"Here's To You Mr. Robinsons": Matty Meets His Musical Heroes

October 26, 2017

“Here’s To You Mr. Robinsons…”

They say never meet your heroes.  But “they” probably had crappy heroes.  Because on three humid summer nights in Boston I met mines…and it was GD glorious.

Before you judge me too harshly for the fanboy tale I’m about to share…ask yourself what it would mean to meet YOUR hero.  If you were able to toss the pigskin with say…Tom Brady and then sit with him for 30 minutes, how nervous would you be? What would ask him?

I was able to live out the musical equivalent of that Brady-Boner when I recently met the founders of the Black Crowes, Chris & Rich Robinson.  Chris was the front man for the Crowes, who still sings with so much soul that his voice should be classified as a tax-exempt religion & Tom Cruise should worship it.   Then there’s Rich: the golden-haired guitar God, the American Keith Richards, Youngest Son of House Robinson, Writer of Riffs, Slayer of Dragons, Breaker of Musical Chains—Sorry. I get a little Throne-y sometimes.

My musical heroes happen to be brothers who happen to not speak to each other who happened to be coming through the same city where I happen to be on the radio & I happened to freak out when I realized all of this was…happening. 

So I leapt into action and sent our producer Stan out Crowe hunting.  Sure our Dear Producer loves chewing the occasional toenail but he also loves tackling the occasional challenge. After weeks of hard work, Stan secured the Rich connection.  Chris was a little harder to get and to make a blog story short…thanks to a hook up through the great Mike Hsu & his buddy Ben Caplin (thanks Mike & BEN!) we were able to get Chris as well. We had done it!  I was going to meet them. Not just one, BOTH!  I got Bono AND the Edge! Larry AND Magic! Tango AND Cash…  I would phone-interview Rich first, then get to meet him backstage after his band “The Magpie Salute” rocked The Wilbur.  A few weeks later, I’d meet and interview Chris before his band “The Chris Robinson Brotherhood” played the House Of Blues.  

 “Bring, on, Bring on” indeed!


“Who Killed That Light Up On Your Window Sill”

The Magpie Salute came to Boston to rock and chew gum and they were all out of gum that night at the Wilbur.  A small group of us from the station were at the concert.  I spent the show annoying them by being that super-fan you’ve sat next to at concerts. Continually pointing out that Marc Ford is the greatest guitarist on the planet.  Fawning over Rich.  Yup.  I was “that guy”, guilty as charged and I make no apologies.  It was a soul-cleansing, glorious night of ROCK & ROLL!  After the show Stan & I made our way backstage to meet Rich.  My heart was pounding and I was over-stimulated.  I had been screaming, singing and basking in the glory of this music that has moved me so deeply for so long.  After carrying on in the sweat box that was the Wilbur that night my voice was gone and I looked and smelled like I had just done a few hours in a sauna while drinking a new type of Gatorade called “Harpoon IPA’s”.  As a result, I was JUST about to step outside to cool off and calm down when I heard:

“Matty, Rich is available if you’re ready.”

The voice was that of the band’s super-sweet tour manager Martina.  I tried to act calm while following her through a very Spinal Tap “Hello Cleveland” maze of hallways.  Finally we rounded a corner and there at the top of a small set of stairs…stood Rich fucking Robinson. 

And he was smiling at me.



On a young Matty Blake.  It’s the early 90’s and I’m sitting in my soon-to-be EX-girlfriends dorm room.  She had just informed me that we were about to go through the long, slow, painful process of “Taking Some Time Apart” which I eventually came to learn could also be called “She’s Been Secretly Banging Another Guy”.  I was beyond devastated. I was barely on solid foods. And the only music that seemed to be wafting through the halls in those days was bad 90’s rap, bad 90’s grundge & bad 90’s pop.  Those weren’t working for me.  But on that day in that room, MTV played a video.  Remember when they did that?  It was “Remedy” by the Crowes.  I literally stood up from my chair. “What is this…?” In that video, the band is in an empty studio and playing like they had been stars forever.  And then there was RICH.  Wearing a red crushed velvet bell-bottom suit, nonchalantly crushing that killer riff, playing his guitar like he invented the form.  When Chris started jumping around and singing…I was done as I had once existed.  From then on it was all-Crowes-all-the-time for young broken-hearted Matty. I lost my girlfriend but gained a new companion, “The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion” to be precise, an album I still consider to be the greatest sophomore-effort in rock history. In a landscape of flannel and do-rags, nobody looked like the Crowes in their thrift shop 60’s psychedelic clothes.  Nobody sang like Chris.  And nobody played chewy riffs like Rich. They had everything I wanted but didn’t possess: tons of talent, courage of their artistic convictions...and great hair.  They were fucking rock and roll pirates. I was a self-conscious pleaser with a bit of an inferiority complex.  They saved me…put a bit of swagger back in my step.  I knew I could never be like them, but knowing they existed gave me hope.


And now here was Rich, smiling AT ME as I made my way up the stairs. How could I tell him all of this? How could I communicate everything I wanted to say?  He greeted me warmly. I think I asked him how the tour was going or some inane bullshit.  Some of you reading this might understand when I say, I was actually fighting back tears for the first few seconds.  But I quickly swallowed that down and the meet was kind of going well!  So, in an effort to try and further relax into the conversation, I nonchalantly leaned against the wall. Actually, I leaned against the light switch….aaaaaand turned off all the lights in the room.   Everyone turned, needing to confirm that it wasn’t some kind of power surge by a terrorist group, just the sweaty-forty-something-fan-boy in the corner.

