Black Stone Cherry: “Gene Simmons says rock is dead. We prove it’s not, man!”

Chris Robertson, Black Stone Cherry

Ten years on from Black Stone Cherry’s self-titled debut album, an interview with Chris Robertson is a distinctly unstarry affair. No time limit. No press officer as chaperone. No media-trained answers. Just a doggedly normal Southerner, parked up on the roadside, holding the phone in one hand, mopping up his three-year-old son with the other.

“Nothing has really changed that much,” the band’s frontman drawls. “I’m the same person.”

Statistically, you’d beg to differ. Just weeks prior to our interview, Robertson and the rest of BSC led the Carnival Of Madness touring package through eight British arenas, topping a bill that also included Shinedown and Halestorm. This month the quartet release their fifth album, Kentucky, which looks set to match the success of 2014’s chart-visiting Magic Mountain. Doggedly normal they might be, but these Southerners are undoubtedly rising.

How did the Carnival Of Madness go?

Man, I was nervous. It was our first tour in six months, straight into arenas. It was kinda like an “Oh shit” moment. But it was awesome. Guys like Gene Simmons are saying rock’n’roll is dead. I think the fact that a band from a town of 1,600 people can play music that connects to people all around the world proves it’s not, man.

What was the first thing you did when you got home?

I went straight to bed. I’m not even gonna try to be cool about it.

And you found your son had grown up while you were away.

Man, that’s absolutely the hardest part of this job. You leave, and six weeks later it’s like you’re coming home to a different person. It sucks being away. Thank God for social media and FaceTime. My son is three years old now. It’s so funny, he wants to listen to either daddy’s music or George Thorogood or Rob Zombie. At least he’s listening to rock’n’roll.

Did you do anything special for the final show?

There were some pranks played. Lzzy [Hale, from Halestorm] had been coming out to sing with us every night on Peace Is Free. When she came up in Manchester, she started singing: ‘The pizza’s free, all I want is cheese and pepperoni.’ And we’re bringing out pizzas on stage. It was hilarious. End-of-tour pranks have always been a huge thing.

What were your all-time greatest pranks?

Oh, dude, the first tour we ever did was my favourite. We were out with Buckcherry. Those guys decided it would be a great idea to take away all of John Fred’s drums during the last song in our set. This was right when Crazy Bitch was, like, the biggest song in the world. So we went to the merch booth, and they had women’s panties with ‘Crazy Bitch’ on them. Our whole band and crew bought them, then we went out on stage in just T-shirts tied around our waists and those ‘Crazy Bitch’ panties – and proceeded to dance for the entire song. I guess the shining moment is as we’re doing this, one of our crew guy’s ‘stuff’ didn’t stay inside of his panties; he actually had a testicle pop out.

Will you headline Carnival Of Madness in the US this summer?

No. If the Carnival tour we just did in the UK went to the States it would be a reversal of the bill: us, Halestorm and Shinedown headlining. That’s what we would expect. In the UK it’s all about live shows and word of mouth. In the States, everything is radio-driven. Shinedown and Halestorm have been massively successful in radio. We’ve always been the black sheep of radio. We may never play places like Foo Fighters or Nickelback, but in the industry today, you’re lucky to even get a chance at all.

How pleased are you with the new album, Kentucky?

I gotta be honest, I was nervous going into the studio. We self‑produced this entire record, and if people don’t take to it, there’s nobody to blame but the four of us. But it stands up to any record we’ve put out. We were going down the list of Motown number ones, and we were gonna do a Stevie Wonder cover, Signed, Sealed, Delivered. But we got to War and we were like: “That’s the one.” That song has just as much impact right now as it did when it was released [1970]. It’s such a screwed-up time in the world.

It’ll get worse if the US elects the wrong president.

Man, I try not to get into politics. But in truth, I don’t think there’s a candidate worth a damn in the race. I’m trying to research and basically figure out what the lesser of the evils is.

You recorded Kentucky in your home state.

We actually recorded in the studio where we did the debut album ten years ago. It’s in a different building now, but it’s the same equipment, same town, same engineer. When we got finished every night I got to go home and sleep in my bed, see my wife and kid. That beats the hell out of going to California.

You’re a prolific lyricist. Were you good at poetry at school?

I wasn’t great at school, period. I would tell my parents I was going to school, go round the back of the house and play guitar all day.

It’s ten years since your debut. How are you handling fame?

It’s still weird to me that people want us to sign stuff. That’s beyond me. I’m nobody, man. Go ask Jimmy Page for an autograph. That’s an autograph worth getting.

Most people in a band end up hating each other. How’s the chemistry in the BSC line-up?

We’re closer now than ever. Especially with all the struggles that we went through. We’ve never had a line-up change. If any one member was gone, there wouldn’t be a Black Stone Cherry any more.

Did you get in trouble with your wife for telling us last year that playing arenas is better than sex?

No. But I kinda got a shitty look whenever she read it.

Classic Rock 223: News & Regulars

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.