Shake Your Money Maker will always tell the story of a band
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Towards the end of 2019, Chris and Rich Robinson did what had seemed impossible. They buried the hatchet, forgave whatever had to be forgiven and announced that “The Black Crowes” were back in business.
Specifically, what they were calling The Black Crowes was now the two of them, plus four new folks who, talented as they undoubtedly are, were now backing them. Gone were Steve Gorman, the drummer who had propelled them since the beginning, along with longtime stalwarts as Marc Ford on guitar and Sven Pipien on bass — a long-time friend from the earliest days of the band, who first joined in 1998. In the face of mounting bills and dwindling tour receipts, Chris pulled his Brotherhood to the side of the road, while Rich tossed more of his former bandmates — Ford and Pipien among them — into the nearest dumpster to announce the reunion and a headlining tour in 2020 where the band would play all of their debut record Shake Your Money Maker, plus “all the hits,” or at least those that qualify.
World health disasters had a different agenda, though, and the reunion, as it is, remains shelved until the concert business can open back up as close to normally as possible. Thanks to all that downtime, we’re graced with a deluxe edition of the record they’ve doubled down on for both their 30th anniversary and future credibility.
And it’s a very nice package. The records come in a sturdy, textured box with plenty of room for all the extraneous bits that collectors love. The original album has a little more warmth and punch than the last version that was released on vinyl in 2015, and even the extra material included songs that I hadn’t accumulated through those deepest of bootleg circles — namely, studio versions of their covers of Humble Pie’s “30 Days in the Hole” and John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” played via the Faces’ arrangement. But for the less-than-hardcore, it should be a kick to hear stripped-down versions of “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels” on the second disc. There’s also the outtake “Charming Mess,” originally discarded because of its similarity to Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs.” Add in a professionally recorded concert in Atlanta with plenty of energy and guest Chuck Leavell on keys, and musically, this all holds up.
It’s just that it’s impossible to look at all this and not see it as an attempt to re-write the history of the band as one of two towering siblings and a cast of minions, rather than the gang that brought the rootsy swagger back to rock and roll.
I can’t think of the last time I’d recommended this, but a download or stream of this package might be the better way to go. Use your ears, and you’ll hear a young band finding their way forward. The key word here is “band,” anchored by Gorman’s drums locking in with Rich’s guitar and Johnny Colt’s bass, driven by Chris’ developing and enthusiastic vocals, with Jeff Cease’s spritely leads peppered about. The band would go through changes, to be sure, notably in 1991 when Ed Harsch took the keyboard slot and Cease gave way to Ford on lead, ushering in an even more explosive version of the band that would climb new heights with their sophomore record, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.
That story and more is in the music, and it deserves to live on. Everything else here — primarily the cropped photos, the flyers and the David Fricke-penned essay — paint an alternate reality. Instead of the young band on the verge of world conquest, it’s strictly the story of two brothers and their musical journey, augmented by nearly nameless sidemen who aren’t offered a quote or a voice, and beyond the front cover of the original record, are barely seen in archival photos. The Black Crowes were not a Nine Inch Nails-type outfit with a name serving as a catch-all for one or two primary musicians. Primary songwriters the Robinsons were, and it’s not difficult to argue that they were the creative spark plugs of the band. Even at this young age, Rich’s riffs can be devastating, and Chris’s lyrics and voice are often soulful, occasionally poignant and always real. But for long-time fans of this band, arguing that just the Robinsons were the band is as ridiculous as claiming that the Rolling Stones were just Mick and Keith, with Charlie Watts, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman (and later Mick Taylor and Ronnie Wood) bumming along for the ride. Adding insult to injury, the Robinsons include “a very special thanks to the amazing Rod Stewart” in the liner notes (likely for allowing the inclusion of “Charming Mess”), but not one to any of the band or crew members summarily cast aside over the years.
A set like this will hopefully shine a light on how important and impactful Shake Your Money Maker was upon its 1990 release. Above the death-rattle of hair metal, it placed the band in an important spot in the new vanguard, between the treacherous romp of Guns ‘N’ Roses and the straight-forward crunch of Seattle’s Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Alice in Chains, among others. Unfortunately, it’s also another notch in the cleansing, revisionist history that’s currently taking place in the name of future tour earnings. In lieu of a band, there are two brothers. If that’s the road they want to travel in 2021 and beyond, with hired hands helping them trot their hits out across the country, then power to them. I’m certainly in no position to force anyone to work with anyone else.
But the past shouldn’t be re-written for short-sighted gain. Listen to the music, keep it alive and remember the simple truth that hardly anyone gets anywhere on their own. Despite all efforts to the contrary, this is an excellent document of the wonderful, rollicking noise five guys from Atlanta made as the 1980s drew to a close, and the world opened up a little bit more in the decade that followed.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com