courtesy Big Hassle Publicity

Chris Robinson lopes into a small backstage lounge at Terminal West, smiling under a graying beard and eager to talk.

In a few hours, wearing the same black-striped tan pants and red jacket — sans the carnation jauntily jutting out of the lapel — the still-lanky frontman of The Black Crowes and his guitarist brother Rich will slay during a sold-out acoustic concert billed as Brothers of a Feather.

This one contained an extra layer of emotion — a homecoming for the Atlanta-birthed band even though Rich lives in Nashville and Chris has resided in California for decades.

The short-run of February club shows elicited fist-pumping bliss from fans who hadn’t witnessed the siblings onstage since 2013, when The Black Crowes played what would become their final tour.

But it also served as a reintroduction of sorts for the brothers, who only last fall started speaking after a nearly eight-year break.

“It’s advantageous for Rich and I to be together and reintegrate ourselves to being on the road and on a tour bus together,” Chris Robinson, 53, said. Then he smiled. “Baby steps.”

Caption
Chris and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Chris and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Caption
Chris and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

He articulated his disappointment that Rich, 50, couldn’t participate in the interview due to illness — indeed, at that night’s concert, Rich didn’t feel well enough to sing, but still played his stinging guitar — because Chris wants people to know that what the brothers have rekindled is genuine respect and affection.

“We’re surprisingly on the same page about everything. We would have been through the years as well, but we allowed a lot of outside forces to (get involved), like, ‘I’ll tell Rich this’ and ‘I’ll deal with this.’ And in any relationship, if you’re not communicating, it’s gonna fail,” Robinson said.

A breakup in January 2015 seemingly terminated the existence of the band formed as Mr. Crowe’s Garden in Marietta in the mid-‘80s and powered through the 1990s as The Black Crowes with blues-rock crunchers including “Remedy” and “Wiser Time.”

Their 1990 debut, “Shake Your Moneymaker,” spawned five-rock radio hits, notably a swampy rendition of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” and the chart-topping ballad, “She Talks to Angels.”

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the record, The Black Crowes, with more than 30 million in album sales, will embark on a reunion tour June 17 that plays Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on June 27 (barring coronavirus-related postponements). They'll perform the entire "Moneymaker" album, followed by a set of other fan favorites.

And yes, Robinson realizes there will be skeptics.

“I understand everyone’s cynicism about it. ‘Oh, they’re doing it for the money.’ Of course we’re doing it for the money!” he said with a laugh. “It’s incredible money and an incredible opportunity. We’re not crazy. A lot of bands have come and gone in 30 years, and it makes us feel very proud about the work and craft put into it.”

Robinson recalls the 688 Club in Midtown Atlanta, both as the first club he snuck into with a fake ID (The Replacements’ “Let it Be” period; Michael Stipe and Mike Mills of R.E.M. were in the crowd) and as a formative backdrop to The Black Crowes’ music.

“(That club) is still the basis of the architecture of my rock ‘n’ roll philosophy. That indie-rock spirit,” Robinson said.

Caption
THE BLACK CROWES - (l-r): Audley Freed, Rich Robinson, Sven Pipien, Chris Robinson, Steve Gorman, Eddie Harsch. 1998 Sony Music. Photo credit: Joseph Astor.

THE BLACK CROWES - (l-r): Audley Freed, Rich Robinson, Sven Pipien, Chris Robinson, Steve Gorman, Eddie Harsch. 1998 Sony Music. Photo credit: Joseph Astor.
Caption
THE BLACK CROWES - (l-r): Audley Freed, Rich Robinson, Sven Pipien, Chris Robinson, Steve Gorman, Eddie Harsch. 1998 Sony Music. Photo credit: Joseph Astor.

Around the time that the Robinson brothers were passing out tapes and garnering some sniffs from industry executives, another Atlanta band, The Georgia Satellites, were hitting the charts with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and an update of “Hippy Hippy Shake.”

Rick Richards, guitarist for The Georgia Satellites, remembers the Atlanta scene as advantageous for upstart rockers.

"It was totally different then. The clubs were more accepting and allowed bands like us and the Crowes to do whatever we wanted. The club owners wanted you to play original music," Richards said.

Although Robinson doesn’t visit his hometown often, the frontman, who attended Walton High School in Marietta before transferring to Atlanta’s Brandon Hall School, enthusiastically recounts the nostalgic run-ins he experienced while in town. Dinner with musician Andrew Cylar (“We used to open for his band, Arms Akimbo, quite a bit”). Talking about Danny Beard from Wax’n’Facts in Little Five Points. Returning to Fantasyland Records in Buckhead, though in Robinson’s day it was located on Peachtree Road and not its current spot on Pharr Road.

Mark Gunter, manager of Fantasyland since 1979, remembers Robinson frequenting the store in the mid-‘80s when Mr. Crowe’s Garden was morphing into The Black Crowes.

“He would always buy a couple of cool records, but they were teenagers and didn’t have a lot of money then, of course,” Gunter said. “I vaguely remember around 1989, he came in with a couple of guys from the band, and this time they started stacking up records to buy and got a big box full. It was right around the time they got signed (to Rick Rubin’s Def American label), so they must have used some of their advance money to buy records!”

Gunter chatted with Robinson during his February visit and agreed that “he seemed to be in a really good place.”

Caption
Rich (left) and Chris Robinson are the core of The Black Crowes. The Atlanta natives have a reunion tour planned for summer 2020. Photo: Josh Cheuse

Credit: Contributed

Rich (left) and Chris Robinson are the core of The Black Crowes. The Atlanta natives have a reunion tour planned for summer 2020. Photo: Josh Cheuse
Caption
Rich (left) and Chris Robinson are the core of The Black Crowes. The Atlanta natives have a reunion tour planned for summer 2020. Photo: Josh Cheuse

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Robinson credits eight years of therapy and his January marriage to Camille Johnson as contributions to his current state of Zen. But the renewed relationship with his brother has brought a tremendous sense of healing.

