It’s no secret to folks who’ve read B&V before that most of our favorite rock bands here are strongly marinated in the blues. When I finally got into rock n roll in the late 70s/early 80s as a teenager, the bands I was into were the older bands – bands from the 60s and early 70s dominated my listening. By the time I got to college in the early 80s I was already a bit of a rock historian. I had a lot of great music to catch up on and most of that music had its roots in the blues. The Stones, my Alpha and Omega, started off as blues cover band if you boil it down. Hendrix was a blues master, it was his center. Whenever he was jamming in the studio, to warm up he’d play blues tunes. Cream, the Jeff Beck Group, and Zeppelin were all steeped in the blues. Even as late as their last album Zeppelin turned to the blues on “I’m Gonna Crawl.” These bands all rocked but they still did blues covers when they weren’t outright stealing stuff from the blues masters. Hell, Foghat even did Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” Rather than listen to then current music, I was at the record store stocking up on Cream and Hendrix.
In the 80s when I really started seriously collecting albums, since my focus was backward, I missed out on a lot of new bands. While I was searching for used copies of Faces albums, hair metal took over. Somehow rock n roll’s deep connection to the blues was severed in the 80s while I was crawling through back catalogs. I guess it was inevitable. Zeppelin was copying the blues masters they loved and 80s rock bands tried to copy Zeppelin. Somewhere in there the printer ran out of blue ink. Don’t get me wrong, I love Motley Crue, the Cult and many of the bands that I missed in the 80s and I have gone back to devour those catalogs. It’s still rock n’ roll to me, but I do miss that bluesy/blues rock side of music. It didn’t help that I spent the late 80s in what I consider my exile years, like Dante expelled from Florence, living in northwestern Arkansas. It was the land that rock radio forgot. I was cut off from a lot of current music save for what I heard on, gads, MTV.
In February of 1990 after I’d repatriated myself to Kansas City, I remember driving home early one Saturday morning, I’d crashed on a friend’s couch after a night of drinking – don’t drink and drive folks, even I follow that rule. On the car radio some station played this great bluesy rock song that I immediately loved, “Jealous Again” by a new band, the Black Crowes. That riff hit my lower brain stem and I almost swerved off the road even though I was sober by that point. I hadn’t heard dirty blues rock music like that in a long time. This defied the late 80s heavy metal trends completely. The Black Crowes at the time were the Brothers Robinson, Chris on vocals/Rich on guitar with Steve Gorman on drums, Jeff Cease on guitar and Johnny Colt on bass. The Crowes faced the inevitable comparisons to the Stones or the Faces such was the nature of their “bloozy” music. I’d also heard the band themselves mention Aerosmith as an influence. Every band that comes along to play bluesy rock n roll now gets compared to past bands. Greta Van Fleet gets slagged for copying Zeppelin, Aerosmith was called “the poor man’s Stones,” and the Black Crowes got the same crap about the Stones/Faces. It wasn’t until I heard “Hard To Handle” a cover of an Otis Redding tune a few weeks later that I finally went out and bought the Black Crowes’ landmark debut album Shake Your Money Maker. I had this weird rule that I wouldn’t buy an album unless I heard at least two good tracks from it and often I waited to hear a third “good” song. Was I ever glad I purchased this one.
I knew immediately from the opening track, “Twice As Hard” that I was on this band’s wagon. Years later when I met the Rock Chick I found out that it was her favorite Crowes’ tune. The Rock Chick actually saw the Crowes on the tour for Shake Your Money Maker when they opened for Aerosmith and she has alway said she was more impressed with the Crowes than she was with Aerosmith that night… She was the Rock Chick long before she met me folks but I’m getting off topic here… Anyway there were so many great rock songs on this album – “Twice As Hard,” “Jealous Again,” and “Thick N Thin” just to name a few – but they did so much more. The acoustic-based ballad “She Talks To Angels” about a heroin addict lead singer Chris Robinson knew (B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin) was another huge favorite. You just didn’t hear that much acoustic guitar – outside of the Unplugged series (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs) – in late 80s/early 90s rock. Grunge had yet to grab me but the Crowes did. I loved, loved the song “Seeing Things.” It was pure blues and those heartbroken lyrics! Other than maybe Guns N Roses who came around a few years earlier, there was no one who rocked old-school like this. My friend and I used to say we were entering a new golden period or rock: GnR was our new Zeppelin, Soundgarden was our new Sabbath and the Crowes were going to be our new Stones.
I followed the Crowes obsessively after that. Their second album and second masterpiece, blew me away. The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion defied the “sophomore slump.” I will admit they lost me on Amorica but I was right back on the bandwagon on Three Snakes and a Charm. Due to friction in the band, mostly between the two Robinson brothers (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands) the Crowes split after the experimental sounding Lions. They’d largely grown out of the blues rock idiom they’d started with. They still rocked but they’d ventured into jam-band, Grateful Dead territory more and more over the years. I think a lot of people lost track of these guys but they did reconvene and put out two great rocking, rootsy albums, Warpaint and the double-disc Before the Frost…Until the Freeze new songs recorded live at Levon Helm’s barn. They also put out a number live records. I always loved the covers they did on those things. They’d gone from covering Humble Pie and and Otis Redding to Little Feat, the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Band which perfectly symbolized their musical evolution. Eventually that reunion crumbled for many of the same reasons they’d originally broken up.
