The Black Crowes
At the time of their 1990 debut, the kind of rock & roll the Black Crowes specialize in was out of style. Only Guns N' Roses came close to approximating a vintage Stones-style raunch, but they were too angry and jagged to pull it off completely. The Black Crowes replicated that Stonesy swagger and Faces boogie perfectly. Vocalist Chris Robinson appropriated the sound and style of vintage Rod Stewart while guitarist Rich Robinson fused Keith Richards' lean attack with Ron Wood's messy rhythmic sense. At their best, the Black Crowes echo classic rock without slavishly imitating their influences.
The Robinson brothers originally formed the Black Crowes in Georgia in 1984. By the time of their 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker, the group comprised Chris Robinson (vocals), Rich Robinson (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass), Jeff Cease (guitar), and Steve Gorman (drums). "Jealous Again," the first single from Shake Your Money Maker, was a moderate hit but it was the band's cover of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" that made the group a multi-platinum success. "Hard to Handle" climbed its way into the Top 40, propelling the album into the Top Ten. The acoustic ballad "She Talks to Angels" became the band's second Top 40 hit in the spring of 1991. Shake Your Money Maker would eventually sell over three million copies.
The Black Crowes delivered their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, in the spring of 1992. It entered the charts at number one, but it didn't have as many hit singles as the debut; none of the singles cracked the Top 40 and only "Remedy" and "Thorn in My Pride" made the Top 100. Nevertheless, the band established themselves as a popular concert attraction that summer, selling out theaters across America. During 1992, the band added keyboardist Eddie Hersch as a permanent member. The Black Crowes' third album, Amorica, arrived in late 1994. Amorica debuted in the Top Ten, but none of the singles from the album made the charts; even though the record went gold, it slipped off the charts in early 1995.
Three Snakes & One Charm, the group's fourth album, was released in July of 1996. The album entered the charts at number 15, but it quickly slipped out of the Top 50. Nevertheless, the album received the best reviews of any Crowes album since The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Guitarist Marc Ford was fired from the Black Crowes in August, 1997; two years later, the group returned with By Your Side. In mid-2000, the band collaborated with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page on the double-disc Live at the Greek, an eclectic mix of newly recorded Zeppelin covers and additional classic blues cuts. A Tribute to a Work in Progress: Greatest Hits 1990-1999, a 16-track best-of compilation was also released in mid-2000. The Don Was-produced Lions appeared in spring 2001, and a summer tour with Oasis -- the Tour of Brotherly Love -- followed in June. But all was apparently not well with the group, in January of 2002 the band announced that they were on hiatus. Drummer Steve Gorman was fired from the band, and Chris Robinson announced his intentions for a solo career. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide
Ween was the ultimate cosmic goof of the alternative rock era, a prodigiously talented and deliriously odd duo whose work traveled far beyond the constraints of parody and novelty into the heart of surrealist ecstasy. Despite a mastery for seemingly every mutation of the musical spectrum, the group refused to play it straight; in essence, Ween were bratty deconstructionists, kicking dirt on the pop world around them with demented glee. Along with the occasional frat-boy lapses into misogyny, racism, and homophobia, the band's razor-sharp satire cut to the inherently silly heart of rock & roll with hilariously acute savagery; fueled by psilocybin mushrooms and an all-consuming craving for hot meals, Ween created its own self-contained universe, a parallel dimension where the only sacred cow was their own demon god, the Boognish.
The duo formed in suburban New Hope, PA, in 1984, when 14-year-olds Mickey Melchiondo and Aaron Freeman adopted their respective fraternal aliases, Dean and Gene Ween, and cut the first of literally thousands of home recordings. At about the same time Freeman -- working under the name Synthetic Socks -- issued an eponymous 1987 solo cassette on the fledgling TeenBeat label, Ween released its own debut tape, The Crucial Squeegie Lip, on their own Bird O' Pray imprint. After a pair of 1988 self-releases, titled Axis: Bold as Boognish and The Live Brain Wedgie/WAD LP, Ween signed to the Minneapolis-based independent label Twin/Tone, which in 1990 issued the double album GodWeenSatan: The Oneness, a sprawling, often brilliant release which careened from the headlong hardcore rush of the opening "You F****d Up" to the helium pop of "Don't Laugh I Love You" to the Prince-Xeroxed funk of "L.M.L.Y.P."
