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Rock 'n' roll rewind: The Black Crowes sing from the soul on 'David Letterman'

On June 6, 2001, Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee the Black Crowes made their eighth of eleven appearances with David Letterman, delivering a solid rock 'n' soul rendition of "Soul Singing" on CBS's The Late Show. Fittingly, some 11 years earlier the band had made their network television debut on the rebellious comic's classic NBC program, and the host's penchant for the ragged rockers remained enthusiastic.

A locked and loaded Chuck Leavell, who played on the Black Crowes' debut 1990 LP Shake Your Money Maker, keeps his eyes on Chris Robinson belting out She Talks To Angels during the band's induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame 20 years later
Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson belts out She Talks To Angels, Sept. 11, 2010; Photography by Perry Julien
Dig that ferocious mind-bending lavender lion! The inventive cover art of Lickin, the debut single taken from Lions, the sixth studio album released by The Black Crowes; Lickin' became a No. 9 Mainstream Rock hit in May 2001
Dig that ferocious mind-bending lavender lion! The inventive cover art of Lickin, the debut single taken from the Lions album. Lickin' became a No. 9 Mainstream Rock hit in May 2001. Image Credit: Ron Kimball Studios / V2 Records

The sophomore single taken from the Atlanta band's sixth album – Lions "Soul Singing" became the band's final hit on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart as of this writing, stalling just shy of the Top Ten at No. 12 ["Lickin'", the lead single, climbed a tad higher at No. 9].

The Crowes were experiencing a myriad of upheaval and new beginnings as the 21st century emerged. Lead singer and principal lyricist Chris Robinson met actress Kate Hudson at a Manhattan party, fell head over heels in love, and tied the marital knot on New Year's Eve 2000. The serendipitous relationship slowly but surely impacted the singer's lyrics.

The band's core lineup was significantly unstable. Founding bassist Sven Pipien didn't show up in time for a scheduled show, missed his return flight, and grew agitated when the rest of the band questioned his decision. He was promptly fired and a replacement, Greg Rzab, temporarily took over.

Longtime record label Columbia had not adequately promoted the group's previous album, By Your Side, so the band seized the opportunity to sign with multi-millionaire Richard Branson's V2 Records after the impresario promised that there would be no interference from the fledgling label. A wildly successful tour with Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin hinted that the Crowes might be on the verge of a comeback and no doubt fueled Branson's interest.

A new producer, Don Was, best known for his retro, albeit slick production on latter-day Rolling Stones albums, manned the console during the Lions recording sessions. While the majority of Lions doesn't rise to the heights of "Soul Singing," Was admittedly captured the essence of the Crowes' throwback sound on the tune.

But Chris' younger brother, Rich, had the crucial ingredient – a churning guitar riff that was alternately acoustic on the verses and electric on the choruses. A catchy sing-along embellished by a quartet of African American female singers provided the icing on the cake.

The Crowes are renowned for channeling an audience's collective energy, which clearly comes across in the Letterman appearance. The fantastic guitar weaving between Rich and Audley Freed personifies unbridled joy, yet much of the focus is stolen by the elder Robinson.

Clean-shaven with shoulder-length brown hair and sporting John Lennon granny-style purple shades topped off by a Woodstock-era brown fringed shirt, Chris commands the Ed Sullivan stage from the get-go, confidently proclaiming, "I've been down, cascading and blue without out a sound, now I've traded my black feathers for a crown"… all the while shimmying and dancing as if possessed by the spirit of a fire and brimstone proselytizer.

Upon accepting the Crowes' prestigious Georgia Music Hall of Fame award a decade later, the frontman vividly summed up his strong musical beliefs: "We grew up in a mid-'80s Atlanta music scene that wasn't about the passionless corporate attitude that prevails in the world. It really was about passion, poetry, madness, and recklessness. Those were the things that gave us the energy and the belief to get involved with music."

Now that the Black Crowes are on indefinite hiatus, Chris tours with pet project the Chris Robinson Brotherhood in support of third studio offering Phosphorescent Harvest. Robinson's solo gypsy caravan is endearingly categorized on their official Facebook as "psychedelic filling in a folk blues pie." Rich, coincidentally touring behind his third studio LP, The Ceaseless Sight, was spotted in summer 2014 guesting on the Experience Hendrix guitar extravaganza package tour.

