Revisiting The Black Crowes’ ‘Southern Harmony and Musical Companion’

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By Jason Young

In 1992, the Black Crowes had already achieved success by the time their song “Remedy” hit the airwaves. One of the exciting new acts of the early 90s, their impressive rise with the release of their multi-platinum debut album, 1990s Shake Your Money Maker, sparked the usual record company demands for a strong follow-up.

Once again teaming up with producer George Drakoulias, the young Atlanta, Georgia, band led by lead singer Chris Robinson and younger brother and guitarist Rich, eased into their hometown’s Southern Tracks Recording Studio to record Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. Sporting a new line-up with permanent keyboardist Eddie Harsch and LA-born guitarist Marc Ford, they recorded straight to 24 track in eight days.

An ongoing association with Drakoulias, the producer and A&R executive for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings (formally Def American Recordings), had signed the band, turning them from their former REM-influenced Johnny Crowe’s Garden into the gritty rock n’ rollers, the Black Crowes.

“We were just excited to get some kind of break,” remembers Rich Robinson in a 2021 interview for Goldmine.  “We had these songs but obviously we didn’t know a ton — in fact, we didn’t know anything really but our producer George Drakoulias was really patient and cool and we learned a bit. That’s really what it was about.”

Their collaborative work with the producer on Southern Harmony would generate yet another string of hits breaking a record held previously by Tom Petty, who had three hit singles with his Full Moon Fever album.

Under Drakoulias’ guidance, the Black Crowes infused Delta blues, Aerosmith, Chuck Berry, and Humble Pie, contrasting the then-popular Seattle grunge sound. Less concerned with radio-friendly content, they unleashed music unfettered by commercialism. Despite critics holding their breath, the fans (Gen X) loved it.

“The only thing we tried not to be is formula,” stated Chris in a 1992 interview for MuchMusic. “We never wanted to be disposable. Chart success doesn’t really mean anything to me, and if you write music and its popular and people like it, that’s cool.”

In contrast, the rock n roll-inspired yet successful, Shake Your Money Maker sounded polished against the edgier Southern Harmony and Musical CompanionOpening with the raucous “Sting Me” (their second commercial hit), they abandoned the production style of their former album. “Remedy” (first commercial hit) announced their move towards a soul-rock revival while the songs “Thorn in My Pride” and “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” slowed the album to a soulful pace. Other highlights included the autobiographical-sounding “Hotel Sickness” and the angst-driven “Sometimes Salvation.

The success of the album’s four singles propelled Southern Harmony and Musical Companion to the top of the Billboard 200, making it a strong follow-up to their debut release. Much like their first single “Remedy,” “Sting me,” “Thorn in My Pride” and “Hotel Sickness,” all reached number one on the US Billboard album tracks chart. In 2005, the album was ranked number 477 in Rock Hard magazine’s book, The 500 Greatest Rock & Metal Albums of All Time. The album was featured in Guitar World magazine’s 2006 list of the greatest 100 guitar albums of all time. “Remedy,” directed by Pete Angelus was added to MTV’s exclusive video playlist ending May 2, 1992. The next month, it went into heavy rotation.

Although the band would release seven more albums, none carried the bravado Chris Robinsonof Southern Harmony. Over 30 years later, their sophomore album is hailed by many to be their finest moment, capturing an uninhibited young band at the height of their powers.

 

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