Black Crowes Lead Singer Discusses Musical Influences
Chris Robinson burst onto the music scene in the early 1990s when The Black Crowes won over audiences with a style that blended rock and rhythm-and-blues.
In 2010, Robinson created a side project, the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. That band has now become a full-time project, and the group’s new album draws on 1960s psychedelia, soul and gospel sounds while keeping a 1970s California pop sound.
Robinson and guitarist Neal Casal visited Morning Shift Friday to discuss their influences and play a few songs.
Q: Do you listen for any touchstones as you’re pulling music together?
CR: I think the touchstones for us, they’re not so specific. They’re jazz, they’re folk music, they’re rock n’ roll, they’re bluegrass and funk and R&B. Of course we have our favorite artists, and everyone’s bringing kind of offshoots.
I’m all over the shop with my record collection. Neal and I are like folkies and into rock n’ roll, and I’m into a lot of avant garde electronic composers, mid-century stuff, and BBC Radiophonic workshop stuff. Tony (Leone), our drummer, is a jazz guy who loves rock n’ roll. Adam (MacDougall), our keyboard player, he’s the only one with Peabo Bryson records.
A lot of it is where we come from.
Q: Do you mean geographically? Because you’re from the South. How much of that is in the music?
CR: Well, I wouldn’t know how to remove it. My father was a bee-bop rock n’ roller and a folk singer, so I grew up around a lot of roots music. And I’m from Atlanta. I grew up in a very black place, so gospel music, R&B, soul music — that stuff was available right there, at the bus stop and not just at a concert hall.
Q: I think people would think about the Grateful Dead, given the description you just gave.
CR: Then again, the Grateful Dead are a band that takes all those American influences through the lens of their own creative impetus, and of course, the pandora’s box of the LSD movement.
What we’re trying to convey on an emotional and musically dynamic, hopefully soulful level, is the same sort of connection that we have when we listen to music. Whether it was listening to the Memphis Sheiks, or whether it was going to see Wes Montgomery or John Coltrane — where all that stuff comes together is [with] the individual. And the power in terms of creative expression lies with the individual.
We wear our influences on our sleeves. To pretend or to hide is silly too.
Q: The big news this week is Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. What did you think about that?
CR: I love it. I mean as time moves on and Bob Dylan is an established thing, you know it’s like all the archetypal rock n’ roll baby boom gods that we live with — out of all of them, he’s still at the top.
Q: What do you think about the arguments being made that “It’s not literature, it’s songwriting…”
CR: That’s ridiculous. You know what I mean? Shakespeare’s a musician too, but so is Picasso, just in the same way that Bob Dylan is Frederico Fellini.
To me those are things that are fear-driven, sort of like snob, keep all the creative arts, “the dark arts,” separated.
In the big scheme of things, Bob Dylan’s poetry, in the modern sense of the world — in the 21st century sense — I think [he’s] the world’s greatest poet.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click on the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.