Chris Robertson
of Black Stone Cherry,
The TVD Interview

Black Stone Cherry is anything but your typical rock and roll band. Founded in 2001, Chris Robertson, John Fred Young, Jon Lawhon, and Ben Wells have a long and storied history together as childhood friends with deep Kentucky roots. Today, they’re a well-oiled rock and roll machine creating inspirational music that challenges both the mind and soul.

We recently caught up with the band’s frontman Chris Robertson to discuss their latest release in stores, The Human Condition, life in lockdown, and of course Chris’s most prized vinyl possession.

Chris, how did you get your start in music?

I grew up around music my whole life. My dad plays music still to this day. He does cover band stuff on the weekend—it’s what he’s always done. So, I’ve always been around that. My grandpa used to build acoustic guitars and instruments. He’d build them in an old shop out here on the farm, and he did that up until just a few years before he passed away. He played a lot of bluegrass and stuff, so I was always around music.

My grandpa built me a guitar when I was 10 and I tried to play it but just couldn’t. And then around about seventh grade, we had a talent show and John Fred brought a drum set and played a drum solo. There was also a guy there that played guitar, and I told John Fred at the end of the talent show, I said, “I’m going to get a guitar for my birthday and I’m going to learn to play better than him so we can start a band.” And we’ve played music together ever since.

How did Black Stone Cherry get its start?

As friends, we would jam off and on from 13 on. In early 2001, after some time off, we decided to start jamming again. We wanted to start writing some music, but we didn’t have a bass player. So, I called Jon Lawhon and was like, “Hey man, I know you play guitar, but how about you play bass because we need a bass player?” And he was like, “Okay, that’s fine.” So, Jon transitioned over to bass and the three of us continued to play together focusing on the blues.

A short time later, we were having a little get together and had a bunch of friends down. We had written a couple of songs, but nobody actually sang. That evening, we found out that one of the guys (Ben Wells) actually played as well. We finally talked him into jamming with us. Throughout the evening, people kept switching off instruments in the practice house. The three of us snuck outside and I was like, “Hey man, we need to get this guy in the band.” And John Fred said, “Yeah, he’s got a thing.” And the next day we started the band and it’s been the four of us ever since.

Your seventh studio album, The Human Condition just landed in stores. What can fans expect from this album that may be different from past releases?

So, we’ve recorded a lot and we try to never repeat ourselves. With this new record, we obviously wanted it to not sound like the last record, but all we knew was that we wanted it to hit a little harder. We wrote some songs for the record and also used some ideas from previous years including full songs, partial songs, and we went in the studio with a handful of very cool ideas. Then, we brought on Jordan Westfall as engineer and he ended up mixing the record for us. Being a record producer, he brought a completely modern element to the recording process that we had never messed with before, and I think you can attribute that to the way the record finally ended up.

You had your first show since February 15th in front of a “live” audience recently. How was that experience?

We filmed the “Live from the Sky” show because internet providers in our area weren’t up to snuff. The possibility of streaming it utilizing multi-cameras and great audio and seemed really far-fetched. That said, we decided to pre-record it. We did the show the following week and man it was amazing. I’ve been struggling with my voice since we did that show because we went eight months—eight and a half months—without being able to play a show and then went back at it full force. And your vocal cords are just a muscle, man—you got to get it back in shape. It was amazing to be back on stage and to see people enjoying live music again.

With 8 months off, what has Black Stone Cherry been doing to keep busy during the lockdown?

Man, for me it’s just been a lot of family time. As for the band, we talk to each other every day via text or whatever. However, I’ve really taken advantage of being at home with my family. My son just turned 8 the 11th of this month. And since he was born, I’ve never been home for this amount of time. So, it’s been amazing to be able to watch him grow up in real time instead of Facetime or photos. And then my dad, he’s sick. Since he lives close to me—it’s been nice to get to spend my mornings with him. I’ve just really taken advantage of the family time, honestly. That’s been my biggest thing.

Any thought to what the band might do if another extended lockdown were to occur?

No. At this point, every band is looking for something to do, whether it’s doing live streams or drive-in concerts or something like that. We’ve basically been out of work for a year’s worth of touring at this point, and we have no idea when it’s actually going to open back for actual touring. Kentucky’s had a horrible couple of days and the school shut down again. Who knows when this thing is going to lift? Frankly, I don’t think it’s going to lift. I think we’ll just have to find better ways of combating this. I think the people in power have to do a better job all around making the right calls and enforcing those decisions.

