Honoring the songs
In the United Kingdom, magpies are part of superstitious lore that says if a person spots these highly intelligent birds, you should give a salute while saying "Good morning, captain" as a way of warding off negativity.
And given that this species is a subset of the crow family, it’s not surprising that Black Crowes founding member and guitarist Rich Robinson would embrace this notion when it comes to his new 10-piece project aptly named The Magpie Salute. This project was formed in the middle of a busy 2016 that found Robinson touring to support a new record (“Flux”) and the reissue of his entire solo catalog, in addition to serving a stint subbing for Mick Ralphs of Bad Company on that group’s tour.
"I was on tour last year for 'Flux,' and there was an opportunity to do a show at Woodstock for this thing called Woodstock Sessions, where they invite a live audience in to watch you cut a record. That being said, I wanted to do something different. I invited some friends, and I decided to call Marc Ford and Eddie Harsch.
"It was going to be a one-off thing, and we did 76 songs over those three days. But those guys only played on about 25 of them and that was going to be it,” he says. “We came in, it was done and then we left. That was pretty much it. But as we were leaving, we realized how special it was, and that it was something more than we had hoped. As I continued on my tour, I started trying to figure out what we could call it and what kind of songs could we play — how many Crowes songs would we play and what would this be?”
For Robinson, the idea of naming his group after a magpie led on a number of different levels to tie-ins to his former group, which officially broke up — seemingly for good — in January 2015.
"I always liked the word magpie and how crows have these incredible mystical connotations, and a lot of it tends to be dark," he says. “But they are brilliant birds and beautiful and symbolically cool. But one thing I liked about the magpie was that it really encompassed both the light and the dark. I thought it was a cousin of the crow, and there are some really cool elements to it that I thought it would fit. For the first time, I got to choose what I wanted to be a part of.
"As I was researching it, I saw that people in the UK use the term 'magpie salute' to say, ‘I’m unarmed and come in peace.’ One way people salute magpies in the UK is to say, ‘Good morning, captain,’ which is a Crowes song. I thought all these things pointed us into this direction,” Robinson says.
The Magpie Salute reunited Robinson with fellow Black Crowes alumni, including guitarist Ford, bassist Sven Pipien and late keyboardist Harsch, who passed away just before the band played its inaugural New York City shows late last year. Rounding out the lineup are vocalist John Hogg, keyboardist Matt Slocum, drummer Joe Magistro, guitarist Nico Bereciartua and a trio of background vocalists (Charity White, Adrien Reju, Katrine Ottosen).
The members of The Magpie Salute cast a wide net with the covers they chose to put on their self-titled live record. Among the artists who get their due are The Faces (“Glad and Sorry”), War (“War Drums”), jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (“Goin’ Down South”), Delaney and Bonnie (“Comin’ Home”), Bob Marley (“Time Will Tell”) and Pink Floyd (“Fearless”). Concert-goers can expect to hear sets that are half Black Crowes songs and the remainder being drawn from the Robinson and Ford catalogs, along with a healthy serving of covers.
In the album's liner notes, Robinson writes, “The Magpie Salute, and this record in particular, is about honoring the past. Honoring what we all have accomplished musically. Honoring our friendships, but perhaps more importantly building toward making a new record with all new original material. It’s about where this will go from here.”
Not unlike their peers in the Tedeschi-Trucks Band, The Magpie Salute has enough musical moving parts to make this kind of endeavor quite a challenge. But for Robinson, it’s something that’s gone quite smoothly given the players involved.
“A 10-piece band can be the best thing in the world or a nightmare. Everyone’s tendency when you’re young is to overplay and fill every hole possible. But when you have these great musicians like we have, everyone is a good enough musician and sympathetic enough to the cause to really honor the song,” Robinson says. “Because that’s all we’re really doing — we’re honoring these songs.”