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Published: 2011/01/05
by Brandon Findlay

On The Impending Death of The Crowes…

Photo by Brad Hodge

The internet, that occasional delta of opinion-as-fact and fact-as-fiction, has done wonders for throwing ropes of information to the farthest reaches. Those reaches may not grasp much- it lacks pragmatism to assume too greatly either way- but in this carnival attraction called the Internet Age, at least the view is scenic.

One virtue of our info-hurling technological Wonder Bread is you get the chance to find true kinship. You know- brothers of another mother, sisters of another mister, etc. One such playground with the nicest swing sets has been E-Mule (eMule, et al.), a Gov’t Mule e-community where I have met some of the finest music-loving people around. Thus, from a recent discussion amidst that group, I offer these adapted thoughts concerning the (at the time) pending demise/hiatus of the Black Crowes. After reading through the range of others’ opinions, I offered mine, titled with a nod to Will Ackerman’s “Virgin Spirit”. By the way, that would be a ‘rope of information’ right there- grasp and explore.

Enjoy the scenery.

“Reading about the current state of the Crowes and their members, i.e. minus Marc Ford, I have come to wonder about one thread which I have not seen expressed in such a way: A great and one-day-legendary rock band needs three qualities: necessity, relevancy, and intensity. Let us call these the Body, Mind, and Soul of music.

The Stones felt this breaking point, I would argue, at Sticky Fingers. It’s a far stronger album overall than Exile On Main Street; it was relevant for its time (and of its time); it was a necessary statement- literally the right album at the right time for the right reasons; and served as one intense state of the union on their life and art. It has outsold Exile three times over as well, though sales alone are not to be considered a guidepost of worthiness. But post- Goat’s Head Soup? Eh… it’s drecky in a lot of ways. Some Girls had some fine tunes, but not a great album, or band, really. And that’s where the Crowes are.

Let us gander at the still young art form known as rock & roll. The first generation of rock and rollers, ala the Sun Records crowd, Paul Burlison, Eddie Cochran- they are all dead.

The second generation is mostly irrelevant or also now passed on. McCartney is a concert draw, but his current work carries little weight when compared to the days his musical Body, Mind, and Soul were cranking like a tuned V8. To point, check his set lists for the last 15 years. Those lists pour forth like an ocean of Beatles and early Wings, with thirty-five years worth of raindrops filling in the gaps.

Fellow former Yardbirds Clapton and Beck are putting out well-regarded work, but Clapton seems disinterested in finding the more intense versions of himself. Emotion and Commotion is certainly the finest Beck offering in a long while in the regard he bestows on his own playing. But it’s mired by Joss Stone-isms, an uneven song cycle, and most pointed, it is a terrible tease for just how great of an album Beck could have made.

Neil Young. Intensity-yes. Neccesity- maybe. The world needed Harvest. Harvest II-XIII have not been received as well.

Bob Dylan- Hmmm… He had us in ’97 and Time Out Of Mind is a brilliant record. But Dylan used to change the way the wind blew. It’s a different ballgame, hanging his pop-culture koans like a scarecrow under the starlit heavens, especially since he was once the brightest star of all.

Robert Plant and John Paul Jones are turning out interesting work. I’ll give Plant marks for relevance, and throw in necessity, but intensity… that trigger is not yet pulled. With Them Crooked Vultures, I will argue that Jones has all three qualities. So, out of all the 2nd Gen rockers, JPJ is still living it up properly. Who else is there? I’m sure there are some but I can’t think of them right now [Author’s note: in the interim between typing this to E-Mule and then adapting it for, I have yet to think of any- apologies ].

