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Flying Solo

Chris Robinson takes flight on his own


"My body's weak but my mind is strong and I am tired for I have come a long way..." sings Chris Robinson on "Silver Car" from his first solo effort, New Earth Mud. And let it be known that the former lead singer of the long running group the Black Crowes sings the truth, especially the part about having come a long way.

Robinson grew up in the South, mostly in Atlanta, although he and his family did reside in Charlotte for a brief period of time in the mid-70s. Around 1984 he and his only sibling, younger brother Rich, formed the Black Crowes. After touring around the Southeast for nearly six years (including frequent stops in Raleigh), the Crowes landed a record deal and released their major label debut Shake Your Money Maker in 1990. The album sold over 3 million copies and stayed on the US charts for 18 months earning the group a nomination for a Grammy for Best New Artist and officially making the boys from Georgia full-fledged rock stars.

Their follow-up, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992), entered the charts at No. 1 and spawned a few more hit singles that would become classic rock radio staples, but by this time the band had already replaced their lead guitarist. In the years that would follow, the Crowes would undergo more changes in their line-up, change record labels a couple of times and become black-listed by numerous rock promoters for a short period of time due to their outspokenness on corporate sponsorship in the music business. Album sales would also eventually decline, but all the while the Crowes maintained a respectable fan base by steadily touring.

Two years shy of their 20th anniversary, an unobtainable benchmark for most modern rock acts, the Black Crowes announced, however, that they'd be taking an indefinite hiatus. For most music fans who follow these types of things, those two words could have easily meant a permanent goodbye to Chris and Rich and the rest of the flock. Apparently the senior Robinson isn't one to rest on his laurels or slip into obscurity.

Months after the announcement, the singer ventured to Paris and recorded a solo album that was released last month. Currently he's preparing for a small tour with his new band, which he's also calling New Earth Mud (guitarist Paul Stacey, drummer Jeremy Stacey, bassist George Reiff and keyboardist George Laks). Did I mention he's also living on the beach in Malibu with wife Kate Hudson? Yes, that Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, The Four Feathers, etc). Not too bad for a lanky, loud mouth Southern boy, huh?

After a round of early acoustic outings recently, which included dates across the pond and here in the states, Robinson's new solo material is receiving mixed reviews. One thing most critics have agreed on, however, is the fact that the one time rock & roll rebel seems to have mellowed with age. While this does appear to be true, especially considering some of the material on the album is a collection of love songs the singer penned for his young bride, Robinson is still a man of strong opinion -- whether it be on the music biz, his former band, the new band or life in general.

Despite moving on rather quickly after the Crowes announced their hiatus, Robinson tells CL it wasn't an easy step to take. "I've spent my entire adult life in the Black Crowes. That's a big chunk of time and it's my brother," he explains. "I'm intensely proud of the work we've done and I have no doubt in my mind if we have something to say musically that we'll eventually get together and do it. But for me," he continues, "it's also just exciting to be in some place new and to be in a place where people have never heard my music. I love my brother to death and he's an incredibly talented guy but I'm just having a blast doing this."

Robinson continues to explain the evolution of New Earth Mud, "Once I had gotten off the road with the Crowes and got out here to Malibu, I was like "Wow, no band, no management, no label.' But I had these songs and these ideas," he says. "I hooked up with Kelly Curtis [of Curtis Entertainment] and we talked about how we wanted to approach this and what we wanted to do."

Enter Redline Entertainment -- not your typical record label but more of a music and film distribution company that suits the singer just fine. "My main concern was just being able to make a record that I wanted to make. To be honest, I didn't really want to be in the corporate music world. I didn't want to have responsibility and take a lot of money and have to answer to people. I wasn't concerned about anything except being able to fulfill my creative vision," he adds. "Where the next record takes me might be different, I might be looking for more of those things. But right now I love the hands on approach and that kind of homemade quality."

Enjoying his new found freedom, the singer continues, "Now I have the opportunity to get involved in this at the ground level, and this is totally my vision," he states. "These are easy decisions for me to make because the end result really is the vibe, the record, the songs and the show. This is all representative of how I feel not so much of what I think is a good product.

"I see the music business as ultra, ultra corporate and ultra formulated on every level and that just doesn't appeal to me," he continues. "I think we made great inroads in the Black Crowes to be a successful band on an international level -- to work within that system but to never really become one of them. I don't feel that hurts me at all, not to jump in with everybody else and look and sound like everybody else."

And about the love songs? "Love can be the most intense experience," he affirms. "I had never written love songs because I had never really felt that way before. In terms of mellowing out -- my lifestyle has obviously changed. I'm up at seven or eight every morning and that used to be when I was just going to sleep. That's just the nature of things.

"Music is about freedom -- the freedom to sound like and be like anything you want to be," he says. "And for me it just tends to mirror what I'm going through."

Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud will perform at Tremont Music Hall Saturday, November 30. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $22 the day of the show. For more info, call the club at 704-343-9494.

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