20 Years Ago: Jimmy Page Joins the Black Crowes for ‘Live at the Greek’
The history of the inspired and dynamic merger went back to 1995 when the Led Zeppelin guitarist joined the Crowes onstage during the Amorica or Bust tour at a show in France for covers of Elmore James’ “Shake Your Moneymaker” and Little Walter’s “Mellow Down Easy.”
Four years later, in June 1999, Page found himself as music director of a benefit at London’s Café De Paris nightclub for SCREAM (Supporting Children through Re-Education and Music) and the ABC (Action for Brazil's Children) Trust, two charities near and dear to his heart. His then-recent reunion with Robert Plant had come to an end earlier that year as the singer went back to his solo career, so he needed a band for the evening. Luckily, the Black Crowes were going to be in town playing Wembley Stadium with Aerosmith and Lenny Kravitz that same week. Renowned photographer – and Page friend – Ross Halfin rang up Crowes’ manager Pete Angelus to see if the group would be available for the gig, and he said yes without hesitation.
"When the request came through our friend Ross, we were amazingly flattered, to say the least," Crowes’ guitarist Rich Robinson told Guitar World. “All people ever see is the [Rolling] Stones influence in our music. But Zeppelin has been a huge influence on us for our whole career. They're definitely up there as one of the major reasons why we're in a band."
Among the songs they performed at the charity event were "Shake Your Moneymaker,” "Sloppy Drunk" (Jimmy Rodgers), "Woke Up This Morning" (B.B. King), "Oh Well" (Fleetwood Mac) and the Zeppelin classics "Whole Lotta Love" and "You Shook Me," the latter with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. The show had gone so well that Angelus approached Page’s manager to see if the guitarist would be interested in keeping it going via a handful of dates in the States. Page had had so much fun in London with the Crowes that he jumped at the chance to bring it to a wider audience.
At the time, Page was coming off the dissolution of a five-year reunion with his former Led Zeppelin bandmate Plant, one that had resulted in the widely praised No Quarter album and MTV Unplugged special and less celebrated Walking into Clarksdale LP. While the guitarist desperately wanted to keep moving forward with the project, even bringing John Paul Jones into the fold, Plant was becoming more and more disinterested in being a rock and roll frontman and walked away.
The Black Crowes had found themselves in an untenable situation as well. Their back-to-basics By Your Side was released in January 1999 and had been pointedly ignored by their record label in terms of promotion. They did a popular episode of VH1’s Behind the Music that spring, but otherwise were quietly hoping Columbia Records would forget to pick up the option on their next album so they could seek out greener pastures as free agents. Hooking up with Jimmy Page was the perfect way to keep themselves in the public eye while having a blast doing it.
Six shows, billed as “Together on Stage: Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes,” were booked for the fall of 1999; three at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom, one at the Centrum in Worcester, Mass., just outside of Boston and two at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. There was also an appearance at anti-poverty benefit NetAid at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. that would see them play four songs before the proper run began.
The shows sold out immediately and were undeniably electric. Heavy on Zeppelin material, the songs trotted out were hardly the same 10 tracks spinning in perpetuity on classic rock radio stations around the country. Sure, there was “Heartbreaker” and “The Lemon Song,” but also bombastic takes on deep cuts like “Sick Again” and “In My Time of Dying.”
Blues covers the partnership had done from the beginning like “Sloppy Drunk” and “Woke Up This Morning” were ingrained into the set, and Page fanatics were in heaven when he and dusted off the Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds classic “Shapes of Things.” Tracks by the Black Crowes weren’t left out either, with “No Speak No Slave,” “Wiser Time” and especially “Remedy” sounding particularly robust with the addition of Page on guitar. Chris Robinson brought his own inimitable flavor to the proceedings and there couldn't have been a better singer to compliment the rich catalog the band was drawing from, especially when it came to the Zeppelin catalog.
It was a no-brainer then to tape some shows for posterity and maybe for a future release. The only problem, according to Crowes drummer Steve Gorman in his 2019 memoir Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes, was Page had zero interest in making a live LP and dealing with the pressure that came along with it. Angelus was able to convince him that it would all be out of sight, out of mind; the concerts would be recorded via a mobile truck on the exterior of the venue. Additionally, the Black Crowes would cover all the costs, but Page would retain all the rights, and if he didn't want the results out for public consumption, they wouldn't be released.
The decision was made to record both nights at the Greek Theatre, Oct. 18 and 19, 1999. Gorman says Page had a discernibly bad first night, so rattled and down on himself that he didn’t even hang out after the show. The second gig, however, saw everyone on fire which is why the majority of the recording comes from that show.
"I wish I could have been in the audience," Page told Guitar World. "Because I know how good it was up onstage."
The guitarist obviously saw the benefit in putting the show out for the fans, especially those who hadn’t been able to witness the historic six nights the two artists shared onstage with one another. How they would release them needed to be decided as neither act was tethered to a record contract. Columbia had indeed let their option to pick up a second Black Crowes record lapse and Page wasn’t beholden to any label at that point as a solo artist, so they were free to explore any avenue they wanted, but there were a couple of issues to consider.
To start, there was the roll out of the first-ever single-disc Led Zeppelin compilations coming in November 1999 with Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume One followed in March by Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume Two and no one from that camp wanted record store shelves overcrowded with new, related material. And though the Crowes were out of their contract with Columbia, there was a clause in it saying they couldn’t release re-recorded versions of their songs for two years, which meant any live album with Page would have to either be without their material or be put on hold until sometime in 2001.
The second choice wasn’t possible, as a summer tour with the two camps was planned for the summer of 2000 and a live album seen as the ideal way to promote it. The idea was to put the concert recording into the hands and ears of fans in the fastest manner possible, and it ended up being a groundbreaking one.
Enter the digital music retailer Musicmaker.com, which would allow the music to get to fans in a number of customizable formats beginning Feb. 29, 2000. Excising the Crowes originals, there were 19 songs from the two-night stand at the Greek made available. The whole lot could be purchased for $17.90 or fans could buy five songs for $4.95 and pay a dollar for each additional song, building a single or two-disc set. Customers were able to arrange the setlist in any manner they chose. The customized music could be downloaded or express-mailed on CD-R. An 18-track double CD with a pre-selected running order and full-color booklet was made available as well.
The method was a win on multiple levels. Live at the Greek appealed to consumers in a way that had never happened before, with such high-profile artists allowing them to personalize a recording. And by taking it out of retail stores, there was no physical promotional overlap with the Led Zeppelin releases. Much of the advertising, in fact, was done by rock radio stations, who would play material from the recording and tell listeners the only way they could get it was to go to the station’s website, where they would be directed to Musicmaker.
Four months later, just as the Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes summer tour was getting underway, TVT Records released Live at the Greek in a more traditional manner, a two-disc set for purchase in retail establishments. It should be noted that in all its iterations, including the 2013 and 2019 reissues, the recording has never been officially released with the setlist in the proper running order or with the Crowes songs included.
Unfortunately, the trek fell apart in 2000 after just 11 of 55 planned dates, officially due to a back injury which Page had been battling. Gorman revealed it was because Page was insulted by Rich Robinson snubbing his offer to work with the Crowes in the studio at some point, which the latter vigorously denied. Despite the supposed falling out, Page joined the band in 2011 at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in the summer of 2011 during an encore to perform the first song they ever played together, “Shake Your Moneymaker.”