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There are 23 comments associated with this post

Karl June 19, 2012, 02:17:03

A year and a half late on this, but I couldn’t possibly disagree more with the view presented there on the Crowes. Before the Frost…Until the Freeze is maybe the best thing they’ve ever done…it’s neck and neck with Amorica for that title in my book. The first album had some great tracks but doesn’t hold a candle to the Southern Harmony, Amorica, or Before…Until. Or Crowelogy in a lot of ways, for that matter. Maybe Crowelogy didn’t need to happen, but I’m glad it did. I went in skeptical, expecting an overwrought acoustic snooze fest, but there are some great performances and re-workings of the songs throughout. All things told, not much I’d change about Dickinson-era BC.

kevin January 7, 2011, 13:06:11

very interesting piece…it got the wheels of my mind spinning.thanks

trucko January 7, 2011, 14:20:24

Interesting piece. Agree about JPJ. I would disagree about Dylan. Love and Theft and Modern Times are both great records and he still puts on a great show that pulls from all of his eras.

paul January 7, 2011, 14:36:26

dead on. “The Black Keys” are the new Zeppelin, the best band to come around in decades!!!!!!!

kevin January 8, 2011, 08:37:39

Thx for the interesting piece…however, I disagree…The Crowes are on top of their game…the 6 shows at The Fillmore were the culmination of the last couple years of touring (with Luther Dickenson!). Crowelogy is a perfect album for them. Hope they come back…again!

Mike F. January 8, 2011, 08:41:44

Hate to see the Crowes leave. Always loved seeing them in concert. One of the best straight up rock and roll bands ever! Maybe second only to the Stones. Would’ve liked to see the author give mention to Pearl Jam. One of the few who still have it; mind, body, and soul. And bring it every show!

aaron s January 8, 2011, 10:45:32

that was the dumbest article ive ever seen. could someone tell what point this bozo is trying to make? has he seen the crowes lately?clearly doesnt know shit about dylan either, or anything else.

Brandon Findlay January 8, 2011, 13:36:06

Agree or not, the point of any of these pieces is to get people thinking and talking. I didn’t write this to win converts, but to get some discourse going. To that end, thanks for the feedback. Mike- Good call on Pearl Jam. My point of view concerned the comebacks we’ve seen over the last two years, yet Pearl Jam never left. I didn’t lean one way or the other on Dylan- it’s interesting that the comments here assume a negative intent that isn’t present. Only an observation that he doesn’t have the same juice he used to. Kevin- I think you nailed a great point when you said the Fillmore run was the culmination of the last 2 years. That’s a good way of looking at it, but who’s to say how the last two years compare to the first two, when they were busy saving rock and roll? Again, just trying to get the tribe thinking and discoursing.

Debbie Downer January 8, 2011, 17:55:09

Interesting piece. I agree with the pearl jam remarks but what about the Chili Peppers. They are the most recent incarnation of zepplin if there is any( sorry to paul, but a two piece stritckly blues rock band will never be zepplin….and the white stripes were better). RHCP is one of the biggest bands of all time and while they did slightly change their sound for the larger arenas, which did compromise the punk in their music, they never sold out on the level of a U2. Unlike U2 and the Princess’ of Peeon, the chili peppers continued to grow as a band and maintain the three catagories the author chose to focus on. Their last album was a brilliant muscial masterpiece with frusciante in complete control, and while he may be gone and the next record may not be what we are used to, I have no doubt that the chili peppers are gonna bring it to the utmost intensity when they hit the road this summer. In my opinion, while the black crowes had a good thing going at one point in time, they did not have staying power because there music, mainstream or not….flat out turned to shit. Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers are THE only two bands that continue to bring it with passion and committment to what THEY believe in. And they are both going on 20-30 years, more than the crowes. Again, good article and cool opinion, but the crowes are not worthy of this attention….at least not since the 90s.

kevin January 8, 2011, 21:18:31

After The Crowes hit it big in the early 90’s they have tried hard to have a lower profile…small venues…stay with their roots. That’s what I love about them. They never tried to go commercial again. Just play good, real rock n roll.
Brandon…it’s funny you say that their last 2 years were comparable to their first 2 years…I was thinking about that this morning, and I agree. Like any other band, they have had ups and downs…but the energy of the beginning and the end were relatively as good…different…but amazing energy! Thx for the thought provoking article!

