(Yes, they're back together... at least the brothers and some other dudes are ... and touring in 2020)
Nov 19, 2019
Nov 8, 2019
Hard To Handle: page-churning Black Crowes memoir pulls back curtain on dysfunction, wasted potential
By Kevin Broughton
The Black Crowes could have become the greatest American rock and roll band of all time, or at least in the conversation with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Around the time the scourge of hair “metal” was fading and the fad that would become grunge was just kicking up, the band from Georgia revived Stones-style, blues-based rock in a way only Aerosmith had done (and then, briefly) before them.
Fans of the band saw the potential immediately; within a few years and albums, though, they became vaguely aware of the dysfunction that would cripple the band. Sure, Chris and Rich Robinson didn’t get along, but how bad could it be?
Worse than anyone could have imagined, it turns out. And thanks to former drummer Steve Gorman’s enthralling memoir, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes, fans get an intimate look at a slow-motion train wreck. Think of Almost Famous in real life, with fist-fights.
Gorman, the youngest of eight kids from Hopkinsville, dropped out of Western Kentucky University in the late 1980s to move to Atlanta and join a band – a band that didn’t yet exist. He didn’t own a drum kit; bought his first one about a week after arriving. He had only “air-drummed.”
It was also about a week into his Atlanta residency that he met Chris Robinson, then fronting Mr. Crowe’s Garden. When Drivin N Cryin poached drummer Jeff Sullivan, Chris (who had recently gone cold-turkey off his antidepressants after his therapist committed suicide) gave Gorman the hard sell. He soon relented and along with Rich (still in high school), formed the core of what would become the Black Crowes.
Fortune smiled on the band early. It was a different era in the music business, obviously, but they were on the fast track after being signed to Ric Rubin’s label, Def American. George Drakoulias prudently informed the band they needed to tour and practice more before hitting the studio. Before heading back to Los Angeles, Drakoulias gave them some sage advice: Start listening to the Stones, like Beggars Banquet- and Exile-era Stones. And to young Rich Robinson: Learn to play in open G tuning, like Keith does. This, without question, impacted the Crowes’ sound on their first three albums – and their overall sound -- more than anything else. Gorman, incidentally, refers to Rich as a guitar savant; the same applies to himself behind a drum kit. Those two were the instrumental backbone of the Black Crowes.
Drakoulias produced the first two records, Shake Your Money Maker and (to this day the band’s masterpiece) The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. So, after massive record sales, universal critical acclaim and touring all over America and Europe, what’s the next move? Chris decides the band doesn’t need a producer anymore. Oh, the hubris that ensued.
Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind about their third album, Amorica? Probably the album cover: a young lady’s midsection clad only in American-flag bikini bottoms, with, uh, some grass showing on the field.
Gorman: “Chris, what the hell are you thinking? Places like Wal Mart and K-Mart will never carry this album.” (They didn’t.)
Chris: “I don’t care. Black Crowes fans don’t shop at those places.”
Predictably, album sales absolutely tanked as a result. (It’s a shame, too, because Amorica is probably the band’s second-best record.) It would be the first of many times Chris Robinson would presume to speak for Black Crowes fans, and over the years he’d be proven wrong manifestly and continually. At one point Gorman, sick of the presumption, told him, “You have no idea how to relate to our fans. How much money would you say you spend on weed in a year?” Not batting an eye or catching the gist, Chris deadpanned, “About a hundred grand.”
Over the next dozen years, Chris would – time and again – drop a grenade into the band’s midst. There’s a clinical term for someone who is incapable of empathy and engages in destructive behavior when success would otherwise abound. Gorman never calls Chris Robinson a sociopath, or even bipolar. But he’s surely thought it. The Robinson brothers were toxically codependent, and it spread through the band. Rich had been bullied by his older brother all his life, and rather than stand up to him, he took it out on his band mates in passive-aggressive fashion. Gorman, the runt of his own (much larger) familial litter, exasperatedly gave Rich some advice: “Next time, take a folding chair and smash Chris right in the f*cking face with it. Send his ass to the hospital, and I promise you, this will stop.” If Rich had taken it to heart and followed through, Gorman’s book would be alternate history.
But he didn’t. Many, many times, Gorman – after enduring a Chris Robinson tantrum of verbal abuse – offered him a free first punch. Had Chris taken him up, we’d again be looking at a different Crowes retrospective. He’s a bully who’s never endured a good ass-whipping, and Black Crowes fans are the worse for it.
Gorman would leave the band after the 2010 tour and return a few years later in response to the pleadings of the Robinsons and the band’s manager. This time, they promised, it would be different. And it would, for a little while. Then, in 2014 it was all over again. Rich released a letter explaining that the band was done, seemingly taking the high road: “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.”
Oh, the irony. Several years earlier, the Robinsons – both of them – had written Gorman and demanded he give up his ownership in the band they’d formed together. The drummer called their bluff and was ready to walk until they quickly relented.
