Shake your moneymaker: The death of the Black Crowes

Southern-rock champs calling it quits, what's their legacy?
By Peter Lindblad

The battling Robinson brothers are at it again, and this time, it seems their fussing and feuding has resulted in the death of The Black Crowes.

The Black Crowes have decided to
call it quits
On Friday, guitarist Rich Robinson issued a statement that reads, "I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I give up my equal share of the band and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100 percent of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to."

Ah, money, the root of all evil, and apparently, it is the cause of yet another Black Crowes breakup, although we've yet to hear Chris Robinson's side of things.

The writing was on the wall in October 2014. Back then, Gorman told Rolling Stone magazine, "I've said in the past, 'I know we'll work again' or 'there's no way we'll work again,' and I've been wrong. But right now, the likelihood of us doing anything again is as low as it's ever been. We could all see things differently in a year, but I'll be surprised if the Black Crowes do something again. Ever."

This coming from Gorman, who once quit the band near the end of 2001, only to return four years later.

Rich Robinson also said in that statement, "It is with great disappointment and regret that after having the privilege of writing and performing the music of the Black Crowes over the last 24 years, I find myself in the position of saying that the band has broken up." So, there you have it.

He also said, "I hold my time with the Black Crowes with the utmost respect and sincerest appreciation. It is a huge swath of my life's body of work. I couldn't be more proud of what we accomplished and deeply moved by the relationships people created and maintained with my music. That alone is the greatest honor of being a musician."

They certainly did nothing to stain their legacy on their final tour, at least if their show in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 22, 2013 was any indication. The Crowes were masterful that night, blazing through a well-chosen set list highlighted by a jaw-dropping supernova of a guitar duel between Rich Robinson and newcomer Jackie Green.

Is it too early to write a eulogy? Just what is the band's legacy? Are they the last great rock 'n' roll band?

There was a party going on in the '80s, as glam-metal was living fast and about to die young. The Black Crowes were formed in 1984, and they weren't invited. Not that they would have gone.

The Black Crowes - Shake Your
Moneymaker 2014
The Crowes were all about revivalism and swagger, bringing Stax-style soul, gospel, blues, classic rock and the Rolling Stones and the Faces back into fashion, and they looked the part – dark, even a little sinister, and certainly planning to do bad things to your daughters. And in 1990, they burst onto the scene with a debut album in Shake Your Moneymaker that turned music upside-down, just when grunge's crusty flannel-covered melancholy was on the verge of exploding.

An anomaly or an outlier in those early days, the Crowes' first smash hit was a rousing, raucous version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle." More singles followed, including the rolling boils "Jealous Again" and "Twice As Hard," and then hitting again with the soulful ballad "She Talks to Angels." They were shoving the '60s and bluesy rock 'n' roll right down the public's throat like it was castor oil or some detoxifying musical medicine that initiated a much-needed cleansing.

The Black Crowes - Southern Harmony
And Musical Companion
And just to prove they hadn't peaked too soon, the Black Crowes created a masterpiece with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, which shot straight up to No. 1 on its release and delved ever more deeply into their roots. The songwriting was even better, as assertive, spirited rockers "Remedy," "Sting Me" and "Hotel Illness" all paraded around like strutting peacocks and the sun-dappled "Thorn in My Pride" was mellow gold. Amorica was just as good, and for "Wiser Time" alone it should be considered a classic.

Personnel changes, sibling squabbles and some uneven, often uninspired records slowed their momentum, and even in their heyday, some critics accused them of a lack of authenticity and originality, of being a pale imitation of those that had come before them and too dogmatic. Somehow what they were doing didn't ring true. The Crowes just couldn't win. It's a Catch-22 that the Stones and The Beatles were all too familiar with. At the same time they were harangued for simply going over the same old, well-trod ground as their influences, others argued they weren't paying them the proper respect, that they could never be the genuine article and how dare they even try.

Luckily, the Crowes paid them no mind and just went about their business, writing great, memorable tracks that never really celebrated the South, but certainly captured its rebellious, quirky nature in song. More importantly, they gave new life to all those styles of music they were supposedly defiling and taught a master class on it to a new generation of rock 'n' roll fans that desperately needed the education. What they took from The Faces and The Rolling Stones was a vibe and a preternatural feel for what made that music special, and they went one step further, giving that old, decaying music a jolt of energy and passion.

Jimmy Page recognized it. So did the Grateful Dead. The Crowes opened for both, and with a charismatic rooster of a front man in Chris Robinson and players capable of soaring, transcendent performances, they were hard to top as a live entity, even if by the end they were more of a nostalgia act than anything, having last released an album in 2010. They've all got other projects now – Chris Robinson's Brotherhood, Steve Gorman's Trigger Hippy and Rich Robinson's always doing all sorts of stuff. This isn't the last you've heard from any of them, but if this is, indeed, it for the Black Crowes, it's a sad moment for rock 'n' roll.

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