Happy first anniversary to The Magpie Salute, whose feathered name bears witness to the past of a third of its membership.

That would be as The Black Crowes, one of the key American rock bands of the past three decades.

A year ago this week, it became official: Black Crowes founder Rich Robinson's idea for a new band was sealed, complete with fellow Crowes Marc Ford, Sven Pipien and Eddie Harsch on board for a re-energized sound and a new configuration (a whopping 10 bodies on stage, including that of lead singer John Hogg, late of Brit rockers Moke and Rich's earlier project, Hookah Brown).

Despite being subject to a potentially crippling tragedy shortly after its formation, the band is still on the road a year later, making its downstate Illinois debut Friday with a Castle Theatre show.

"It started in September (2016) in Woodstock, N.Y.," recalls Robinson, who along with older brother Chris formed Mr. Crowe's Garden while still high school in Marietta, Ga., circa 1984; by 1989, they were The Black Crowes we know today. 

Woodstock's Applehead Studios is where Rich Robinson had recorded his last three albums as part of the solo career he's pursued since the Crowes called it quits in 2015 (their second breakup to date, following a hiatus from 2002-2005). 

Old Crowes mate Sven Pipien "had been playing with me on my current tour and we thought it would be cool to bring in Marc and Eddie in and see what happened."

The original idea was to go in and out: A nice little reunion show at New York City's Gramercy Theater, and then back to their own musical lives.

"That was supposed to be it," he adds.

But circumstances suggested otherwise.

The three scheduled Gramercy shows sold out in minutes, forcing the scheduling of a fourth.

Moreover, "we realized how cool it was for us to be playing together again," Robinson says of the first early rehearsals in October, which merged the forces of Robinson's current band with his Crowes cronies. 

"I liked the inclusive element of it, which is really why the band is so big, with 10 people who are happy to be with each other and doing what they're doing. With Marc and Eddie on board, it became something even more special."

Sadly, fate would soon intervene to cut the burgeoning joy of the reunion short: Keyboardist Harsch, who joined the Crowes early in 1991, died suddenly on Nov. 4, less than a month after the The Magpie Salute had decided to become a band, not a one-shot special event.

He was just 59.

"All of us had decided that we were having way too much fun ... and Eddie was probably having the most fun of all of us," says Robinson.

"It was such a shock ... he was doing so well and playing so well, and he was the most excited. Then, just out of the blue. One of those things that happened."

Robinson says that he, Ford and Pipien discussed whether going forward with The Magpie Salute would be well-advised.

"We decided that Eddie would have wanted us to continue, and we felt like we should keeping doing this for him ... that's really where it came from, and that's what kept us going through those (January) shows."

Needless to say, a heartfelt tribute to Harsch was a central part of the first four concerts.

Less than a year later, there is no end in sight.

After coming off the road in November, The Magpie Salute are headed into the studio to complete work on their first album.

"The coolest thing is that we've learned how to be a band together, which is sort of the whole reason we came out wanted do as many shows as possible," Robinson says of the 130-odd dates scheduled since January.

"That's how you learn to be a band, and I can see the progress every night," he adds. 

For those who wonder, The Magpie Salute got its name from Robinson by referencing the British superstition "about the imperative to salute a magpie anytime you see one in order to ward off negativity, or to have a good day." 

He adds, "the symbolic nature of the magpie is about bringing out the positive since there was so much negativity connected with the band ... not a lot of good feelings toward the end."

Despite the huge setback of Marsch's passing at the outset, Robinson is encouraged by the prevailing of the positive in the months since.

A typical Magpie show, says Rich, is a celebration of not only the Crowes lineage of Robinson, Ford and Pipien, but also the music from each man's solo career and side projects, as well as some covers of classics they all love. 

"It's really a mixture of the new and the old. It's one that some people love and, I'm sure, some can't get behind," says Robinson. "So far, though, the reception has been really amazing."


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