Just three of the Black Crowes’ dozen-plus members lasted with the band from beginning to end, and two of them were brothers Chris and Rich Robinson. The third, drummer Steve Gorman, nearly didn’t survive the sessions for the Crowes’ 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker. As he details in his excellent deep dive into the band’s dysfunction, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes (written with Steven Hyden), guitarist Rich Robinson wanted to replace him with a session drummer after just one day in the studio.
Cooler heads like producer George Drakoulias prevailed, and in fairly short order Gorman transformed himself from a guy who couldn’t play to a click into the hard-grooving backbone of the band. As Gorman’s drumming evolved, so did the Black Crowes. Just A/B the workmanlike swagger of Moneymaker to the disciplined, soulful pocket Gorman and the band achieved on 1992’s The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It’s sonic proof of what two years on the road can do.
“1990 was the year of the greatest growth any band could have,” Gorman says about that rapid-fire evolution. “We made a record that was way better than we were, and then we hit the road, playing clubs, then arenas opening for Aerosmith, Robert Plant, and Heart. It got edited out of the book, but the significance of the Heart tour was that we figured out how to be a real good band in big rooms. We didn’t even try to perform. We literally had open rehearsals for 45 minutes in arenas because their audience didn’t care.
“By the time we were making Southern Harmony in December ’91, there wasn’t any conscious thought to ‘We gotta make this groove.’ If we were in a room together, we just sounded like that.”
Driving the southern-fried band wasn’t the only area in which Gorman was gaining expertise as the Crowes made their ascent. Navigating day-to-day life with the Robinson brothers, especially singer Chris Robinson, helped Gorman become a master at compartmentalizing the highs and lows. There’s one instance after another in Hard to Handle of Gorman employing that coping mechanism just to make it through a session, soundcheck, or bus trip. Without those compartmentalization skills, Gorman likely would’ve become one of the many casualties to pass through the Crowes’ ranks.
“I look at it like I was literally tailor-made to be the guy that could handle being in this band for as long as I did,” he says. “I had moments with Chris that were horrific and really disconcerting. And then a week later, we were in another city—you’re always in another place—so it was like, ‘Well, that was Hamburg. Now we’re in London. It’s okay now.’ You do whatever you have to do to tell yourself it’s okay to still be having fun here.
“Life in most bands, especially in the Black Crowes, is a constant set of choices. ‘Do I fight this battle or not?’ With the brothers, everybody had to make those decisions around the clock. ‘Am I going to add gas or water to this fi re?’ That’s what every day in that band was. It doesn’t take long before that’s your normal. And then you get onstage and you have those great nights, and you get out of the studio and you’re feeling good, and it’s like, ‘I can’t get this feeling anywhere else.’”
While there’s definitely less drama in Gorman’s life these days, there’s plenty to keep him occupied. In addition to the release of Hard to Handle, Gorman’s post-Crowes band Trigger Hippy released its second album, Full Circle & Then Some, in October and will be touring into 2020. Gorman also recently launched a new syndicated weeknight classic rock radio show, Steve Gorman Rocks, which is being carried by more than two hundred stations. His move to rock radio follows a decade-long stint doing sports talk, including his Steve Gorman Sports show, which ran nationwide for nearly five years on the Fox Sports Radio network.
For a self-professed “lifelong sports idiot,” the jump from drums to talking about the NFL and college basketball wasn’t too big of a stretch. “I did a lot of radio for the Black Crowes,” he says. “By the late ’90s, when sports talk was taking off, I’d go do the rock station, and there’d be a sports station down the hall. And I’d always go, ‘Can I sit in with them, too?’ I’d usually get [in radio voice] ‘A guy in a rock band thinks he knows about sports!’ So I’d go sit in and they’d always be blown away. Whatever city I was in, I had a memory about a local team.
“The old show was Steve Gorman Sports! Now it’s Steve Gorman Rocks! I guess my next show is Steve Gorman Politics….maybe Steve Gorman Home Repair.” [laughs]
Gorman endorses Sugar Percussion drums, Paiste cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks, and Evans heads.