How do you feel about all these rules and restrictions surrounding Covid-19?

People want to complain about the restrictions and how they impose on our freedoms. That said, it does not bother me a bit to wear a mask if that means I significantly lower the risk of catching the virus or potentially spreading it to those I come in contact with. I just don’t understand why it’s so hard just to put a mask on. My 8-year-old does it all day at school (when they are allowed to go to school). If an 8-year-old child who does not want to wear a mask can wear it all day long every day, it should not be that hard for adults to put one on when they go into a store.

As it relates to fans, will anything change after the pandemic subsides and things return to a more normal time?

Unfortunately, yes. We have never done the paid meet and greet thing, it’s just something we’ve never considered. Our thought is that it shouldn’t cost anybody money to say hello to somebody that they have already paid to see. If we’re around after the show, we always come out to sign and greet if people are interested, say hello before the next, whatever. But now man, you got to worry a little more about your health and that of others. It’s always in the back of my mind, just making sure that everything I’m doing is the safest way I can possibly do it. We’ll see how things go in 2021 as we love interacting with our fans.

Vinyl has had a major resurgence in popularity in recent years—any thoughts on why this may be happening?

Well, cars don’t have CD players anymore. They’re phasing that stuff out just like they did with cassettes. I grew up in the CD era, so you’d walk into any store and there was a department where they had CDs everywhere. Now, you essentially have to order CDs, get your music digitally, or you can get it on vinyl. The thing I love about the vinyl resurgence are the mom and pop shops. Man, there are so many great vinyl shops around the country. But to me, I love listening to music on vinyl. There’s the low and high end roll off and it just kind of warms it all up a little bit.

Bottom line, I think it’s because people want some kind of physical version of their music and with CDs being phased out, vinyl is back and some consider it the “hip new thing.” But really, it’s not new and I’ve always thought vinyl was cool. I learned how to play guitar and to a vinyl record player with the stand-up speakers that detach from the side, old ’70s style. I don’t know what it’s attributed to, maybe it’s just the fact that people want that physical copy of an album and vinyl is just easier to obtain now then CDs—which I never thought I would say.

What would be one of your most prized vinyl possessions?

Man, I’ve got some original Hendrix pressings. They’re beat up, but they just mean the world to me. We were playing Sweden Rock several years ago on my birthday and we were walking around and there were a bunch of vinyl vendors set up. I saw this one record and I just kept walking because I knew it was going to be more money than I wanted to spend. It was a Japanese release of Street Survivors with the flames on it. It still had the plastic and everything. One of the crew guys ended up buying it for me for my birthday and that is my treasured vinyl piece.

A few quick hit questions: What is your favorite Black Stone Cherry Album?

Currently, I’m locked into The Human Condition. However, it changes day to day depending on my mood. That’s also what I love about our band because no matter what mood I wake up in, there’s a record that I can put on and it’ll suffice. Admittedly, I’m a huge fan of my own band. We have to be a fan before anyone else is, right?

Favorite single?

I’m going to go “Lonely Train” just because it was our introduction to the world. You only get one chance to go “here we are” and that was ours.

Which up and coming bands that are you digging these days?

There’s a dude named Ayron Jones. I was listening to the radio one day and this song came on. Man, I almost ran off the road trying to snap a picture of the screen with my phone. It was a song called “Take Me Away.” Ayron’s got something going on, man. He’s really, really awesome.

What artist might we find on your current workout mix that might surprise your fans?

Ha! I don’t workout, I’m too lazy for that. But as far as just random, weird stuff that I like that might surprise people… I listen to a lot of female pop artists. I really like Demi Lovato’s voice. I’m also a huge Adele fan. I listen to a lot of pop stuff, man, just because I really like catchy melodies.

When live touring resumes, what’s a bucket list venue that you’d like to perform at?

We had it scheduled for this year and it was postponed until next year. So, if touring opens back up next year and we’ll get to play it, it’s the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Last question—do you have a favorite vacation destination?

Let’s see… man, not really. I’m sure that sounds weird. For the last 15 years I’ve traveled for a living, so my favorite place to be on the planet is home on my front porch.

The Human Condition, the new release from Black Stone Cherry is in stores now—on silver grey vinyl.

Black Stone Cherry Official | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
PHOTO: MIKE RODWAY

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