Black Crowes man Rich Robinson on celebrating 30 years of Shake Your Money Maker
Rockers The Black Crowes have reunited (again), this time to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their first album Shake Your Money Maker. David Roy quizzed guitarist Rich Robinson about making peace with his brother and frontman Chris (again) and his memories of making their quintuple platinum debut...
HI RICH, are the band looking forward to playing in Ireland again for the first time since 2013?
Yeah, it's been a while since we've been there as the full band [Robinson played solo shows here last year] but we're really looking forward to it. Ireland has always been one of our favourite places to play, we've played some amazing shows there and we're really excited to get back.
Is there any Irish blood in the Robinson family?
There's little bit. My wife is half Irish, her mom's last name was Whaley and I think she was from Tipperary, so we spent some time there when I was doing my solo acoustic tour. I got a chance to play with Paul Brady who came up and played some songs with me, which was amazing. Then we drove down to New Grange to check out some of the sacred sites and we travelled all over, to Dublin and to Belfast. It was pretty amazing.
How does it feel to be back on good terms with your brother Chris and playing music together again?
Yeah, it's cool – sometimes you need to get away from each other to appreciate each other and to sort through all of the negativity that can arise, y'know? Chris and I are very passionate people in general and passions fly.
Then also, in a band of that long standing, there's drugs and infighting and members leaving and life happens and people get very stuck in their ways. It creates a family dynamic that becomes very toxic. And there was a lot of negativity that was around that band, with people around me and Chris that were sort of actively working to keep us apart so that they could further their own agendas.
Sometimes you have to break something totally down to be able to re-approach it in a healthy way – and I think that that's what Chris and I have done. I made six solo records and three albums with my last band [The Magpie Salute] but there was always a feeling of 'man, I wish Chris was here', y'know what I mean? Always – it was like, 'man, I wrote this song and I can totally hear him singing on this'. It really felt like I was missing something.
So, to be able to ride the bubble that buried that and get back together and start talking again just as brothers for the first time, let alone the band – I mean, I had two children that Chris had really never met. That was odd. So to get together and have him see his nephew and niece, it was a good feeling for me.
How did you approach playing together again as The Black Crowes – was there a deliberate decision not to include former bandmates?
Well, we were like, 'if we go back and start getting everyone from the past in this band, it's gonna to flame out – because everyone's gonna bring negativity and their agenda.
Because it's precarious and when things go that far out there's a lack of trust, we needed to trust each other to make this work. So we decided to put a new band together.
What was it like that first time playing together after so long apart?
The first time we played together was when we went into a rehearsal studio – and the minute I played my guitar, Chris was like 'there it is'. And the minute he sings, I'm like 'oh, there it is', y'know what I mean?
There's just something about being brothers and having those similar experiences growing up: our first memories are both of listening to my dad's records. Like, my first memory that's really powerful was listening to Carry On by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – my dad loved that song and would play it all the time. Chris remembers Sly & The Family Stone, Joe Cocker and all these things.
We grew up with that and then we grew up to get to this point where we both brought two different things to each song: I wrote the music, Chris wrote the lyrics and our approach to the music was coming from different strengths but also coming from a very similar place – a place of joy and appreciation and pure admiration and love for the music that we had grown up with.
All of these things created this really inseparable musical communication. Sometimes it's harder for us to talk as humans that it is for us to talk through music. So with Chris and I getting in that room and playing, it was still right there – it never left and it really never will.
How does it feel to be kicking off a new chapter for the band by revisiting your 1990 debut Shake Your Money Maker?
It's good, there's a happiness and an authenticity to those songs. Chris and I both had this dream we wanted to realise and then we put it out and then it started working – kind of against a lot of odds. I mean, no one was making stripped-down rock and roll music at that time, there was really only hair metal like Poison.
There was also a lot of stress, but there was always this sort of triumphant feeling because we were moving upwards and conquering all these things. We were moving upwards: we'd go out and play two club tours and then we're opening for Aerosmith, and then we're opening for Robert Plant, and then we're opening for ZZ Top and on to headlining our own places all over the world playing to 3 to 4,000 people a night. I mean, what's better than that?
One of Shake Your Money Maker's break-out hits was the cover of Otis Redding's Hard To Handle. How did the band come to that song?
We all loved Otis and Chris had this idea to do Hard To Handle – but it was George [Drakoulias, SYMM producer and Rick Rubin protégé who signed the band to American Records] was like 'why don't we do Hard To Handle like Aerosmith's Walk This Way?' and give it that kind of incessant strut.
George had come to see us play at a club in New York a couple of years before when I was like 17. He'd heard these demos we'd made for A&M records and came down to check us out. I remember we played an Aerosmith song No More No More and a Stooges song, Down On The Street – George loved the covers we chose, but he didn't like our songs that much.
But he saw something there, and so he took us under his wing. Chris and I went off and wrote a ton of songs, including [signature hit] She Talks to Angels, which was kind of the first song for Shake Your Money Maker. Over the next couple of years we really honed what we were doing and started changing our sound and George was right there with us.
:: The Black Crowes, October 10, 3Arena, Dublin. Tickets via Ticketmaster.ie