By Max Stewart
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Sticking to Their Guns: Black Crowes Didn’t Play the Record Biz Game
These days, it feels like if you want to be successful as a new band, you need to rely on the live shows. For example, Chance the Rapper – and unsigned musician who just won a Grammy – recently turned down a multi-million dollar record label advance in order to stay independent, saying he makes his money from touring and merchandise and prefers to not have a record contract.
Any thoughts on the differences in attaining commercial success in this era? And, if the Black Crowes came up in this time do you think it would have been a different path?
Yeah, it’s funny, we toured non-stop, at a time when we really didn’t have to (laughs). If we had just made better videos and we had just liked doing promotion… You know we had a chance to take “She Talks to Angels” to Top 40 in the Summer of ‘91. If that song had become a Top 10 hit on Top 40 Radio, then we go from 5 Million record sales to 10 Million. Then it turns into Hootie or Guns N’ Roses debut level stuff. But we had already been on the road for a year and half and the last thing Chris wanted to was to go into a bunch of Top 40 radio stations to play a two and half minute, acoustic version of “Angels” to try to compete with Mariah Carey, that just wasn’t where we were.
Looking back now, it made perfect sense for us not to do that, because it just wasn’t who we were. Even making videos, it didn’t take us long to realize, we’re just not good at this, our heart is not in this. They’re all performance-based, but we didn’t even like that part of it. We were never gonna make the type of videos where we were playing parts or there was a dramatic element or a storyline. I mean, we were terrible at that shit. And we really just didn’t want any part of that stuff.
You know, look at Smashing Pumpkins, they made huge, ornate videos and Billy Corgan did every radio station that he could get into. And that’s perfectly fine, that’s not a knock on him, he was into it. And he got the result he wanted, they sold way more records than the Black Crowes.
We never even had conversations about whether we should or shouldn’t. It was just understood that wasn’t what we did and wasn’t what we were looking for.
And of course, the record label didn’t like. They were like, ‘Guys, come on!’ And of course, Chris pissed off enough people anyways doing the very little he did, alienated so many people in the industry. And that’s not me calling him out, that’s just a fact.
People constantly say, ‘Do you think you’ll be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?’ And the answer is in no way, shape or form (laughs). It’s not even possible. We pissed everybody off that has anything to do with that place. For a million reasons. But you know it’s nice that people think that means something and that it’s something we should be a part of, but it’s not even a consideration. It’s not gonna happen.
You guys stuck to you guns, and did what you wanted to do.
And yeah, again it’s like ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ (Part III), for better and and worse, you know what I mean? The one thing we never wanted to be was the band that everyone associated with two songs. Like, god we’re just going to be the “Hard to Handle” and “She Talks to Angels” band, forever. One way to make sure that doesn’t happen, is to promote all of your singles. (Laughs) We stopped, we stopped doing promotion. “Wiser Time” means more to me than both of those two songs, but it has nowhere near the impact across the cultural realms that “She Talks to Angels” does, or especially “Hard to Handle”, and the simple reason is that we made a crap video for it and we didn’t promote it. We just went out and played live shows, and that’s fine.
But then to look back, and complain that no one listened to the later records, well not as many people did. It’s like, yeah people listened to “Hard to Handle” because the video was great, and it was catchy, and we did TONS of promotion. Southern Harmony is a far better record than Shake Your Money Maker, but we didn’t promote it as much. And it’s just how it all worked out.
We did, for better or worse, we did it our own way. And it’d be nice to sit here now and go, ‘Wow, if we had sold twice as many albums it would have made a huge difference in how the rest of us lived the rest of our lives.’ You know just simply saying, we’d all have a boatload of money (laughs) You know what I mean? Cause we always got to that point where we made a good living but never broke through to where it was just crazy money came in. And it was fine with us, that’s what we wanted. Now that the band is over, I’d much rather have $30 Million in the bank, but I’m cool with not too. Because, like I said, people constantly bring these things up and the thing I always say is ‘No, we weren’t good at promotion.’ It wouldn’t have worked, we had to do it the way we did it.
The Black Crowes Future Will Live on Through The Music
I am very happy the way the band played out and that you didn’t try desperately to be commercially successful at every turn, the music still holds up.
That being said, I understand the door is closed firmly shut on the Black Crowes [since their breakup in 2015], but I selfishly have a difficult time coming to terms with that. And I know there are other projects like the Magpie Salute and different types of avenues for the songs to live on and it feels like there still is a thirst for the music, even in this day in age.
Well, you know, the music’s there. If there’s anybody that wants to dig into the Black Crowes, there’s a couple thousand shows and 10 or 11 albums.. It’s all there. There’s no reason for the band to play songs together, when…
The magic already happened?
Yeah, it’s done. And you can look back and say we should have pulled the plug in 1997, or we should have pulled the plug 2006, or we should have pulled the plug in 2010. You know, we didn’t. We made the best of it while it was still viable. And it just got to the point where it was impossible to continue. So, it’s over. And it is totally cool with me, I am very content. Because ultimately, the music was pretty good. There’s nothing I can listen to and think back and say, ‘Oh god, that’s awful.’ So, I’m fine with it.
Like you said R.E.M. shut the door when it made sense and the music’s definitely not going to improve if you try to tap into something and spark some something again 30 years later.
Yes. A very big part of the reason that Led Zeppelin is Led Zeppelin is because they have been gone for 37 years. And Robert [Plant] is the smartest guy in the world for that. Because there is nothing easier than going out and making $600 Million for a year and half tour in stadiums. But it would also forever alter what people think of Led Zeppelin. Why mess with it? It’s perfect.
Yeah, I heard Richard Branson offered them some absurd amount of money and they turned it down.
When they did that gig in London in 2007, on the heels of that, they were offered $10 Million per show, that was the offer. (laughs) And they could have done 20 shows, they could have done 120 shows, they could have done 300 shows, at $10 Million a night around the world. They could have done a year and half of stadiums, two years of stadiums, major production, and they’d have to play “Stairway to Heaven” every night. You know if they really went out and tried to say, ‘Thank you and goodbye,’ and really do it huge, they would have made any other tour tame by comparison. But it wouldn’t have been the same, you know? I mean Jason Bonham is not John Bonham, in a million different ways.
I think you’re right. It leaves its purity to just step away and let the music speak for itself. I really appreciate the time, Steve.
Right on, dude. I appreciate it.
Well, there ya have it. Thanks again, Steve.