In this day and age, lots of bands get their start through social media – posting self-made videos of songs on You Tube, while using other sites, such as Facebook and Myspace, to promote their songs and try to generate hits on their videos.
Chris Robinson, former singer of the Black Crowes, had a more old fashioned approach in mind when he started his current band, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in 2010.
There was no big hype surrounding the group’s arrival – even though it brought together some notable players, including guitarist Neal Casal (a respected solo artist in his own right), keyboardist Adam MacDougall (a recent member of the Black Crowes), bassist Mark Dutton
and drummer George Sluppick (who had worked with Sha Na Na, JJ Grey & Mofro and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress). Sluppick left the band earlier this year and has been replaced by Tony Leone.
Instead, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood simply set out on a low key tour of West Coast cities to see how the band would work live, have fun and start building a fan base.
“We kind of hit the ground running in terms of building our own culture having these songs start to be a part of peoples’ lives, like other songs, other bands that we all love,” Robinson said in an early September phone interview. “To me the only thing to really do is to get out and put on great shows and prove to people that with all the parties going on and all the nice events you can go to, why should you
come to this one? Because we want to have a soulful dynamic, joyful time, and the only way to do that is the old fashioned, brick by brick, you know, show by show. Luckily for us, we’re truly, truly in
love with the process.”
Pleased with the music and the vibe it was creating, what started as something of an experiment evolved into a full fledged group, and the Chris Robinson Brotherhood headed back out for a North American tour in 2011 that eventually reached 118 dates. The group also decided it was time to start recording some of the many songs Robinson had written.
During a six-day recording session, the band recorded 27 songs, most of which ended up on a pair of albums, “Big Moon Ritual” and “The Magic Door,” which were released in June and September of 2012, respectively. Now the process that began in 2010 continues this fall as the group tours behind its third studio album, “Phosphorescent Harvest” (2014) and sets its sights on recording a fourth studio album in January. The live show, Robinson said, will include at least a couple of new songs that are in the mix for the next album. It will also continue to feature a good deal of improvisation – which makes sense for a group whose frequently relaxed blend of psychedelic rock, country, blues and soul puts it in a similar stylistic niche with the Grateful Dead.
Robinson readily admits the Dead and that group’s freewheeling communal concert vibe was an inspiration for the kind of scene he is trying to nurture with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.
“The Grateful Dead were the Johnny Appleseed of a certain thing,” he said. “We’re planting our own orchard as well.”
Still, if jamming is a big part of the group’s live aesthetic, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood also brings a song-centered focus to its music – something that was especially apparent on “Phosphorescent Harvest.” While the songs generally ran in the five-to-seven minute range, they were more tightly structured and especially with the funky “Shore Power,” the chunky rocker “Meanwhile” and the rootsy pop of “Beggars Moon,” came with ear-grabbing hooks.
“I think for us the idea is always to have great songs,” Robinson said. “You have to have great songs, great image, great purpose there. Otherwise the jamming is just noodling.”
“Phosphorescent Harvest” also saw the Chris Robinson Brotherhood becoming more of a collaborative band. While Robinson remained the main songwriter, Casal, in particular, became an active contributor to the material. Heading into the fourth album, MacDougall has also
stepped up his involvement in the creative mix.
“Adam’s writing more now. We have Adam pieces and I mean, Neal is, of
course, always adding his parts,” Robinson said. “The more everyone gets involved, the happier I am, you know what I mean. And that’s again part of the philosophy of what we wanted to do. If I wanted to be a solo artist, I would go do it. I like bands. I like the camaraderie. I like the communal aspect of everyone being in the group mind. I want to get into something that’s aesthetically pleasing for all of us.” The writing process in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the singer said, is far easier than it ever was in the Black Crowes, where he and his younger brother, guitarist Rich Robinson, formed that band’s writing team.
“I mean, the Black Crowes were never easy,” Robinson said. “And I
guess, you’re in a certain mindset when you’re in a culture that that’s how it’s supposed to work, and everyone is feeding the dysfunction. Like oh, you guys hate each other, but you write great songs. And that works when you’re a kid. Yeah, Rich and I, our songwriting thing was always much more cantankerous, like every part of it. So it’s funny, over the years, when I did work with (other) people and produce records or write songs and stuff, I was like wow, it’s nice. It’s nice when there’s not a battle (over everything).”
Robinson doesn’t have to worry about the battles with his brother now.
The Black Crowes ended their frequently stormy run together in 2014 after 24 years, eight albums that sold a combined 30 million copies and a pair of hiatuses along the way. That’s when guitarist Rich Robinson posted a message online announcing the breakup and blaming it on the demands of his brother. According to Rich Robinson, Chris Robinson demanded that in order to return to the Black Crowes for a proposed 2015 tour, Rich Robinson needed to give up his equal ownership share in the group, while the other founding member of the group, drummer Steve Gorman, would have to agree to go on salary. That didn’t fly and the Black Crowes were declared over.
Chris Robinson suggested that his brother’s account of his financial demands wasn’t accurate.
“I’ve just always felt like anything else, that business is business and life is life, but business should stay business,” Robinson said, not exactly getting right to the point. “That’s professionally when it’s your band and family. So I won’t comment on the reality of (the terms), but I can comment that that’s hardly the scenario brought to Rich at the time.”
The singer, though, didn’t spell out what terms he requested, and instead gave an answer that suggested he and his brother saw whatever proposal was on the table for a reunion differently.
“I see a purple bicycle and he sees a kangaroo,” Robinson said, when asked what his terms were to return to the Black Crowes.
Whatever the story with the Black Crowes breakup is, it’s apparent the members of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood are all seeing bicycles, and five years into this group, Robinson is clearly enjoying his new ride.

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