When drawing up the master plan for a twentieth-anniversary celebration, most bands don't sketch calling it quits into the blueprint. But then again, we're talking about the Black Crowes, a band that's never stuck to the typical playbook. It's been a bumpy ride for the Georgia group, with a healthy amount of squabbling (this is a band featuring two brothers, Rich and Chris Robinson, after all) and a Spinal Tap-like number of keyboard and guitar players. If you can say one thing, it's that the members of the Crowes have kept things interesting.
"Interesting" is also an appropriate term to describe Croweology, the band's celebratory/farewell effort. It's a double album collecting twenty of the band's finest career cuts, reinvented (mostly) acoustically. Currently on the road for a final set of tour dates prior to going into what is being called an "indefinite hiatus," the band will bring its humorously titled Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys tour to the Pageant for one more night of good-time rock & roll. We took some time to step through a few selected career moments with drummer Steve Gorman. For outtakes and more looking back, head to www.rftmusic.com.
Matt Wardlaw: Croweology comes at an interesting point, because I think you had already made one of your best records in a long time with your most recent album, Before the Frost. If you would have called it quits then, that would have been a good album to go out on.
Steve Gorman: We were feeling like it was time to take a break, which we were planning to do. But then, that's just the way we are. We would take a break on the twenty-year anniversary — we've never been the master planners. But then when we got this idea, we were all really excited about it. We have never been a band that looks back. We've never been in the studio making a record thinking, "Well, how are we going to connect the last record to a new thing?" Every time we're doing something, we're just right there. We're aware of how everything we do leads us to the next place, but we're never that concerned with connecting those dots for casual fans, die-hards or for anybody, really. We're just sort of in our own bubble in that sense.
A lot of that is why we are still around, and a lot of that is why our career has been sort of all over the place. It's just how we've always been. It was like that in 1987 when the three of us had a different bass player every month. So we said, "Well, wait, stop this, let's really take stock in what we've done, let's look at the twenty years." And oh my God, it started really dawning on us. Who, at twenty years, is making records like Before the Frost? There's not a lot, really. I'm not saying that we've been consistently great throughout, but I agree with you, I think that's a great record. And it's something that we were immensely proud of. We all just thought it was time to do a different mindset for this year and try to summarize and wrap up everything we've done, and it's a nice way to put a bow on it and then take another break.
For me, Croweology really accentuated the greatness of several songs, like "My Morning Song," that really didn't grab me in their original form. When doing these songs for Croweology, what songs had a different feel to you, for better or worse?
I like "My Morning Song," it's just so different, and I dig that. "Hotel Illness" is probably my favorite — the arrangement is the exact same as it is on the original recorded version, but the stomp of it — it just is a lot more rambunctious in the acoustic state. Anytime it comes on, I always get a smile, and it gets me going. If I had to pick one that I was really surprised and pleased with, that it was just so much more exciting for me, it's that one. There's so much going on. On just about every track, there's a lot of things that I still hear and just go, "Oh yeah, I really like that, that's great." I haven't gone back and listened to the original recorded version [of "Hotel Illness"] since we did this one, but I'm sure if I did, I'd be like, "That's pretty good too!" I'm very focused on how they sound right now.
It's funny, because in talking about this record, it's just sort of dawned on me that I think a lot of Croweology really was for us too, the current lineup of the band. It was almost like, "This is the Black Crowes now, and these are still our songs." And these two guys might not have played on the original versions, Luther [Dickinson] and Adam [MacDougall], but they're playing on them every night now. So now let's put this band's stamp on it. I'm 45 years old next week and playing a song that we originally recorded in 1989, it's not like I can get back into the mood, vibe, feel and thought process of me at 24. If I could, that's a waste of twenty years.
It was important for all of us to say, "These are still our tunes, but this is where we are with them now." In a lot of ways, they'll probably continue to reveal themselves. I think it was a really good thing that we did this record.
From an arrangement standpoint, you guys have really done a nice job of building these tracks out so that there's a lot more instrumentation than what you might typically expect to hear on acoustic versions of songs that you're already familiar with.
Yeah, well, for one thing when you hear acoustic, you think of the '90s Unplugged series where people decided it was time to be incredibly introspective and dull. We wanted to make a rock & roll record with acoustic guitars, and there's plenty of templates for that — Led Zeppelin III and Rod Stewart's early work, there's a million of them. Not to mention all of the acoustic blues records that came way before rock & roll. Country records, you listen back and realize that actually, that's just rock & roll music. There's no shortage of great acoustic rock & roll. So we were not at all thinking that it would be a diminished vibe or soft touchy thing at all. I don't think I played brushes on anything — that's just like the kiss of death to me.
Shake Your Money Maker was a great-sounding record in 1990, and it definitely still sounds great today.
We made that record in the summer of '89. For anybody who remembers that time, [if you] put on the radio and MTV back then — both of which were huge pieces of the puzzle for breaking bands and maintaining careers, unlike today — you never heard anything that sounded like that. It was all eyeliner and teased-up hair. People weren't ready for heavy metal to be mainstream yet, but they were taking heavy-metal attitude and putting it on pop songs. Pop metal was a really unfortunate time for all of us, I think. Luckily, we kind of ignored it, but that again gets back to us being sort of in our own world. We didn't make that record thinking, "This will show 'em." We made that record thinking, "God, I hope we sell 50,000 copies so we can make another one." It never occurred to us that we would stick through all of that crap, you know what I mean? When that record took off, no one was more surprised than us. Trust me, it was never the plan to sell millions of records the first time out of the gate. We were looking at a slow build, and we didn't really have that chance.