The Black Crowes are an American, blues-oriented hard rock jam band that has sold over 20 million albums. They were hailed by Melody Maker as "The Most Rock 'n' Roll Rock 'n' Roll Band in the World". In 1990, the readers of Rolling Stone named it the 'Best New American Band'. The band has toured with acts such as Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Who, AC/DC, The Grateful Dead, and Neil Young. The Crowes are listed at #92 on VH1's "100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock".
The first incarnation of The Black Crowes began in 1984 as "Mr. Crowes Garden" in Atlanta, Georgia a revivalist band dedicated to celebrating and playing 1970s-era blues-rock. Although the Crowes have had many members over the years, the driving force behind the band has always been the brothers Chris & Rich Robinson. In 1989, the rockers, who have been heavily influenced by Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, Free, The Rolling Stones, The Faces, The Band, Little Feat, Humble Pie and The Allman Brothers Band, made a demo cassette tape that got them signed with American Recordings.
Height of fame: 1990?1995
The Crowes released their first studio album, Shake Your Money Maker, in 1990. On the strength of singles "Hard to Handle", "She Talks to Angels", "Jealous Again", "Twice as Hard", "Sister Luck", and "Seeing Things", their debut album received multi-platinum certification and eventually sold over three million copies. The band's cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and their acoustic ballad "She Talks to Angels" both broke the Top 30 on the pop charts in 1991. The Black Crowes pumped up their sales by opening for ZZ Top on a tour sponsored by Miller Beer, from which they were fired in March 1991 after Chris Robinson sarcastically remarked about commercialism on stage. The Crowes launched their own tour that May and later took part in a Monsters of Rock tour in the Soviet Union.
After replacing guitarist Jeff Cease with Marc Ford from retro-rock power trio Burning Tree, the Crowes released their second album The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion in 1992. The record debuted at #1 on Billboard's top 200 albums. The title is a tribute to the shape note anthology of the same name that has been sung annually at The Big Singing in Benton, Kentucky, since 1884. The effort spawned the singles "Remedy", "Thorn In My Pride", "Sting Me", "Sometimes Salvation" and "Hotel Illness". "Remedy" and "Thorn In My Pride" both broke the Top 100 in 1992.
Because of the prevalence of studio musician Chuck Leavell's piano and organ parts on the first release, the band recruited a keyboardist of their own, Eddie Harsch, to play on the album. He became a permanent member of the group beginning on the "High As the Moon" tour. The spelling of his last name is often listed as "Hawrysch."
In 1994 the now six-piece offered up Amorica after scrapping the unreleased album Tall the previous year. Though Amorica failed to produce a hit single, the album still eventually reached "Gold" status, selling over 500,000 copies. Die hard fans still embraced songs like "Gone", "A Conspiracy", "Nonfiction" and especially "Wiser Time". Controversially, the album cover featured a photo showing a woman's pubic hair. As some stores would not carry the album due to the cover, an alternate version was released simultaneously with a solid black background. While on tour to support Amorica, The Black Crowes opened for the Grateful Dead at a concert in Tampa on April 7, 1995, the only time the two bands performed together.
Middle era: 1996-2001
Three Snakes & One Charm was released in July 1996, with lead single "Blackberry" receiving radio airplay and video rotation on MTV. The band's support tour included a summer stint with the 1997 Furthur Festival, along with Ratdog, Bruce Hornsby and others. During this period, the band recorded a nearly complete album called Band, which was scrapped due to escalating tension within the band. Guitarist Marc Ford was fired and bassist Johnny Colt subsequently left the group, dissolving the Crowes lineup of the previous three albums. The unreleased tracks from Tall and Band surfaced among tape trading circles and were later officially released on The Lost Crowes compilation in 2006.
The band again regrouped, adding longtime associate Sven Pipien on bass prior to its next recording sessions. By Your Side was released in January 1999; the album stripped away the more adventurous sounds of Amorica and Three Snakes & One Charm in favor of leaner, soul-influenced songs ready for radio. The album's more mainstream approach spawned singles in "Kickin' My Heart Around", "Only A Fool", and "Go Faster". Guitarist Audley Freed, formerly of Cry of Love, joined prior to the recording of By Your Side but was not included in the recording sessions. Initial reception seemed promising for the album, as "Kickin' My Heart Around" reached #3 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The Crowes spent much of 1999 touring in support of the album, but ultimately By Your Side sold fewer than 300,000 copies and The Black Crowes were dropped by label Columbia Records.
Despite the label drama, the Crowes continued to be a highly successful touring act. In October 1999, the band were joined by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page for two pairs of shows in New York and Los Angeles, yielding a live release, Live at the Greek on TVT Records. Due to contractual issues with Columbia, Live at the Greek does not feature any of the Crowes' songs performed with Page. The collaboration led to a more extensive tour with Page and The Who in summer 2000, during which bassist Pipien was replaced by Greg Rzab. Following the tour, singer Chris Robinson married actress Kate Hudson on December 31, 2000, before heading back to the studio for the Crowes' sixth studio album.
In May 2001, the band released Lions on Virgin mogul Richard Branson's V2 record label. Singles "Lickin" and "Soul Singing" had a solid presence on rock radio and Lions peaked at #20 on the charts (an improvement over the performance of By Your Side). The band launched its support of the album with the month-long Tour of Brotherly Love with Oasis and Spacehog in May and June 2001. Prior to the tour's two Los Angeles gigs, The Black Crowes were inducted into the Guitar Center Rockwalk, a walk of fame honoring notable musical acts and artists. Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher and Slash were on hand for the ceremony.
