When the Black Crowes first officially reunited with their “classic” lineup in 2005 following a four-year hiatus, it included guitar virtuoso Marc Ford. After a little over a year of touring, Ford left again in fall of 2006, along with keyboardist Eddie Harsch. Paul Stacey, Luther Dickinson, and Jackie Greene have all since been used to provide slide work to complement Rich Robinson on guitar until the band finally broke up for good in 2013. That was also the year that family patriarch Stanley Robinson passed away at 73.
It was later revealed by original drummer Steve Gorman that an attempt at reconciliation occurred in 2015 for what would have been the 25th anniversary of their debut album. Gorman, who now hostss a Fox Sports Radio show titled Steve Gormon Sports!, suggested that Stanley’s death left Chris without any reason to stay in the band. There are varied accounts about why this final reunion didn’t happen, but suffice to say it was because brothers and founding members Chris and Rich Robinson couldn’t work together; in fact, they haven’t spoken to each other since. While brothers in music have historically been a volatile mix (Everlys, Davies, Gallaghers), the Robinsons’ rift is especially messy.
Rich and Marc Ford reunited with Eddie Harsch at Woodstock in the summer of 2016 and by the end of the year, The Magpie Salute was born. They went forward after Harsch’s November ‘16 untimely death with four shows at New York City’s Grammery Theater in January 2017. Magpie Salute then toured Europe and the U.S, where they not only dove deep into the Crowes catalog, but brought the unmistakable chemistry between the Rich and Ford to the forefront.
Chris Robinson has stayed consistently busy with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, featuring Neal Casal and Adam MacDougall (who replaced Eddie Harsch in the Crowes). CRB avoided most of the Crowes catalog on purpose in order to create their own distinctly mellow improvisational Northern California vibe. Chris sang “Sometimes Salvation” with Gov’t Mule in May of ‘17, but that seemed like a one-off. But when he performed a June 2017 Santa Cruz solo show month later, he finally sang some of the songs he made famou as “Hotel Illness,” “Jealous Again,” “Good Friday” and “High Head Blues” made the setlist This was after Chis had famously dismissed the Magpie Salute as a “Black Crowes cover band” on the Howard Stern Show.
When As The Crow Flies appeared on the bill for April’s Wanee Festival, fans assumed that Chris would be finally tackling some of the Crowes catalog. When asked to respond during a Guitar World event moderated by journalist Alan Paul, Rich suggested that his brother was welcome to sing their songs. However, after criticizing the Magpie Salute all this time it seemed extremely hypocritical to go out with “his B squad.” Then Rich added “and I’ve got Marc Ford.”
Now that the full lineup for ATCF has been revealed and a list of shows is on deck, it’s clearly not a B Squad. Audley Freed, who played with the Crowes after Marc Ford’s first departure will play alongside young prodigy Marcus King. Andy Hess, who played bass for the Crowes before his stint in Gov’t Mule, will be joined by MacDougall and CRB drummer Tony Leone to round out the band that will make its live debut in Port Chester in April 17. When asked what to expect, Chris Robinson suggested that they would be sticking to the hits over the nuggets. Marcus King added that he’s a big fan of the Ford-era Crowes and is honored and excited to be playing these songs.
Many Black Crowes fans are to say the least conflicted about these projects. Like Mick and Keith, Chris and Rich used their creative and personal tension to create so much good music. But while The Glimmer Twins describe themselves as a marriage, it’s hard to imagine the brothers Robinson ever getting on stage together again. Then again, The Police, Van Halen and Guns N’ Roses somehow found their way back to each other.
Chris Robinson claims this band has no plans beyond this run of shows. He appears very content with CRB and claims this tour was only booked since his band was on hiatus. Will that change once the lights go down in the Cap and he hears that roar from the crowd? What about all the “Amoricans” who still want to hear these songs from the stage? Do they need to be split into “Team Rich” and “Team Chris?” And what about Marc Ford? I’m an unabashed lover of his solo stuff, which he still performs in Magpie shows. Did Rich get custody of him after what appears to be the final break up?
Hardly. Marc Ford is as egoless a superstar as there is as he not only played with Chris after he first left the band, but even appeared on Robinson’s first solo album, New Earth Mud. At this point, Crowes fans can only enjoy the music in whatever way makes them feel good. The Magpie Salute is currently in the studio recording a new album and will be opening Gov’t Mule’s Dark Side of the Mule Tour along with The Avett Brothers. It will be very interesting to see what happens with As The Crow Flies in April, but it’s impossible to think of the words of Don Corleone right now.
“How did things ever get so far?”