The Magpie Salute in Chicago; Rich Robinson in the center.EXPAND
The Magpie Salute in Chicago; Rich Robinson in the center.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Courtesy of MSO PR

Rich Robinson Extends Black Crowes' Wingspan With a New Band of Birds

Any new band on the scene has a certain learning curve getting it together for a live show in rehearsing songs for their set list. But in less than a year of existence, the Magpie Salute might be looking to impress the teacher a little bit more than other students.

“We had a very steep leading curve – 175 different songs!” leader/guitarist Rich Robinson laughs. “It was great and shaky getting their while doing shows, but it was cool to put ourselves through the paces. The great thing to see is everyone getting comfortable and every night it gets better. And it feels like a band that’s been playing together for years. There’s an excitement there.”

As Robinson told the Houston Press earlier this year, just before the release of the Salute's self-titled debut record, the new group came out of some informal jams he had with members of his former band, the Black Crowes, that gestated into something larger.

Though not year reaching a Tedeschi Trucks Band-level of payroll stubs, the now 10-piece group includes Robinson and former Crowes Marc Ford (lead guitar) and Sven Pipien (bass). Also along are Joe Magistro (drums), Nico Bereciartua (guitar), John Hogg (lead vocalist), Michael Bellar (keyboards), sometime Crowes singer Charity White (vocals), and Adrien Reju and Katrine Ottosen (background vocals).

But it’s clear from their name, lineup, and song selection much of the Magpie Salute’s goal – at least for now – is to extend the life and wingspan of its source group. At a recent show, 11 of 20 songs were Crowes tunes, five from the solo and band catalogs or Robinson and Ford, and four covers of tunes by Little Feat, Free, Rod Stewart, and….Krautrock band Agitation Free.

That still leaves 155 songs the Salute is capable of playing on any given night. And no two nights are ever the same. Not close. Robinson says that he creates the setlist a couple of hours before sound check, so everyone has a chance to “brush up.”

“I do it based just on what it feels like that day, what it looks like,” he says. “For a Festival, we won’t go too deep. But fur a solo show, we have a lot of hardcore Crowes fans who want to hear cool songs, some that the band didn’t play very much. So it’s great to have that flexibility in the catalog.”

And in fact, the Magpie Salute is the only band keeping the catalog alive at this point. Rich’s brother Chris, from whom he had an acrimonious professional and personal split, does not play any Crowes material with his Chris Robinson Brotherhood. “Chris doesn't want to do this or without taking everyone's money. And we do.” Rich says. The pair have not spoken since 2014.

Original Crowes drummer Steve Gorman has stayed mostly out of music and has a sports-talk radio show. Longtime keyboardist Eddie Harsch was enthusiastically on board for the Magpie Salute but died unexpectedly. His last recorded work appears on the debut record.

Nevertheless, Rich Robinson is more than happy to have Ford — arguably the best Crowes guitarist of any lineup — back as his onstage guitar foil.

John Hogg and Rich Robinson onstage.EXPAND
John Hogg and Rich Robinson onstage.
Photo by John Hayhurst/Courtesy of MSO PR

“We’re both in a much better headspace now. We’re up there because we want to be. There’s not necessarily that big of an antagonist. Sometimes, dividing and conquering and those things come into play in bands, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Robinson knows his Crowes fan base, and likens their passion to those songs for what he feels hearing Bob Dylan and Neil Young. And he’s very grateful to have written songs that mean so much to people and that they have a “reverence and respect” for.

The Houston gig is part of 20 additional shows added to the current tour, and Robinson says next year will see the Magpie Salute release a double album of new, all-original material. But for now, he’s focusing on establishing this new group with an older soul to both new and old audiences. And that means gigging, gigging, gigging.

As for Houston, the city has long been a stronghold of Crowes fans, and the site of their famous February 6, 1993 gig at the Sam Houston Coliseum supporting their Southern Harmony and Musical Companion release. It was broadcast on national radio and widely bootlegged as the “High in Houston” show. (On a side note, I was there. The pre-show backstage press conference was the first time I ever saw Red Stripe beer.)

He also vividly remembers an incident that happened here on April 21, 2005 as the band opened a reunion tour at the then-named Verizon Wireless Theatre downtown.

“We were doing sound check and there was a big fire in the kitchen,” Robinson laughs. “And we all had to evacuate immediately out on the street!”

The Magpie Salute performs Friday, October 20 at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline. Doors open at 7 p.m.; tickets are $25 to $49.50.

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