A move to the Shimmy Disc label followed prior to the release of 1991's The Pod, another masterpiece of dementia recorded on four-track under the influence of inhaled Scotchgard; darker and more deranged than its predecessor, The Pod expanded the Ween palette to include Beatlesque pop (the sublime "Pork Roll Egg and Cheese"), oddball folk ("Oh My Dear [Falling in Love]"), and mystic hard rock ("Captain Fantasy"). Against all odds, the record won the Weens a deal with major-label Elektra; against even greater odds, the leap to the big leagues did nothing to alter the duo's mindset. 1992's Pure Guava, their Elektra debut, was their most consistently weird and wonderful outing to date. Highlighted by the disturbingly infectious single "Push th' Little Daisies" (a Top Ten hit in Australia), Pure Guava found the group as snarky as ever on self-explanatory workouts like "Reggaejunkiejew," "Hey Fat Boy (A**hole)," and "Flies on My D**k"; "Springtheme" mocked love songs at their queasiest; while the climactic "Don't Get 2 Close (2 My Fantasy)" distilled the overblown excesses of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity" into an epic art rock portrait of child molestation.
Dedicated to the late comedic actor John Candy, 1994's Chocolate and Cheese -- its title a perfect summation of the duo's blend of R&B and schlock -- upped the ante yet again. Widening the net to ensnare cowboy songs ("Drifter in the Dark"), Philly soul ("Freedom of '76"), Afro-Caribbean funk ("Voodoo Lady"), and Sergio Leone -inspired spaghetti Western epics ("Buenas Tardes Amigo"), Chocolate and Cheese also featured "Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)" and "Mister Would You Please Help My Pony," two of the creepiest tales of childhood trauma ever committed to vinyl. Having taken their anything-goes aesthetic to its logical extreme, Ween took a sharp left turn for 1996's 12 Golden Country Greats, a ten-track concept album recorded in Nashville with Music City session luminaries including the Jordanaires, Bobby Ogdin, Russ Hicks, Hargus "Pig" Robbins, and Charlie McCoy. While the song titles alone -- among them "Japanese Cowboy," "Mister Richard Smoker," and "Help Me Scrape the Mucus Off My Brain" -- served notice that the group's lyrical attitude had not altered one whit, the music was remarkably evocative of Nashville's golden era, and performed with skill and affection.
A tour with Ogdin and a backing unit dubbed the S**t Creek Boys (which included steel guitarist Stuart Basore, guitarist Danny Parks, fiddler Hank Singer, and bassist Matt Kohut) followed prior to the release of 1997's The Mollusk, a concise, mock-progressive semi-concept album that proved to be one of Ween's strongest efforts. The follow-up was a double-disc concert compilation, Paintin' the Town Brown: Ween Live '90-'98, issued in 1999. In the spring of 2000, the duo resurfaced with White Pepper, their first new studio effort in three years; it peaked at 121 on the Billboard charts, their highest placing to date.
In 2001, Ween began releasing a series of live albums through their internet-based independent label, Chocodog. The first of these, Live In Toronto Canada, captured a show with the S**t Creek Boys. Around this time, the band and Elektra parted ways, and Ween was without a record label as they worked on their eighth studio album. After a wait of two years -- during which time, they released another live album, the triple-disc Live at Stubb's -- they signed with Sanctuary records in 2003, releasing Quebec in August of that year. It was the first Ween album to crack the Top 100, peaking at 81. A few months after the release of Quebec, another independent live album followed (Live By Request), and then in the spring of 2004, they released Live In Chicago, a combination DVD and CD set, on Sanctuary, heading back into the studio to work on their ninth studio album. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide