Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

1Sep/102

Interview Leftovers: Steve Gorman of The Black Crowes

I saw The Black Crowes for the first time in 1991, opening for ZZ Top at the Richfield Coliseum.  It was a "complicated" tour for the band (that's the term I used to reference the tour during my recent conversation with BC drummer Steve Gorman) and truthfully, they weren't very good, which was disappointing to me, as Shake Your Money Maker had been one of my favorite albums of the previous year.  But they came a long way in a short period of time and quickly found their sea legs as a band, becoming a unit very worthy of the tag bestowed on them by Melody Maker as the "Most Rock 'n Roll Rock 'n Roll Band in the World."

20 years later, they're doing what every band does to celebrate a 20th anniversary - they're calling it quits - at least for now.  They're calling it an "indefinite hiatus," and I'd say that they've earned the break - leaving us with some good music to enjoy while they're away.  Croweology is the band's current project - a 20 track trip through the looking glass of the band's career output to date, performed acoustically, although to call it an acoustic album would be deceptive - at many points on the album, it flat out rocks (as my buddy Tony "TNT" Tilford would say).  Give honorable mention as well to Before The Frost, the album that preceded the release of Croweology - any way that you'd like to look at it, they're punching out on top.

The chat with Gorman for the Riverfront Times was a lot of fun and 30 minutes of 86 mph conversation that left me with way more material than I needed for the final piece.  The first part can be found here with additional "outtakes" here, including a very cool story about his experience working on Warren Zevon's final album The Wind.  The rest of everything that was left follows below, and I think you'll find that there's some very tasty stuff.  After the interview, I quickly remembered why Gorman is the guy that does a lot of the Black Crowes press - he has a limitless number of good stories and a great personality - it was a really enjoyable interview!

Early on in your career, the band had a couple of complicated tours with Aerosmith and ZZ Top. As a member of the band during that time, what was your takeaway from those experiences?

Aerosmith was a drag - it was something that we went into thinking that it would be a lot of fun, really great and exciting. It was our first introduction to the real business of big time rock. And that's nothing against the guys in the band, it's their machine was just sort of, we were just a bump on their ass for that tour. But that was fine because it wasn't the Aerosmiith that we grew up listening to, it was Aerosmith 1990. Which was still a very good band, [but] it wasn't something we were really enamored with personally. We decided to keep telling ourselves that "well, we're getting in front of a lot of people."

We weren't very good yet either - we were playing really fast and we were just trying to get noticed. We came off that tour and then did a tour with Robert Plant which was the exact opposite. That was a great professional environment to hang in. He was a very constantly creative and interesting person to hang out with and did make himself completely available to us constantly. So that was way more what we kind of thought being on tour with a big guy would be like. By the time ZZ Top rolled around, we were very confident and we figured out how to do those big shows in arenas and all of that shit was going on.

When all of the shit started where they wanted to fire us, we honestly - people think it was a big setback, we could not have possibly cared less. We never even discussed it. When they did fire us, we thought "well fucking great, now we can finally do some of our own dates." We saw the value in it because you can't help but notice "wow, everyone's talking about this." Beyond that, we didn't care. But again, that's not even the guys in ZZ Top - Billy Gibbons has always been awesome to us and with us and we're friends. That didn't have anything to do with anything, that was just business and so that's why it didn't bother us, it was like "well this isn't our business, this is their business."

I had just seen the band in Cleveland, and you left the ZZ Top tour shortly after that show. Pre-internet, when you would hear about something like that on the radio, it was really shocking. But I think you're right, you definitely got some good mileage out of the incident, because it was all that anybody was talking about.

Well it was funny because they actually fired us in Atlanta, so that's our hometown. We were doing three nights at The Omni and we walked off stage after the second night and they said "you're off the tour." It was amazing because that night at midnight, Chris went on [syndicated rock radio call-in program] Rockline [laughs], which you remember, used to be a big deal. And then two days later, David Fricke came to Atlanta to do the cover story for Rolling Stone. It couldn't have been more "really, you guys just fired us? Awesome! Great, thanks!" We threw together a six week theater tour, which was our first headlining tour outside of clubs and we were just elated. We couldn't have been happier, like "oh fucking right on, we can go play a full show now." We brought out Jellyfish to open, which we loved their record - we'd never been happier.

Touching on Shake Your Money Maker a little bit, it was fun for me to pick out the band's influences while listening to that album. The band had a sound that was instantly classic and yet not a clone sound of the bands that had come before.

