The Black Crowes Had a ‘Remedy’ for ‘Southern Harmony’s’ Success
The Black Crowes set a high bar with the runaway success of their debut album. But 18 months of heavy road work paired with strong songwriting mojo also put them in a good spot as they got ready to work on their sophomore record.
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion surfaced on May 12, 1992 and officially put everything they'd accomplished up to that point on the table as collateral. "Remedy," the first single, quickly demonstrated that they hadn't lost an ounce of their abilities to groove hard while simultaneously detonating massive hooks. It spent 11 weeks at the top of the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart and Southern Harmony also gave the Atlanta group their first number one album.
More than 30 years later, an expanded box set is set for release on Dec. 15. It offers a deeper look into the time period, collecting B-sides and rarities alongside live material recorded at a fabled 1993 performance in Houston.
In advance of the set's arrival, vocalist Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich Robinson sat down with UCR to offer their memories of the era. Joined by producer George Drakoulias, who was at the helm for both of the first two albums, a free-form conversation quickly took flight.
George, let’s start with you. You made Shake Your Money Maker with the band. They go away on tour and they went through the whole cycle. Tell me about the group that came back to you when it was time to make this second album.
George Drakoulias: I think the first record is probably beyond their capabilities at that time. They went out and proved themselves and came back as this band that they were going to be. It was fascinating. I mean, it’s pretty fucking cool that they came back and I was like, “Oh wow, they’re listening to each other. They play great!”
Chris Robinson: We knew that as well, you know what I mean? We knew that the thing that we didn’t have was that. The playing every night for 350 shows. The Shake Your Money Maker tour was 350 shows in about 18 months.
George: They went out as puppies and came back as Great Danes
Chris: Or teenage dogs.
Watch the Black Crowes' Video For 'Remedy'
Chris and Rich, what sticks with you about this whole time period when you were getting ready to work on the album that becomes Southern Harmony?
Chris: I think that world that we were in, I think we were very pleased with the first record. I think what we didn’t have in terms of our musicianship, we made up for in the compositions. But I think it was so lightning fast. We were already playing some of those songs. We would work on riffs and songs [while we were on the road]. But then we came back to Atlanta and we moved into my garage. I had a house for a little bit and we just wrote all of those songs and went into the studio and it was so fast. You know, I think that was the nature of keeping the whole thing rolling at the time.
Rich Robinson: The thing about it is that it was like an 18-month live workshop for us. We were playing every night and Chris and I were constantly writing songs. We were able to flesh out a lot of the songs on tour and really kind of see what worked and what didn’t. We were listening to each other, like George said and we were looking at each other. It was really just an immersive experience. We were immersed in that language and it just kind of all culminated. When we came out at the end of that tour, we were ready to go right in. We were firing on all cylinders. We’d written probably two or three records of material throughout the Shake Your Money Maker tour and then honed it all in, once we were able to just come off tour and jump in. We wrote the record in a weekend, pretty much.
George: You became circus people, pretty much.
Rich: Yeah. [Laughs]
Chris: But no, it really was. Which I think is important. I think part of the charm of the first record is a romanticism, because the whole world was out there. George was our lifeline into anything to do with the music business and someone who had been in the studio. You know, it’s the first time we’re standing in front of microphones, [so there was] the first time element of it.
George: It was very novel.
Chris: Yeah and it’s romantic though, as well. Again, by the time we make the second record, we’re hardly veterans in the studio or anything.
George: But you were road dogs -- and it’s also how the bands that we loved would do it. They’d tour, they’d come home, they’d make a record.
Chris: We had so much more to our palette, our colors, our textures, the experiences, the good and the bad. We went from being dudes in a local band to being dudes in an internationally known rock band and the things that come with that -- the experience that comes with that.
They Faced Backlash From Their Peers in Atlanta
It seems like the character of Atlanta might have added to the spirit of the album since you recorded at Southern Tracks in your home area there. How important was that?
Chris: I think that was just almost the last semblance of our youth. Because I had just moved to New York, We were just talking about it, the first check that the Black Crowes sent me, I moved straight to New York. I think it was more just a pragmatic element for me at least. I don’t think we felt at home in Atlanta. You know, the music scene we had grown up in fucking hated us now, because we were so successful.
That’s the way it always goes.
