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Songwriter Spotlight: Rich Robinson

Issue #62

The Magpie Salute first took flight in 2016 when Robinson assembled the original ten-piece incarnation for a now seminal Woodstock gig. The group went on to sell out four consecutive nights at The Gramercy in January 2017 chronicled with a historic Guitar Player cover featuring the two six-stringers.
Jonathan Graham

 Songwriter Spotlight: Rich Robinson

In 2015, Rich Robinson made it official: The Black Crowes, which he and his brother Chris had founded some 20 years earlier, were calling it quits. However, this has not slowed Robinson down in the slightest when it comes to new music, with a new solo release and debut record from his new collective, The Magpie Salute. In this issue's Guitar Interactive Songwriter Spotlight, we talk to the man himself.

Old friends pass through our lives similar to characters in a time-worn, dog-eared novel.  As we page through life, they return to walk alongside us on bold new adventures at all the right moments. Such is the story of The Magpie Salute. For as much as the group represents a musical union of swaggering rock ‘n’ roll, psychedelic blues, and campfire-worthy storytelling, it also marks a reunion of musicians whose paths twisted and turned right back to each other.

Pulled together by guitarist Rich Robinson, it continued a storyline he began in the Black Crowes with guitarist Marc Ford and bassist Sven Pipien. Meanwhile, vocalist John Hogg shared Hookah Brown with Robinson as keyboardist Matt Slocum and drummer Joe Magistro both joined him for solo records and tours over the years.

Now, these six individuals conjure magic on their full-length debut of original material, 'High Water I' released on August 10th 2018 with the promise of 'High Water II' to come in 2019.

 “It’s the recontextualization of playing with one another,” Robinson states. “When I was putting this thing together, I was thinking about how even though we may not have played for almost a decade, it just comes back immediately. The chemistry is unexplainable. Of course, I’m the same guy who played with the Black Crowes and wrote all of those songs, but this is a different context for myself, Marc, and Sven. It’s the convergence of three different worlds and eras for me. We’re all here together in this one place. Simultaneously, it’s amazing for Marc and Sven to play with Joe and Matt and John to be in the middle of it all. For me, that was really cool to witness. This is what I wanted to do.”

The Magpie Salute first took flight in 2016 when Robinson assembled the original ten-piece incarnation for a now seminal Woodstock gig. The group went on to sell out four consecutive nights at The Gramercy in January 2017 chronicled with a historic Guitar Player cover featuring the two six-stringers. By the top of 2018, the band delivered a total of 77 seismic sets worldwide comprised of a 170-song repertoire of covers, Crowes’ tunes, and solo material. Acclaim came from Guitar World, Relix, and more, while Rolling Stone summed it up succinctly as “Explosive.” They unveiled their debut, The Magpie Salute (Live), topped off by one original “Omission.” By the time they retreated to Dark Horse Studios in Nashville with Robinson in the producer’s chair, the vision crystallized with the six-person lineup.

'High Water I' with “Send Me An Omen.” The twang of a hummable riff roars under Hogg’s towering delivery before spiralling into an entrancing melody punctuated by gang harmonies and butter smooth solos.

“It’s a rock ‘n’ roll song,” asserts Robinson. “It’s about a relationship that’s not working. By the time it gets to the chorus, there’s a happier singalong juxtaposed to John’s lyrics. I enjoy messing around with songs that toe the line between dark and light.”

“Mary The Gypsy” charges ahead on bombastic drums and thick guitars that give way to an anti-establishment chant. “It’s a charge to get rid of this false positive corporate mentality of cynically looking at creators,” sighs Robinson. “It’s the same thing it’s always been. Bankers are running this industry and trying to tell artists how to make money. Why not just create what comes naturally to you?”

A rustle of acoustic strumming opens the floodgates on “High Water” as the vocal vulnerability underscores unrest teeming just beneath the surface. “It touches on the whole overarching theme of the record,” Robinson goes on. “It’s discussing humanity and everything we’re going through.”

Elsewhere, the plaintive and poignant “Colorblind” details a perspective on growing up of mixed African and Swedish descent. while the slow burn of drums and string plucks swings towards a dramatic close on the sparse, yet soulful “Open Up.”

“That one looks inward,” Robinson explains. “Think of someone who has been closed off for an entire lifetime. This person inhabits one place. Finally, the world opens up. It’s a cool ending.”

In many ways, the name reflects the spirit of The Magpie Salute.

“I’ve always loved the element of crows, but they have a dark connotation,” Robinson elaborates. “Magpies are revered by ancient and indigenous cultures around the world because they walk that bridge between dark and light. A magpie is also a cousin to a crow. This band was a cousin to the Crowes last year. Now, there’s a superstition where you salute a magpie if you see him. It supposedly wards off bad spirits. A salute means, ‘We come in peace.’ That’s our goal. We just want to play together. It made sense.”

In the end, The Magpie Salute’s story is just beginning to get good.

“I want people to realize it’s something different and also a little familiar,” Robinson leaves off. “I hope they can connect it to the records that defined their lives. Music is there to give us joy, perspective, and show angles we haven’t seen before. I appreciate it more than ever. It’s a gift.”

Gi: What first inspired you to learn to play the guitar / write a song?

RR: Growing up in a musical household with my father who was a musician. Being around music all the time. Looking at my dad’s appreciation for music made me have an appreciation for it, and made me want to create it.

Gi: When you compose a song, how important do you think it is to write for an intended audience?

RR: I don’t think you can write for an intended audience. I think it’s insincere if you write for an intended audience. The only way to write authentic sincere music is to write music that you like and that sort of speaks from your heart and from your experience. I think trying to write a Hit or trying to write a song is ingenious and I’m not interested in it.

Gi: Have you ever studied songwriting formally?

RR: No, I didn’t know you can, but I wouldn’t anyway.

Gi: What’s the worst advice you ever received regarding your songwriting?

RR: I’ve never asked for advice on songwriting. I write what I like, and I write what I feel. I’ve always done it this way.

Gi: How do you know when your song is done and time to stop revising it?

RR: Half of the songwriting process is knowing when to finish. And there’s a gut feeling that I get when I know the song is done. And I think that it’s easy to overthink things but you just kind of have to be honest with yourself.

Gi: Could you us about your favourite piece of gear right now?

RR: I got this really cool flashlight, that burns really bright and I’ve been carrying it around with me and its great. It’s my favourite piece of gear right now.

Gi: What's your musical guilty pleasure?

RR: I don’t have a guilty pleasure. If I like something I’ll admit it.

The Magpie Salute released their debut studio album 'High Water 1' on August 10, 2018 via Provogue/Mascot Label Group.

  1. Mary The Gypsy
  2. High Water
  3. Send Me An Omen
  4. For The Wind
  5. Sister Moon
  6. Color Blind
  7. Take It All
  8. Walk On Water
  9. Hand In Hand
  10. You Found Me
  11. Can You See
  12. Open Up

For more information on The Magpie Salute, please visit:


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