AMONG the ranks of rock royalty, there is a special section reserved for feuding brothers.
Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis . . . and Chris and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes.
They are all capable of intuitive brotherly brilliance — and spectacularly intense fallouts.
So it is an unexpected pleasure when Chris and Rich pitch up in London to talk about their Black Crowes reunion and new-found peace with each other.
Five years ago, they announced their “final” break-up after a disagreement over the band’s ownership. But here they are, side by side and talking openly.
Sitting opposite singer Chris, 53, and guitarist Rich, 50, in the swish Langham Hotel, a stone’s throw from Oxford Street, I notice amethyst healing crystals strewn across the coffee table.
Despite the amicable vibe in the room, they are clearly taking no chances.
Chris comes straight out with an admission about his past behaviour: “I can look at my brother now and apologise. I’m man enough to admit it.”
“So you were the main aggressor?” I ask him.
But Rich interjects: “I was more the passive aggressor!” I can’t resist taking them back to 2001’s Tour Of Brotherly Love with Oasis, which could easily have made the slogan on the posters laughable.
The notion of the Gallaghers constantly at war brings a wry response from Rich: “Yeah, they got all that from us.”
But Chris adds: “Actually, that tour was amazing. Everyone was on good behaviour. We got on because we were just cheeky enough.”
OCEANS OF BOOZE, MOUNDS OF DRUGS
For those needing a quick reminder, The Black Crowes gave American rock ’n’ roll a turbo-charged shot in the arm with the release of their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in 1990.
They drew comparisons with the best in class from this side of the Atlantic — Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Free — but added a raw, Southern-soul twist.
The album was fittingly named after a song by blues legend Elmore James, “King Of The Slide Guitar”, and boasted four hits: Jealous Again, Twice As Hard, She Talks To Angels and the definitive cover of Otis Redding’s Hard To Handle.
They followed it with two more stellar albums — The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion (1992) and Amorica (1994) and went on to perform live with Led Zep’s Jimmy Page.
Now Chris and Rich are celebrating Shake Your Money Maker’s 30th anniversary by putting their chequered past behind them.
On their tour of the US and Europe, they will play every track in sequence, followed by other favourites like the scorching Remedy, Sting Me and Wiser Time.
“Despite all the differences Rich and I have had, we agree that these records are good, especially Shake Your Money Maker, which is where it all starts,” says Chris.
When your hero is Keith Richards, you’re going to get far out
He recalls the heady days when they formed the band in Marietta, Georgia: “We were kids and we were ambitious. All we wanted was to be in a band and play music.”
It could have been so different. Chris was taken hundreds of miles by his parents to a creative writing course interview at a top college in Vermont.
“I was in the back of the car thinking, ‘I’m not doing this’. I had a s**t interview and that was it.” The rock-band life was all the brothers craved. Rich wrote the music to She Talks To Angels when he was 15.
Chris says: “At that time, I thought, ‘I don’t care what it looks like to anyone. This is what I want and I’m never, ever, ever looking back. I’m never stopping’. I think I speak for Rich, too.
“I remember our first gig in Chattanooga (Tennessee, before they were called The Black Crowes).
“There was a sour beer smell and the PA was making popping sounds but I loved it. We were learning on the run and suddenly we were selling millions of records. It’s taken us 30 years to put everything into perspective.”
He pauses for misty-eyed reflection. “That first ten years was a case of hanging on . . . ”
“ . . . for dear life,” chips in Rich, completing his sentence as siblings often do.
Chris, the mercurial frontman, is the heart-on-sleeve, talkative one, accompanying his comments with big hand gestures.
Rich is quieter, more measured, happy to let his guitar do the talking but reliably perceptive when he does speak up. Chris blames their past issues on the external pressures of being in a high-profile rock band — the music men, the money men, the endless tours, the oceans of booze, the mounds of drugs.
“I really, honestly believed that these things could co-exist but we just wanted people to leave us the f*** alone when it came to writing songs,” he says.
“We just got our little water wings but we were in a pool with the sharks, the people who are part of the cult of money, excess and ego.”
‘IT WAS PAINFUL BUT WE HAD TO GO THROUGH IT’
Against this lurid backdrop, the brothers were pulled apart and Chris adds ruefully: “It’s not until recently that Rich and I could even just talk as brothers.
