Chris Robinson, the former bandleader of The Black Crowes and the singer and guitarist of The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, is bringing his band to the New Daisy on April 1st, but before the show, he’s got some other work to do while he’s in Memphis.
“I’m always excited to be in Memphis, always excited to play music,” he says, “but I’m mostly excited to go to Payne’s Bar-B-Que to get a sandwich.” As thrilled as he is to chow down on some Memphis barbecue, though, Robinson has another Bluff City errand to run before the band takes the stage at 330 Beale Street.
“I have a coat that [Donald] ‘Duck’ Dunn gave me years ago that he used to wear on stage with Booker T. and the MGs that I’m going to let the Stax Museum borrow from me,” Robinson says and laughs before continuing, “My kids have seen it, and they’re not impressed.”
Though he was born in Marietta, Georgia, Robinson’s Memphis-soul roots grow deep — The Black Crowes’ first hit was a cover of a Steve Cropper-produced Otis Redding song, “Hard to Handle.” The catchy, raunchy version of the song helped catapult the fresh-minted blues-rock band’s debut album, Shake Your Money Maker
, to platinum status on the Def American label.
But if you’re headed to Saturday’s show at the New Daisy, don’t expect to hear the recklessly delivered, Southern-tinged blues-rock of The Black Crowes. Since its formation in 2011, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood has been dishing out a steady stream of California rock. The CRB, as they are often called by fans of the band, let Robinson’s newly penned songs stretch out, gave them room to twist and turn. Robinson and crew had something less polished and more psychedelic on their hands.
The band eschewed the usual channels, declining to sign with a label and instead took their new songs on the road, up and down the West Coast. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood taped their shows and made them available online through their Raven’s Reels series. “I didn’t want to deal with any record companies. I didn’t want to deal with anyone telling us what it was or what it wasn’t going to be,” Robinson says, managing to come across devoid of bitterness, simply a man who knows what he wants. The plan, Robinson continues, was to let the music steer the ship, to forget plans and marketing.
And that plan has yielded results. Given the freedom to experiment (both sonically and with the means for delivering their music to their fans,) The CRB has grown organically, and though their near-constant tour schedule and jam-friendly songs garner them the occasional comparison to the Grateful Dead, the listener can’t ignore the hints of Sly and the Family Stone or a well-traveled air reminiscent of The Band. Really, though, the band sounds like nothing so much as themselves — a group of musicians in their prime, playing the songs they want to play the way they want to play them.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood released their fourth studio LP, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel
, in the summer of 2016, and the third volume in their Betty’s Blends live series, Self-Rising Southern Blends
, is set to be released on May 5th of this year. The series compiles live tracks recorded and mixed by the famous Grateful Dead archivist, Betty Cantor-Jackson. “It’s not about the money to us,” Robinson says of the series, but about “The sheer idea that Jerry Garcia’s friend and engineer, one of the first women in the industry to be and do what she did and does with those ears” is personally mixing the band’s live album series. “People use Betty’s name in the Grateful Dead,” Robinson adds. “They sell her recordings, and people take credit. It’s kind of nice to take care of Betty.”
Though the band’s music tends to defy easy classification — beyond simply calling it rock-and-roll — the most fitting description seems to be cosmic American music. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood manages to come across as well traveled, but Robinson is too energetic and exuberant to be called road weary. The band draws extensively from American roots traditions, but the electric guitars are featured too prominently to allow CRB to be saddled with the mostly meaningless Americana label. No, cosmic American music seems to fit best. Robinson is a musician that values the journey and the experiences gained, and CRB continues their musical journey, making a stop this Saturday night at The New Daisy Theatre. With four albums and an EP’s worth of material to draw from (as well as an impressive catalogue of covers — seriously, check out their version of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”), The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is sure to put on a good show.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Saturday, April 1st at The New Daisy Theatre, 8 p.m. $18 – 20.