By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
Ironically, for a band that got its first major career boost covering an Otis Redding tune, the Crowes didn't start out doing other people's material. At all. "We always did our own stuff. We were still figuring out how to play, and covers were sort of out of the question. You could butcher your own songs and no one knows better. Do that to something they might've heard and they get mad at you."
The Crowes ultimately advanced from butchering to grooving, but when the band signed to American Records (then Def American) and hit the studio, it was still far from a polished outfit. "That first record was seriously just a bunch of kids with no studio experience winging it," says Gorman soberly. "It came out with no attention or prehype and it started taking off after six months. We were just happy to be out of Atlanta playing clubs. We got to go to the West Coast; that was all we cared about. And we did the second record in a week, right when the first tour ended."
In comparison, amorica took a solid six months in the studio and was whittled down from 30 completed tracks, some of which had already seen the light of day as non-LP B-sides and are being performed nightly on this tour. "This is the first time we worked at trying to get sounds. We didn't put a time limit. We just told the studio, 'We're gonna be here, no telling how long.'"
Sorta like the O.J. jury.
But will justice be served to the Black Crowes? Despite the musical riches to be found on this album, from the painful self-flagellation of "Cursed Diamond" to the Latino rhythms of "High Head Blues" to the poignancy of "She Gives Good Sunflower"--most of the attention focused on amorica's flag-bikini-clad female-crotch cover photo. Complete with a pubic hair or two sticking out.
Says Gorman, "Before the record came out, every distributor in the country said, basically, 'We're not gonna put it into the stores.' Sixty percent of the stores in this country said, 'We're not gonna carry it. Give us an alternate cover or forget it.' Maybe it was a bit naive of us. It struck us as a funny, ironic statement because it could mean just anything."
"Anything" being a bit too broad for the powers that be, the band gave in and substituted a less-offensive cover.
But in Europe, the cover was greeted with a lot more intrigue than outrage. "We started the tour in Europe, and most of the press there said, 'Is it a man or a woman?' Exactly. What do you want it to be? This is going to sound funny, but if you see the vinyl, 12-inch amorica, it somehow makes more sense. Now that's a record cover. Something about it being small and on a CD, people think it's pornographic."
But don't think the Black Crowes are without causes to champion. Since they first got thrown off a tour supporting ZZ Top because they denounced the bearded ones' corporate sponsorship from the stage, the Crowes have gotten flak for their beliefs. Similarly, when the Crowes could've been headlining in stadiums, the band chose smaller theatres. This tour, the group has sought to make its shows "more bootleg friendly," as Chris Robinson puts it.
Tickets to any of the band's shows on this tour clearly read "AUDIO RECORDING ALLOWED," and the band's newsletter Taller encourages fans to trade tapes of shows. The band, which shared the stage with the Grateful Dead this past April, seemingly has more in common with the Bay Area vets than it has a predisposition for hoovin' on a doobie.
"On the first tour, we came across bootlegs, but we didn't realize how prevalent it was," remarks Gorman. "The first time you hear about someone having 60 gigs on tape, you're pretty blown away by it. Like, what's wrong with that guy, doesn't he have a life? Then you think, wait a minute, this guy's collecting. We wanted to make it a lot easier for them. There's one guy on this tour who has a list of 300 shows, which is the record so far [that] we know of. He's following the whole tour and he's paying his way by selling tapes. Selling copies of last night's show for four bucks, that's fine with us."
Not coincidentally, the music Gorman has been listening to on the tour bus is also of dubious legality. "The best stuff I've come across lately is bootlegs I've never heard. Neil Young bootlegs from '73, Allman Brothers stuff."
Because every show is getting taped one way or the other, the Crowes have shouldered the responsibility of performing a different set every night, something almost unthinkable in most large rock shows these days. Perform a tune without computer-controlled, intricate lighting rigs corresponding to it? Not performing a song with the same hand gestures you used on the video? Unthinkable!
But the Crowes' modus operandi is a lot like its heroes of yesteryear, so perhaps it's no wonder that musicians of legendary stature have taken to treating the Black Crowes as peers and worthy successors. Jimmy Page turned up at a Paris gig, performing blues tunes like "Shake Your Money Maker" and "Mellow Down Easy" with the band. The Crowes are also slated to be special guests at some European dates this summer for both Page and Plant and the Rolling Stones. Could it be the Crowes are finally getting, to quote Otis, "a little respect"?