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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Live, studio recordings drive Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Chris Robinson Brotherhood will headline the Bing Crosby Theater on Tuesday. (Jay Blakesberg)

When Betty Cantor-Jackson says she wants to record your band, you don’t say no.

Cantor-Jackson, legendary Grateful Dead archivist and sound engineer, recorded hundreds of Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Band shows, but stopped after Garcia’s death.

But after hearing Chris Robinson Brotherhood perform at the 70th birthday party for entertainer/activist Wavy Gravy, Cantor-Jackson rediscovered her love of recording.

“The first time I heard Chris in my ears, I said, ‘My god, a real singer! Oh, thank you!’ ” Cantor-Jackson told Live for Live Music last year. “They have such a wonderful sound.”

Singer/guitarist Robinson, who previously fronted the Black Crowes, was flattered by the attention.

“We bonded over a lot of stuff,” Robinson said before a recent show in Hartford, Connecticut. “It turned into ‘I haven’t wanted to do this since Jerry died.’ To get that, I was like ‘Whatever you want to do.’ ”

So at the next opportunity, Cantor-Jackson joined the band and recorded a series of shows.

It was Cantor-Jackson’s idea to record Chris Robinson Brotherhood, but it was Robinson who thought about releasing those recordings as a live series.

In 2013, “Betty’s Blends Volume 1” was released. “Volume 2” followed in 2015, and two years later, “Betty’s Blends, Vol. 3: Self-Rising, Southern Blends” was released.

The fourth in the series, “Betty’s Midwestern Magick Blends,” which was recorded in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, was released on Nov. 16.

Robinson is in charge of the album artwork, but Cantor-Jackson picks the songs she wants for the album and oversees the mastering and pressing of “Betty’s Blends.”

“When it says ‘Betty’s Blend,’ it really is Betty’s,” Robinson said. “People look at rock ’n’ roll in the ’60s and ’70s, but women, they were always getting the (expletive) end of the stick. Betty did a lot of work and was never credited. Betty still has people living off her name and making hundreds of thousands of dollars. She’s part of the legacy, but no one takes care of her. Even in our own way, I was like ‘It’d be nice for an even playing ground so Betty can have something that’s hers.’ That I give her her due credit because I think her contribution to rock ‘n’ roll music is profound in that way.”

Four “Betty’s Blends” in, Cantor-Jackson is thrilled to be back at the soundboard.

“It’s wonderful to have that again,” Cantor-Jackson told Live for Live Music. “That’s what I had with Garcia Band. Just having fun catching the music.”

Cantor-Jackson won’t be at Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Spokane show, Tuesday at the Bing Crosby Theater, but she will be in Seattle and Portland to record for an upcoming Pacific Northwest edition of “Betty’s Blends.”

In the meantime, Chris Robinson Brotherhood – guitarist/singer Neal Casal, bassist Jeff Hill, drummer Tony Leone, keyboardist/vocalist Adam MacDougall and Robinson – are gearing up for the 2019 release of its seventh studio album “Servants of the Sun.”

The band recorded the album in Stinson Beach, California, in less than two weeks. The time crunch not necessarily because of necessity, but because of experience.

“I think that’s how we work,” Robinson said. “We play a lot together. I write a lot so there’s a lot of ideas.”

Upon entering the studio, Robinson had a few criteria, the first being no acoustic instruments.

The band’s past few records featured a lot of acoustic guitars, mandolins and banjos, so Robinson wanted “Servants of the Sun” to be fully electric.

He also wanted the songs on this record to be a bit more uptempo. To help with that goal, the band recorded in the summer instead of the “raining and cold and foggy” northern California winter.

“Your surroundings and the time you’re doing it affects what’s going on,” Robinson said. “I think it definitely helped to keep some of the songs lighter, because there’s some heavy songs on there, but to keep it going in a more uptempo place.”

Robinson also wanted to be able to play every track on “Servants of the Sun” live, contrasting the band’s experience on previous records where some songs weren’t made for live shows.

“This record I was like ‘I need every track to be something we would be able to go put into the repertoire,’ ” Robinson said.

Robinson is the first to admit that albums have decreased in popularity, at least commercially, in recent years, but the band enjoys its time in the studio. Plus, with so much experience between them, the members of Chris Robinson Brotherhood have learned to be efficient so as to maximize their time recording.

“This record, like all of them, was recorded live on the floor in the studio in Marin,” Robinson said. “We play rock ‘n’ roll music so I don’t know any other way to do it.”