It's funny, for all of the Stones comparisons, you can't say on any level Chris ever sounded remotely like Mick Jagger - not voice wise, phrasing or lyrically - it's a whole different thing. If you want to say Rod Stewart, well our band, truth is that we don't play anything like The Faces. If you A/B our music and The Faces, it's pretty hard to find. It's not to say that we don't love those records - we listen to The Faces, The Stones and we listened to Nirvana when that came out. We listen to everything, but those people were sticking those things on us, which truth be told if you're going to say I sound like a band, I'll take the Stones - that's hardly a problem.

As a live band, we took way more cues from Led Zeppelin, how they played live, [and we] took way more cues from Little Feat and The Grateful Dead, I mean we certainly tried to. That's the bands that we were emulating with how we did things live. Truth is, because we're all pretty much self-taught musicians, we weren't good enough to do covers for the first three years that we were a band - we had to write our own songs. But our playing style, the reason we have our own sort of style is because we only know playing with each other and how we interact with each other and everyone's individual things they do. At this point obviously it's years since it's made sense to compare us to another band.

I definitely saw the progression from that first show that I saw on the ZZ Top tour and the next Black Crowes show that I saw a few years later.

Oh yeah. The Shake Your Money Maker tour, we were just in school for two years. When we started the Southern Harmony tour in the summer of '92, that was like okay, this is where we're getting to now. By the time our third record came out in the fall of '94, that's when it was no longer like we're trying to get somewhere, that felt like ok, we're here, this is where we're at now. We started playing together in 1987 and I had owned a drum kit for two years when we made Shake Your Money Maker.

It was amazing to see the reaction because I remember thinking “wow, you people are reviewing us and critiquing us like a real band.” It didn't dawn on me that we were a real band. It's like I guess if you put a record out, you're jumping in the big shark tank. I'm sitting there going “man, we've only been together three years, this is going to take a while.” It was six or seven years as a band before we really felt that everything we've learned, we're able to apply it in a way that's making a lot more sense.

It's like anything, you gotta start at the bottom and work your way up. The commercial success of Shake Your Money Maker thankfully didn't deter us from what we always wanted to be, which was to just get to be a really great live band. You know, that record sold that many copies because of a lot of elements – promotion sells records and your live show sells tickets, and we were always more focused on the ticket part. We love making records and we love our records but the idea that you're going to go spend a year talking about one album as opposed to the band, we were always promoting The Black Crowes, not just one record.

I think that you certainly had a bit of foresight, focusing on touring instead of record sales, because these days, bands are obviously making the bulk of their money touring, because they're not making that money off of album sales.

Oh, totally. That was always the thing with us. It's amazing to talk to people now and to remember in the '90s that we used to get royalty checks [laughs]. It's like "wow, that was great!" You know what I mean? You're sitting at home and every three months a check comes for record sales, that's shocking. It was about an hour and half after some kid in a dorm room figured out Napster, that was the last check that we ever got. It was like "man, that kind of blows." But that's just what it is - thankfully we were always doing the live thing, because it is an amazing thing for technology to end so many careers. It built so many careers, but it certainly ended just as many.

The Black Crowes are on tour for the rest of the year, a tour that appropriately is called "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys."  Their new album Croweology is in stores now. Visit their official website for all things Black Crowes including the latest tour dates.

  • http://thesixonefournine.com/ judd6149

    Nice work here, Matt. That must have been a thrill to be leading that interview…it was to read it. He’s definitely a good interview, eh? That’s what fans want, too…give me the inside dirt, vibe, stories…that is where the coolness is. Nice job shaking the tree.

    That Zevon story…have you read the book his ex-wife put out (I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times Of Warren Zevon”)? Wow. I am huge Zevon fan and that book put he over the top. I didn’t realize how F’ed Up he actually was. It is amazing with geniuses like that…what could they have done with a clear mind? Or was that his Sh*t was so F*cked up that the brilliance bubbled up…chicken or egg, I guess.

    In the book it mentions that Zevon went back on the juice…hard…in his last days. That night of the KOHD recording he was booze soaked. The way the story plays out confirms what Steve said about the night.

    The extra interview bits were gold…thanks.

  • http://thesixonefournine.com/ judd6149

    p.s. I agree with Steve about “Hotel Illness” on the new set. There is much more stomp on this one an dLuther adds some nice Hill Country flavor onthe National.

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