  • DON'T GO ANYWHERE YET! Recent Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee Collective Soul has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide during their '90s heyday with such nuggets as "Shine", "The World I Know", and "December." As a matter of fact, the Grammy-winning rockers often found themselves competing with the Black Crowes on modern rock radio. If you have never witnessed founding bassist Will Turpin in concert, an in-depth guide, "Feelin' Alright with Will Turpin and The Way..." is bar none the ultimate Turpin concert experience. The musician also granted a rare multi-installment conversation covering his fascination with John Lennon, The Beatles, Aerosmith, and how growing up with a desire to play music in a tiny Georgia suburb gave way to the big leagues.

Twitter: To interact directly with Jeremy, follow @jeremylr

Exclusive Interview: Cherie Currie, best known as the former lead singer of '70s female punk icons the Runaways, lived the ultimate rock and roll fantasy until it came crashing down in a raging sea of inner band turmoil, trashed hotel rooms, financial mismanagement, and substance abuse. After an extended lost weekend invigorated by the success of The Runaways, a film based on her shocking memoirs and starring Dakota Fanning and Twilight's Kristen Stewart, Currie is ready to rock 'n' roll all night. In an extremely personal chat ["Believe in Yourself: Words of Wisdom From..."], the blonde bombshell revisits her meeting with singer-songwriter John Denver, the eclectic music she would take with her if stranded on a desert island, whether there is such a thing as the perfect guy, what she is most passionate about, what makes her angry, facing online criticism, the tragedy of living on pipe dreams, and much more.

Further Reading No. 1: Did you know that former Beatle George Harrison followed up his critically-acclaimed solo debut, the triple-LP "All Things Must Pass", with another number one record featuring the drumming expertise of compadre Ringo Starr? Surprisingly, "Living in the Material World" contains one song that remains largely undiscovered by the general record buying public. "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" is a Beatlesque and pop-oriented track that deserved to be a hit single. No stone is left uncovered in the fascinating feature, "Rediscovering a Superb Love Song..."

Further Reading No. 2: The Beach Boys were at a crossroads in the early ‘70s, exacerbated by Brian Wilson's dwindling creativity. Fortunately for listeners everywhere, little brother Carl had a remedy. He had propitiously been demonstrating his burgeoning production skills since the soulful "Wild Honey" arrived with minimal fanfare in 1967. Gradually taking over the leadership reins from his elder brother, Carl was more than ready to put his stamp on the band's 18th long player, along with a little help from two South African musicians with a penchant for hard driving rock 'n' roll, Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar. An in-depth feature on "Carl and the Passions – So Tough" sheds light on an often misunderstood period in the group's renowned discography. At least for a season, this was not your parents’ square fun in the sun band anymore.

  • Further Reading No. 3: Although originally covered by The Beatles (John Lennon on lead), Smith truly captured the counterculture's collective consciousness during the summer of Woodstock and Easy Rider with a fiery rendition of "Baby It's You", originally written by Brill Building pianist Burt Bacharach. A resounding Top Five single captained by the gorgeous, pre-American Idol Gayle McCormick belting the lyrics with intense abandon, the band inexplicably never had another hit. For the complete lowdown on why fans of classic '60s rock still hold the performance in such high esteem, head on over to "One Hit Wonder Flashback: The Timeless Allure of Smith's 'Baby It's You'".

Further Reading No. 4: It's difficult to find a more illustrious 40-year musical career than that of Chuck Leavell, best known as a member of the Allman Brothers Band (dig his iconic contributions to the "Jessica" instrumental) and currently manning the keyboards for the Rolling Stones. On the rare occasions when he performs solo, the raconteur's anecdotes absolutely mesmerize the crowd. An all-new article, "That's Chuck Leavell, Not Chocolate Milk: In Concert with the Stellar Pianist", details a special benefit performance in South Georgia as the musician recalls his admiration for Hank Williams, country music, the secret to a successful marriage, the songs he wrote for the women in his life, touring with George Harrison during a 1991 sojourn in Japan, and the confused, funny reaction he received from a six-year-old fan after listening to Eric Clapton's definitive "Unplugged" MTV album.

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© Jeremy L. Roberts, 2014. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in full without first contacting the author. Headlines with links are fine. In addition, posting any links to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or Google Plus is sincerely appreciated.

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