Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘n’ Roll with Chris Robinson

Recently, we caught up with Chris Robinson from his Marin County, California home, and found the prolific singer-songwriter in a reflective mood. His band, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, just released Servants Of The Sun, their eighth record in as many years, and shows the band at the height of its powers. Psychedelic-folk-rock-jam band-soul, anyone?

I hear life has been rather rocky the last 18 months.

The band has had a pretty rough year. Neil (Casal, guitarist) took some time off the road. Tony (Leone, drummer) took a long time off the road. Adam (MacDougall, former keyboardist) leaving the band probably shed some light on some of the stresses. So I crawl across this cave floor of a lifetime with no sonar. I have music. I have friends. It’s down to me. I have my kids. It’s all very grounded and normal. But in my creative life, and here’s where it gets obscure, it’s been tough. I don’t write autobiographical narratives. I do it the same way I’ve always done it. Does this hurt? Yeah. Has it been tough? Yeah. But, on the other hand, I have all this beauty and joy, love and intimacy and caring, right? So it’s like, that’s the way life works. I don’t mean to sound completely insane, but as a dyslexic child, I grew up in the early seventies in the Deep South. I couldn’t relate. I could only relate to my poems, and then to my music. Even though it was Atlanta, I was outside of it all and felt it. My whole life and the connections I’ve made that have brought me all this good stuff is because I dedicated myself to following the muse and I believe in it. The muse demands you daydream in a sense to retain your naivete. Everything molten becomes hard and that means it’s not alive. Things have to be alive for me to make any kind of sense.

You open Servants of the Sun with the absolutely delicious “Some Earthly Delights,” in which you write “leaving feathers where we go/following the breeze/some days cold/some days gold/it’s all a dream.

Well, that’s what I mean! We’re only responsible for our perception of things. Either the world is against you and yours, or you find your own stream in the flow. I’m a romantic person and although I still find comfort in what the Black Crowes accomplished, hell, we were teenagers! We were kids into rock ‘n’ roll who very quickly formed a band and worked it and worked it and were snatched up [by a major label], so we knew we were on the right track. A very heady proposition. A self-fulfilling prophecy. But then to have to deconstruct everything that I worked so hard to achieve in an effort to create something new? Oh man, all that I sacrificed, including the creature comforts, like not having a tour bus, riding in a van doing 15,000 miles of California, even humping our gear for the first three years. Then we found some sort of zen because we were doing it from the ground up—D.I.Y. grassroots to the max. People started liking it. People started coming. We made connections. The music got real good. What a unique opportunity! We actually got this fucker off the ground! Now I know how the Wright Brothers must have felt!

What I wouldn’t give to see you just one more time put the guitar down and shake your moneymaker like you used to in The Black Crowes.

This music isn’t the same kind of music, man. I’m not putting out the same vibe. But, sure, that’s why I did As The Crow Flies last year. It was fun. But I’m just so busy with so many things right now.

But, as John Lee Hooker used to say, it’s in you and it’s got to come out. Plus, you’re so damn good at it.

Thank you. And I’m sure I’ll get to do it again down the line. It’s just that I got some stuff I’ve got to finish up first.

Tell me about you and Jimmy Page in 1999.

We made a record and toured together. What an amazing guy! A real deep music lover, and one of the most talented people I ever met. He just works hard, man. When it’s time to play music, he works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen, whether it’s at rehearsal or preparing for a gig. He’s so together. Plus, he was delightful to hang out with. We’d go to dinner and obsess about music together. Constantly. I mean, I’ve been collecting records since I was 12 so I’m fairly knowledgeable about stuff. He’d hang out in my dressing room with me and we’d listen to all these old blues records I have. He loved to go through my piles and piles of CDs. I took about 200 of them on tour with me. I would love when he’d find something that he really liked and go, ‘wow, you have this one!’ We’d wind up staying up all night listening to my blues collection.

So cool! I guess one of the perks of being a rock star is that you get to hang out with a guy like Jimmy Page.

Yeah, man, but you gotta have a cool record collection or he’ll split.

Be sure to catch the Chris Robinson Brotherhood at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on June 27, and at the Tail Winds Music Festival at the Hudson Valley Regional Airport in Wappingers Falls, NY on June 29