The Black Crowes were the Oasis of the United States. The brotherly feud could easily have overshadowed the band, if the music wasn’t so good!
Montreal Rocks had a very vulnerable conversation with Steve Gorman, the drummer of The Black Crowes about his latest memoir book: Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes.
As Steve shared, reading the book is like spying on the band as they reached incredible heights, but were unable to celebrate these wins.
What could be the dream of many struggling musicians became the nightmare to a band that simply could not handle the pressure.
I believe every band can learn a valuable lesson on what to do, and what not to do as you rise to the top.
You can get it at Amazon.ca.
Montreal Rocks: To give you a quick background of my relationship with The Black Crowes, I’ve been married over 28 years. The weekend where the spark was lit with my future wife was a road trip to New York City and Cape Cod. For some reason, I remember playing The Black Crowes: Shake Your Money Maker. It was so different from what was out there at the time. Here was this girl, open to cool music…so I thought…this might work out! We are still married.
Steve Gorman: It’s a good indicator, if during the first road trip, there are no fights over the music…then you are in good shape.
MR: I’ve been enjoying reading your book. Obviously, fights are a big part of it. At first, it felt like the grumpy old man: I’m pissed off at all this! It quickly turned into a very interesting story about lessons that every single band can learn from. In fact, I think every band should read and learn from this book.
So many lessons about things going right, but also what not to do. It’s a fascinating examination of things going out of control, so quickly.
Steve: You are not the first person to say that. I knew going into it, and certainly since, that the way people read the book is different. There is direct correlation between their affection for the band and how they read it initially.
People who don’t necessarily identify as Black Crowes fans pick up on the lessons learned, and what not to do. They get the big picture.
The people who are big fans of the band find it harder to swallow at first, obviously. They read anger into what I read as sadness or regret.
I did write it as a story, not a history, but a memoir. It’s about how things felt, looked and tasted at the time.
There was a lot of anger in real time, but there is no anger now. It’s all too far in the past. In my mind, this book is full of gratitude, full of sadness and relief at the end.
That’s how I see The Black Crowes. I’m very grateful, but sad at how difficult we made it and how it didn’t do all that it could have done. I’m glad it’s over but it was an amazing experience.
MR: It feels like we are touring with you, experiencing the events and the drama. We have the highs, not in a drug sense, but in the sense of joy with certain accomplishments you had achieved. For example, when you describe how you hoped to sell 50,000 albums and next thing you know it’s 5 million! That’s 1000 times more!
Steve: I’m glad to hear you say that. That’s my writing voice. You know, I sat down for two days, thinking I’m going to write the book that Hunter Thompson and Michael Chabon would have written together. You try that for two days and get 9 words out and go: I’m just going to write like I write.
MR: In your own voice.
Steve: That was all in my sub-conscious. As soon as I recognized that I was thinking that way, I was like: Oh my god, what am I doing?
The goal was to write the emotion, the spirit and the mood as close to what I remember feeling at the time. I wanted it to feel like people were spying on us.
“I wanted it (Hard To Handle Book) to feel like people were spying on us.” – Steve Gorman
There is also me, looking back and making sense of things at the end of chapters and plenty of asides where I insert an opinion from 2019.
MR: It parallels your music in how you found your own voice at a time where people were doing all kinds of other things, musically.
I remember the one story where you have your trailer between Nirvana and Guns & Roses. You didn’t fit in, but also you did fit in. It was all a crazy musical experience, but in the end, it was all about listening to your gut.
Steve: It’s funny, as I’ve said this several times: All you have at the end of the day is your gut. I don’t regret the things I did. I regret the things I didn’t do that my gut told me to do.
“I don’t regret the things I did. I regret the things I didn’t do that my gut tome me to do.” – Steve Gorman
When you go against your own gut, as a band or as an individual in a band, that’s the stuff that keeps you up at night, down the road.
I don’t think it’s an angry book. I didn’t write it to kick dirt up in anyone’s face, and I don’t say things now to do the same.
I say this very happily: I knew the Black Crowes were in my rear-view as soon as Chris sent that email in early 2014. “Oh…this is done now…officially…good.”