Each of the book’s 40 chapters are packed with vignettes that will leave fans shaking their heads at what might have been. No spoiler here, but the one that sums it all up involves Jimmy Page. You remember they toured together and made a double album, right?
Of all the infuriating episodes in Gorman’s tell-all, it’s the one that will piss you off the most.
Still, it’s a book you can’t put down. As in, buy it on a Friday afternoon and you’re up till 3:30 a.m. reading.
And you’ll finish it while watching your favorite team the next day…in between plays.
Gorman says, “This isn’t the story of the Black Crowes, but it’s my story of the Black Crowes.” It’s one well told, but ultimately sad. I hope the movie isn’t a letdown. Meantime, let’s remember what was, and what could have been.
Nov 6, 2019
Check back on Friday for our review of former Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman's memoir, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes.
Sep 27, 2019
By Kevin Broughton
When Whiskey Myers front man Cody Cannon got the call last year, the band was in the studio working on what would become their fifth, self-titled album. The pitch: Would the group like to appear in Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone? Not just on the soundtrack, but in an actual scene?
It was a no-brainer, and a decision that had nearly immediate – and retroactive – benefits for the Palestine, Texas-based Red Dirt rockers, as noted by Saving Country Music:
In the aftermath of the episode, the band’s most recent album, Mud, went to No. 1 on the iTunes country chart, and Top 20 all-genre on the hourly-updating aggregator. Also, their album Firewater came in at No. 3 in country, and the album Early Morning Shakes came in at #9. On the iTunes country songs chart, the song “Stone” was in the Top 10.
In an ever-evolving music business, independent artists often find a shot in the arm of exposure from film and television; Colter Wall, Chris Stapleton and Scott Biram all got boosts from appearing on the soundtrack of the Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water. But Whiskey Myers’ catapult ride from relative obscurity to the forefront of commercial success was almost otherworldly. The Yellowstone appearance landed three previous records – dating back seven years – in the country Top Ten. That momentum set the stage perfectly for the band’s self-titled album released today.
Their two previous offerings, 2016’s Mud and Early Morning Shakes from 2014, were both helmed by all-world producer and Grammy machine Dave Cobb. For their fifth release, though, the band decided to produce it themselves. Lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist John Jeffers emphasizes how a sense of collaboration and experimentation really defined their whirlwind eighteen days of recording at the Sonic Ranch studio, outside of El Paso. “There’s never a right or wrong answer when it comes to ideas,” he says. “We would run every single idea from everyone — some work and some don’t, but we give them all a shot. And then there’s that magical moment when the whole band hears it, your eyes get a twinkle — ‘That’s it, that’s us!’”
Their do-it-yourself result is a Southern rock masterpiece.
The album kicks off with “Die Rockin’.” Cannon’s raspy, proud vocals are right in your face – and you definitely feel the influence of co-writer Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Over the course of fourteen tracks, though, songs expand, moods change and songs like “Bury My Bones” and “California to Carolina” explore different stories and emotions. “You want an album to be like a rollercoaster,” says Jeffers. “Does it really take you for a ride, with ups and downs and some loops and sometimes you’re upside down?”
There are indeed shifts in the album’s momentum and flow. “Bitch” is the best indictment of Bro-country you’ll ever find.
Collaborative writing with Adam Hood (“Rolling Stone”) and Brent Cobb (“Running”) provide balance and country texture. Ultimately, however, this is a Southern rock album in the very best tradition of the nearly forgotten genre. “Houston County Sky” channels The Marshall Tucker Band, and “Little More Money” and “Bad Weather” are right out of Dirty South-era Drive By Truckers. “Hammer” is a sultry, swampy reminiscence of early Black Crowes.
Whiskey Myers has positioned itself on the cusp of rarified air; can they enjoy widespread mainstream success without benefit of commercial radio in the way, say, Jason Isbell has in recent years? We’re about to find out. This album is a triumph.
Whiskey Myers is available everywhere you consume music today.
Apr 4, 2019
Today we’re debuting the new video for “Tupelo,” from Jackie Greene’s 2017 EP The Modern Lives Vol. 1. It’s also the lead track from his new Live From Town Hall album. The video features the animation of Bill Plympton, long known for his work on MTV’s Liquid Television, Kane West’s “Heard ‘em Say” video, and his own Oscar-nominated short, Your Face.
“Tupelo” is a bluesy, ambling Americana tune with lots of soul. It starts simply with a bass and drums before adding piano, banjo, and Greene’s friendly vocals. This tale of regret about being drawn in by the siren song of Tupelo’s seedy side even strolls into spiritual territory (on the live version), venturing through “Wade in the Water” towards the end. Give it a listen and check out more information about Jackie and The Modern Lives Vol. 1 after the video. RIYL: Justin Townes Earle, The Band, The Black Crowes’ gentler moments.
From Jackie: "It was such a joy to work on this project with Bill. He’s a crazy genius and I love crazy geniuses. This is a song that I originally wrote as a piano song, but it morphed into a banjo song. How it got there is a tale for another time. For now, enjoy the video!"
