Soul-infused southern rock act The Black Crowes may have sold more than 30m albums over the course of their 26-year history, but it was rarely smooth running.
Like so many other bands featuring siblings, they had warring brothers at their heart. Chris Robinson was on vocals, while his younger brother, Rich was on lead guitar.
The band finally dissolved, seemingly for good this time in 2015, with both brothers already pursuing their own careers.
Rich put out four solo albums before the seeds were sown for his current band, Magpie Salute, which sees him reunited with former Crowes, guitarist Marc Ford bassist Sven Pipien.
‘I was on tour after recording my last solo record, Flux. Sven had joined the band for that tour, and there was a show that came up – I had done one before, these guys I know own a studio and they basically invite a crowd in to watch you record a live record.
‘They invite 100 people in, it’s a cool experience, and we did three shows over a weekend.’
Wanting to put together a crack band for the show, he reached out to Marc, his former foil, who was in the band for two stints, in the ‘90s and noughties.
While Rich and Marc hadn’t spoken directly during the intervening years, they had kept loosely in touch though mutual friends .
Marc had been with the Crowes for a second time when they had reformed in 2005 after a three year break, but left the following year.
‘When he left in 2006, it wasn’t a healthy environment [in the band], and I think he saw that quickly. He decided it wasn’t for him as something bad could happen, and I think he decided to put himself first, which was the appropriate move for him.’
Was there any lingering acrimony from the Crowes days?
‘Not any more. Time and self-reflection – everyone played a part in the unhealth of the whole thing,’ says Rich sagely.
‘The older I get, the more I tour, I realise what a gift it is to be able to play with people who you have a strong musical connection with. It’s one of those things you can’t explain and Marc and I have that thing.
‘It gets so weird how much time you spend on a bus with someone, you see people waking up and going to bed, you see people at their best and their worst, and it’s kind of weird to never see them again.
‘So I decided to reach out to Marc and see what he says. And I guess he was in the same sort of place as me because he said I don’t care what it is, I’ll come out and do it. Which was really cool.
‘When Marc said he was up for it I reached out to [Crowes keyboard player] Eddie Harsch, and he said the same thing: “I’m there”.
‘It was just going to be those three shows and then that was it, but while we were all there, we realised there was something special there – the chemistry of all of us, so we decided to put a couple of shows for sale and see what happens.
‘We put up four shows in New York and they sold out in 20 minutes, so it was like, okay, there’s some excitement here.’
Sadly Eddie then died suddenly aged 59.
‘It was totally out of the blue,’ says Rich. ‘It kind of added to this whole project and band. At first it was a project and now it’s a proper band. We decided to keep going and turn those four shows into a tribute to Ed, and from there decided to book a tour.
‘While we were at it, we realised it had a record that we’d already recorded, so let’s put that out and tour on it for fun.
‘Last year we took the template of those first shows - which was my band of five people, Eddie and Marc joined my band, plus three singers – let’s go out and just go out like this and celebrate what we’ve done for 20-30 years, and everyone loved the idea.
‘As we were touring, everyone decided to focus, and said: “Let’s do this.” We wanted to continue to do it, so we went into the studio in February and focused on the core of the band, which is where we are now.’
With the band now called The Magpie Salute, they released their debut studio album, High Water I in August.
‘We recorded 29 songs in 21 days. We had a bunch of material we were excited and to do this and to play music that meant something to us in a world where so much is meaningless and that has so little reverence for artists or artistry. It’s more about the big explosion in a movie than the acting or the writing, or beats per minute.
‘With music, no-one in the popular sense is writing anything worth a damn in my opinion, but there’s a tonne of underground people really doing some proper stuff.’
As Rich goes on to explain, he sees recent developments in technology as largely to the detriment of popular music.
‘What I love about music is the humanity of it, and what all popular music does now is take away the humanity.
‘It started with CDs – they never sounded as good as vinyl, but everyone bought into it because of the convenience. And then MP3s came along which didn’t even sound as good as CDs, but everyone bought into it because it was convenient.
‘And then you go into the studio and there’s Pro Tools, and people quantize their beats so there’s no humanity in there. I speed up when I go to a chorus – it’s never bothered me! The chorus is meant to be exciting. Who’s judging that?
‘And no vocalist on earth sings in perfect pitch - the ear isn’t designed to hear auto-tuned perfect pitch, that’s why it sounds so creepy.
‘All these great singers, you know Joe Cocker or Rod Stewart, you put it through auto-tune and it sounds horrible. Could you imagine Neil Young or Bob Dylan through it? Or Joni Mitchell through it? Jesus.
‘They’re unique. Neil Young is unique – he isn’t Pavarotti, but why are you drawn to Neil’s voice? There’s a human element in his guitar, in his voice. That’s what music is about for me.’
So what can we expect from a Magpie Salute live set now?
‘We play everything. The main focus of the set is the new record, but there’s also songs that Marc and I and Sven have written, and then there’s solo songs and covers of songs we’ve always wanted to do. We’re pulling from about 240 songs, I think now.’
The Magpie Salute
The Pyramids Centre, Southsea
Monday, December 10