The 6 years since have been the best years of my life. I’m thrilled to be able to say that, but it’s also an indicator at how sad the whole story is. It’s just too bad that’s reality.
My longest ambition was to be in a band that stood the test of time and stuck together. I was in a band that stayed around a long time but sticking together was not something we ever figured out how to do.
MR: You succeeded in creating music that is timeless. You can listen to the Black Crowes today and it still sounds relevant.
One of the quotes I really enjoyed is: “Why couldn’t we just allow ourselves to feel good about all we were accomplishing?”
Time after time, we see you with these big wins, but not being able to grasp that happiness.
Steve: We thought that if we celebrated milestones and accomplishments, it said we are not focused on the art. In a sense: Don’t celebrate, just get to work on the next song.
It wasn’t from an Agrarian, shoulder to the plow work mindset. It was a fear of acknowledging success.
I think there was always a fear in the band of trying our best. What if we tried really hard and failed?
The whole thing where you constantly steal defeat from the jaws of victory is rooted in fear. The fear of being accountable.
To continually move forward towards success, there is an accountability to each other.
The one thing that the two brothers shared, was an unwillingness to be accountable to the rest of the band or to each other or themselves. That’s a fatal flaw in any endeavor, and it never changed.
There were a lot of things where our band and manager thought: They will all grow out of this.
It just never happened.
It’s a shame. It’s a real sad thing to have those moments happen and not allow ourselves to enjoy the ride. I knew that it was going to crash soon enough.
After a while, you get tired of having the rug pulled out from under you, so you find a permanent state of: It’s OK.
You know the other shoe is always about to drop, so you don’t allow yourself to get too far removed from that feeling.
MR: When you mentioned: “It’s OK.” Keeping that in, reminds me of the really dramatic part of the book in Yokohama where you are looking out that window. You are making a decision: Am I going to jump and end it, or not.
You then go and confront Chris. The fear right in front of you: it’s that one door that you have to knock on. That was extremely brave. Thanks for sharing that story. It’s a beautiful thing to share those types of feelings because they are real. They happen to a lot of people.
How did you feel in that moment, when you did knock and he opened the door?
Steve: For better or for worse, I was still looking for my friend. I didn’t care at all about the band at that moment. I didn’t care at all about his celebrity or his art…nothing. I was just in search of a human connection.
I thought the band should be a place where we are all safe. That’s our home, our bubble. It’s us against the world.
When the world embraced the band, then it turned into us against us. It was heartbreaking.
Truth be told, that whole experience in Japan…I had two ways I could have gone with that. One was to admit that I see what this is now: Not a good place to be in, not worth it for me and simply leave.
I couldn’t imagine doing that. At that point in time, I’m 20 years into a single-minded focus of what I want my life to be.
So instead of saying: Oh, this isn’t what I thought it was and move on…it was: Oh this is what is involved and what it takes. I can’t walk away from it.
I’m not saying I should have quit in 1992. It was years after that I finally let go of the concept that maybe one day, we will all be on the same team again. But in that moment, it was really important to me and essential.
It wasn’t even about getting answer from Chris that I wanted. It was allowing myself to be vulnerable.
There is a lot of power in saying: I’m lost, man! I’m done. I’m not equipped to deal with this new reality. I thought I had my sh!t together, but man, I don’t.
I’d never been a in place like that where I let myself say those words. I probably had multiple times when I should of.
It’s no different than the first time I started therapy, years ago. Just calling and making the appointment made me feel better. I hadn’t even met the guy yet, suddenly it was: I’m OK.
Just the acknowledgement that there are issues where I don’t have the equipment yet to deal with, is very empowering.
I don’t think I struggle with depression. I certainly have my moods like anybody but I do know the feeling of complete desperation, anxiety, fear and hopelessness.
I’m relieved and grateful that when it hit me, it was so out of character, that it wasn’t something I allowed to settle in.
I recognized that the fire alarm had been pulled, as opposed to people who deal with this in a very slow, incremental amount over time. They then find themselves with no other world view.
It wasn’t my nature at all, so when I got there…thankfully I was: Wait a minute. I don’t care if I fly home tomorrow. I just can’t feel like this anymore, no matter what happens at the end of this.
