Chris Robinson hopes no one takes lightly the fact that the namesake of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s new “Betty’s S.F. Blends, Volume One,” is none other than Betty Cantor-Jackson, the longtime and legendary producer and engineer for the Grateful Dead.
“It’s very special when somebody says, ‘I haven’t wanted to record a group since Jerry (Garcia) passed,” notes Robinson, who fronts the CRB alongside his other, and older, band the Black Crowes. “Coming from someone who was an integral part of Jerry’s recording life, what do you say to that? ‘Yeah, OK, whatever you want, Betty.’ That’s kind of how the project came about.”
The four-disc “Betty’s S.F. Blends” set, being released Nov. 26 on limited-edition vinyl and digital download, features 19 songs culled from the 96 played during the CRB’s five-show stand during December 2012 at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. The set combines tracks from the two studio albums with songs from Robinson’s 2004 solo album “This Magnificent Distance,” the Black Crowes rarities “Roll Old Jeremiah” and “Tornado” and some covers, including Bob Dylan’s “Crash on the Levee (Down in the Flood)” and Blue Cheer’s “Hello L.A., Bye Bye Birmingham.” It also features artwork by Alan Forbes, a 12-page booklet with photos by guitarist Neal Casal and liner notes by Howlin’ Rain guitarist Ethan Miller.
Robinson says the association with Cantor-Jackson began during the CRB’s 2011 residence in San Francisco.
“She came over and stuck her hand out and said, ‘Hey, I’m Betty Cantor. You don’t know this, but I’m gonna record your band every time you come to San Francisco.’ I said, ‘Well, I known now and that would be fucking amazing.’ That’s kind of how it started. If I’m going to put her name on it, I really wanted her to be in charge. It was funny, ’cause during the first year in San Francisco, Phil (Lesh) came and sat in with us one of the nights, and he said, ‘Is that Betty Cantor I see?’ And I said, ‘It is,’ and he gives me his Professor Lesh look and goes, ‘Still the best ears in the business.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m with you, man. That’s why she’s recording my band!'”
“Betty’s S.F. Blends” is the start of a busy year ahead for CRB after being on ice while Robinson and keyboardist Adam MacDougall were on the road with the Black Crowes. The group returns to the studio later this month to continue working on its third album, to be titled “The Phosphorescent Harvest” and out at the end of April. Robinson says he and Casal have 13-14 originals ready and will record some covers, with 10 or 11 making the final cut.
“The songs are longer than most bands, but we wanted to be a little more conventional in terms of size,” he notes. “It’s a little less sprawling than the first (two) records; I don’t think we’ve reinvented the wheel for ourselves, but I think the songs are really strong, and production-wise I feel it’s a little snappier, maybe. I dare say there might be a little more rock ‘n’ roll elements to it, but it’s still covered in a cosmic glaze of distorted perceptions and inner beauty, if you will.”
The CRB is planning to be on the road from late April through the end of 2014, when it will be back in San Francisco — where the Black Crowes finish their year on Dec. 14 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Robinson and his brother, guitarist Rich Robinson, lost their father Stan in September, and the Crowes are planning to take time off without any solid plans for what’s next.
“I don’t see us getting any new music out right now. I don’t see that happening,” Robinson says. “I put off the CRB for a little more than a year to do this, so my energy now and focus is getting poured into that.”
But with the Crowes’ 25th anniversary looming in 2015, Robinson says that, “It’d be nice to get out there and do something. We’ll see. That’s something we’ll probably address once we get away from it for a little while and take the holidays with our families. Then we’ll start talking about it and see what we want to do.”