Chris: Yeah, of course. We’re a rock band, but we’re also indie rock kids. [Going] from our punk, sort of indie rock background to turning into this band that had, for lack of a better word, a classic rock [element] and blues [tone], we were embracing the roots music that was important to us.
George: I think you guys would lean into R&B more, which people weren’t….like, metal bands and hair bands at the time, no one was really listening to the R&B of it.
Chris: Yeah, Black music was a way bigger influence. Funk, R&B, soul.
George: Your record collection when you came back off of the tour was quite expansive compared to what you guys left with.
Chris: Well, it was the first job I didn’t get fired from! [Laughs]
Listen to the Black Crowes' 'My Morning Song'
What was the audio aesthetic that you guys had in your heads for this album?
Rich: I mean, sonics became us at that moment. [After the tour], we came in and I feel like that was the first record that was us. That was our sound and that’s who we were. The first record, we were kids and we were writing these songs and we loved the songs and it was a great springboard for what was to come, but Southern Harmony was the first record that was us. I think coming in there and having Eddie Harsch in there, really added a lot to what we did -- and having Marc Ford. I mean, Marc Ford in our band was a great guitar player.
Chris: Yeah, we went from kind of scrappy dudes to having some guys that could [really play]. We did it ourselves as well….
George: ….you brought in gunslingers.
Chris: We raised the morale.
George: It became a real gang, that was the other thing. You found like-minded people. Sonically, I think in some ways, it was just more honest.
Rich: It was more immediate.
George: Yeah, we weren’t trying to hide behind anything on the first record, but there were less constraints.
Chris: There’s also the element and it sounds silly, but we were much more stoned.
Chris: I mean, in all seriousness. Shake Your Money Maker, we never smoked weed in the studio. We didn’t have money for shit like that. We were not inebriated at all. This record, [that element] changed the sound. It’s like, Robert Altman’s films are interesting and they have a certain tone because he is stoned all of the time. He’s a filmmaker who makes movies that feel that way. This record is a lot more in that realm. You hear it in the straight rock tempos and the beats of Shake Your Money Maker. We go to this record and it’s a lot more…
George: It’s funky.
Chris: We just spread it out more sonically. Part of that is just being stoned.
It’s always great to hear the stuff that got left on the cutting room floor. One of the songs that really sticks out is “Miserable.” “Darling of the Underground Press” is another fan favorite. How seriously was any of that stuff in contention for the final album sequence?
Rich: Chris and I historically, the longer a song sits around, [it ends up on the shelf]. So although we had a lot of these songs and really loved most of them, we self-edit a lot and we self-edited those out. You know, some of the earliest legs on that tour, we wrote “Miserable” and we were playing it every night for a little while…or playing it a lot at least. I think we’re always looking for the new thing, something to generate that excitement within us.
Chris: It’s definitely more of a visceral vibe relationship to the material than thinking about, “Oh, that chorus is bigger.” I think that’s worked to our benefit and maybe to our detriment as well.
Listen to the Black Crowes' 'Miserable'
The Houston concert from 1993 is a big part of this new box set. It was a pretty important show at the time. What do you guys remember about the particulars of the concert?
Chris: I mean, number one, the top hat that I’m wearing at the beginning of the show was stolen at the party after that. If I ever find the person who did it….I’m still upset about that! It’s one of the only things that was ever swiped. That concert was important because there had been a mishap in Houston before. An accident and the fucking PA fell on some of our fans, which was brutal. So part of it was like, we wanted to come to Houston and do something to get a better vibe, than leaving it with people getting smashed by the fucking speakers that fell because of the PA company or whatever. In that era, we were doing a lot of free concerts and all sorts of stuff outside of just the regular touring cycle.
I think the counter-culture philosophy that we had dictated a lot of things that we would do event-wise. I think that was kind of part of the scene and part of what we wanted to do. Our politics….we were more like the Replacements in terms of how we viewed the business. You know, this kind of cheeky, self-destructive….oh, there’s dogshit, let’s step in it! It sounds silly, but there was a romantic notion, like George said, about our gang. It’s us against everyone and the squares and the fucking business people, they don’t understand what we’re doing. I think that dictated a lot of the decisions that we made.
George: If you’re not twiddling knobs or playing guitar, you’re the enemy.
Chris: I love it, I love it. We really subscribed to that.
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso