On February 13, 2020, Shake Your Money Maker, the debut album from Georgia rockers The Black Crowes celebrated its 30th anniversary. The album is an undeniable classic. Clocking in at forty-three minutes of pure, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, it peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard charts and spawned two No. 1 singles on the Mainstream Rock charts – “Hard To Handle” and “She Talks To Angels”. The record catapulted The Black Crowes to fame and fortune, put them on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and made the Robinson brothers, Chris and Rich, infamous figures in the annals of rock ‘n’ roll.
Steve Gorman had a front-row – more accurately a behind the kit – seat for all of it. As a founding member of The Black Crowes, the drummer played on all eight of the band’s studio albums and performed with The Crowes for the better part of 25 years (Gorman left the band for a period of four years in the early 2000s).
I recently had the chance to chat with Steve Gorman about the release of Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes – A Memoir. The book, published by Da Capo Press on September 24, 2019, chronicles in great detail the trials and tribulations of life on the road, in the studio and on stage with the Robinson brothers. Gorman relentlessly recounts key events and decisions that he says undermined the long-term success of the band.
“It was a very regular thing for people to say, ‘Steve you’re gonna have to write the book someday’,” says Gorman from his current hometown of Nashville, Tennessee.
The backstage and behind the scenes anecdotes recounted by Gorman are not completely unique to The Black Crowes. There are the usual tales of too much drinking, too many drugs and too much time and money wasted. However, the revelations in the book that are most shocking pertain to money and greed, and the constant battle for power between Chris and Rich Robinson.
“It’s a story about a family within the context of a band,” he explains. “I thought about writing a book while it was all happening. Every day was a series of battles and a test of wills. As a way to insulate myself or to try and maintain separation, I looked at it as a story. I was paying attention to the various arcs of the narrative and where it was leading. It all forged into my memory.”
Surprising to even the most die-hard Crowes fan, Chris and Rich Robinson showed up together on November 11, 2019, for an appearance and major announcement on The Howard Stern Show. It was the first time the brothers appeared together since February 2014 when they played what appeared to be the final show as The Black Crowes. They sat down with Stern to say that they had buried the hatchet and would be going out on the road in 2020 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Shake Your Money Maker, only this time with an entirely new cast of supporting characters. None of the 15 musicians who previously held a place in the band would be invited back for the tour, including Gorman.
When I asked Gorman about the semi-reunion of The Black Crowes, he stated, “I don’t think there are any good vibes there (between Chris and Rich). They just stopped pretending to care. I don’t begrudge them. If you’re in your 50’s and can play rock and roll music, good for you. When the band ended in 2014 with Chris asking for all of the money, it was an embarrassing and stupid way for it all to end. By 2016 the Black Crowes were in my rearview mirror.”
Gorman is referring to a 2014 email sent by the then-wife of Chris Robinson to Gorman demanding that Chris receive the lion’s share of the money for a proposed 25th-anniversary tour for Shake Your Money Maker. That email was the last straw for Gorman who officially left the band soon after.
“The true essence of that band at it’s greatest was a short time in the ’90s,” recalls Gorman. “I thought we are an amazing band, but I was never precious about it. That preciousness is what kept the band’s strengths from getting to its peak. We’d have two songs and anyone on the planet would hear one was better than the other. The brothers could never see that.”
Still, there’s no denying that Shake Your Money Maker is a remarkable, if not completely improbable album. “That record was a much better record than we were a band. As far as its impact and what it did for us personally, nothing comes close to it,” admits Gorman. “In 1989 I looked like a grunge guy. When we played as Mr. Crowes Garden in ’88-’89 (predecessor to The Black Crowes) you would have thought we were from Seattle. We fit right in with those grunge guys. Fast forward a few years and all the guys in the band are wearing bell-bottoms.”
I ask Gorman about bands like Mötley Crüe leveraging their tell-all book The Dirt to land a movie on Netflix and ultimately their own reunion tour. “There’s talk, but in the grand scheme of things, I wouldn’t want to do a film or show about the Black Crowes. Fictionalize it with some of the same stories and stuff that went on, maybe,” says Gorman. “99% of the films and tv shows made about rock bands ring hollow to me because they’re put together by fans. I would be interested in pursuing it but not sure when or where.”
Today, Gorman looks back on his 27 years in The Black Crowes with mixed feelings. “I’m appreciative, filled with gratitude and will always be sad about it,” he says while admitting that he’s definitely moved on.
He’s an active session drummer and has a new band called Trigger Hippy with a solid new album released in 2019 called Full Circle And Then Some. The band plays sporadically around the southern United States, and when I ask him about what’s next, he says, “It’s a slow process to get a band off the ground. I’m not going to rush it. Move slowly but cohesively.”
A lifelong sports fan, Gorman spent four years as the host of Steve Gorman Sports on Fox Sports Radio from 2014 – 2018, and he recently launched Steve Gorman Rocks, a rock radio music and call-in show on Westwood One radio affiliates.
Still, there’s no denying where his passion lies. “I’m a drummer who does other stuff. I don’t wake up every day thinking about writing a book for three hours. I do think, I wish I had a gig.”
His love for music and being part of a brotherhood within a band rings loud and clear throughout Hard To Handle. Despite all the bumps in the road and frustrations Gorman experienced within The Black Crowes, he has no regrets, and would rather remember the good times, like when The Black Crowes played 17 shows with Jimmy Page in 1999 and 2000.
We wrapped up our chat reminiscing about my first Crowes show, a 1992 free show the band played at G. Ross Lord Park in the north end of Toronto to celebrate local rock station Q107’s 15th anniversary. Gorman remembers the day well. “After that show, Marc Ford, Kevin McDonald from Kids In The Hall and I ended up at a speakeasy downtown with me playing drums on ‘Gloria’. That was a lot of fun.”
Thanks to Eric Alper for making this interview happen. Follow Eric on Twitter here.