BLACK STONE CHERRY – “Let’s Just Slam All Night Long”

June 21, 2022, 12 months ago

By Aaron Small

feature hard rock black stone cherry

BLACK STONE CHERRY – “Let’s Just Slam All Night Long”

“That was a gig we had been waiting to do for a long time; it was about two years in the making,” says Black Stone Cherry vocalist / guitarist Chris Robertson, talking about his band’s show at The Royal Albert Hall in London, England on September 29, 2021. “It was booked, and then got rescheduled with the pandemic. It’s one of those venues we’ve been trying to play ever since we set foot on English soil. We said, ‘We’re going to play The Albert Hall one day.’ And it finally happened. We had to get it on film when it did, that way everybody would believe us.”

Superb doesn’t even begin to describe Black Stone Cherry’s performance that will be released on Blu-Ray/CD, vinyl and digital formats on June 24th via Mascot Records. With a running time of just under two hours, Live From The Royal Albert Hall… Y’ All! features 18 songs, as well as a drum solo. For those in North America who may not understand the significance of The Royal Albert Hall in England, Chris explains the historical importance of that venue. “It’s basically where the Royal Family has a lot of their gatherings and stuff. The Royal Family uses it for certain events, and they only really have a handful of rock ‘n roll concerts a year. Throughout history, when you look back at who’s played the place, it’s Hendrix and all the iconic rock ‘n roll bands. To get to play in a venue like that where it’s so prestigious – everything has to be approved by the venue. It’s not like just rolling up to any arena where they have hockey or basketball and are constantly changing through the sports worlds. You’re showing up to this place where they do Royal things. It’s pretty mind-blowing that we actually got to go do it, to be honest with you. It’s one of those ‘We’re not worthy’ moments.”

Right at the beginning of the Blu-Ray, there’s a clip of Chris sitting on the stage inside The Royal Albert Hall. Viewers certainly feel the heaviness of it all, as that was Robertson’s very first time inside the storied venue. “Yeah, man. We never had a chance to get to go to the place, to go inside and check it out or anything. To have that opportunity… honestly, just walking through the doors of the place. You’re kind of like, where is everything? Then all at once, you’re in this corridor and you’re on the stage. It completely knocks the wind out of you. Holy hell, I didn’t expect this! To see it on video is one thing, but standing in that room in person is a really different experience. It was absolutely incredible! I was very fortunate, my wife got to come over and hang out at that show and see it. To have her there with me made it even better.”

Live From The Royal Albert Hall… Y’ All is the first release from Black Stone Cherry with new bassist, Steve Jewell Jr. Just to clarify, Steve is a full-fledged member of BSC, he’s not a touring musician. “He’s the guy, man. He’s our dude! I introduce Steve as the newest member every night,” states Chris.

Previous Black Stone Cherry bassist, Jon Lawhon, left the band in 2021 for personal reasons. “Yeah, man. So, basically, we found out Jon had things come up. It was very last minute. Originally, Steve was just filling in for three shows. Then with everything, the way the world worked out, Jon decided to go his own way. We literally found out about four hours before we were leaving one night that Jon wasn’t going to be able to do a couple of shows with us because of a family thing. We’ve had stuff like that happen before, but the first thought that ran through my mind was, who could I call to play guitar for me if I fell and broke my arm? It was Steve. He’s been a friend of ours as long as I can remember. Before my dad passed away, my dad and Steve’s dad were in a band together. Steve was in an incredible blues band called Otis. He’s an incredible human being and incredible musician. I called Steve and said, ‘How good a bass player are you?’ He said, ‘Alright, I reckon.’ I said, ‘Man, we need somebody to play bass for the next three shows. Can you come? John (Fred Young – drummer) is going to teach you all the parts.’ Sure enough, Steve came in and he’s been with us ever since. The world works out mysteriously for everybody, man. And I wish nothing but the best for everybody. I’ll leave it at that.”

Fortunately, it was a smooth transition between bassists. Stories of bands trying to find a new member, spending months going through countless audition videos, are all too plentiful; but that wasn’t the case with Black Stone Cherry. “Hell no, wasn’t going to be any of that with us. Wasn’t going to be a damn bit of that with us. We’ve very fortunate that we have a really amazing group of friends back home (in Kentucky). And I’m not just saying that because of where we’re from. There’s something in the water where we’re from back home with musicians. We all bleed and breathe and digest music the same way. Even though Steve was coming from more of a blues world, when he picked up, he locked right in with the riffs and just fell right into place like we never missed a beat. Steve’s like my second little brother, he’s been that way for a long time. Even when Otis were going and they toured with us in Europe, whether they wanted me to or not, I always looked out for them like a big brother. It wasn’t because they weren’t capable, it’s just because it’s what you do where we’re from. You look out for the people around you that are doing things for the first time. With a band that’s been together 20 years, and you have a guy decide that it’d be best for him and his family if he parted ways, it can be devastating. It really could. But for us, we’ve been able to take that and turn it into a new lease really, and everyone’s doing great.”

