The Untold Truth Of Counting Crows

As one of the hottest alternative rock bands of the '90s, Counting Crows has sold more than 20 million records worldwide. They're also an incredibly popular touring band and are known as a Generation X pop culture staple. 

Since 1991, the band has seen its share of changes. From acoustic duo to ensemble, lead singer and songwriter Adam Duritz has always been at the helm. Counting Crows burst onto the scene from Berkeley, California, and their quintessential American folk-rock sound is now familiar to many around the globe. The band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album in 2018, and as of 2021, they rank #8 on Billboards' "Greatest of All Time: Adult Alternative Artists" 25th anniversary chart. After several years of lying dormant, Counting Crows released a new album in May 2021, entitled "Butter Miracle: Suite One." 

Whether you're a fan of their music or not, Counting Crows are a rare, lasting breed in the music industry who have survived since the early '90s in one of the most cutthroat businesses on the planet. You may have a song or two of theirs in your music history no matter what generation you belong to, but there are plenty of odd and impressive facts about the band's past, and particularly its leading man, that you might not know. 

The origin of Counting Crows' name

The story behind Counting Crows' name came from a British divination nursery rhyme called "One for Sorrow" about the superstitious practice of counting magpies (more commonly known as crows in America). Lead singer Adam Duritz became familiar with the rhyme after viewing the film "Signs of Life." 

If you're a super fan of Counting Crows, you may already be aware of Adam Duritz's serial habit of dating actresses. Even before the band came onto the scene in 1993 with their first album, Duritz is said to have been involved briefly with actress Mary-Louise Parker, who starred in "Signs of Life." "Girls have always liked Adam" his sister, Nicole, told Rolling Stone. "Why not? He's funny, he's charming, and he's passionate about what he does." It's only fitting, then, that the longstanding band's name originated from one of Adam's relationships with an actress. 

Hints of the band's name are dropped in their debut album "August and Everything After" in the track "A Murder of One." The rhyme's most popular verse is: "One for sorrow,/ Two for joy,/ Three for a girl,/ Four for a boy,/ Five for silver,/  Six for gold,/ Seven for a secret,/ Never to be told."

Now you know to never call them The Counting Crows, (a common mistake) because they're simply "counting" crows. 

Counting Crows started as an acoustic duo

Counting Crows eventually became an ensemble band, but in the beginning, there were only two. Adam Duritz, who moved from his native Baltimore to the Bay Area, was involved in numerous music projects and eventually found some mild success in the San Francisco-based band the Himalayans, who received local praise in the early '90s. In fact, Counting Crows' hit track "Round Here" was originally a Himalayans song

Duritz formed Counting Crows with producer/guitarist David Bryson, and the two became an acoustic team who performed around the Bay Area. Duritz quickly became a standout performer with his long dreadlocks and grungy-emo demeanor that fit perfectly with a brooding Generation X and the mood of the decade. 

The pair eventually became a five-member group two years later in 1993 and received their first break when they were invited to perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction for Van Morrison. It would be nearly a decade before the band went from five to seven members in 2001, according to WNRN.

Some likely and unlikely influences

Adam Duritz has spoken openly about the effect Kurt Cobain's death had on him as the band was up-and-coming. Nirvana had burst onto the scene only a couple of years prior to Counting Crows, and learning of Cobain's suicide shook Duritz. 

"I knew Kurt; we were label-mates, we were signed by the same guy [Gary Gersh]," Duritz told the Pittsburgh City Paper. "We were like his two little brothers at the time." Duritz admitted that the news "scared the sh*t" out of him. "I'd just wrapped my head around doing this thing, and then I found out — here's this guy who's just been on the cover [of Rolling Stone], and look what happened to him," he said. 

Duritz also credits '70s/'80s band Big Star and Miles Davis as huge influences on his music writing. Other, more obvious influences include Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the Band, R.E.M., Thin Lizzy, Tom Petty, and Pearl Jam, according to Rolling Stone

Legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett was responsible for honing their sound on Counting Crows' first album "August and Everything After," which became known as a somber set of tracks. However, their one-way ticket to arriving on everyone's radar and heading to the top of the charts was the only uplifting, upbeat track on the album, "Mr. Jones." 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Accounting Crows

When Counting Crows burst on the scene in 1993 with their debut album "August and Everything After," they got more than one record company's attention. Rolling Stone dubbed them "the Biggest new band in America" that year, and a bidding war between Geffen Records and eight other companies ensued. Gary Gersh, the Geffen A&R rep who signed Nirvana, was "blown away" by their sound, which according to Gersh, was rare. 