Jon January 9, 2011, 01:12:31

You have no idea what you’re talking about. I don’t understand why some people think this article is so profound.

fletch January 9, 2011, 16:32:03

Liked the article, didn’t agree with everything, but so what… I’m also a serious Crowes fan and, though I liked the idea behind Croweology and enjoy listening to it, thought it would be a more significant album than it turned out to be. I do feel, however, that the band didn’t come close to fading out and that the Dickinson-era Crowes were a mighty force indeed, comparable to the early energy of the band and as tight as any era in between. If anything, the maturity and seasoned delivery of the veteran band carried over into a final product that struck a little closer to home (for me anyway) in a lot of ways. Regardless, loved the approach of the article. Thanks for submitting…

Alan Paul January 9, 2011, 21:46:16

Way to the stir the pot, sir. I have to admit that I have not followed recent Crowes closely enough to have an opinion. Love Luther’s playing and always have, though. It’s hard for any band to be relevant in the Stones/beatles/Nirvana/pearl Jam sense and once they are no longer of the absolute moment does not mean they lose it — a la Pearl jam. They have not “mattered” to the mainstream culture in a long time, but have kept going and mattering very much to a large group of people closely tuned in.

Wonderin' January 10, 2011, 00:08:23

I have to disagree with this article as well. The three “real” albums before “Croweology” are brilliant and the best they’ve done since their first two records. It shows a growth and progression in Chris and Rich. Also, I think Luther brought a lot to the table as well. It thought the latest incarnation of the Crowes was up there with anything they’ve done.

JVD January 10, 2011, 15:13:01

Even though the Black Crowes recent recorded work does not scale the heights of their earliest records, they are still relevant as working artists. “Croweology” didn’t need to be released. Had it not been, the tour might have been even more intriguing than it already was. I, and scores of others, continue following the band because we know that on the right night in the right city they are still as good as any rock and roll band ever has been. (As for the 3rd generation rockers—I heartily disagree with the examples given. Those two continue reheating the past and serving it up to folks who’ll swallow anything familiar that doesn’t require chewing. The only musician that I can think of from that era with any currency is Paul Weller.)

dss January 10, 2011, 19:10:26

Where does that leave Phish?

Brandon Findlay January 11, 2011, 10:33:43

Agree or disagree, I’m enjoying reading the different perspectives that everyone has on this hiatus/retirement that the Crowes are taking. One interesting thing that few have commented on is the very fact that the Crowes have chosen this fate themselves- they are the ones who are deciding to break/exit on their own terms. Regardless of our debate here, that is reality of it all. As referenced in the last paragraph, they are choosing the “privacy of intended retirement”. As someone who has purchased nearly all the product that the BC’s have put out in their career, including the beautiful vinyl of their last studio record, I find it interesting that they are choosing to break at this specific point. It seems most of you feel that they are leaving us on a much higher note than their first hiatus, and perhaps that is their main reason. And even if you wish to make your comments personal towards me, I’m more than OK with that; I will say that in regards to Mason’s post, E-Mule is not a message board. It is an interactive community where some of the most intelligent music discussions of the last 10 years have taken place. A lot of crap too, but I’ve been hipped to some incredible musicians, artists, writers and other fine humans in my time there. I whole-heartedly encourage everyone here to seek out E-Mule and to join in the discussion. It works via email subscription, so you smart-phone users can take E-Mule on the go with you. Since I don’t own a smart phone, I can’t qualify as an expert on that matter, though I’m sure there are plenty here who could offer their assistance- birds of a feather, after all… ;-) Keep your different points of view coming. Peace!