The cover art for Live From The Royal Albert Hall… Y’ All has so much to look at. Obviously, there’s a drawing of the iconic venue itself, but it also includes numerous other eye-catching elements. The BSC logo looks like the Bat Signal, King Kong is climbing Big Ben, there’s a dinosaur selling ice cream, a rat rod with flames on the side, and a green alien. “For us, we absolutely adored all those crazy ass album covers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, where it was just the most random bunch of stuff, but it all kind of made sense together,” admits Chris. “You look at it like, what the actual hell is this? Then, when you look at it again, you’re like, I don’t know, but I like it. The first time you look at it, you’re kind of taken aback. Then, it’s kind of cool. Steve is super into aliens, so there’s the alien thing. The rat rod thing is kind of John Fred. Ben would be King Kong climbing the tower, cause he’s all over the place. And I’d be Godzilla selling ice cream. We all just kind of started throwing out random things that we wanted - the deer on top of Albert Hall. When we sit and envision stuff, we go, ‘what would be really cool?’ Not really cool as a whole picture necessarily, but what would be really cool to each one of us to add to that? Then we try to figure out a way to work it in.”

Guitarist Ben Wells is all over the place. He has so much energy on stage, and it lasts throughout the whole show! It’s not just for the first couple of songs. He’s running side to side, back and forth, doing windmills and headbanging all night long. “When we’re home, I get my kids on the bus to school, and I’ve got to relax until about nine or ten in the morning,” reveals Chris. “Then I’ll do whatever I need to do around the house, cause my wife’s a nurse and she works all the time. Ben gets up in the morning and runs five miles before 10 am. The guy is a beast! He’s a damn beast. Him and Steve work out like it’s all they got to do. But I love that. It’s so awesome to see that those dudes are that dedicated. I tell Ben, ‘My big ass would pass out if I tried to run around like you do.’”

The “Island Jam” that is part of the song “In My Blood” is reminiscent of when Guns N’ Roses would do their reggae version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”. “For me, I am a massive, massive Bob Marley fan,” begins Chris. “I went through a very, very serious mental health battle, about ten or eleven years ago now. One of the biggest things that got me through it was music; but more importantly, Bob Marley’s music. It just made me fall in love with reggae. The whole band, we’ve always been huge reggae fans. Even if you jump back to 2008 on Folklore And Superstition, which is way beyond a lot of people’s radar for our band. It was our second record and there’s a song on there called ‘Sunrise’. The entire chorus is reggae. The whole chorus of that song breaks down to reggae. We’ve done stuff like that off and on for years. Obviously, Guns N’ Roses doing it in a rock ‘n roll song, you hear it and, damn, that was awesome! But for us, we’re also big Gov’t Mule fans, and they do a lot of jamming. I have to give credit where it’s due. We got to tour with Gov’t Mule a few years ago, and watching how they would go out of a song into a jam, and then back into a variation of that same song, was really inspiring. And it inspired us to do some of that too. One night, off the cuff… when we used to do ‘In My Blood’, I would play and sing the chorus, just with a quieter guitar and let the crowd sing with me. Then we got to jamming one night, and just went into that reggae guitar part that I started with, and we were off to the races. We’ve been there ever since; it’s a lot of fun to do.”

Crowd involvement is crucial to the success of any gig. Royal Albert Hall seats 5,272 people; yet they’re singing like it’s 10,000 strong. Everybody in the audience is a die-hard fan. “And I have to say, the world went through an insane amount of sh*t the last couple of years. When we did that tour, when we landed, we didn’t know until we got our Covid tests after we landed if the tour could even happen. Once we got those tests, we were on. By the grace of God, we made it through that entire tour without anybody getting sick; nobody even got a bad head cold,” recalls Chris. “It was a month-long tour, and what we noticed with the people that came out to those shows – the guys from Live Nation told us we were one of the first bands to go do a full-blown tour, start to finish, in The UK since the pandemic. When we went over there, you could tell that in every bit of the show. From the minute the lights went dark, they were singing every single word every night. It’s crazy man. We do a song on there called ‘Yeah Man’ that was a B-side off of Folklore And Superstition in 2008 on the deluxe edition. And the whole damn crowd sings it with us. We connected over there on a different kind of level than we’ve been able to anywhere else. And hey man, it’s cool with me. As long as we can make a living somewhere else, I’m fine with it. As long as I can still play music for a living, and do it, that’s where we’re at. That’s all we know. I don’t know anything else. I didn’t create a backup plan. It was this or bust.”

The inclusion of “Yeah Man” in the set did come as a surprise. “That’s a song… it’s crazy. They actually ended up releasing that song as a single in The UK, and it did really well. And it’s got two words in the chorus! But the video was live at Download; it was really cool man. It was a lot of fun. It’s just, we like to play stuff from all the records, and we tried to make sure we did that on the DVD, the live performance if you will. We tried to make sure that we encompassed everything. The only thing we didn’t get to get in there was some of the bluesy pieces. But it was one of those tours where it’s like, we finally get to go back and do this for the first time in so long, let’s just slam all night long.”