The album went platinum in just five months, which, as The Washington Post points out, was faster than Pearl Jam's first album "Ten" and Nirvana's "Nevermind." The band soon became known to industry insiders as the Accounting Crows.

Duritz was wary of the fast fame and success. "I'm happy with the fame in a lot of ways. I won't deny that," he told the Post. "But it's kind of scary. Something has definitely changed in my life, and I can't go back now if I wanted to." Almost overnight, Duritz was dating famous women, hanging out with megastars like Johnny Depp and Sean Penn, and fronting platinum albums. He even went so far as to compare the sudden notoriety to "waking up on Mars."

Who is Mr. Jones?

Some songs are abstract, but others have true stories behind them. In the case of Counting Crows' first big hit "Mr. Jones," there was an actual Jones they were describing.

The song is based on Marty Jones, the former bassist of Adam's previous band, the Himalayans, and Kenney Dale Johnson (pictured), the drummer of Chris Isaak's band Silvertone. The story often told about the track is that it was written about a night out in San Francisco when Marty and Adam went to see Marty's father David, who happened to be a flamenco guitarist. The story is revealed in a 2011 documentary about Marty's father, "Gypsy Davy." In the film, Marty admits to giving up his successful career as a musician because "he feared repeating his father's behavior," according to Variety

The link to Kenney Dale Johnson is more obscure. When Johnson heard that the song was also about him, he didn't know why. In fact, he didn't even know any members of Counting Crows. According to an interview with Blogcritics Magazine, Johnson spotted Duritz in an airport and took him aside to inquire about the song's content. 

"People have been e-mailing me forever telling me that you say from the stage that I was the inspiration for 'Mr. Jones,'" Johnson said to Duritz. Duritz admitted that he saw Johnson surrounded by girls and thought, "Yeah, when we get our record out, we'll all be a big shot, too." 

Adam Duritz's uncommon psychological disorder

Adam Duritz eventually opened up about his rare dissociative disorder, which he had dealt with for about 25 years and was especially difficult after the release of Counting Crows' album "Hard Candy" in 2002. "The more things seem less real, the more you begin to drift away, and you lose all your tethers to the world," he said of his disorder. He revealed his diagnosis to the public in 2008 after suffering since his early 20s. Known as depersonalization disorder, it can make someone feel "disconnected from their physical bodies and no longer in control of their thoughts and actions," according to the Huffington Post

In an interview with the Miami New Times, Duritz was asked if writing music acted as therapy for the disorder. "No, I don't think there's anything therapeutic about songwriting," Duritz answered. "You've got to get your therapy done outside of things like that. But an album is probably a good way of judging how the person is feeling." 

Duritz's lifestyle as a traveling musician, he admits, doesn't help his disorder, either. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

This Desert Life and David Lowery

David Lowery, former leader of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, co-produced Counting Crows' third studio album "This Desert Life." The band met Lowery while they were touring together in the early '90s. Counting Crows rented a house to do some pre-production work with Lowery for about two weeks, during which he gave the band "advice about structure and how they want to make the album," according to MTV

The collaboration got mixed reviews. Entertainment Weekly's Mark Bautz wrote that "Producer David Lowery brings a loose-limbed instrumental feel to several cuts, but few of these downcast, Duritz-centric songs have the vitality that made "Mr. Jones" 1994's love-it-or-hate-it hit." 

The cover of the album was inspired by Neil Gaiman's book "The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish" and designed by the same artist, Dave McKean. Despite lukewarm reviews, the album had a couple of hit radio tracks, including "Hanginaround." 

A pioneer in using social media for publicity

Adam Duritz was active on AOL message boards and Twitter at the very beginning of the social media movement. He quickly gained more than a million followers on Twitter in the early 2010s, which helped the band's popularity among a new demographic. 

