When Chris Robinson first rose to prominence singing with the Black Crowes, he seemed to embody the rock 'n' roll spirit considered long dead. Though the band he started with announced yesterday that it was calling it quits after all these years, time has not changed the man himself.
Calling from Southern California a few days before his newer band, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, performs at Sunshine Music & Blues Festival, it was like Robinson was shot to 2015 straight from the 1960s. He was free, fun, and unselfconscious. It seemed every line of dialogue he uttered was worthy of a headline, none more so than when he spoke about why the Brotherhood formed.
"It came from songwriting. The Black Crowes don't write songs anymore," he said. "They don't think of the present or the future. I like making albums and playing concerts. I was sitting on two EPs' worth of written songs."
Growing impatient, he rounded up Neal Cassal on guitar, Adam MacDougall on keys, Mark Dutton on bass, and new member Tony Leone on drums. Last year, Chris Robinson Brotherhood released its third album, Phosphorescent Harvest, which is more Grateful Dead than Black Crowes. Or as Robinson labeled it, "We're the farm-to-table psychedelic rock band. We try to keep it authentic, from our music to our business decisions to our graphic artists."
Robinson grew up in Georgia, and music was a part of his life for as long as he can remember. "Even if I didn't have the language, I knew music transcended 1977 and being 11."
His mother had a massive record collection, and his father was a folk singer. When asked if his dad, Stanley "Stan" Robinson, passed along any vocal lessons, Robinson scoffed at the idea. "The only thing I learned about music from my dad was he didn't want to share it. He was always saying I didn't have any talent. That made me work harder. It made music more elusive and attractive, especially at that time in the South. I'm dyslexic, and they said I couldn't learn to read music, never pointing out that most artists, poets, musicians have the same classic symbols of outsiderness."
As soon as the Black Crowes' success proved Robinson's dad and the rest of the South wrong, he was out of there. "I didn't have a bad life, but music was my first chance to shoot the arrow over the mountain and chase it," he explained lyrically.
He moved to New York first, then to Southern California in 1991. This region, Robinson said, changed him on a cellular level for no reason greater than himself becoming a dad of two.
He sounds content, and Robinson says that might be because he is. "The Black Crowes were a rebellion. This [Chris Robinson Brotherhood] is a pragmatic reaction to how I feel. The only revolutionary thing we're doing is staying out of the music business. There's Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters in music. We just don't eat there. We're grassroots."
Sunshine Music & Blues Festival. Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Sean Chambers, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Grace Potter, Los Lobos, and others. 11 a.m. Sunday, January 18, at Mizner Park Amphitheater, 590 Plaza Real, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $49.50 to $99.50 plus fees. Call 561-393-7984, or visit ticketmaster.com.