The Black Crowes have survived through multiple break-ups in their 35-year history. Many bands that attempt to come back after even just one split aren’t often successful and eventually fade away.
But the band persevered and continue to entertain fans with their hard-rocking southern musical style.
If they seemingly love to play music together, why did The Black Crowes repeatedly break up?
Let’s look at this band formed by two brothers who didn’t always have brotherly love for one another.
The Story of The Black Crowes
When The Black Crowes first hit the music scene in the late 80s, they made a pretty big splash. But it took a few years of making demo tapes and playing club gigs before they found their groove.
Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson formed the band in 1984 in Marietta, Georgia, while still in high school. Their early influences were from southern rock and 60s psychedelic pop bands and groups like R.E.M from nearby Athens.
With Chris on vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and percussion, brother Rich played electric guitar and provided backing vocals. They had the perfect mixture of instruments between them to play bluesy southern-style rock.
The brothers initially called themselves Mr. Crowe’s Garden, based on the children’s book Johnny Crow’s Garden. They started recording demos for A&M Records in 1987, with various musicians sitting in on separate sessions. One of those musicians, drummer Steve Gorman, would eventually join them as a regular band member.
After spending a year playing shows at New York City clubs like CBGB, they were offered a record contract in 1989. They got their start with Def American, the label started by producer Rick Rubin.
Becoming The Black Crowes
At this time, the now five-piece band decided to change their name to The Black Crowes.
Their first studio album, Shake Your Money Maker, released in 1990, shook the music world in a big way. Five tracks from the album were released as singles, and all did well on the charts. By the end of the year, the record had sold one million copies. Money Maker is still their best-selling album, having sold over five million copies.
Over the next 11 years, the Black Crowes released five more studio albums, most reaching into the Top 20 on Billboard charts. The last half of the 90s also saw changes in their lineup, though the Robinson brothers were always the constant.
In October 1999, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page joined the band for five New York and Los Angeles shows. The guest sit-in culminated in a concert at the Centrum Center in Massachusetts. The show was recorded, resulting in the album Live at the Greek released in 2000.
Throughout 2001, the Black Crowes extensively toured the US, Europe, and Japan in support of their fifth album, Lion.
We Were On a Break
Following that tour, original drummer Steve Gorman decided to leave the band. The Black Crowes announced in January 2002 they were “taking a hiatus,” or a break up as some may call it.
During the band’s break, Chris and Rich Robinson remained active in playing music, though not together. Each formed short-lived bands and recorded their own albums.
In early 2005, the brothers decided to reassemble The Black Crowes. They hired a new drummer, and by that summer, they were the opening act on the Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers tour.
In 2008, after several lineup changes in the band, they released their seventh studio album Warpaint. It shot to #5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The brothers released their eighth album, Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, in 2009, which reached the #5 chart spot. This would be the band’s final studio album, though they continued to release live albums.
Between 2010 and 2013, The Black Crowes toured heavily across the US and internationally. Their fifth and final live album was released in 2013, not long before they took another hiatus.
The Final Straw
The band only played together once in 2014, before announcing in January 2015 they were breaking up for good.
This time, it seemed The Black Crowes break up was final. Brothers Rich and Chris engaged in a rather public dispute over who had ownership rights over the band. Like many family disputes, especially ones involving any kind of business, it came down to money.
Rich was quoted as saying the following in an interview with WBAB radio station, “It is a shame that it became about money, which it did. He felt that he was more important and bigger and better than everyone else, and that’s delusional and not the case, and I just felt like it wasn’t very righteous to live that way. And so the band split up.”
And Chris had this to say in 2017 about his brother “Let’s get this straight: I don’t like my brother, I don’t get along with him, I don’t want to be in a room with him, and I don’t want to play music with those people in that band.”
It sure seemed there would be no reconciliation between the brothers and that the world had seen the last of The Black Crowes.
The Black Crowes Best Known Songs
Hard to Handle
This cover of Otis Redding’s 1968 song gave The Black Crowes their first #1 hit. Recorded for Shake Your Money Maker in 1990, this song grabbed listeners’ attention immediately when released as a single. It’s a tune that gets you moving in your chair, if not fully upright, dancing around the room.
This track appears on the band’s second studio album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, released in 1992. When it was released as a single, it shot to #1 on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart and didn’t move for 11 weeks.
Why Did ZZ Top Fire The Black Crowes?
In early 1991, the band opened for ZZ Top on a tour sponsored by Miller Beer. Chris Robinson has always been vocal about his views on everything from corporate greed to cannabis use.
During The Black Crowes’ sets on this tour, Chris would drop some snarky comments about the corporate sponsor in between songs. ZZ Top’s management company didn’t appreciate these views being announced from the stage and gave The Black Crowes a warning to refrain from expressing their opinions during their show. When they didn’t stop, they were fired from the tour.
In an interview with MTV after they left the tour, Chris explained, “They were trying to censor what I was trying to say. . . . I don’t need a big corporation telling me about the only thing in my life I have control over really, which is my music.”
Why Did The Black Crowes Decide to Reunite?
After such an intense and personal break-up, you’d think The Black Crowes would never reunite on stage together.
But we can all thank their kids for helping them put their differences aside and get back to playing music. Rich is the father of seven, while Chris has two kids.
Their children began asking them why they never saw their uncles or even knew their cousins. This prompted them to bury the hatchet in 2019 and start talking again.
They spent a year and a half getting reacquainted, bringing their families together, and, just as important, writing music.
The Black Crowes formed a new band and have scheduled dates throughout 2022. They’ll be performing their hit album Shake Your Money Maker in its entirety, along with many other favorites, at every stop.
How Many Original Members Are in The Black Crowes?
As we’ve already mentioned, the two constants in The Black Crowes were brothers Chris and Rich Robinson.
Bassist Sven Pipien joined the band in 1997, but they fired him in 2000. It seems the reason for the firing wasn’t so bad because he rejoined when The Black Crowes reunited after their first break-up. Sven has remained in the band since 2005.
In total, The Black Crowes have had nearly 20 musicians come and go over their 35-year history.
The Black Crowes Together Forever?
The Black Crowes have made a massive impact since they first blasted on the scene in 1990. Their unique playing style is likely to remain relevant for years to come. Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of The Black Crowes break-ups! Where are you planning to see them in 2022?