Jul. 09, 2008 - Issue #664: Rocky 12
Prevue - The Black Crowes
Does it really matter when a band changes its guitarist? Oh, sure, the
remaining members will go out of their way to praise the newcomer, gushing
about how in sync the group is now, but does it change the band’s
sound at all?
The Black Crowes, led by songwriting brothers Chris and Rich Robinson on vocals and guitar, respectively, has been around the block a few times with guitar players (and bass and keyboard players, too, for that matter). Here’s a look at six live recordings (all available as either bootlegs or at liveblackcrowes.com) capturing each one of the band’s guitarists and highlighting their role within the band.
Jun 15, 1991: Jeff Cease
In some ways it’s unfair to judge Jeff Cease’s contributions to the Crowes. He wasn’t with the band for long enough for the unit to grow into a cohesive whole, lasting only for the group’s debut and the ensuing touring period. Still, during this performance Cease seems sorely out of place in the group, his choppy, scrappy playing more in tune with a punk approach than the rock ‘n’ roll of the Crowes.
Also, Cease generally blows the opportunity to add something to the music. On “She Talks to Angels” he comes in on the slide guitar, misses the mark immediately and never pulls it back together; the guitar sounds amateurish alongside the rest of the band, going nowhere and recycling the same generic licks over and over.
Mar 22, 1995: Marc Ford
Marc Ford joined the band just days before entering the studio to record its second album. The chemistry was immediate, and Ford and Rich Robinson forged a guitar sound that was built on overlapping riffs and licks being thrown back and forth.
For this performance—it’s hard to call any one take of a song definitive, since there was an almost constant evolution of the music duing Ford’s tenure—“She Talks to Angels” was coloured with Ford’s slide playing, which avoided generic licks in favour of ones that surprise at each turn, and the band had gelled into a unit in a way that wasn’t apparent during the 1991 performance. Clear examples of this are found during the nearly 20-minute jam on “Thorn in My Pride,” where the band is locked into an unbreakable groove, and the similarly tight “Sometimes Salvation,” where Ford puts down a screaming solo with a minimal selection of notes, twisting and bending them to do what he wants.
Sep 12, 2001: Audley Freed
This may have been the most difficult show that the Crowes ever had to play, coming the day after 9/11. The guitarist here is Audley Freed, but it’s clear that Rich Robinson is in control, with his guitar turned up so loud that it all but drowns Freed out, leaving just a few distant licks clawing their way through to the front during the bulk of the tunes. When Freed is audible, as on the solo to “Sometimes Salvation,” he sounds lost with the band, flailing rather than flowing.
Mar 20, 2006: Marc Ford
Ford reappears with the band after a hiatus that lasted several years and a couple of brief solo careers from the brothers Robinson. Ford and the band picked up pretty much where they left off, and this show is indicative of their ability to push and lift each other up to another level.
Sep 29, 2007: Paul Stacey
Paul Stacey was the producer/guitarist in Chris Robinson’s solo band, and he got the call to play with the Crowes when Ford bowed out of the band on the eve of a new tour. Stacey aquits himself nicely during “Sometimes Salvation,” attacking the solo and letting the notes ring out before he wrings them out, shaking the guitar to get every last drop of emotion from the instrument. But he’s not consistent, and there are times, like during the solo in “Ballad in Urgency,” that he throws a steady stream of notes out into the air, but doesn’t really do anything with them.
Apr 9, 2008: Luther Dickinson
After Stacey stepped down, Luther Dickinson came to the Crowes from the North Mississippi Allstars, and he may be the best fit since Ford simply because the band appears to be welcoming the change instead of fighting steadfastly against it. Dickinson’s approach is a little more backwoods/country blues than Ford’s, giving the songs a slightly more countrified vibe. He also seems to understand how important dynamics are for building a song up and taking it somewhere that differs from where it started out—or at least he does during this performance. V
Thu, Jul 17 (7:30 pm)
The Black Crowes
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