When The Black Crowes first emerged out of Marietta, Georgia, in the mid-’80s under the jangly auspices of Mr. Crowe’s Garden, they helped reboot rock and roll by paying particular tribute to its past precepts. They parlayed a contentious sound fueled by unabashed energy and insurgency, a style that incorporated their Southern roots while still distancing themselves from any stereotypical good old boys branding.
With their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, released in February 1990, the band firmly established themselves as part of a classic American musical ethos. Signed to Def American Records by their soon-to-be producer George Drakoulias, the band, helmed by brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, emerged fully formed, immediately proving their prowess with a multi-platinum debut that stunned the critics and brought them instant accreditation. In total, they recorded eight studio albums, four live albums, and numerous top-charting singles, selling some 30 million records in the process.
Nevertheless, like many outfits that found a pair of male siblings at the helm, there was a certain tension and contentiousness that plagued the band all throughout the course of their career. In 2002, the band called it quits for the first time, allowing both Robinsons to pursue solo projects and other associations. They reunited in 2005, only to opt for a second hiatus following their 20th anniversary tour in 2010. Yet another breakup transpired in 2013, only to lead to the brothers’ decision to entirely revamp the band in 2019 in preparation for a tour that would commemorate the 30th anniversary of their seminal debut.
The pandemic postponed those plans, but in the meantime, the “Brothers Robinson” have cause to continue the commemoration via the rerelease of Shake Your Money Maker. Now expanded through the choice of a 4-LP or 3-CD super deluxe edition box set, the reissue has rarities, demos, unreleased offerings and an entire Atlanta concert from 1990. The deluxe edition also comes with a 20-page booklet containing liner notes, a tour laminate, a patch and a set list to boot. A slimmed down 2-CD set is available as well.
Goldmine recently had the opportunity to talk to the two Robinson brothers via separate interviews and got their thoughts about the original album, the circumstances that resulted in its aftermath and the way it impacted them going forward.
GOLDMINE: It was evident even at the outset that Shake Your Money Maker was a monumental first effort. What led up to that point in your trajectory?
RICH ROBINSON: We had done some demos, and early on in our career we had a developmental deal with a record label when I was only about 15 years old. A close friend of ours —who’s still our friend to this day — liked our songs and helped get us into a studio where we made the demos. He had a contact at A&M Records in L.A., so he sent a couple of the songs out there. At the time, the music we were making was very jangly, kind of R.E.M.-ish, which is what was going on pretty heavy in Atlanta at the time. There was this A&R guy out there who was way into it, and he wanted to see what we could do in the studio, so he arranged for us to go and record at a studio outside of Raleigh, North Carolina — in Boone, North Carolina as I recall. We hooked up with a producer who had worked on some records for a band that we liked called Rain Parade. So we went up there a couple of times and it was great, and then we did a couple more sessions back home in Atlanta.
GM: Was the experience intimidating at all, going into the studio for the first time and knowing this might be your big break?
CHRIS ROBINSON: We ran away from it and ran a million miles to the dismay of all the grown adult corporate moneyf**kers around us at all times. When I hear Shake Your Money Maker, and when I go back to those kids going in that studio, it takes me back, not in an established way, but in a philosophical way and in a cultural way. It brings me back around to being those kids that went in the studio. There was so much passion and love and inspiration.
RR: We weren’t the types to be intimidated. We were just excited to get some kind of break. We had these songs but obviously we didn’t know a ton — in fact, we didn’t know anything really but our producer George Drakoulias was really patient and cool and we learned a bit. That’s really what it was about. I mean, I remember having a ton of fun. George is hilarious, so we mainly had fun. We were so excited that we were in that studio.
GM: What were the early songs like?
RR: Over the years leading up to making the record, Chris and I were writing a lot of songs. The first one I wrote was “She Talks to Angels.”
GM: Not a bad start!
RR: I was around 17 at the time, and yeah, it was a good first song. It was kind of my ode to Nick Drake/Ronnie Wood. There’s a little bit of “Gasoline Alley” in there, too.
GM: It appears that you were very confident even early on.
RR: We were really proud of those songs and of course we did some stupid sh*t, like young bands would always do. Like young people do in general. But it was really an amazing experience.
CR: It’s funny, because the whole idea of Rich and I getting back together only could have worked in terms of us tackling Shake Your Money Maker and (after) that happened, the second Shake Your Money Maker became what it was.
