Steve Gorman has had an extremely busy year. His band, Trigger Hippy, just released a second album entitled Full Circle & Then Some (Turkey Grass Records). He also launched his latest radio show, Steve Gorman Rocks!, on satellite stations nationally, and he just released a memoir of his time as the drummer in the infamous rock ‘n’ roll band, The Black Crowes.
Hard to Handle: The Life & Death of The Black Crowes is a damning account of brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, with whom Gorman co-founded The Black Crowes some thirty years ago, and how their compulsive need to sabotage anything that came in their path ultimately led to the group’s demise. Gorman is quick to point out that the memoir is simply his recollection of things as he remembers them. But, as he reminds me in a recent chat for AQ, “I’m one of only a few people that can offer that perspective.”
Let’s talk about Trigger Hippy. Just from the opening moments of the record, your distinct presence and feel behind the drum kit can be heard, and it was a most welcome sound. What made you want to put Trigger Hippy back on the front burner again?
I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. Nick (Govrik, bass) and I always wanted to keep Trigger Hippy going…. It was very important that we get the right vibe, the right people, the right record. We just didn’t want to do anything that felt like a false start again, so we were very patient with it. Almost four years really, from the end of those last shows to this record… two years of that were spent getting the songs written and getting them tracked, getting Amber (Woodhouse, vocals) in place…. We found Ed (Jurdi, guitar) first, and as soon as we jammed with Ed, we both thought he was the guy. We were thrilled. And it was a question of, you know, ‘Are we gonna have another singer? Do we find another guitar player?’ Trigger Hippy has always been just me and Nick. That’s the name we came up with 10 years ago and, initially, it was just me and Nick and whoever was available for a jam—[that] was essentially Trigger Hippy. And it obviously became more of a band at one point, but we wanted to take it to that next place where it’s really a band…. Trigger Hippy, for me it’s my musical everything. I don’t have other bands, I don’t have other side projects. I just wanted Trigger Hippy to be the sole focus of my life, musically. So, in order to do that, we knew we needed to take our time and make sure we found the right people who are on the same page in that regard.
I’m glad you mentioned the new members, because this is a new lineup for Trigger Hippy, with Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene returning to their respective solo careers. You talked about Ed and Amber: what kind of energy do they bring to the band now? Because Amber in particular is a powerhouse vocalist.
We never once thought about the old lineup of the old band. There was never a sense of, ‘Well, let’s see what we did before and figure out where the next move is’…. We looked to new music. We didn’t even think about old songs or learn old songs from the band until we were playing gigs… So, starting with that mindset, someone like Amber turns up and she brings all that she brings. It was pretty easy to not look back.
If the memoir is any indication, it sounds like this Trigger Hippy record was a far more relaxed and positive environment compared to the Black Crowes records you made, wouldn’t you say?
Yeah. I don’t think about it consciously, but yeah, of course. I mean, there’s no tension whatsoever from within Trigger Hippy in any direction…. And there never really was. I mean, there’s a bit of shell-shock coming out of the Black Crowes where anything would seem better or more easygoing. But, yeah, for the Trigger Hippy record, we were in our own studio, we were operating on our own time…. Everybody’s very respectful of each other’s abilities and talents and ideas. But, the contrast is pretty certain.
You know, so much of the Black Crowes legacy to date is either rooted in speculation, or chosen to be viewed through rose-tinted glasses. What made you want to go on record now with your own accounts?
