How the Black Crowes Got Even Bigger After Their Hit Debut
The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion arrived May 12, 1992, and although it had been barely a year and a half since the Crowes' first LP showed up in stores, they were already a different band, with guitarist Marc Ford making his studio debut as part of the lineup after replacing the fired Jeff Cease the previous year. But if the personnel was slightly different, the band's sound remained substantially the same: a defiantly retro stew of Southern soul and classic blues.
While the Black Crowes' approach scratched an undeniable itch for fans of rootsy rock during an overproduced era, it also prompted some critics to accuse the band of slavishly imitating great bands like the Rolling Stones and the Faces — something band leaders Chris and Rich Robinson had definitely heard more than enough of by the time Southern Harmony and Musical Companion was released.
"It's funny to me why we have to justify our influences and other bands are praised for theirs. Soundgarden, who I like, make a Black Sabbath album and no one says a word," grumbled Chris during an interview with the Augusta Chronicle. "This is what we do. We are people making this music, living this music. No one is playing dress-up here. I don't want to pretend I'm in Gimme Shelter. I'm definitely happy being in '92 and being part of my generation."
"So many times I've heard, 'You guys are bringing back '60s music,'" added Rich. "No. We're bringing back an honesty. This is how we play — we play music that we love and we play it like we feel it. This is what we've always perceived it to be about — good songs and a talented band that plays its instruments well."
That's an argument borne out by the Southern Harmony track listing, which collects a series of cuts that — while still identifiably the work of the guys who'd released Shake Your Money Maker in January 1990 — presented a snapshot of a band growing more comfortable and confident as they went along.
"I saw Shake Your Money Maker as one thing," Chris told the Mobile Register. "That was our stepping stone to something else, which was this record, which now has already become a stepping stone to where we're going."
That lack of calculation was echoed by Ford, who told Guitar Magazine, "This whole band is doing on a wing and a prayer, really. In fact, that's the secret to their success. You're really forced to stop thinking about it all so much and just trust your instincts to groove. It's not a question of following any trend or trying to be like anybody else. It's about keeping things very alive and on the edge, and it either works magically or it all falls apart. I think it worked out pretty well. That's the key to the band."
It definitely worked out well on the charts, where The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion eclipsed its predecessor's impressive success by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, going double platinum along the way. With another hit record under their belts, they went back out on the road, headlining a lengthy series of dates called the High as the Moon Tour.
Perhaps most impressively of all, the Black Crowes cemented their status as one of rock's biggest young bands with an album that didn't have any pop hits. Only one of Southern Harmony's six singles, "Remedy," came anywhere near crossover status, and that track rose no higher than No. 48 on the Hot 100. With this release, as they would in the future, the band derived its success largely from rock radio.
They clearly had a waiting audience at the format. Starting with "Remedy," the Southern Harmony album spun off a record-setting four No. 1 hits on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart — a list that grew to include "Sting Me," "Thorn in My Pride" and "Hotel Illness." Add in "Sometimes Salvation" (No. 7) and "Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye" (No. 40), and it was obvious the band had taken the lofty bar they'd set with Money Maker and lifted it even higher.
Not that they seemed terribly concerned with things like hit singles or record sales. "People have been successful before, and many more will be in the future. I consider it a big ride on the calendar machine. You get old and fat and bald and people don't like you anymore," Chris shrugged nonchalantly during a 1992 interview with Sky. "Unless you're Canadian. Then they still love you."