Words by: Chad Berndtson
The Magpie Salute played a run of sold-out debut shows in January in New York, and it was easy to see what feels so appealing to Rich Robinson, Marc Ford and their 10 (!) piece collective. Not only does the band not shy away from its The Black Crowes legacy, it fully embraces it, with sprawling, hard-rocking sets that are roughly two-thirds Crowes material next to a handful of covers and Robinson and Ford solo cuts. New originals, such as the potent “Omission,” are also entering the mix as the Salute salutes its debut album.
This band has swagger. It’s in the Crowes mode, sure, but also its own animal, with Robinson and Ford — the guitar tandem from the Crowes most beloved era — at its center. And while it can be a little jarring to hear certain Crowes roof-shakers sung by anyone but former Crowes frontman Chris Robinson, give vocalist John Hogg a chance — he brings his own pow to the material, and is clearly caught up in what Robinson, Ford, bassist Sven Pipien and others have described as an organic experience, through and through.
I chatted with Ford ahead of the start of The Magpie Salute’s massive U.S. tour, which begins Wednesday in Indianapolis and stretches out through August and September into early October, hitting most major markets along the way.
JAMBASE: So, Marc, I think we’ve heard The Magpie Salute origin story a few times now so I won’t rehash it necessarily. But curious, what sold you on doing this?
MARC FORD: Relationships. That’s it. I mean, you know, it’s about the music that is made. The music is born of that relationship, and in this case, actually, we’re just discovering the relationship. There’s something special there when you have it, and when you don’t have it, you know it. The value really comes in the music that can come of the relationship when you do have it. So you know, whatever it took — I said yes.
JAMBASE: So it was easy for you to say yes to this?
MF: It’s the music, too. The reason why I choose to spend the time in part is how much of my life I’ve already put into it. And that’s just me and Rich, let alone all the other relationships — all our years playing together. I have a good part of my life invested into this music. It’s cool to be part of. This is just the next bit of it.
JAMBASE: What is your agenda?
MF: It’s me. It’s getting you to see me and getting you to talk about me. If I could do that without getting on a stage, maybe I would. The stage is exciting, and it’s a thrill, but it’s not the best part of making music. Sometimes, it gets in the way and it can be one big head trip if you let it. You do have to be able to stand on a stage in one way or another — even if you’re not performing it’s a performance. But this music, it’s just great music. I play guitar and I always will play the way that I play because of what I learned to do in those years with Rich. Rich and I sound so much alike. Our guitar styles were forged in a hot-ass furnace together and we both will forever play like that. It’s funny, I didn’t realize how much the counterpart to my guitar part was out there until we played together again. I listen to his stuff and I hear myself in it. And he hears himself in my playing.
JAMBASE: We’ve heard “Omission.” Are you going to continue to write new material for The Magpie Salute?
MF: We’re always writing. I don’t ever really try to write for anything, I just write. I have bits and pieces. Rich has shared some things he’s got. We’ll spend the next couple of months together on the road so there will be plenty of time to make new songs.
JAMBASE: Was there ever any doubt The Magpie Salute would play Black Crowes songs?
MF: I mean, it’s Rich. They’re his songs. I don’t think of them as Black Crowes songs, I think of them as Rich’s songs. They’re Chris’ songs too. They’re part of my history. I still get to do what I get to do because of The Black Crowes. That thing, whatever notoriety that came with that and whatever headaches it may have brought, it also brought me the ability to not keep banging on the door. There’s a door open to me if I’m ready to open it. I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with The Black Crowes. I never did. I had a problem living in The Black Crowes, but that has nothing to do with anyone else but me.
JAMBASE: Back in 2006 you left The Black Crowes noting that being on the road like that would be too hard. Why are you ready to do it this time, 11 years later?
MF: I have an appreciation of it now. I have reasons to do it other than myself. I have a new respect for it. It’s not a selfish ambition. There’s a whole generation of people that came up with that music being their music — their coming-of-age music. It’ll always be that much for them, and that’s something I don’t take lightly. It’s just been inspiring to do more music again.
JAMBASE: It’s a huge band. Was that always part of the plan?
MF: No, I mean, Rich and I really didn’t plan anything. It was kind of really Rich’s band, already rolling and I was added to it. That’s the way it ended up. I don’t know what Rich had planned and I don’t think he’d planned a whole lot, it’s just the way we’d made the music. You have to keep your finger up in the air to know which way the wind is blowing. If you plan too far ahead, you can miss it if you want to have your own agenda. You want to be flexible.
JAMBASE: Will you still be spending time with your Neptune Blues Band?
MF: Man, I don’t know. I got a good amount of time with this new band I just joined [laughs]. Again, I don’t really look too far ahead. I’m like that. When it’s time, it’s time. That’s kind of how I go.
JAMBASE: Have you always been like that?
MF: Yeah. That’s why I was impossible at school. I don’t see in a capitalistic world — I don’t function well that way. I’m a mess to most people who like schedules. But I hear things that other people don’t hear.
JAMBASE: Marc, do you think you’ll play with Chris Robinson again?
MF: I don’t know. I don’t know. It would be lovely. I don’t care as much as … I’d like to think we could play music again because we have worked out whatever was going on. Music is a byproduct of relationships, and the way the relationship is now, no good music can come from it — you understand what I mean. But you know, hey man, if anybody’s proof that anything can happen, I am.
JAMBASE: Lastly, Marc, can you share a thought on Eddie Harsch, whom you played with for many years and who was supposed to be part of this before his passing?
MF: Just that he was one of the true musicians. That guy just ate and breathed and slept it. He was his music. It was beautiful to watch. It was not beautiful to live with. Musicians got to live with musicians too. But I mean, you know, there’s his sense of humor, which had a lot to with his music. He really was no bullshit. He was the real article.
JAMBASE: Everyone seems to say that about him.
MF: You know, when you see the real thing, you know it.