The singer has a 16-year-old son, Ryder, with actress Kate Hudson (married from 2000-2006) and a 10-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, with Allison Bridges (married from 2009-2018). In November, Robinson’s children finally spent time with their cousins.

“We were in L.A. and Rich’s two older kids from his first marriage – I hadn’t seen them in eight years and they’re 24 and 20 now – were there, and we all had breakfast together. They were like, ‘Dad, we’ve never had breakfast with Uncle Chris.’ And Ryder said, ‘Dad, we’ve never had breakfast with my cousins.’ And my daughter has been asking me for a long time, ‘Dad, what’s the problem with you and your brother?’ So…yeah. That part of life also brings things into focus.”

Twice during our conversation, a manager has popped in with a polite “time’s up” signal, and both times Robinson laughingly waved him off. “I’ve got nothing else to do!” he said good-naturedly.

But he does have one more thing to say.

“Rich and I, we’re not showing up in limos and not talking to each other and then going on stage. We can’t. When I got into the first day of rehearsal and Rich (hit the guitar) and the windows shook, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m ready for this.’ I want that. It might seem silly, but that’s just the way it is,” Robinson said. “It’s an amazing gift that we’ve been allowed to earn our livings playing rock ‘n’ roll music for so long. I never take that lightly.”


Caption
Chris (pictured) and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Chris (pictured) and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Caption
Chris (pictured) and Rich Robinson, the core members of the Black Crowes, performed an acoustic set as the Brothers of a Feather on Sunday, February 23, 2020, at sold out Terminal West. This intimate show was a warm-up for their summer reunion tour. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Here are some additional excerpts from the interview with Chris Robinson:

On The Black Crowes announcing their reunion on SiriusXM’s “The Howard Stern Show” in November:

“We’re super lucky. I’m one of the only people who has been asked to do Howard’s show many times and have turned him down. I don’t feel like a part of celebrity culture. I understand that I was married to a famous actress and I hated the celebrity part of my life. But Kate (Hudson) and I are great friends and we have a beautiful son, but I can’t say that to me was interesting. But Howard’s gone through quite a metamorphosis as well and he’s interested. Howard’s also an iconoclastic kind of character who is interested in me as well. To announce (the reunion) there and have his endorsement...well...Howard isn’t going to suffer any fools! It was exciting and the (musical setup) was perfect.”

On whether he’s read the book by former drummer Steve Gorman, “Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes - A Memoir”:

“No. To be honest, why would I? I said to someone the other day, Dostoevsky writes ‘Notes from Underground.’ What is Steven’s book, ‘Notes from a Disgruntled Employee?’ I get it. Rich knows now, it wasn’t easy doing Chris’ job. Someone had to be a leader and when you’re never a leader it’s easy to f****** throw stones, especially when you’re learning during this military campaign that was the first few years (of the band).”

On keeping his voice in shape 30 years after the band’s debut album:

“I’ve never done anything (health-wise). I never wanted to think about singing too much. I just want to sing. I know I’m not the best singer. I probably can’t hit the high notes that I could 30 years ago, but the timbre of my voice, the quality of my voice, has gotten a lot better. I’ve done a lot of living. I’m a soul singer and that’s the source of it. I want to be able to relate an emotional context (to the songs). So many of the songs deal with themes of loss and melancholy and pain in there, especially the ‘90s songs.”

On whether other Southern rock bands, such as The Allman Brothers, influenced The Black Crowes:

“My dad was a folk singer, so we grew up on all kinds of roots music - The Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs, Jimmy Reed, Sam and Dave, Otis (Redding), Hank Williams. That roots music coupled wit our indie-punk-rock-sort-of-upbringing in the early ‘80s, Atlanta led us to embrace full circle. I got into The Rolling Stones because Gram Parson is from Georgia and I was a Byrds fanatic and I learned about Gram and I learned about ‘Exile on Main Street,’ which opened the doors to The Rolling Stones. That record, to me, contains all of the elements through an English lens. And Georgia was an English colony. We always had an English-ness about us. R.E.M. did, too. And Alex Chilton, a lot of Southern music. Once I found my voice and people would say, you sound like Steve Marriott or Terry Reid, Paul Rodgers...I didn’t really put that stuff together until it was like, ‘Oh, really? Let me check that out!’ But Gregg (Allman)...Gregg was an incredible, incredible singer, and over the years to know (The Allman Brothers Band) and to sing with them and Warren (Haynes) and Derek (Trucks). You can’t escape the Southern thing with us.”

On the state of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the side band Robinson formed in 2011:

“(Sighs and looks pensive) Well. Neal’s suicide’s means that band is over (guitarist Neal Casal died in August 2019). I thought eventually we’d pick things up, but the CRB was getting torn and frayed and I had to make some changes. I felt like for the first time in those eight years that we started to slide backward a little bit. I look at the CRB as completely wandering off into the wilderness. There was no money involved, so I had no expectations. What’s expected of me as a performer on this upcoming tour is totally different.”

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IF YOU GO

The Black Crowes

8 p.m. June 27. $29-$511. Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood, 2002 Lakewood Way, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, livenation.com.

Concerns about the coronavirus have resulted in the cancellation of many events and large gatherings. The AJC will monitor these announcements and keep you informed about any postponements, rescheduling and cancellations on AJC.com, but it’s best to check with venues or event organizers before making plans to attend.

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