"No matter what his issues may be personality-wise, he's a brilliant singer": The Black Crowes' Rich Robinson chooses the soundtrack of his life

Rich Robinson studio portrait
(Image credit: Ross Halfin)

After three decades and more than 30 million album sales, the feuding Robinson brothers of the Black Crowes went their separate ways in 2015. Younger sibling Rich made a handy solo album, Flux, before forming The Magpie Salute, a bunch of rock’n’rollers with a sure grasp of Americana, southern blues and heavy psychedelia. 

Four years later the Black Crowes returned for a one-off show in New York, following by a full reunion tour in 2021. Now there's an album, Happiness Bastards, on the way, and making it wasn't the fractious experience some might expect. 

"I wouldn’t say we had to repair our writing relationship, because that was never an issue,” Rich tells Rolling Stone. “That was always the one natural thing, with very little volatility – when we would sit down to write, for whatever reason. Everything else was just making the decision to be adults, and not fall back into those sort of old patterns. But us getting back together and being cool and just getting it to that place lifts everything up."

It’s been quite a journey already for Rich Robinson. And this is the music that shaped it.


The first music I remember hearing

It has to be Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu [1970]. My dad was a musician and a huge Stephen Stills fan, and I remember hearing those amazing harmonies. There was a feeling on that album that I tapped into and that I continue to tap into to this day.

The first song I performed live

[Older brother] Chris and I jumped into our own band pretty quickly. My cousin got some drums, Chris had a bass and I got a guitar. We decided to call ourselves the Goo Goo Mucks, after the Cramps song. We wrote an anti-redneck song called Puds In Trucks. It was a punk rock thing that lasted a minute and fifteen seconds. ‘Puds’ was a negative term for rednecks. Our punk days lasted about three months. 

My cult hero

Nick Drake’s music is just so personal, almost antithetical to any mass consumption. It’s so deeply moving on that level. I was hooked the first time I heard it – the sound of the guitar, his picking style, the tunings, the vocals, the whole thing. It was so immediate and elicited this feeling from me that was so intense. Pink Moon [1972] is a great example of that.

The most underrated band ever

There are bands that I got into later in the day that were doing some really cool, far-out shit, and one of them is Moby Grape. That first album [Moby Grape, ’67] is particularly great. There are some really cool chords, great melodies and incredible vocals. Sadly you don’t hear a lot of people talking about them these days. 

The guitar hero

Obviously there are the greats – Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Peter Green, Jeff Beck. In particular, the first two Jeff Beck records, Truth [’68] and Beck-Ola [’69], are incredible. So I’ve always appreciated people who can play like that, but ultimately songs are my thing.

The singer

Hands-down, insofar as every time I hear him sing I go: “Fuck, man!”, it’s Rod Stewart. No matter what his issues may be personality-wise, he’s a brilliant singer. All the stuff he did in The Faces and the Jeff Beck Group was fucking amazing, even his seventies solo records. There’s some stunning footage of him on YouTube, singing Gasoline Alley a cappella.

The songwriter

You can never discount Mick and Keith or Lennon and McCartney. And as far as a single artist goes, Bob Dylan wrote more great songs than anyone. The Beach Boys were just seen as this surf band in America, but the depth of Brian Wilson’s writing was so vast that you couldn’t really tap into it.

The greatest album of all time

The one record that brings me joy every time I listen to it is Exile On Main St [Rolling Stones, ’72]. For me it’s how rock’n’roll can be and should be. Loving Cup was the song that really hit me. It jerked me out of whatever I was doing. And Tumbling Dice is the perfect rock’n’roll song.

The greatest live album

It has to be Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! [Rolling Stones, ’70]. There’s so much energy and feeling. I was a kid when I first heard the Stones. Then later on, after going down the punk rock/alternative road for a while, I got back into them. They had such a variety of stuff, from rock‘n’roll to blues and R&B. It set the platform for the Black Crowes.

The best record I've made

Chris and I wrote The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion [’92] in three days. That record just flowed out of us. We’d just been touring Shake Your Money Maker for twenty-two months, and I’d already written songs like My Morning Pride and Thorn In My Pride on the road. And when we got home it took me three minutes to write the music for Sometimes Salvation and five minutes for Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye. We went into the garage over the weekend, then recorded the whole record in eight days. Like all the best things, that record just happened.

The worst record I've made

Maybe one of my solo records here or there. I don’t really look back too much and have regrets – and I wouldn’t have put out a record that I wasn’t happy with at the time – but as you get older you have more wisdom. So you can say: “Well, I would’ve done that differently.” 

My ‘in the mood for love’ song

There’s a song by Fruit Bats called Singing Joy To The World [2009], written by Eric D Johnson. It’s not some sappy love song, it’s very moving. It talks about love in far more realistic and human terms. It’s so beautiful.

The song I wish I'd written

Gates Of Eden [Bob Dylan, ’65]. It’s not necessarily a very complicated musical piece, but there’s this beautiful chugging quality to it, with lyrics that feel like a Da Vinci painting of humanity. It’s full of universal themes that we all deal with and struggle with. This is a song that’s always inspired me.

Happiness Bastards is released on March 15. This interview originally appeared in Classic Rock 269, in December 2019.

Rob Hughes

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2008, and sister title Prog since its inception in 2009. Regular contributor to Uncut magazine for over 20 years. Other clients include Word magazine, Record Collector, The Guardian, Sunday Times, The Telegraph and When Saturday Comes. Alongside Marc Riley, co-presenter of long-running A-Z Of David Bowie podcast. Also appears twice a week on Riley’s BBC6 radio show, rifling through old copies of the NME and Melody Maker in the Parallel Universe slot. Designed Aston Villa’s kit during a previous life as a sportswear designer. Geezer Butler told him he loved the all-black away strip.