Jackie Greene - The Modern Lives Vol. 1
Hailed as "the Prince of Americana" by the New York Times, Jackie Greene has emerged as one of his generation’s most compelling songwriters and guitarists, the kind of rare and supremely versatile artist who blends virtuosity and emotional depth in equal measure. Greene’s latest release, 'The Modern Lives – Vol 1,' finds him relocated from the Bay Area to a Brooklyn basement, where he recorded every single instrument himself in addition to serving as his own engineer and producer. Gritty and rollicking, the songs are as exuberant as they are incisive, drawing inspiration from some of the great social paradoxes of our time: that the technology designed to simplify our lives can actually complicate them in ways we'd never imagined, that the most crowded cities can actually be the loneliest places to live, that the networks meant to connect us to can actually leave us feeling more isolated than ever before.
Greene's been chasing a sense of authentic human connection through art ever since his teenage years, when he began self-recording and releasing his own music in central California. After a critically acclaimed independent debut, he signed his first record deal and embarked on a lifetime of recording and touring that would see him supporting the likes of BB King, Mark Knopfler, Susan Tedeschi, and Taj Mahal, in addition to gracing festival stages from Bonnaroo to Outside Lands. The New York Times praised his "spiritual balladry," Bob Weir anointed him the "cowboy poet" of Americana and blues, and the San Francisco Chronicle raved that he has "a natural and intuitive connection with… just about any musical instrument."
While Greene's songwriting chops were more than enough to place him in a league of his own (NPR's World Café raved that his "sound seems at once achingly intimate, surprisingly energetic and unburdened by adherence to genre"), Greene also emerged as a singular singer and guitarist, prompting Rolling Stone to praise his "honeyed tenor" and name him among "the most notable guitarists from the next generation of six-string legends." Between studio albums and his own tours, Greene took up prestigious gigs playing with Phil Lesh & Friends, The Black Crowes, Levon Helm, and Trigger Hippy, his supergroup with Joan Osborne.
Aug 11, 2018
Apr 9, 2016
May 31, 2014
Feb 17, 2013
Feb 16, 2013
Feb 10, 2011
May 30, 2010
I'm still too tired from the weekend's festivities to do much of a wrap-up or review, but I had a great time at Little Rock, Arkansas' Riverfest. I made a little fun of the state to my northwest along the way, but the city of Little Rock is a really nice place, clean and aesthetically pleasing. The festival was also set up and run very well. I'd recommend it to anyone.
I was only able to attend Saturday's performances but wow. Lucero more than held their own alongside the legendary Black Crowes who followed. This little band that could sounded fantastic and had the crowd under their spell for the hour to hour and a half set. The Black Crowes were just awesome. I'm so glad I finally got to see them, especially since there's word that they plan to take a long hiatus after their next tour.
A band with a quite Google search unfriendly moniker, The See, was the first band we saw. I'd never heard of them, but I'd like to hear a lot more from them. They were somewhere in the realm of Replacements, older Kings of Leon... uh, I dunno... just punky alternative bar rock or something, but they would have made a great opener for Lucero. Instead, that honor went to aspiring country singer,
Kid Rock lite Uncle Kracker (pictured below).
While I was prepared to unleash all sorts of hatred upon his performance, it was actually fairly entertaining. No, he can't sing that well. Yes, he's Kid Rock lite. Yes, half his hits are cover song. But he was better than I expected. His segue into country music is at its apex, as he opened with a Hank Jr. cover, did his Kenny duet (sans Chesney of course) and mixed in Kenny Rogers and the inescapable "All Summer Long" by his buddy Kid R.
Lucero (pictured below) was next and blew us all away. The band rocked through old favorites like "Tonight Ain't Gonna Be Good" while mixing in plenty of tracks from their latest record. They had a horn section that was a great addition after some sound difficulties got worked out. It was really cool to hear some of their older songs with the new horn flourishes. Lucero finished their set with a killer take on their "All Sewn Up," with Luther Dickinson of the Crowes and the North Mississippi Allstars coming on to lend some help with guitars. Ben threw in a little advertisement for his parents' local (Nichols is a Little Rock native) furniture store, much to the crowd's amusement.
The Black Crowes closed out our night, playing what was obviously their "festival setlist" of all their major hits with a few non-hit favorites and one song from their latest album "Before the Frost..." They played long versions of "Been a Long Time," "Wiser Time," "Thorn in My Pride" (the highlight of my night) and others, showing off the musical chops of one of the most underrated bands of the last 20 years. While there was almost no stage banter from lead singer Chris Robinson, he nonetheless connected and interacted with the crowd with his movement, gestures and soulful singing. He was magnetic.
All in all, Riverfest was a great experience and except for a little Waffle House excursion, I had a fun and safe time. I got to hang out with local (local to me, not Little Rock) sports talk host, lightning rod Kevin Broughton and his lady-friend for most of the evening and they were very cool to watch the show with.
An aside, I saw this 18 wheeler as we were headed back to Memphis this morning. Yes, Kix was driving. Poor guy.