In 2011, Duritz allowed fans to create the cover art for his "All My Bloody Valentines" album, interacting with the fans on social media as they submitted their artwork. He recorded the album at night during the week before Valentine's Day, according to The Wall Street Journal. "All My Bloody Valentines" is a collection of covers that includes songs by Bob Dylan, the Cars, Ryan Adams, and Tom Waits. Duritz ultimately received around 1,400 entries. After narrowing them down to 25, he couldn't choose one winner for their design work, so he chose two lucky fans' artwork for the album cover. 

Their fans have high SAT scores

Can your music preferences determine how smart you are? The jury has been out for years. Classical music, for example, has been linked to improving concentration, but never before had specific analysis been done on modern music linked with a popular aptitude test. Until it was. 

According to a data study conducted by software application writer Virgil Griffith, Counting Crows listeners, on average, scored quite high on the SATs, second only to Beethoven and close with other musicians like Radiohead, the Beatles, U2, Bob Dylan, and Sufjan Stevens, according to Chron. Griffith is known for creating the Wikipedia Scanner that detects where edits on the site are coming from.  

The study takes average SAT scores of certain college institutions and breaks down music by genre. According to its findings, Lil Wayne listeners rank at the very bottom. 

Of course, like a lot of data sets, this finding should be taken with a grain of alt-rock salt. 

Counting Crows' songs are key signifiers to famous films

Counting Crows' songs have been featured in numerous films, including "Colorblind," featured in "Cruel Intentions," and Joni Mitchell cover "Big Yellow Taxi," which was used in the soundtrack for the film "Two Weeks Notice." Adam Duritz also composed the song "Accidentally in Love" for "Shrek 2," as well as a number of original tracks for the film "Josie and the Pussycats." 

Writing the theme song for the "Shrek" franchise proved challenging for Duritz, whose personal and introspective song lyrics comes naturally. "I was really struggling with it. I generally don't write songs on demand, and I almost got to the point where I thought I wasn't going to do it," he told Billboard (via "Today"). In order to prepare for composing the song, Duritz traveled to DreamWorks animation camp to view part of the film, including the opening sequence where the song was eventually placed. "They just told me that the song had to be uplifting," Duritz added about his experience. "They actually said, 'Don't write a song about Shrek. Write a song that's about you.'"

His hard work paid off, as the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song

Adam Duritz has dated many famous women

Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz has been linked to not one, but two "Friends" stars and is known to be quite the serial celebrity dater. 

Duritz had a high-profile relationship with megastar Jennifer Aniston in 1995. Counting Crows had won two Grammys in '94, and Duritz reportedly wrote hit song "A Long December" about the epic parties thrown at actress Samantha Mathis' house during that era, according to InStyle. Duritz and Aniston were a Hollywood power couple in the making. Unfortunately, they lasted about two weeks. Duritz noted, "We never even slept together," in an interview. 

Duritz is rumored to have also dated Mathis at some point around the same time and has also been linked to Courteney Cox and Mary-Louise Parker, as well.

Years later, in 2009, he and Golden Globe-nominated actress Emmy Rossum had a public relationship for about a year. According to Rossum, the pair met on Twitter. "I was on tour with the band this summer," she said. "They invited me actually on Twitter. That's how we met — on a dare. They dared me to come sing with them a song that I'd never sung before ... So I ended up on tour with the band, and it was very, very fun." "He's extremely kind, incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, creative and respectful," Rossum said of Adam to People. They reportedly remain close friends. 

The Underwater Sunshine podcast and festival

Counting Crows may have gone dormant for a time, and a few members have come and gone, like founding member Matt Malley. They are still very much together, however, and are set to tour in 2021 to perform their latest album. Duritz especially is still a pinnacle voice in American music and has become a brand for deeply personal, introspective rock fusion and lent his name to a variety of projects.

Duritz hosted a podcast named after the Counting Crows 2012 album "Underwater Sunshine" in 2018. "Underwater Sunshine: The Podcast," co-hosted by James Campion, aired weekly until early 2020. The podcast covered various pop culture subjects, including film and music. Campion, a personal friend of Duritz, is a music and pop culture writer and co-wrote a book with Duritz. 

A semiannual music festival of the same name followed in New York, which helps shine a spotlight on independent musicians. With Duritz and Barbara Garrett as the executive producers and Kate Mullins as the executive writer, the festival strives to create an "immersive" music experience. During the festival's off seasons, the brand showcases musicians year-round on social media, promoting individual artists through video, interviews, and performance clips.