By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"I think tone is 90% about the way a person plays, not which instruments they play"
This week we visit and spend some time in the world of a true songsmith and a real heritage master of the craft. A player and composer with a real natural talent for catchy melodies and hooky classic riffs.
This is a guy that doesn’t rate himself as guitarist and tends to describe himself as a solid rhythmic foundation. Well we beg to differ! This individual has been a real inspiration to a generation of guitar players and bands.
Emerging as grunge began casting a metaphorical pall over the pop music landscape of the early 1990s, this man and his band offered something decidedly different in its reverential mix of rock and roll that delivered an update on the promises made by their predecessors.
Shake your money 💵 maker for the original Crowe Rich Robinson. 🎸
Rhythm & Soul From the word Go 🎼 .
Downtown Atlanta, home to CNN, The World of Coca-Cola, but most importantly of course, it's historical importance and legacy as a key location in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is dedicated to the African-American leader’s life and times.
Parents Nancy Jane and Stan Robinson welcomed Rich into the world on 24th May 1969 in Atlanta, Georgia. His father Stan was a musician himself, a folk and country player and would always have a continuous tune playing, by his own hand or via the record player. 🎶 Right from the word go, Rich was literally born into music! Mum Nancy hailed from Nashville so traditional musical heritage was also very significant and imprinting on Rich & his brother Chris.
“Do you remember when and why you first started paying attention to music?
Chris and I grew up listening to everything – Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone, Bob Dylan, the Chieftans, to Aretha Franklin and everything in-between.”
Rich Robinson for - vintageguitarmagazine.com
The fact that his father was a musician and guitar player lead to the natural progression and curiosity of Rich himself picking up the guitar.
As he got older and into his teens he recalls showing an interest in the instrument after his fascinations grew, but fundamentally because of his musical upbringing he was more focused on the overall picture of a song itself rather than learning all the tricks in the book on guitar.
“What first got you interested in playing guitar?
AC/DC. I loved Angus and Malcolm Young, and the way they played together. As a teenager, that was the first music that I got way into. I also loved Parliament Funkadelic and Prince at the time, and obviously Crosby, Stills, and Nash was a huge influence back in the day.
As I got older, Dad would let me play his guitars. I’d try to pick out things; the first song I learned to play was “Oxford Town,” the Dylan song from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Then I started getting into learning R.E.M. songs and things like that, because R.E.M. was huge in the South when I was 14 years old. I picked up the guitar for the first time when I was 15, and taught myself.
I was a quick study in learning chords and writing songs. I was never the guitar player who sat in his room and learned scales. I was way – and still am to this day – more interested in songs than people. I love and respect people who can play well, but I think songs are truly a gift, you know? I think people who can write great songs… there’s just nothing better in the world, to me. So I immediately started writing songs that we started playing in clubs.
At first, we were a punk band. But there was this paisley underground scene going on in pop music at the time, and we used to love what bands like the Rain Parade, Dream Syndicate, and the Street Club were doing. And we sort of outgrew our little punk phase and started delving into different kinds of music like that.”
Rich Robinson for - vintageguitarmagazine.com
The Black Crowes
The band was formed through natural progression and mutual respect for rock 'n' roll by the brothers Robinson.
The Black Crowes cascaded onto the music scene really offering something retro and psychedelically revised from 30 years before it's time. They were a ferocious rock 'n' roll outfit that really had an edge and fire to them that was absorbed by fans.
They became a hugely influential group that were pretty much the last of that real rockstars to grace the music industry.
1990 debut album, Shake Your Moneymaker, went platinum while simultaneously putting the band squarely atop not only the charts and MTV playlists, but firmly in the consciousness of music fans of the day. This is one killer band to see live, a serious display of musicians that play for the song and live for the sound.
The band are perfectly summarised in their own bio via the website which is very rare to see, I believe this encapsulates the band perfectly word for word. 🤘
Thirty years ago, The Black Crowes, led by brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker. The album was, as Rolling Stone described, “a guitar-party cracker that marries Southern R&B crunch and Anglo cock-strutting attitude.” At a time when journalists were mourning the death of rock as cheesy pop and hair metal dominated the charts, The Black Crowes emerged from Atlanta to resuscitate it. The authentically gritty blues-rock album, whose title is an homage to blues legend Elmore James, went double platinum in its first year. Needless to say, in a pre-social media, pre-smart phone world, the quick rise to stardom coupled with a zero fucks attitude led to complete chaos. The Melody Maker crowned them “The most Rock n’ Roll Rock n’ Roll Band in the world” and The Black Crowes didn’t disappoint.