“It’s been painful but we had to go through what we had to go through. No amount of music or art or pain or love or lack thereof can remove you from the reality of growing up.”
Rich says their rift opened because of a “communication breakdown” that meant only talking through third parties.
“The situation became sprinkled with manipulations and agendas.
If we’d just spoken to each other, nine times out of ten we would have agreed. That was the sh***y thing.”
Chris again: “We lived together but in completely different worlds, in different factions. But I’ve got to a point where I’ve realised I was completely f***ing wrong about some things.
“That was my ego and my pain. I thought I was giving my life to this band and no one was there to catch me, all that dumb s**t.
“It’s amazing that Rich and I can communicate now. As different as we are, we’re on the exact same page.”
The only permanent thing I truly care about is where Rich and I go on from here as a family
For both brothers, the various Black Crowes hiatuses have allowed them to pursue rewarding solo projects.
But Rich says “it felt like something was missing” — the unique Robinson chemistry.
This 2020 reunion is happening on their terms and without any bandmates from the classic line-up.
Rich believes a break from the past is needed to make things work in the present.
He says: “I don’t want to f*** it up and I don’t want to bring in the past because ingrained patterns could surface.”
Recently remarried, Chris gives this telling insight: “When Rich and I got back together for the first time, my wife had never seen The Black Crowes — and she had never met Rich.
‘POP NOW IS PATHETIC, SO DISINGENUOUS’
“She was like, ‘Oh my god, to see you guys together is like a piece of a puzzle I never knew’. Music is a language and Rich and I, for better for worse, grew up with the same language.”
To Chris, restoring strong family ties is more important than The Black Crowes continuing after the tour.
“I’m being sincere when I say the only permanent thing I truly care about is where Rich and I go on from here as a family,” he says.
“When we were in Los Angeles a few months ago, I had a picture of Rich and his two oldest kids with my oldest son. Rich’s kids said, ‘Dad, we’ve never had breakfast with Uncle Chris before’.
“When I married a couple of weeks ago, my nephew — Rich’s second oldest — was there and I thought, ‘This is nice, this is how it should be’.”
Speaking of family connections, it was Chris and Rich’s late father Stan, a musician, who helped inspire their abiding love of rock ’n’ roll.
Rich says: “The two of us grew up in the same house and our father and his music laid an impression. He loved Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joe Cocker, Sly & The Family Stone . . . ”
“ . . . Jimmy Reed,” continues Chris. “Mose Allison, The Stanley Brothers. We grew up on a steady diet of roots music and developed a pretty deep respect and understanding.
“Everyone loves Led Zeppelin, everyone loves the Rolling Stones. Well, some horrible people might not!
“But what separated us from our contemporaries was the level of roots. We listened to Chuck Berry as much as we listened to the Stones.
“But to me, (the Stones’) Exile On Main St is the best rock ’n’ roll record ever,” he affirms.
Rich agrees: “They took all these American influences and left it dirty, left it rough. It feels like you’re sitting in the room with them.”
Like the enduring Keith Richards, Chris earned a reputation in The Black Crowes’ early years for taking mind-altering substances and being pretty indestructible.
“I had my go,” he says. “It felt like my right as a young man and I didn’t have children then — nothing other than our band. For me, it was a case of, ‘I want to get far out’.
“When your heroes are Keith Richards and (Grateful Dead’s) Jerry Garcia, you’re going to get far out.”
Now, The Black Crowes are on mission to bring rock ’n’ roll centre stage again in a pop world dominated by reality TV contests and insipid singers, where rap has the most powerful voice.
Rich doesn’t hold back: “I feel like we’re on the precipice, like when the ‘disco sucks’ movement kicked in.
“Popular music has become pathetic, so disingenuous and there’s nothing to it.”
“It’s anaemic — everything’s a talent show,” says Chris, before Rich adds: “It’s the worst. I watched some of the Grammys in utter horrific dismay.
“You see some of these R&B performers doing their tribute to Prince. I saw Prince and he was immaculate.
“Those people can’t even come close. Everyone gets a trophy just for showing up.”
Sadly, he has a point.
So why not let the reunited brothers in arms blow your socks off instead?
The Black Crowes European tour kicks off on October 10 in Dublin, followed by dates in London, Glasgow, Nottingham, Sheffield, Manchester, Cardiff and Leeds. Go to theblackcrowes.com for tickets