Bassist Andy Hess Talks New Band As The Crow Flies & More
Welcome to another edition of The Art Of The Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. (For more, check out a full archive of more than 60 The Art Of The Sit-In features here.).
As The Crow Flies is a new band, but one with a lot of familiar faces ready to play very familiar music. The supergroup, born of Chris Robinson’s desire to belt out The Black Crowes songs again — and who can blame him? — will kick off a tour tomorrow night, Tuesday, April 17, in Port Chester, New York that, given the personnel involved, almost can’t help but be a good time.
As The Crow Flies brings Robinson and two of his Chris Robinson Brotherhood mates, Tony Leone and Adam MacDougall, together with two old friends from the early-2000s era of The Crowes: Audley Freed and Andy Hess. Into that mix also comes mighty upstart Marcus King to complete what’s unquestionably a band of aces.
Count Hess among the excited, although, when you’ve got Andy Hess as your bass player, you’re already doing something right before a single note gets played.
Brooklyn-based Hess is an oft-sought-after talent and a truly protean musician, having played with everyone from Steve Kimock and John Scofield to Rosanne Cash and Joan Osborne. He’s perhaps best known in our scene for the five-and-a-half years he anchored Gov’t Mule in the mid-2000s, though his associations are too numerous to count, and especially in NYC’s familial club and bar scene, he seems to turn up just about everywhere.
Here’s Andy — one of those bassists who can play pretty much anything.
JAMBASE: So when did involvement with As The Crow Flies begin for you?
ANDY HESS: It’s kind of a blur, but I’ve known for at least a little while it was going to happen. Chris just called me one day, and he said, “Hey, I want to sing some Black Crowes music again and assemble some fun people to play it.” And I said, “yeah,” especially after he told me all the people that were already involved by then. I love that music. It’s so long ago now that I played with The Black Crowes and I was only there for maybe a year, 2001. It had been a long time since I had played with Chris, and I’ve been busy with other things. I was in Gov’t Mule for a long time and played with John Scofield and been out there doing a lot. I’ve followed Chris, though, and I’d run into him on occasion on the road.
JAMBASE: What do you remember about your time with The Black Crowes?
AH: It was a while ago, but it was very exciting. I’d been such a big fan of the band. I loved Chris’ singing and where they were coming from as a band and had been a fan since the beginning. I remember thinking I’d love to play with a band like that someday, and then there I was, ending up getting an audition. That was a very busy year. We toured with Oasis on the Brotherly Love tour and with Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Europe. It was a good time. We were on the road for most of it.
JAMBASE: I was at that last show in Boston in October 2001 and then that was the end of it. What do you remember about the decision to call it off?
AH: It just ended. They decided it was done. That was really not my business, to be honest with you, I’d only been there for a year and I don’t know if I even thought of myself as a band member, I just didn’t think I’d been there long enough. They announced they were taking a break, and it was like, OK, well I guess, that’s over. I had a great time doing it.
JAMBASE: You mentioned keeping up with Chris off and on — do you stay in touch with the other Black Crowes from your era?
AH: Some, and I became really good friends with Audley. He’s a very close friend of mine and we’ve remained that way, we chat on the phone. So to have him involved here [with As The Crow Flies] is fun.
JAMBASE: How about the rest of this band?
AH: Well, I know Tony Leone well — he’s my neighbor here in Brooklyn. They’re all people I know, though I don’t know Adam that well and I don’t know Marcus King that well.
JAMBASE: What have rehearsals been like?
AH: They actually start today [April 10]. But in a band like this everyone’s competent, and everyone will have done their homework. These are people who can play.
JAMBASE: Do you have favorite Black Crowes songs to play?
AH: I like all their records, especially the second and third albums. It’s all great stuff. Chris sings his ass off. He’s a great frontman and it’s just great rock ’n’ roll music. I don’t really think about the individual songs that much. I think of it more as a bigger picture and a sound.
JAMBASE: Are there a lot of songs on the table for playing with As The Crow Flies?
AH: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s a big catalog. [laughs]
JAMBASE: So I think a lot of folks in our scene know you best from your time with Scofield and also with the Mule. That was an intense era for Gov’t Mule, coming out of The Deepest End. You were with the band about six years, right?
AH: About five and a half, yeah. We made a lot of great music and some good records. It was intense, man. That was a super busy band and we were on the road all the time. The improvisational element was great, too; we could stretch out with those songs. It was a really good experience. After five years, it was something that I needed to make a change to. Those guys are all great. It worked out and it was totally cool.
