A Black Crowes Reunion Tour? The Music Business Is Abuzz

Brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, seen here in 1998, fought so fiercely that they broke up the Black Crowes—twice. Photo: Catherine McGann/Getty Images

Are the Black Crowes getting back together? The music business is buzzing about the possibility of a reunion tour, and people close to the band aren’t denying it.

At the peak of their popularity in the 1990s, the rootsy rockers turned out hits like “Remedy” and “She Talks to Angels,” which today evoke teenage nostalgia among a swath of Gen X fans. The success belied turbulence behind the scenes, with famously feuding brothers Chris and Rich Robinson fighting so fiercely that they broke up their band not once, but twice.

Now, a year before the 30th anniversary of their debut album, talk of a possible reunion is making the rounds in music circles. Drummer Steve Gorman, a founding member of the band, said he has heard from industry colleagues that the brothers are reuniting but he hasn’t been asked to join. “They are going to move forward with new people,” he says. Former band manager Pete Angelus, who managed the group for 25 years, says: “I’m aware of the deal that the brothers made with Live Nation for a 2020 tour.” He declined to specify who told him; a Live Nation spokeswoman says she doesn’t “have any intel.”

A person familiar with the matter declined to confirm a tour but said: “There might be something in the works.”

Fans have their hopes up. “Something is brewing for sure,” one fan said recently on Reddit. “The time is right,” another fan wrote. “Look for an official announcement later this year?”

The buzz over even the possibility of a reunion tour by a band with only a handful of huge hits speaks volumes about the economics of the music business today. Concert tours have become an increasingly important source of revenue as digital forces like piracy, downloads and streaming have eroded income from recorded music. And the industry has been leaning on nostalgic reunions to help boost concert-ticket sales.

While past reunions focused on baby boomer acts and big household names, reunions today are featuring more bands from the late 1980s, 1990s or even “indie” artists of the 2000s—whose aging Gen X and millennial fans now have more cash to pay for pricey concert tickets.

The reunion tour of Guns N’ Roses, many of whose core fans are Gen Xers, kicked off in 2016 and is still going. It has become the third-highest-grossing concert tour in history, surpassing prior blockbuster reunions like The Police, according to Pollstar, a concert-industry trade publication. It managed to do so even without including two of the five founding members as full-time performers.

With the Black Crowes, brothers Chris and Rich Robinson couldn’t be reached for interviews. A spokesman for Chris Robinson declined to comment. A music executive who until recently represented Rich Robinson said he is no longer a client.

The Black Crowes built a following in the early 1990s as a down-home alternative to the flashy pop-metal then ruling MTV. As acts like Mötley Crüe gave way to the grunge of Nirvana and Soundgarden, the Crowes’ style of rock ’n’ roll harked back to the 1970s swagger of the Rolling Stones and Faces.

“Shake Your Money Maker,” the Atlanta rockers’ 1990 debut, sold over 5 million copies. The 1992 follow-up, “The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion,” hit No. 1 on the Billboard album chart. While “Amorica,” in 1994, met with less commercial success, many fans consider it the band’s artistic peak.

“Literally, nothing could have stopped that band,” former member Mr. Gorman says. “Except for that band.”

The lineup of the Black Crowes that made 1990’s ‘Shake Your Money Maker,’ including drummer Steve Gorman, far right, who recently published a memoir. Photo: Alamy

When Mr. Angelus, the former manager, first met Chris and Rich Robinson, now 52 and 50 years old, “they argued from the moment we left the curb at the airport until the moment that we arrived at the venue where they were going to be performing,” he says. “I’m not even certain that, from the time we left the curb, they were aware of the fact that I was in the back seat any longer.”

“That’s one of the things that made the band so exciting—that unique brotherly love,” says Heidi Robinson-Fitzgerald, a veteran music publicist who represented the band’s label in the early-to-mid 1990s. “It’s like the old saying about how there’s nothing like having a big fight with your husband and then having the greatest sex ever.”

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As time went on, according to Mr. Angelus, Chris Robinson, increasingly a fan of the Grateful Dead, wanted the Crowes to adopt a more jam-band-like sound. Rich and the others pushed back. Some fans embraced the new, more unpredictable and long-winded Crowes; others just wanted to hear the hits.

As the 1990s wound down, the band’s album sales slumped. Bassist Johnny Colt—a partner in the band—departed. Yet, they became road-tested touring veterans, capable of selling out theaters around the country, with a vibrant online fan community. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page even picked them to be his backing band.

Mr. Gorman, who is now a radio show host and has his own band, says the Robinsons’ battles created stress. He recently published a memoir called “Hard to Handle,” named for the Crowes’ hit, a cover of the Otis Redding song, which describes years of fighting over the band’s creative direction, financial splits, even how many cover songs to include live. “The number of shows is in the dozens where, as we’re going to the stage, they’re throwing punches at each other,” Mr. Gorman said in an interview. “And then, 20 seconds later, we’re crushing ‘Sting Me’ on stage.”

The turmoil presented Mr. Gorman with a dilemma: “You’re constantly doing a calculation of, ‘Is this still worth it for me?’ ” he says. “And then, ‘Who am I if I leave?’ ”

In 2002, the band broke up.

Three years later, it re-formed. The band recorded a critically acclaimed 2009 album before a live audience. A 25th anniversary tour was planned for 2015, former associates of the band say.

The last time the Black Crowes toured was in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

But things crashed again in 2014, this time over how to divide revenue among the band members, according to these associates and Rich Robinson’s own statement. The band split up again.

Rock history is littered with battling brothers. The Everly Brothers rarely harmonized offstage. Oasis’s Noel and Liam Gallagher trade insults even today.

But Black Crowes fans still hope a reunion is on the horizon. David Boss, 55, a longtime fan who has 150 live shows on CD, would like to see the peak 1990s lineup, including lead guitarist Marc Ford, reunite. “Chris, Rich, Marc and Steve…that’d be ideal,” he says. “But realistically, if we get Chris and Rich, I’m going.”

Write to Neil Shah at [email protected]

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