GM: So then the album hits like gangbusters and you’re instantly on the top of the charts, getting a big buzz and selling millions of albums. Instant stardom. How did that affect you, being so young? Surely you had no idea what the results would be — or maybe you did — but still, to all of a sudden be the talk of the town, that must have been mind-blowing, no?
RR: Well, yeah. In a million years you couldn’t have told us being in that band in 1989 that this record was going to sell over seven million albums worldwide.
CR: Those first couple of years were really wild. It was disorientating — not that part about, or the things about, the money because it never was a thing for me. That’s why everyone was so mad at me all the time. When we left Atlanta in January 1990, I had one suitcase with two shirts in it and a pair of cowboy boots. We had only done weekends before, but that Shake Your Money Maker tour was 20 months and 350 shows. That sh*t doesn’t happen anymore. So you just have to figure out how your body is going to deal with it. Thank God we were young. I was 23 and Rich was 20. You’re young enough to go berserk. There are a lot of people in the world that are great musicians, but they just kind of go insane. That life can do that to you. I kind of imagine that it’s like being a pirate or something. Like OK, I like this, like a pirate likes to eat a boiled rat occasionally.
GM: So what were you thinking? Could you really believe it was all happening for you like that? Suddenly you were on the road touring in support of folks like ZZ Top, Heart, Aerosmith, Robert Plant…
RR: It was something. What I remember is that everyone in the band felt like they were all part of it and feeling great about it. There’s nothing more amazing than putting your heart and soul into something and having it come to fruition, and also experiencing it with a whole other bunch of people that are there with you, working really hard and doing this thing as if we’re all climbing Mount Everest. And then you reach the top and you know what you need to do. We all had fun. We started seeing this new world. All of a sudden we’re touring in Europe for three and a half months opening for AC/DC and Metallica and playing stadiums, playing every country you could think of. We even went to Russia, right after the fall of Communism.
GM: It must have really gone to your heads.
RR: You know, as kids we tried not to think too much about it, because you could get bogged down in all that. It was more of an honor to be accepted like that and we could really appreciate that.
CR: We were punks as kids, and so we had a punk element to the way we dealt with the business and to other f**king people. We thought that we were here to write great songs and put on a great show. But don’t f**k with us. On the other hand, we were constantly being f**ked up because it’s all about greed and status and money, and that’s the classic story. I have no issue with it, I have no regrets or anything like that.
GM: It’s part of the rock and roll mythology.
CR: Exactly, and something that doesn’t exist anymore.
GM: So, then you have to follow it up with another album, which you did of course with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion album. Yet, did you feel like you had raised the bar so high and that it might be a challenge to meet that bar again? Was it intimidating to think that you had this massive hit the first time out and now you have to follow it with something equally impressive?
RR: Again, we never let ourselves be intimidated, so the best thing that we could do after coming off of a 20-month tour where we played 350 shows was to keep writing new songs. Chris and I wrote two albums worth of material on that tour. We were really prolific at the time, and so there were a couple of songs that we wrote towards the end of the Shake Your Money Maker tour that we decided to keep for the next record. “My Morning Song” was one of them and “Thorn in My Pride” was another. We were firing on all cylinders.
CR: The people around us were the grown adult corporate sharks. And the vibe was that nothing is going to be as good as Shake Your Money Maker if it doesn’t sell nine million copies or whatever. That’s just the way it was. That was the dynamic.
GM: So how did you deal with it?
CR: I think we felt kind of like wizards, like we left with one pair of shoes and a shirt in a bag, and we came back with all these powers… not just believing that we could wield a certain amount of power with the record company, but because the record was so popular and suddenly we had a following. I’m 23 years old and I’m opening for Steven Tyler. You’re playing every night, 350 nights, having gone from little clubs to big arenas.
GM: It seems that when you guys came along, there was kind of a nadir in terms of real, authentic rock and roll. It was all big hair and goth and heavy metal and the remnants of disco. Then you guys came along, and the influences seemed obvious — the Faces, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and that real roots kind of thing. Did you see yourselves as kind of carrying the banner forward at that particular time?
RR: Rock and roll spoke to us, and when I say rock and roll, I mean the purest form of rock and roll, which is anything from Neil Young to Bob Dylan to Sly Stone to Delaney & Bonnie to Tom Jones. I mean anything and everything. Gram Parsons was rock and roll to me.
CR: It was The Cramps and the Stooges and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. We were definitely purists in our own way and into whatever we were into... the purest form.
GM: And you really proved that early on. It was a major statement at the time, it really was.
RR: There was no kind of consideration of getting heavy into a genre for the purpose of sales figures. It was just that that music and that platform spoke to us in that sense, so that was where we put our foot down, like this is who we are, this is what we are, this is the platform that we choose to express ourselves with. It’s kind of the opposite of anyone trying to think about a career, but we were just staying true to ourselves, and I think it connected.
GM: You guys seemed to have this defiance, this insistence that you wouldn’t be told what to do by the suits at the label, that you wouldn’t let them put pressure on in any way whatsoever. You guys stuck to your guns and you wouldn’t let them sway you in any way. That’s pretty ballsy for a new band.
RR: Yeah, it’s pretty unheard of for a young band. I guess, we were precocious in that sense. We trusted George to be cool and so we listened to him because he was also our A&R rep with the label. We didn’t have a manager when we made Shake Your Money Maker. We just went in and made this record. George brought us into the studio, helped us steer the ship and showed us a lot of things about songwriting that we had not understood before. As kids you just gotta do it enough times to be able to learn these things, and George really pointed us in the right direction. When we signed to American Records, we weren’t big enough and we didn’t matter enough for anyone to give a sh*t, but by the time we made Southern Harmony, we sold so many records that no one could tell us what to do. By then, we had this luxury of being able to make whatever music we wanted to make, and if you listen to the records, you can see the growth and the sort of anti-commercialism that we applied to our music.
CR: We wished we could have had more time to do other stuff in the studio, but we really didn’t think anyone really would listen. We knew we didn’t sound like Guns N’ Roses. We didn’t sound like Metallica. We didn’t sound like The Cult. We didn’t sound like The Replacements. Rich wasn’t the greatest guitar player, but I do like the way the guitar sounded on Shake Your Money Maker. It was different. There wasn’t anything like that at the time.
GM: Nevertheless, it seemed like it eventually became a tenuous and tenacious journey. You’ve been together, you’ve broken up, gotten back together, broken up again, and now things seem to be pretty solid as you celebrate this musical milestone. But what is it about groups with siblings? You see that tension with so many brother bands — The Kinks, Oasis, The Everly Brothers. What imbued that extra element of tension?
You’d think two brothers might have that extra kind of connection.
CR: That’s like saying families are strong, but families are not. They can be the most f**ked up thing in the world. Nevertheless, we rock and roll. That’s a good storyline, isn’t it?
We’re in nice company between Phil and Don Everly and The Kinks and the others you mentioned. It’s funny because over the last year, while we were revisiting some Black Crowes history, my wife said, “Wow, they were really playing up the fact that you and Rich hated each other since day one.” We didn’t have a chance. That dynamic began to control us.
RR: I think that there’s always a family dynamic involved with brothers in particular, where there’s the older brother and there’s the younger brother. Parents will always tell the older brother, “You better look out for your younger brother,” so there’s this mentality like, “You’re not my parent! You can’t tell me what to do!” I think there’s always an element of that, and no matter what you do, no matter what, there’s that family dynamic that happens, and when it does, no matter whatever you do together, it enters into it. We were like, get your sh*t together and f**king deal with it because we’re on this ride together. For whatever reason, that’s how we were — right, wrong or indifferent.
GM: So, now that Money Maker has been rereleased, are you going to resume your 30th anniversary tour once the pandemic passes?
RR: The tickets had gone on sale, but we hadn’t started it yet. We had to postpone the tour, and (then) cancel it until this year. So we’ll see what happens. The tickets are on sale, so it’s just a matter of whether we’re going to start it in June or July.
GM: So are the Black Crowes now the prime focus? You have your solo things, but are those being pushed to the side for the time being?
RR: Yeah, this is going to be the focus. Chris and I have been writing a bunch of songs possibly for a new record, so maybe there will be something new in the near future. At least we hope so.
CR: It’s about The Black Crowes now. We want to get back on the road. We put a great band together, and Rich and I are really enjoying our dynamic and our relationship. We’re there for each other. We talk on the phone every day now. So now, I’d rather be there for Rich. We’re in a good place, and we’ve been writing a f**king ton of Black Crowes songs. Our main focus is to get back on the road and go play these songs and finish what we started. Then we’ll see what happens.