BY CHRIS MCCARRY Let me be clear about this: I am a hardcore Black Crowes fan. By the time I finally saw them live when I was 20, I had been listening to their albums just about everyday since I was 14. My best friend and I blew off work on a Monday and drove the two-and-a-half hours to a place called The Staircase in Pittson, PA to catch an unpublicized warm up show for a newly reformed Crowes lineup after several years “on hiatus.” I can still remember, as if it were yesterday, feeling my knees buckle when Crowes lead guitarist/songwriter/co-founder Rich Robinson kicked into “My Morning Song.” Everybody’s got one or two bands with whom they have an emotional investment in and that night put The Black Crowes into that category for me.
The Crowes’ axis turned on the brothers Robinson – frontman Chris Robinson, who actually sounds like he earned the sandpaper timbre in his petulant rasp of a voice, and guitarist Rich Robinson, who makes a commanding grasp of the early ’70s blues-rock vernacular look effortless. On and off since the early 1990’s, The Black Crowes have cut their own path on Rich Robinson’s unique brand of vintage melody and classic-rock swagger. Hits like “She Talks to Angels” and “Jealous Again” off their multi-platinum debut Shake Your Moneymaker helped them find footing among the grunge and heavy metal that was so popular at the time. They followed with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion which silenced the critics who wrote them off as a cheap Faces rip-off. Though the Crowes would go on to sell more than 30 million albums, the Robinson brothers often toxic relationship resulted in a series of breakups and two abandoned album attempts. While they always remained a force on stage, the music they did manage to release sounded like a band falling apart.
In 2015, they broke up for good after a dispute between the Robinson brothers about who “owned” the band. Since then, Rich Robinson has stepped out on his own, touring with Bad Company, moonlighting on producer Dave Cobb’s newly released Southern Family compilation, and writing/recording/releasing his fourth solo album, Flux. On Flux, Robinson offers a dynamic set of melody-based jams that departs from his lead-with-the-chin style and demonstrates his gifts not just as a guitar player, but as a singer, lyricist, and band leader. In advance of his acoustic show at the Sellersville Theater on Thursday, Robinson took the time to talk to Phawker about the new record as well as the Crowes, the state of the music biz, the importance of vinyl and how he really feels about Rick Rubin.
PHAWKER: I’m looking forward to the show in Sellersville. I saw you there about a year-year and a half ago on the acoustic tour you did. It was a lot of fun. What is the draw of a place like the Sellersville Theater?
RICH ROBINSON: It’s a little more peaceful. I think sometimes big cities and the places – sometimes there’s some cool places. But I also think you can find some really interesting – everything’s becoming so corporate, and all these chains like City Wineries, and House of Blues and those kinds of things. It’s sucking the uniqueness out of the world. That’s one of the things that’s really cool about places like the Sellersville Theater is that it is definitely really unique, it’s a unique place and it’s beautiful inside. It’s really cool.
PHAWKER: I love that room. A few years ago, some friends and I used to make this sort of annual trip up there because they play “It’s A Wonderful Life” on the big screen up there. It was like a family thing. We would all go up there and watch that movie. And that had been the only thing I had ever been to there for a long time before I started seeing bands there. It’s a great little room.
PHAWKER: Let’s talk about Flux. Let’s start with, can you tell me a little about your mindset going into the record. How do you decide it’s time to make an album? When you have songs for it, or do you start writing after you decide you want to do one?
RICH ROBINSON: Well, I write songs in part year-round. Just because every time I pick up a guitar, if there’s something cool I’m into, so I just do that all the time. Once I have enough of a collection, and I have enough time to make the record, then I’ll be like ‘hey, it’s time to make a record’. Everything I do, I try to do it in a natural time, and a natural feeling. This feels right, so I’m going to go do this. So this record in particular, or in general any of them, I’m like it’s time to go make a record. Sometimes I’ll have full songs going in. I like to use the studio to create songs and on this record in particular I just went in with a bunch of parts and said let’s see what happens. Let’s use the energy of the studio and use that urgency to create. Because you have to make a decision if there’s a finite amount of time that you’re in there recording. I don’t have time to mess around, this is what needs to happen.
PHAWKER: How does your solo career songwriting process different from your days in the Crowes?
RICH ROBINSON: In the Crowes our roles were really defined and my role was really music and Chris’s role was to write lyrics, and that was it, and sing, and I was to play guitar. I just look at like my role has kind of expanded into a whole song, instead of bringing half a song to Chris and having him finish it. It’s always cool to have someone with you, to be excited with you about something, and to bounce ideas off of, and that kind of shit. But ultimately, right now, these are songs that are coming and I’m really happy with it and I love the guys that I play with in my band. That’s how I’m looking at it right now.
PHAWKER: I’m a big fan of the second Black Crowes album, Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. What can you tell me about making that album?