MR: It’s almost like you don’t recognize yourself, because you are becoming a different person. You have to take control, in order to become you again.
Maybe this touches on the aspect of fame. To me, fame is not a natural concept. It doesn’t make sense to be put on a pedestal. We are just not equipped to handle that adoration. It’s very one sided. I can read your book and think I know you, but we’ve only had 16 minutes and 30 seconds of talking together.
Steve: Yeah, right.
MR: You don’t know me at all. I sort of know you…but it’s such an unbalanced dynamic that you can’t have healthy encounters or interactions with such an unbalanced shift of power.
Steve: Sure. What’s funny is that in the early 90s, The Black Crowes were famous, but I wasn’t. Chris was famous.
There would be times, in 1990 to 1992, where Chris and I would be getting lunch somewhere and I would feel bad, and protective of him. Man, this is crazy what he is going through.
MR: Getting attacked by women in wedding dresses…that was funny.
Steve: In some ways, it’s not easier, what he dealt with, but at least there was no gray area, unlike the rest of us. I’m famous in a two-block radius of a Black Crowes gig. That’s it.
If I’m walking in a mall, on a day off in Winnipeg…not one human on earth knows who I am. If I’m standing next to Chris: “I think that’s the drummer in The Black Crowes.” You know what I mean?
If I’m a block away from the gig, walking back to the bus…then I’m the drummer of The Black Crowes. Four blocks away, I’m just a dude walking down the street.
The rest of the band was also in that weird grey zone. Chris didn’t have that…he was just famous. In the early 90s…if you were famous, man, you were FAMOUS! It wasn’t like internet fame now. Everybody knew who that guy was.
We were all dealing with different levels of those things. He was built for that, or he certainly believed he was.
I recognized now that at that time, I had the best of both worlds. I could walk through the airport and no one was going to bug me. If I sat down next to someone on the plane that I wanted to impress, I could say: I’m in The Black Crowes.
I had control in a way that Chris never did, which was better for my temperament for sure.
MR: If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice…let’s say after what you described as the best show at the Marquee in the UK…
Steve: I don’t think it was the best show ever. It was the vibe, the feeling of it.
I didn’t put this part in the book, but when we were getting ready to go out, Rich was having a meltdown because his guitar tech didn’t have a certain cord or something was a little weird with his gear. He freaked out on the guy and literally lost his temper in a way that we hadn’t yet seen.
I remember thinking: Oh, Rich is really stressed about the show. He’s excited about this but it’s coming out sideways.
I tried to intervene. I said: “Dude…we are about to play the Marquee…it’s sold out! What’s the problem?” That just made it worse for him.
To be in England and have people singing the words to our song…They didn’t do that at home. It was the first time we went: This might be a thing. This is going to work!
MR: If you could have whispered something in your ear after that gig, maybe to make the next decade better, what would it have been?
Steve: I would have said: Chris is never going to change. All that matters is what you can get from this.
You can only be a good member of a team if everybody is on the team, otherwise, you are just spinning your wheels.
I have a natural sense of team connectiveness and working together. I can help people get out of their own way at times. I can be a source of great positivity and motivation. When you are dealing with someone who has no interest or awareness of those things, every word you say is a waste of your breath.
Like I mentioned in the book, coming to terms with own co-dependency was a giant moment for me in the late 90s. I didn’t even know what that term meant. I had no idea that I had my own issues that were so entrenched and damaging to myself.
It wasn’t damaging to the team. You know…the addict is the addict. He’s got enough damage. The addict is screwing everyone else’s life, and the co-dependant is killing himself. I got to a place where my only options was to leave. I stopped trying to fix the band, I just had to fix me.
MR: Post book, today. How does music make you happy?
Steve: I have a band called Trigger Hippy. My partner Nick (Govrik) and I have been at this for 10 years. We made a record 6 years ago and toured in 2014 and 2015, then took a few years off. We built the band back up from scratch the put a record out in October. We are playing shows again next weekend in the South.
It’s the greatest joy in my life. I’m still a drummer. I’m a drummer who wrote a book, has a radio show and has a band. It always starts with: I am a drummer.
