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Interview: Chris Robinson Revisits the Black Crowes Songbook with As the Crow Flies

Dean Budnick | April 16, 2018
Stuart Levine

The Black Crowes have not performed since December 2013. Given singer Chris Robinson’s lack of direct communication with his brother Rich, it is unlikely that the group will reunite anytime soon. However, starting in mid-April, Chris will revisit the Crowes catalog for a series of shows with a new collective he’s dubbed As The Crow Flies. For these gigs, he’ll be joined by his former Black Crowes bandmates Audley Freed (guitar) and Andy Hess (bass), current Chris Robinson Brotherhood members Adam MacDougall (keys) and Tony Leone (drums), and newcomer Marcus King (guitar).

As for the group’s repertoire, Robinson explains, “I’ve asked everyone to learn 30 songs but, knowing me, I’ll get in there and want to play 30 different ones. This isn’t going to be the rarities tour. I started The Black Crowes, and I know what people want to hear. Still, I like things to just happen. I want to be in the moment, so I’m leaving a lot of it open until we get in there. Then, we’ll find our way.”

While he’s looking forward to these dates, he remains devoted to the CRB, noting, “the sheen hasn’t been rubbed off this thing that fell from the sky to our feet.” Following the As The Crow Flies run, CRB will continue to gig and will also enter the studio later this year. When asked about plans for that record, he offers, “I’m sitting on six or seven songs, with maybe another two or three floating around in the ether. By the time summer rolls around, we’ll be sitting on an album’s worth. I’d be surprised if we have as many acoustic things as last time [2017’s Barefoot in the Head]. They seem to be a little more groove-oriented and rock-oriented, at least today. By June 1, they might sound like Cajun music.”

It’s been five years since you’ve performed most of these Crowes songs. Was there a particular moment or catalyst that led you to say, “I’m gonna give this another go?”

The pragmatic factor would just be time. The CRB is off this spring and into summer. We have plans to record some new music, but that’s not until later in the year. So, there was that time on the calendar where there was nothing going on.

The other part of it is that I did some acoustic solo shows this summer. I had never really ventured into those dark waters myself but, when I did it, I started playing some Black Crowes songs and it was really fun and gratifying. And that was kind of a spark as well.

Then, when I was in Nashville with the CRB, I had lunch with my good friend Audley Freed and I was talking about the fact that I hadn’t really sung those songs in a while, which kind of turned into: “Well, it would be fun...”

The great impetus for it all is: We have the time and I’m feeling good about that music, so let’s have fun. And then it turned into: “Who can we get in the band to go play that material?” So then it turned into “fantasy band,” like fantasy football. But I’ve always been that way. It’s a flicker of an idea and then, the next thing you know, the ball is rolling and here we are. I do think it’s born of something truly musical. And that’s the case with a lot of the music that I’m proud of, that I’ve performed. I wrote those lyrics, sang those songs and made those records and, you know, we worked hard in The Black Crowes. It would be fun to sing those songs for a little bit. The CRB is my main focus here—the new music and the songs. We keep working and it gets a little bigger every time, and we have a lot of ambition. So, this is just a spring fling, if you will.