JAMBASE: Do you stay in touch with the Mule guys?
AH: I’ve seen Warren [Haynes] a bunch of times. I haven’t kept in as good touch with Matt [Abts]. I probably keep in touch with Danny Louis the most. You know everyone’s busy with their lives — everyone has the music but also lives and families. It’s not that you ever want to lose touch, but you know how it is with kids and jobs: the day’s only so long. [laughs] When I see those guys or anybody it’s usually at a festival gig.
JAMBASE: I remember folks were excited to see you back onstage with Mule a few years ago, even just for one song.
AH: Oh yeah, yeah. It was down in Asheville at the Christmas Jam and I was there with Scofield.
JAMBASE: Do you think you’d ever commit to a band full time like that again?
AH: If it’s something I really, really wanted to do, then yes. I’ve always been more of a working musician doing a lot of things, though. The Mule was a great experience. There was no bad blood at the end of it or anything like that, it just wasn’t the right situation for me anymore. They went on and keep doing their thing and it’s great, and I got to go on and do a lot of other things and play with other people. When you’re in a band, that’s pretty much what you do — that’s your thing. And to commit to a band like the Mule, you have to 100 percent want to be there all the time.
I love playing with a lot of different people. I get inspired in different ways. I played with Robben Ford for a couple of years, that was amazing. I’ve been playing a lot lately with Michael Landau, who’s an incredible guitar player that some folks may not be aware of. I played more with Scofield, he’s always been one of my favorites, and I did some time with Steve Kimock’s band. I played with Rosanne Cash — I fill in on her gig a lot. It’s important to play with lots of different people, and I like a lot of music. Like most of us, I can’t say I only like this, or I’m a rock ’n’ roller or a blues player or a jazz player only.
JAMBASE: Had a lot changed between your first and second stints with that Scofield band?
AH: In a way, it’s like riding a bike. There was new material obviously, and I hadn’t played with him in a bunch of years. But I had always been such a big fan — the first time around was really great and the second time, that hadn’t changed. Everyone had grown a little more and that came out in the music.
JAMBASE: Are there bands or associations you’ve had that you’re really wanting to return to?
AH: Well, I love playing with Steve Kimock. The times I had with him and Bernie Worrell and Steve’s son Johnny [Kimock] and then Wally [Ingram] — those were great times. Playing with Bernie Worrell was so special, and the thing between Bernie and Steve was really special — really deep. I miss Bernie a lot, he became a friend.
I’d of course love to play with John again down the road, so that’s another one, but I really just kind of put one foot in front of the other and keep busy with music and with other things. I have my son, and I like being home. I do some studio work in New York and I also play locally a lot in bars and clubs. I’m a working musician. I like to keep it diverse and take it one day at a time, and most of all not think too hard. I feel lucky I get to play with all these people and get asked to play with them, so I try not to overanalyze.
JAMBASE: What do you do when you’re not playing, or playing with your son?
AH: I like photography a lot. I do a lot of wandering around with my camera — a lot of long walks, and I shoot stuff. Living in New York is great for that. But between music and family is just life, man — things you gotta do, like laundry or going to the grocery store.
JAMBASE: I’m hoping you can leave us with a sit-in story: you with someone else’s band? Someone with one of your many associations?
AH: A sit-in story. Hmm. I’ll have to think about that one. I don’t have a good answer at the moment.
JAMBASE: Well how about that sit-in with the Mule at Christmas Jam 2013? I think that was the first time you’d publicly joined the band since your departure in 2008, correct?
AH: Yeah, I think that’s true actually. It was good. Warren said, “Hey man, you want to come up and play a song with us?” And I said, “Yeah of course.” It felt very familiar. It felt, “Ah, I know that sound. I know that thing.”
I’ve got a good one. I got to play with Rosanne Cash in Dyess, Arkansas, where Johnny Cash’s boyhood home is. There was a festival there, the Johnny Cash Heritage Festival [in October 2017]. They have it right next to the home, which they keep up as a landmark. We had Kris Kristofferson come sit-in with Rosanne, and we got to listen to him just sing by himself from the side of the stage and then have him join Rosanne’s band. He looked and sounded great — he’s 81-years-old. And we’re just out there doing this with him in this cotton field next to Johnny Cash’s boyhood home. I looked around: the heart of cotton country, USA.
That was pretty great.