Black Stone Cherry has been around for 20 years. In that time, they’ve released seven studio albums. There’s a scene on the Live From The Royal Albert Hall… Y’ All! Blu-ray where Chris addresses the crowd, “It’s been the most amazing f*cking tour Black Stone Cherry has ever got to be a part of!” That’s quite the statement! “Man, I got chills just hearing you repeat what I said. Honest to God, that’s no lie. And it was. I went through the two, three worst years of my life, and that includes when I had a very serious mental health battle. In 2019, I lost my mother-in-law, who was just an angel to me. Then last June, I lost my dad. It was completely devastating. I still don’t make heads or tails of a lot of days to be completely honest with you. But doing that tour was the most spiritual thing I’ve ever got to do musically in my life, because there were so many people there. And the very first night of the tour, I didn’t have it in me. I couldn’t muster up the courage or the nerve to try to do ‘Things My Father Said’, cause I hadn’t sang it since my dad died. For the second night of the tour, I said, you know what, I’m going to try. I’m going to give this a shot. And I broke down. It’s on my Instagram, if anybody wanted to see the video. Mike (Rodway), who was out with us and actually directed and filmed the DVD, grabbed his camera that night, set up a couple cameras, and got a video for me of the first time doing it. I had no idea they were doing that. But the way the crowd carried me when I couldn’t get through the song… and the way the crowd proceeded to do that every single night. The way they showed up with a heart full of happiness and excitement. After late 2019, and June of last year, as heartbreaking a time as it was for me and my family… touring The UK was something that pulled me, helped me get hold of a string to hold onto in the darkest time I’ve ever been through. That’s why for me, that’s one of the most amazing things we’ve ever done. It was more than just music at a concert, and a crowd and a band working together. I don’t know how to explain it, I really don’t. But I know that every single night of that tour was something truly magical that, if I could bottle it up and just spread that out to people, the world would be a whole hell of a lot better place.”

Robertson’s emotion on stage, and subsequently on screen, is so real. It’s such a stirring performance. “I attribute everything back to my dad. He always instilled in me, anything worth doing is worth doing right, and doing in an honest way. I don’t try to put on any kind of front. I don’t try to come up with a spiel to say to the crowd. I literally say to the crowd, ‘I wish I had some cool rock star shit to say.’ But I am who I am, and we just play rock ‘n roll. I’ve never been a theatrical guy, or any of that stuff. If I’m happy, I’m happy. And if I’m sad, I’m sad. For better or worse, that’s been me my whole life. It is what it is… some days it’s a hinderance. I’m not the kind of person that can fake a smile if I’m having a shit day. I’ve never been able to.”

“Soulcreek” is a show-ending performance, but it comes at the halfway point of the set. The amount of energy left on stage, it could easily be, “Thank you, goodnight.” But oh no, Black Stone Cherry has a whole lot more in store. “That song, and ‘Devil’s Queen’ back to back are always fun. We do ‘em that way because of tuning, but it just works out – it’s awesome. I remember when we played it for our A&R guy. He came down to the studio and we were recording vocals, he about flipped backwards out of his chair. It’s one of those songs that works really well with a really good crowd. Cause when you get the crowd singing along with you on a song like that… it’s kind of high in the register, for the singing voice of a guy, anyway. It sounds huge when the whole crowd sings it. When you’re on stage and you hear that roar coming at you, it just feeds you.”

Going back a little bit, in 2007 Black Stone Cherry issued the limited edition, Live At The Astoria, recorded in London, England. In 2015, there was Thank You Livin’ Live from Birmingham, England. Now, in 2022, we have Live From The Royal Albert Hall… Y’All! in London, England. Undoubtedly there will be a fourth live release a few years from now, it’s got to be captured somewhere other than The UK. “Well, if we can get the rest of the world to show up to the shows like The UK does, I promise you we’ll film a show somewhere else. Honestly man, we’ve always wanted to film one of our… every couple of years, we do a couple of shows in our hometown area, and we donate a big portion of everything to local charities, animal shelters, the boys and girls club. We do those every couple of years, and those are shows that feel like those shows overseas. People literally come from overseas and all over The United States to see these shows; our mega fans unite at these two shows every couple of years, and it’s absolutely just insane! It’s all for a great cause. We keep the tickets down to like $25. We’re the only band that plays. We play about a two-hour show each night, and it’s a really good time. Hopefully one day, we can film both nights of that, and put together one hellacious live record.”

In closing, Chris shares what he’s able to about a new Black Stone Cherry studio album, that would presumably come out in 2023. “Man, you hit the nail on the head. It’s got to happen sooner than later. That’s all I can really say. We’ve got some big stuff lined up for the beginning of next year, and obviously, we’d like to have a new song or two at least by then. For now, we’re seeing how ‘Ringin’ In My Head’ does while we’re on tour. We’re always writing songs.”

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