I love it now, in the purest sense, more than I ever have. It’s exciting and fun.
The energy of the 90s, which was The Black Crowes at their best, was exhilarating. Was it worth all the pain and suffering? Barely. It was 51 vs 49:
For me, having matured, evolved and grown, it would not have been worth it at all at the age of 54. It has to be 90/10 or I’m not interested.
We bought into our own Mythology that we needed that disfunction and that fueled the great artistic expressions. That’s just a bunch of horse sh!t.
MR: I can see what you are talking about.
Steve: That’s what you say when you are afraid to grow up and face yourself and say: Oh my god, I’m wrong and I don’t have the answers.
It’s truly that simple. There are a lot of things that I say and think now that are “not rock-n-roll.” I’m thankful for that. Buying into the myth of those things, thinking you have to be a certain way, act a certain way or sound a certain way or do anything a certain way is the antithesis of what rock-n-roll meant to me in the first place.
MR: I thank-you for saying that. I’m interviewing a lot of up and coming bands, specifically in the Montreal scene. I see that danger of getting into your own head, having the impostor syndrome where you start being popular, but doubt yourself wondering if people really love you, or is it all fake and it will crumble at any moment. All those things are real.
Steve: A big problem with bands, and with The Black Crowes is group think. We were constantly recreating scenarios because it worked the first time. The key to a band is exactly the same as the key to life.
Who is the greatest band? The Beatles. What did they do? The never repeated themselves, never! Every album is a jump forward from the one before. Every photo, they looked different.
You just go to the next thing. The Beatles went into it, thinking this will last a few years. If you look at interviews from 1964, 1969 was a million years away for them.
Now, a 6 year recording career is a blink of an eye. Look what they did in six years. Why? Because they thought each day was their last.
A band now is a career, while it used to be a lark.
The reasons band break up is because the members don’t mature, evolve, and grow. They get stuck in that bubble. That’s every rock band’s story.
You live in a cocoon. The ones who get rid of that, puncture it, acknowledge and respect each other succeed. It’s like any other relationship. You have to let the others grow in their own direction.
Bands are afraid to break up. You are afraid to mess with something that is working. So, you end up now with bands that are together 25 to 35 years and they hate each other. Literally…they can’t speak to each other off stage.
Is it still worth it? I don’t know…it wouldn’t be to me.
MR: What you are saying is that, oftentimes, we get into a comfort zone. I’m not a musician, but I can see that someone doesn’t want to change anything, because it’s working.
There is a saying that great things happen just outside of your comfort zone.
If you can just evolve a little bit, that’s when the greatness comes.
Steve: Yes. The Crowes had a real problem with totalitarianism. Chris wanted everyone to think exactly like how he thought, with no evidence of that being a good thing whatsoever. There was no track record of success when everybody tried things his way.
Greatness is a Venn Diagram. It’s truly about the stuff in the middle. If you have 4 members of a band…I’m not saying everyone gets 25% of the circle. Whatever percentage they have, others have to respect the significance of that.
I don’t know what Adam Clayton does for U2, but if you take him out, that’s a very different band. They understand that, which is the most important part.
There is a chemistry between those four guys, and it has held up. If they haven’t had their own private squabbles, my god…
MR: Every family has.
Steve: It’s legendary how un-legendary their problems have been. They’ve kept a lid on that stuff incredibly well.
MR: Maybe they knocked on that door many years prior and worked things out.
Steve: They definitely did.
MR: Like you said, you have to have a willingness to change. If they don’t change, you have to accept that too.
You can teach someone to play a better drumbeat, or a better guitar solo, but you will never change their personality.
Steve: For real music, their personality IS their playing. I just play like me. That’s what is most important to me.
That’s how I taught myself to play in my own band. I don’t know how else to play. When I’m playing drums, that’s an expression of me that is very pure and a straight line to who I am as a person. If someone was trying to alter and change that style, they would just be wasting their time.
MR: Hard to Handle is the title of the book. If you are in a band, you have to pick up this book and examine the lessons within. Look forward to seeing you here with Trigger Hippy. Cheers.
The Book: Amazon
Interview: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music. You can follow him on Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. His new Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs is coming soon.Share this :