In the late 1980s, a group of five kids from Atlanta, Georgia were kicking around American rock clubs as Mr. Crowe’s Garden. They played jangly alternative rock, not too dissimilar from hometown heroes R.E.M. or what would eventually become the signature sound for Gin Blossoms. There was potential, but the lack of a distinctive sound, coupled with the ever-volatile relationship between brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, saw the band spinning its wheels for a number of years.
That was until producer George Drakoulias saw the band play in New York. Sensing that there was something to be made out of the young band, Drakoulias agreed to work with them to help hone their sound. Drakoulis kept them organised, and Mr. Crowe’s Garden began focusing on their southern twang and swaggering rock and roll sound, writing and covering songs that fit this more distinctive direction.
By the time 1989 rolled around, the band and Drakoulias had recorded a full album and decided on a new name, The Black Crowes. The recordings were shopped around to different labels, where they eventually landed in the hands of Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Records. Rubin had recently started Def American Records, which was less focused on hip hop and more amicable to a band like The Black Crowes. However, the contract that was offered was less than ideal.
“We had made the entire record before we ever signed our deal,” drummer Steve Gorman recalled during the band’s appearance on VH1’s Behind the Music. “I think we actually signed a contract to do Rick Rubin’s laundry, actually is what it said. We didn’t read it. ‘Hey, it’s a record deal!’ Someone in Atlanta said sign, we said ‘Great!’ I did whites and colours and I waxed his car, I think is what I was legally signed up to do.”
The relationship between Rubin and The Black Crowes apparently soured almost immediately when Rubin suggested the band change their name to the Kobb Kounty Krowes. The band were insulted by the connection to the Ku Klux Klan and maintained that Rubin had no part in the recording for Shake Your Money Maker. However, after the album achieved platinum success, Rubin began to include his name in the credits as an “Executive Producer” on subsequent pressings.
“This will tell you where our relationship started and where it ended with American Records: if anyone owns a copy of Shake Your Money Maker, on the first million pressings of that, Rick’s name is not on it,” Chris Robinson explained. “After we sold our first million records, he put on the top, ‘Executive Producer: Rick Rubin.’ Nice.” The Black Crowes would release three more albums on American Records before jumping to Columbia Records in 1999.
See The Black Crowes discussing the feud on Behind the Music down below.