As a ten year old, I was just two short years removed from having lived in a rural Chinese village for a year, almost entirely isolated from all things Western. My older brother and I were only able to bring a small shoebox full of American cassette tapes with us for the year, which included Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports, a Beach Boys greatest hits album and the Top Gun soundtrack, and it proved much too little to satiate our rock needs. In the immediate years following our return home, we became pop/rock music sponges.
One album that immediately got added to our growing collection was 1990’s Shake Your Money Maker, the breakthrough album for Marietta, GA-based rock band, The Black Crowes. I remember hearing the album’s lead single, “Hard To Handle,” on PYX 106.5 for the first time, and thinking, “Now, this is more my style.” (Or something along those lines. Hey, when you hear songs such as Cheap Trick’s “Mighty Wings” on a loop for an entire year, you get a little desperate.) I almost immediately went out and purchased the CD, which had this Rolling Stones-esque cover treatment, featuring the wafer-thin members of the band peering through this black void, and on the obverse, a casino scene. It just looked like a good time. And while “Hard To Handle” was the bread-winning No.1 single that broke the band, I was always a much bigger fan of the downhearted acoustic ballad “She Talks To Angels,” which became my anthem that summer (despite the fact that it was clearly about a young woman chasing the dragon; I had no idea at the time).
Now, if you’re familiar with the band’s lore, you’ll know that it’s been a rocky road for The Black Crowes. They’re basically the American version of Oasis, the bestselling Brit-pop band known for its pair of combative brothers. Serpentine lead singer Chris Robinson and younger brother and lead guitarist, Rich, have been fighting about something since pretty much their inception. Case in point: This 1996 Rolling Stone interview in which older brother Chris nonchalantly recounts coming to blows with his younger brother about who got to write the band’s setlist for a live show. He goes on to qualify that with: “Literally, me and Rich have fought a lot, but we have one rule: You can have f—n’ body punches and f—n’ choke holds, and f—n’ throw bottles at each other, but we never crack each other in the face.” Needless to say, the brothers Robinson finally fought their last fight in 2015, when the band was officially dissolved over a money dispute (the actual fracture had taken place a handful of years before).
In the years between, both brothers have had successful solo careers and stayed in the public eye. Chris Robinson, in particular, found a second life in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, which played up and down the jam band circuit. But then, beyond all comprehension, within spitting distance of next year’s 30th anniversary of the release of Shake Your Money Maker, the brothers officially announced a Black Crowes’ reunion on November 11. They sat for a rare dual interview with Rolling Stone, talking of reconciliation and apologized to each other for their behavior, and the same day, did a full-band appearance on The Howard Stern Show.
The brothers have put together a band—not the complete original lineup, sadly—to play a string of dates, during which they’ll play Money Maker front to back, along with a number of other choice cuts. And what do you know? One of their tour stops is the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), right here in Saratoga Springs, on Saturday, July 25, for those of you keeping track (tickets are already on sale here.) It’ll mark The Black Crowes’ first appearance at SPAC since 2006, and the band’s sixth overall appearance at the venue, which included a date in 1990, supporting the hit record, and subsequent dates in 1995, 1997 and 2005.
Anybody want to lawn surf with me?