“Jimmy Page is looking at my foot!”
Steve Gorman is recalling one of the many memorable moments he’s experienced in more than 20 years as the drummer for the Black Crowes. It was a 1995 concert that marked the first time Page sat in with the Crowes; he would eventually tour and record a live album with the Atlanta rockers. But at the time, he wasn’t yet a friend and colleague—he was a guitar god waiting for a young, intimidated Gorman to set the tempo for the band’s next song.
“I’m in charge? Wait a minute—me?” Gorman remembers thinking, before finally getting a grip on himself: “Well, you’re a drummer…count it off.”
Recently, Gorman and the Crowes’ other two founding members, Chris and Rich Robinson, completed a project that gave all three of them a chance to look back on their many milestones: “Croweology,” a double album featuring acoustic versions of 20 songs from throughout their long, storied career. The album includes fresh versions of fan favorites like "Remedy" and "She Talks to Angels," but also plenty of surprises, including underrated later songs like "Girl From a Pawnshop" and "Non-Fiction" and deep cuts like "My Morning Song," from the band's masterpiece, 1992's "The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion."
Listen: “The Black Crowes - My Morning Song” (from "Croweology")
They’ll support the collection with an ambitious four-month tour—playing acoustic and electric sets most nights—before taking a much-needed (but, they insist, amicable) hiatus.
Gorman ducked out from the band’s sound check at a concert in Fort Wanye, Ind., to talk about “Croweology” and reflect on 20-plus years in one of America’s rowdiest, and most successful, rock ‘n’ roll bands. (And to explain why he’ll never be a Kentucky Wildcats fan.)
So when the band decides to do an acoustic album, do you as the drummer kind of go, “Aw, man, am I gonna have to play brushes the whole time?”
It’s funny, when everyone else gets quiet, it’s a far more musical experience for me as the drummer. I feel even more in control of things back there in the chair, because I’m sort of setting the entire dynamic template. Whereas at a normal show, drums can’t keep up with an amplifier. If somebody wants to take over, all they gotta do is turn a knob up, you know? So the jock in me comes out and says, “Alright, I’m the point guard here, let’s do this.” But like you said, I’m not a fan of breaking out the brushes. You go to the brushes and before you know it, it’s Perry Como time.
How did you guys go about choosing the songs that would appear on “Croweology”? Was that a difficult process, narrowing it down to just 20?
It was shockingly easy. I was absolutely expecting Word War III. Chris, Rich and myself, we said, everyone write down your 25 songs. And I was laying odds on five—I thought, “We’ll get five common songs and then we’ll fight over the rest of it.” And I think we actually had 13. And then after those 13, we said, what songs are on two of the three lists? And that was another six of them. So we had 19 songs like one minute after we turned in our lists.
You have a pretty unique perspective on the Crowes, as the only constant member of the band apart from Chris and Rich. How would you describe your relationship with Chris and Rich now? Where are you at personally after doing this together for more than 20 years?
Personally, with both of them, it’s easy. As much as they get the battling brothers thing, which has certainly been true, you know, everybody in the band has had moments where they’re at each other’s throats. In the ’90s, it was really like a gang fight. It’s such a cliché, I don’t really say it much—but 10 years ago, when my son was born, a lot of that for me just went out the window. So right now, things are great. It’s an easier vibe around the band now. Which actually has a lot to do with why we’re gonna take a break. We like what we’re doing a lot, and we can feel ourselves getting a little burnt, so it’s just like, while we feel like we’re at the top of our game, let’s pull the plug for a few years.
You mentioned something earlier about being a jock, and you do a sports podcast (www.stevegormansports.com)—is that something you’ve always been into, in addition to the music?
Oh yeah. I played sports all through high school and into college. Being a musician and getting into a band—there was no reality in that growing up. There was a time when I fancied myself quite a basketball player—but then by my junior year college, I was like, “I don’t think this NBA thing is gonna work out, since I’m not even playing college ball.”
So growing up in Kentucky, I’m sure you must be a big Wildcats fan.
No, actually, I detest Kentucky basketball. I went to Western Kentucky—I’m a Hilltopper man. My family’s from Detroit originally. I moved to Kentucky when I was 10…and was surrounded by complete Wildcat zealot insanity. I immediately said I’ll never cheer for that team and I’ve stuck to that principle.
Looking back at the past 20 years—since that’s sort of what you’ve been doing with the “Croweology” album—do you have a proudest moment in all your time with the Crowes?
There’s probably a few. The first time we went to England—[“Shake Your Money Maker”] took off in England before it did in the States, really. We flew to London and played the Marquee Club in the summer of ’90—and we had just done two club tours of America opening for metal bands, ‘cause that’s the only people that were touring that would take us out with them. And we get to London—and I mean, I’m just stunned that we were in another country. That never occurred to me, that we’d get across an ocean with this band. And we get to the Marquee Club and it was sold out. And people were singing the words to the songs. We’d never had any of that in the States. That was an absolutely mind-blowing event for me. It almost felt like “Candid Camera,” you know—I was just waiting for, “Well, actually, MTV hired these people.”
It’s funny you mention opening for metal bands. I think we tend to forget now, but back in the late ‘80s, there weren’t very many bands doing what you guys were doing.
No, not at all. Nobody was more surprised when “Shake Your Money Maker” took off than we were. We made that record in the summer of ’89—and you put on rock radio, or turn on MTV, it was just metal and pop-metal and lipstick bands. That was all there was. There were some great rock ‘n’ roll bands, all playing in clubs—and Tom Petty was already huge, I guess, but there were no young rock ‘n’ roll bands anywhere that were doing anything that people were noticing. And you know, we made that record for nothing—we didn’t even have a record deal. I remember we were making that record saying, “Well, if we can sell 50,000 copies, they gotta let us make another one.” And two years later, it was like five million copies sold, and we’re looking at each other like, “What the f--- just happened?”