Within their first years, The Black Crowes had toured with rock legends AC/DC, Robert Plant and Aerosmith, and their first Rolling Stone cover story retold a firsthand account of the band notoriously being kicked off the ZZ Top tour for their anti-establishment, anti-corporate rants on stage. Their storied history has the common denominators of any famous band: bad label deals, addiction, band break-ups and make-ups, epic sold out tours (including one where Jimmy Page joined the band), marriages and divorces, all while prolifically releasing eight studio albums, four live albums and selling over 35 million records. The two things that make and break the band has always been the dueling rockstar brothers. Chris and Rich wrote several hit songs all before the age of 23, while infamously butting heads their entire career. The band called it quits forever in 2013 with each brother vowing to never play or speak again.
13th February, 2020 marks the official 30th anniversary of quintuple platinum album Shake Your Money Maker. On 11th November, 2019 radio legend Howard Stern, one of The Black Crowes' earliest supporters, shocked fans and rock journalists alike by announcing the reunion of Chris and Rich Robinson, who will tour as The Black Crowes once again, playing the iconic record start to finish.
This is a really poignant rock 'n' roll band and suffers from sibling rivalry or brotherly love however you wanna look at it. This was perfectly addressed by Rich in a recent interview.
“RR: Brothers have a family dynamic they can’t escape. It’s always there. There’s always going to be an older brother and a younger brother. We just don’t see eye to eye. You want to know what it really is? Chris fell hopelessly in love with the Grateful Dead. He’d been pulling the band toward that direction for the last 20 years starting with “Amorica” (1994), our third record. No one else in the band wanted to go there. So we’ve been pushing and pulling for a long time. Chris broke the band up three times over it, yet we’d always reconvene. The last time, though, the fourth time, was a bit too contentious and uncool for (drummer) Steve (Gorman) and myself, so it just wasn’t going to be anymore. It was too much of a fight. It was too much of a constant fight. And I think that stems from brothers in general.”
Rich Robinson for Mike Greenblatt @ goldminemag.com
All American 🇺🇸 Traditional Strings
When it comes down to instruments, amplifiers, effects and of course strings, Rich is a real traditionalist.
He's a full-hearted American guitar player coming from a folk and country background and like many others hailing from such similar upbringings he had always chosen to stick with the American staple that is GHS Strings.
As we can see from the iconic rig rundown Rich’s long term Guitar Tech Doug “Red” Redler lets us know that they are using GHS boomers 10–46 all across-the-board even for the alternative tunings.
Although we don't hear the reason for this particular choice of string dedication would like to understand that this is just purely a traditional and tried 'n' tested method sticking to American traditions. ✌️
As much of a revered and iconic influential guitar player Rich is he has also one mean slide guitar player, to the point that he now has his own signature slide with D’Addario, which is an incredibly cool and high-end product.
Along with being a real killer electric guitar player Rich is also just as much an acoustic guitar icon. He attributes his deep love and appreciation for the acoustic guitar back to his father's 1953 Martin D 28 which he has now inherited and coverts as his number one possession.
“My dad gave me his 1953 Martin D-28 dreadnought when I was young. It’s old enough to be absolutely dried out, which gives it a lot of midrange and presence to go along with the low end expected from a dreadnought. It’s one of those guitars that has everything.”
R.Robinson for - guitarplayer.com
“The inability to make an acoustic guitar sound like an acoustic guitar onstage is one of my pet peeves."
Rich Robinson - Interview for guitarplayer.com
To conclude and end this chapter on an incredible guitar player, songwriter and singer, we leave you with some of his wisdom on playing live and getting that sound right for an acoustic.
This is definitely something that needs to be tried more often and certainly something I'll be looking into myself next time I go out playing live armed with an acoustic. 😉
“What’s the strategy for making acoustic guitars sound great on tour?
We mic them up! We turn off the monitors and use stage mics, because no one has been able to invent a worthwhile pickup system. The inability to make an acoustic guitar sound like an acoustic guitar onstage is one of my pet peeves. I’ve spent lots of money on tube D.I. boxes and getting various electronic systems installed, and the tone still ends up sounding like plastic scraping plastic. It drives me crazy!
I finally said, “Let’s just throw some mics up and turn off the monitors so the acoustics will sound like acoustics and won’t feed back.” We’ve been doing that for the past few shows, and it sounds great.”
Rich Robinson for guitarplayermagazine.com
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