Throughout the rest of 2001, the band embarked on the successful "Listen Massive" headlining tour in support of Lions, which spanned Europe and Japan before concluding with 36 US shows. The band effectively dissolved in January 2002 with the departure of drummer Steve Gorman and an announcement that the band was "taking a hiatus."
Hiatus and reunion: 2002-2005
Following the band's announcement, singer Chris Robinson revealed his plans for a solo project, a deal with Redline Entertainment that resulted in two albums, New Earth Mud in 2002 and This Magnificent Distance in 2004. Both albums were supported by tours with two different bands, the last of which included former Crowes touring guitarist Audley Freed. A live Crowes album (featuring touring bassist Andy Hess) pieced together from two 2001 shows performed at Boston's Orpheum Theatre was released in August 2002. In 2004, some members of the band did reunite to play "Sometimes Salvation" with Gov't Mule at the 2004 Jammy Awards. Meanwhile, Rich Robinson formed a short-lived band called Hookah Brown before releasing his own solo album, Paper, in 2004. Rich toured in support of Paper with his own three-piece band including Big Sugar guitarist Gordie Johnson on bass and Bill Dobrow on drums.
In early 2005, the Robinson brothers with Eddie Harsch reassembled the band, bringing Marc Ford and Sven Pipien back into the fold and ? in the absence of founding member Steve Gorman ? recruited Bill Dobrow, from Rich's solo band, on drums. Dobrow's seat at the drums was short-lived, however, as Gorman rejoined the band during a four-night stand at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, the Crowes' home town. The reinvigorated band continued to tour throughout 2005, including a summer tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and five sold-out nights at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The second show at The Fillmore was filmed in high definition and recorded for an HDNet special called Freak 'n' Roll into the Fog, released later in 2006 on DVD, Blu-Ray and on audio CD.
Changing lineup and Warpaint: 2006-present
Luther Dickinson, Sven Pipien, Steve Gorman, Chris Robinson, and Rich Robinson at the 2008 Newport Folk Festival.
In fall 2006, the band parted ways with longtime keyboard player Eddie Harsch and saw the departure of guitarist Marc Ford, who quit via fax on the verge of a fall tour. Replacing Harsch and Ford were Paul Stacey on guitar and Rob Clores on keyboards. In August 2007, the band introduced keyboard player Adam MacDougall, who replaced Clores after less than a year on tour. In addition, The Black Crowes invited guitar player Luther Dickinson from North Mississippi Allstars to perform on their upcoming record, entitled Warpaint. Dickinson officially replaced Stacey as guitarist in November 2007.
A live album entitled Live at the Roxy, culled from the 2006 Brothers of a Feather performances (featuring Chris and Rich Robinson performing mostly acoustic sets) was released on July 10, 2007, via the Eagle Rock Entertainment label. The album featured performances of old and new Black Crowes material mixed with covers, taken from a three-night run at The Roxy in Los Angeles in early 2006.
The band released "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" as a lead single for the upcoming album release. Warpaint hit retail and online stores on March 4, 2008, released independently on the band's own Silver Arrow label via Megaforce. Warpaint was a critically-acclaimed hit with press and the album landed at #5 on its Billboard chart, the band's best debut since The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion topped the charts. The Crowes launched an international tour March 24 when they played the East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in Australia. The band continued its Australia and New Zealand tour ? the first since 1992 ? through April 5, before departing for a European trek in spring. A major-market, multiple-night U.S. tour began in May and concluded in December with another five-night stand at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
On March 31, 2008, The Black Crowes launched a live show download website, liveblackcrowes.com. Featuring current and archived performances from the band's vast archive, the site offers mp3, flac and CD versions of performances. As an incentive to join, The Black Crowes offered a free two-disc mp3 download, culled from the band's 2008 club tour, to the first 10,000 visitors to register on the site.
The day after the 2008 Euphoria or Bust tour ended, the band announced their next album of original material would be recorded live in front of an audience at Levon Helm's Barn in Woodstock, New York (a.k.a. Levon Helm Studios), over five nights in February and March 2009. The recording sessions were titled "Cabin Fever Winter 2009" and the band performed around 30 songs consisting mostly of new original material as well as several covers. The new material is supposed to be released as a double album with an accompanying DVD that documents the recording sessions. In April 2009, Rich Robinson stated during an Atlanta radio interview that the new album will be released sometime around September 2009 and that a tour will most likely follow its release.
On April 28, 2009, The Black Crowes released a two-disc live release entitled, Warpaint Live via the Eagle Rock Entertainment label. The first disc consists of the Warpaint album played in its entirety, while the second disc is made up of catalog classics and cover selections. The entire performance contained on the set was recorded on March 20, 2008 at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, CA. A DVD of the same performance was released on June 30, 2009.
On August 31, 2009, The Black Crowes released their eighth studio album, Before the Frost... A CD purchase of the album is accompanied with a download code to receive the album's companion release, ...Until the Freeze. The download portion is available in mp3 and FLAC formats. The vinyl version is a double album that includes all of the songs but in a different running order. These albums resulted from five days of recording at Levon Helm Studios, home of the Midnight Ramble concerts and present new material recorded live.
On July 30, 2008, The Black Crowes filed a lawsuit against country singer Gretchen Wilson, claiming that she infringed upon their copyright for the song "Jealous Again." The suit also includes claims against Sony BMG, her label, J Money Music, her publisher, and TNT, who is using the song in promotional commercials. They claim that Wilson copied the Crowes hit when she recorded "Work Hard, Play Harder." Neither artist nor a spokesperson for Wilson commented on the suit, but Black Crowes' manager Pete Angelus said, "We find the musical verses of Wilson's song to be such an obvious example of copyright infringement that I expect all parties to reach a relatively quick resolution to avoid litigation."