End of the Road: The Black Crowes go on indefinite hiatus, on a high note | Music Stories | St. Louis | St. Louis News and Events
When working out the master plan for a 20th anniversary celebration, most bands don’t sketch that it ends in the blueprint. On the other hand, we’re talking about the Black Crowes, a band that never sticks to the typical playbook. It’s been a bumpy ride for the Georgia group, with a healthy amount of arguments (this is a band with two brothers, Rich and Chris Robinson, after all) and a Spinal Tap-like number of keyboard and guitarists. If you can say one thing, the Crowes kept things interesting.
“Interesting” is also a fitting term to describe Croweology, the band’s parting / parting efforts. It’s a double album that collects twenty of the band’s best career cuts and has (mostly) been reinvented acoustically. Currently the band is on the road for a final series of tour dates before going into what is known as an “indefinite break”. She’ll bring her humorous “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour to the pageant for another night of good times. We took some time to go through a few select career moments with drummer Steve Gorman. For information on outtakes and more in retrospect, visit www.rftmusic.com.
Matt Wardlaw: Croweology comes to an interesting point because I think you made one of your best records in a long time with your latest album Before the Frost. Then if you’d called it over, that would have been a good album to go on.
Steve Gorman: We felt it was time to take a break from what we were up to. But that’s just how we are. We’d take a break for the twentieth anniversary – we were never the master planners. But when we came up with this idea, we were all very excited about it. We have never been a band to look back. We’ve never been in the studio and made a record and thought, “Well, how are we going to connect the last record to a new thing?” Every time we do something, we are right there. We are aware of how everything we do leads us to the next place, but we are never so much concerned with connecting these dots for the casual, die-hard or just anyone. With that in mind, we’re just kind of in our own bubble.
A lot of it is why we’re still there, and a lot of it is why our careers have been everywhere. We have always been like that. It was like that in 1987 when the three of us had a different bass player every month. So we said, “Well, wait, stop this, let’s really take stock of what we’ve done, let’s look at the twenty years.” And oh my god, it really started to dawn on us. Who makes records like Before the Frost at the age of twenty? There really isn’t much. I’m not saying we were great consistently, but I agree with you, I think this is a great record. And we were very proud of that. We all just thought it was time to change our mindset this year and wrap up and recap everything we’ve done. It’s a great way to take a bow and then take another break.
For me, Croweology really emphasized the greatness of some songs like “My Morning Song” that really didn’t grab me in their original form. When doing these songs for Croweology, which songs had a different feeling for you, for better or for worse?
I like “My Morning Song”, it’s just so different and I dig this. “Hotel Illness” is probably my favorite – the arrangement is exactly the same as on the originally recorded version, but the pounding of it – it’s in acoustic state just a lot wilder. Whenever it comes up I get a smile and it gets me going. If I had to choose one that I was really surprised and satisfied with, that was just so much more exciting to me, this is it. There is so much going on. On almost every track there are a lot of things that I still hear and just say, “Oh yeah, I really like that, that’s great.” I didn’t go back and listen to the originally recorded version [of “Hotel Illness”] since we did that, but I’m sure if I did I would say, “That’s pretty good too!” I’m very focused on how they sound right now.
It’s funny because when I talk about this record I just realized a little bit that I think a lot of Croweology was really for us too, the band’s current line-up. It was almost like, “This is the Black Crowes now, and these are still our songs.” And these two guys may not have played on the original versions, Luther [Dickinson] and Adam [MacDougall]but they play on them every night now. Now let’s put the stamp of this band on it. I’m 45 years old next week and I’m playing a song that we originally recorded in 1989. It’s not that at 24 I can get back into the mood, mood, feeling, and thought process of myself. If I could, it would be a waste of twenty years.
It was important for all of us to say, “These are still our tunes, but here we are with them now.” In many ways, they are likely to continue to reveal themselves. I think it was really good that we got this shot.
From an arrangement standpoint, you’ve done a really good job of building these tracks up so that there are a lot more instruments than you’d normally expect from acoustic versions of songs you’re already familiar with.
Yes, for one, when you hear acoustics you think of the ’90s Unplugged series where people decided it was time to be incredibly introspective and boring. We wanted to do a rock and roll record with acoustic guitars, and there are a lot of templates for that – Led Zeppelin III and Rod Stewart’s early work, there are a million of them. Not to mention all the acoustic blues records that were made long before Rock & Roll. Country records, you hear back and realize that this is really just rock and roll music. There is no shortage of great acoustic rock & roll. So we didn’t think it was going to be a lowered mood or a soft, sensitive thing at all. I don’t think I’ve played anything with brushes – it’s like a kiss of death to me.
Shake Your Money Maker was a great sounding record in 1990, and it still sounds great today.
We made this record in the summer of 1989. For anyone who remembers that time [if you] If you tuned in to the radio and MTV back then – both of which were big pieces of the puzzle for breaking bands and maintaining careers, unlike today – you’ve never heard anything that sounded like this. It was all eyeliner and tufted hair. People weren’t ready to make heavy metal mainstream yet, but they took a heavy metal stance and put it on pop songs. Pop Metal was a really unhappy time for all of us I think. Fortunately we kind of ignored it, but that again leads to us being somehow in our own world. We didn’t make this record and we thought, “That’ll show them.” We made this record and thought, “God, I hope we sell 50,000 copies so we can do another one.” It never crossed our minds that we’d get through all this crap, you know what I mean? When this record started nobody was more surprised than us. Trust me, we never planned to sell millions of records the first time. We looked at a slow build and didn’t really get that chance.