kyle January 10, 2011, 22:34:59

I enjoyed this read. You articulated some things about the Crowes that I haven’t been able to. I’ve been nuts about the Crowes since early high school 15 years ago (I can’t say that about any other modern-era band) and have traveled all over to see them, hitting as many as I could regardless of lineup, festy gig, opening spot — whatever. At their worst they were still exceptionally good. There are a few things I take issue with. First of all, your hours of YouTube watching — why on earth would you watch choppy web clips when you could listen to full matrix-mixed live recordings or download tapers’ audience captures? Not going to the showe is one thing, but basing your opinion on YouTube videos debases them greatly (and I’m on your side here). Regarding Croweology — I had high hopes and agree that the release had tremendous potential. Cold Boy Smile in particular was extremely disappointing (see Columbus 8/1/2006 for an untouchable performance). But I will say that the previous two releases, Warpaint and the Freeze/Frost double LP, represented a burst of creativity from the band and they’re both excellent albums in my book (though admittedly not on par with Southern, Amorica, Snakes, Band — but who could expect that). I will also say that Luther, for his part, really shined most brightly on the songs that were written with him in the band, where his presence was part of the fabric of the band and his contributions were not burdened by comparative retrospect. Sorry to ramble — my point with the above is simple: Croweology had big potential, but ultimately it was a retrospective coming shortly after a startling creative output. They could have easily phoned it in with a fresh greatest hits collection. Now for one last gripe, unrelated to your editorial but relevant nonetheless. I have read in Rolling Stone, at least three times (though I think it’s Fricke every time), how this final one was ‘their best lineup ever.’ I love Luther Dickinson — truly. And McDougal… well I think he’s just fine. But to just gloss over 94-97 + 05-06 is to do a great disservice to people who may like / do like / love the Crowes but somehow never dug into the archives or are overwhelmed by the material that exists.

Barry B January 11, 2011, 00:01:23

I agree with Fletch. I’ve been a huge BC fan since their first album. They have matured and seasoned along with me perfectly. I have evolved with this band and love their current lineup LIVE as much as I’ve loved any other. I saw the D.C. shows this fall (among others) and I found them to be unbelievably awesome in their brooding, building, orgasm of rock with some Americana swished in there. Luther just adds so much to this band and makes it a whole new version… Black Crowes 3.0 or something like that. The last 5 BC shows I’ve seen over the last two years were as good as any of the previous 50+ shows I have seen prior. But yeah, the last two albums… I don’t listen to em much. I just listen to live shows purchased from the BC themselves. That’s all I’ve done with the Mule since Woody has died too. Just listen to Mule tracks and don’t really care for many of their albums since Woody died. Govt Mule 3.0. Nice article Brandon.

Mason January 11, 2011, 02:19:14

I appreciate the effort but this is all over the place and reads like a high-school term paper. Maybe you should spend less time on message boards and YouTube and more time brushing up on your craft. Put down the iPhone and pick up a book.

JP January 11, 2011, 20:06:26

Interesting article, though I think there’s a major flaw in your thesis. We’re essentially beyond the age of the “legendary” rock band, at least as you define it, because rock itself has steadily lost relevance within pop culture over the last 20-30 years. I don’t think that any band/performer you mentioned beyond the third generation ever had the chance to become important to as large an audience as earlier bands/performers like Dylan, the Beatles and Stones, or even Springsteen. From about the mid-‘60s to early/mid-‘70s rock was the dominant pop music form, so the great bands of that era were able to build a much larger, more diverse fan base than any current band could ever hope for (and thus were culturally much more relevant than any current rock band). The fact that great songs from this era were also pop hits is what made them important contributions to the cultural moment. In that sense, no matter how good or bad they’ve been over the past 12-15 years (I actually haven’t followed them closely enough to comment on the quality of their more recent output), the Crowes have never been as culturally relevant as they were when “Hard to Handle” was in heavy rotation on MTV in the early ’90s.

kevin January 16, 2011, 18:51:01

Thx, Brandon…and thx everyone for the interesting reads. Thx to The Black Crowes!!

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