There’s no coming back from that. 

I would try to redeem myself a few nights later after the Magpie show in New Bedford.  Martina was so nice & went out of her way to make sure I got to see Rich again by bringing me out to his tour bus. And I think I blew it again.  After another mealy-mouthed, nervous ramble-on from me to poor Rich… I went in for the bro-hug.  “AWKWARD, party of 2?  Your table is ready”.  I hadn’t achieved bro-hug status. I haven’t even achieved fist-bump status.  I did manage to thank him for his music and his art, let him know he has an open door on Matty & Nick and that I’ll do whatever I can to help his band.  Despite ME he seemed honestly appreciative and was very, very nice and super accommodating.  He’s a great guy.  We’ll always have the phone interview.  At least I didn’t F that up.  

You can hear that HERE


“California (Oh-My-God-It’s) Hymn”

I sat with Chris Robinson in a private room at the House of Blues for what was supposed to be a 10-minute interview.  It lasted 30.  It went way longer than I had thought…kinda like this blog!  I could end up a birthday clown at children’s parties and I’d still call my career a success because I got to have a fireside chat with my musical idol.  Chris’ voice lyrics & stage presence are…if I may paraphrase Buddy The Elf… “MY FAVORITE”.  Of anyone, all time.   His music always cures what ails me & always enhances the good times.  As Chris himself put it in a recent interview, we turn to music at weddings and funerals, our highs and lows.  Over the years I’ve spent more hours than I’d care to admit watching videos of Chris singing. I study them like the Zapruder film.  He holds the mic back and to the left…back and to the left.”  I will put all those hours to unintentionally horrifying use in my new cover band, THE BLAKE CROWES. 

His music has guided and mirrored each stage of my adult life.  The unpredictable mayhem of my 20’s was reflected in records like Southern Harmony and Amorica.  You can imagine during my college breakup that lyrics like “To lessen my troubles/ I stopped hanging out with vultures/ And empty saviors like you” were savored like a fine wine, or a cheap beer as was the case in those days.  In my 30’s I married someone that actually loved me (a novel concept which I highly recommend if you are so inclined!) and records like “By Your Side” along with Chris’ solo material were the perfect companion for that stage of my life.   The later Crowes records were yet again the perfect emotional reflection of what I was living in my late 30’s & early 40’s.  Chris seemed to be exploring land beyond the fertile space of his own head, like I was.  There seemed to be an abiding and growing peace behind it all and a feeling of (God fobid) being comfortable in your own skin that often comes with age.  Unfortunately, that peace did not reflect the relationship between the two creators of the music itself.  Chris’ current creation, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is once again in perfect sync with my life as currently constructed.  The California sound mixed with the country alt rock I love so much is put bluntly, appropriate for my age.  

I brought all this up to him during our rather lengthy interview but he actually rejected my theory that at 50 years old, he may be starting to write a bit more personally as opposed to the ambiguously dreamy druggy themes of the past.  But lyrics like “Let my children see my dreams they are intertwined with mine it seems” indicate that (maybe even subconsciously?) he’s once again thinking about the same stuff as I am these days:  being a husband, a father and approaching old-man status faster than you ever thought.  

Yup, sitting with Chris Robinson I had to choke down tears again.  I also had to keep mentally pinching myself as I wondered if this was some kind of contact-high drug trip I was having.  I kept waiting for his head to turn into a blackberry and then I’d wake up in my office with a Crowes record playing and Stan telling me we couldn’t get the interview after-all.  I couldn’t believe how this dream had become manifest.  Sure I wanted to tell him so much more and yeah, I had grand designs of where the interview could have gone.  I had to suppress my desire to geek out with a bunch of obscure references that only mega-fans would appreciate.  But I felt like I had to cast a bit of a wider net.  Let some new fans possibly get in the tent.  I’m a fairly earnest person so I felt a need to keep myself calm…but maybe I played it TOO cool..?  There were certainly a million more things I wanted to say and I wish I made him laugh a bit more.  But I decided to follow his lead and let his brilliant mind guide me down the river.  When the interview was over Stan & I were able to watch the band rehearse to an audience of JUST US.  When Chris asked ME if I was ready for him to play,

“You good..?”

it was like the Pope asking me 

“Hey, you cool if I just say a couple prayers?”  

When Chris and the brilliant Neal Casal launched into their close-harmonies in that empty House Of Blues..it was a moment I’ll carry with me for life.

In the end I think he dug me a bit and realized I meant him no harm.  In fact, I think he appreciates real fans…not of him per se…but real MUSIC fans!  He knew I was the real-deal on that score and it created an easy dialogue.  The man who has been the vanguard of my post-adolescent emotional life knows who I am and dare I say…maybe even enjoyed chatting with me.  Basically what I’m saying is yeah me and Chris Robinson are besties now.

You can decide for yourself HERE:

And so ends what may conceivably be the longest blog ever.  Although in truth the story ain’t really over.  We are working on getting Chris and Rich to come play live on our show when they’re back around town, separately of course.  I suppose this is the right time to confess: I have grand designs on being The Great Crowe Unifier. I hope to host the first and last Robinson Brotherhood Summit and stop this madness once and for all.  I hate that two artists I love so much…nah nevermind that…two BROTHERS…don’t even speak.  I shall bring them together and they shall then dedicate their next record to me and we’ll all move into a hippie commune together somewhere in presumably Northern California. 

If not…I’ll always have the 3 humid nights in Boston.  


Matty Blake