Last year, which rung in the 30th anniversary of their landmark debut, the brothers Robinson began a detente of sorts. They began to communicate, as brothers not band members in an attempt to reconnect as humans. I applaud these guys for that. Feuding never got anybody anywhere… and I’m a guy who liked a good blood feud when I was younger… They were going to reunite the band only this time they were going to be the only original members. It was their intention to tour behind Shake Your Money Maker‘s 30th Anniversary. I think they even squeezed in a few acoustic shows, just the brothers, at the end of 2019 but then of course, Covid. While it was slightly delayed, yesterday the Black Crowes finally released the 30th Anniversary Edition of the debut and man, is it special. I’ve spent the last 36 hours doing nothing but drinking Templeton rye and cranking this album. If the Robinson brothers do manage to get this band back together and I certainly hope they do as I think of them as one of the most important rock bands around, this is a perfect way to re introduce themselves.
In the 30th Anniversary Edition you, naturally, have the original album in all its splendor. I have to admit I’ve been a little obsessed with the Black Crowes ever since reading about their attempted rapprochement in Classic Rock magazine. I’ve been listening to live albums like Wiser Time or just revisiting bonus tracks on the previously released albums. I have to admit, I found myself returning to the debut over and over. It is one of the all time great albums, let alone a great debut album (Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums). The question with these anniversary sets for me is, as always, is it worth it? I have to say, resoundingly, yes.
Disc 2 in the box is all bonus, b-side and un released stuff. They even throw in a few demos from an early incarnation of the band, Mr. Crowe’s Garden. The first bonus track is “Charming Mess,” which I reviewed a few weeks ago, Black Crowes: New Song “Charming Mess” From The 30th Anniversary ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ Expanded Edition. It’s got the Faces’ DNA all over it. I think I heard the Robinson brothers on SiriusXM the other day and I only got in on the tail end but I think they said they went to get Rod Stewart’s blessing on the track before they released it to make sure he didn’t feel like he was being ripped off… Rod naturally gave his blessing. It’s a great tune and went from initially being slated as the first single to being left off the album. “Don’t Wake Me” is a rocking, slide guitar, southern rocky thing that I just love. “Waiting Guilty” is another great original that was left off the album, although I have heard a live version. Any of the three originals here could have been on the album in 1990 and they wouldn’t have taken a step backward. I’m sure bootleggers have all heard this stuff but it was all new to me.
There are also a few covers. I love the muscular version of “30 Days In the Hole” here. Chris Robinson’s vocal has all the swagger and joy de vie that Steve Marriott brought to the original. The other cover is probably my favorite, “Jealous Guy,” written and originally done by John Lennon but covered also by the Faces. The first note out of Chris Robinson’s mouth on “Jealous Guy” is the most ecstatic, rapturous moment in rock n roll that I’ve heard in a very long time. I actually yelled out loud, “God damn” which confused and concerned the Rock Chick… she thought something was wrong and came running. Actually, something was very right. There are interesting acoustic versions of “Jealous Again” and “She Talks To Angels.” There is a version of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle” done with horns that were omitted from the released version which draws a more direct line to the Stax, Redding original. The demos from Mr. Crowe’s Garden are interesting and frankly, “Front Porch Sermon” is a really great, rootsy song. It literally hints at the stuff they’d be doing 20 years later. All of this bonus stuff is fascinating and great rock n roll to listen to.
The final disc – and this usually where I feel the “is it worth it?” question gets answered – is a live disc from a December 1990 concert in their home town, Atlanta. Oh my god, they come out and grab you by the throat. Clearly tightened up by almost a year on the road and glad to be home the Crowes just rock out! The do the entire album during the course of the 14 tracks. “You’re Wrong” is a great track they never did in the studio. “Words You Throw Away” sounds more like a bridge from one song to the next, a little like Springsteen used to do “Drive All Night” in the middle of “Backstreets.” I love the muscular version of the Beatles’ “Get Back.” Listening to this live disc makes me envy the Rock Chick seeing these guys back then. This last disc is truly the cherry on the sundae here, making this 30th Anniversary edition well worth the price tag. It’s a great concert document of a very raucous and special time for the Crowes.
I hope that this Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary Edition is a reintroduction for the Black Crowes rather than a merely retrospective project. I would love to see these guys put a band together, write some blistering new rock songs and put an album out. If I squint I can imagine a world where I get to leave the attic and go to a concert and hear these guys play this album in its entirety. How fun to see the Black Crowes play this album with the Rock Chick who saw them on the original tour…
Cheers! Turn this one up loud… and please consider the rye, optional.