You know, everything you just said is true. There were a lot of secrets, and any family that struggles with addiction is going to have a lot of similar things: co-dependency, blind loyalty, broken trust, and a lot of secrets. And the Black Crowes certainly check all those boxes. When the band stopped in 2014, when Chris demanded my share of the band’s income and the majority of Rich’s share, and we said no—which brought the whole thing to a screeching halt—that was never going to sit right with me. It was disgusting and it was embarrassing. I can’t think of a more embarrassing answer to the question, ‘Why did your band break up?’ It’s horrible. So that was never gonna sit right…. What I started acknowledging and really seeing very clearly was how much we had all just lived in a world of secrets inside the band—people had always said, ‘Well, if anyone’s going to write a book, it needs to be you. You’re the only one that’s gonna remember all this or has a clear view of it.’ Whether that’s true or not, I always would say, ‘Yeah, I would like to write a book, but nobody would believe it.’ It was kind of a throwaway punchline. But I did find that to be true…. I would have ideas and memories or thoughts, and I would just write notes to myself where I was connecting dots a little bit and in little ways…. One day I just said out loud, literally, ‘I think I’m going to write a fucking book.’ It was like a ‘Wow, this is weird’ moment. It was still another year before I started, but by the summer of 2017, I was definitely thinking, ‘I’m going to do this’…. What had been very angry and bitter was replaced with just an acceptance and gratitude and sadness, which are much easier places to write from. I never wanted to write an angry, bitter book. I don’t think I did, either.
That’s one of the things that’s really great about the book, is that you’re not writing it all from a place of anger—which is admirable, I have to admit, because some of the situations you describe in the memoir, and some of the decisions that were made in within the band, are so ludicrous, it’s hard to imagine that they’re actually true. Why, in your opinion, were the Black Crowes so self-destructive?
Well, I mean, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know. I did write what I believe to be the situation with Chris (Robinson). I think he doesn’t have any faith in positivity, so he’s going to destroy everything going well at all times, no matter what it is, no matter what the stakes. It’s just the only way he can control things: to destroy things. Now, as far as why you feel that way, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. He was 19 when I met him. So, he was already that person. And then Rich was 17, and he was already that person. I could speculate for hours and I’d still be no closer to the truth than you would be…
There’s a fantastic quote in the book, and I’ll just paraphrase it here, but you suggest that Chris Robinson failed as both a hippie and a capitalist. Can you unpack that assertion a little more?
Well, I think he really struggled to find his authentic lane. I think there’s a fundamental lack of self-understanding involved. And you know, [he decided] to be a great rock and roll front man—in fact, I think he became as good a one as there was on the planet—and then he found that to be wholeheartedly unfulfilling. So, he went for something else—and he chased something that he could never get the second time around. You can’t be Jerry Garcia, or whatever it is you’re trying to be. If Chris could have seen himself the way the rest of the band saw him in 1992 or 1993, I think everything would’ve been very different, because we looked at a guy who had become his own artist, someone who had become a true artist, a guy that we trusted to lead the band…. We didn’t have to worry about a single trend or a single record company executive or a CEO. We were positioned by 1992 to do things our way for as long as we wanted to do them. And he couldn’t live with that. He had to create potholes in the road…. We had very different personalities in the band, and the strength of his personality and his addiction and his self-loathing, frankly, was stronger than the rest of our collective efforts should have ever been, as it turned out.
It’s very hard to wrap your head around, because there are many of us in the music industry, myself included, that grew up in the nineties and built our careers around what you can say is the public Chris Robinson ethos: staying true to your roots, stay true to your art, and do it without any corporate influence or by making concessions. But then, two months ago, a video surfaces on YouTube of him at a private corporate gig, on stage with Sebastian Bach and the guy from Sugar Ray, singing KISS songs. These are very different scenarios that don’t really jive, in terms of what he supposedly believes rock ‘n’ roll should be, do they?
Oh, of course not. I mean, it’s easy to take a stand on a lot of issues when you have everything going your way. And conversely, it’s easy to turn things down when you’re actually afraid of success. So, you know, the problem as I see it—not a problem, but the thing that was always frustrating—was we were never a band that could say, ‘What do we want to do? Just for us? Don’t worry about the reaction. What do we want to do? Let’s just go do that. Let the chips fall where they may. If we made a record we’re proud of, let’s just go promote it, and let’s go tour, and let’s go to work hard. And if it sells 60,000 copies or six million, we can at least go, ‘We did what we wanted to do.’ That’s all I ever wanted…. You know, we were positioned to chart our own course, and I don’t think either brother is capable of understanding that that is true freedom, and that there’s strength in that. They just both seem to need to rail against something. The simple truth is, when there’s no wall to push against, the people that are pushing against walls for a living tend to fall on their face. That’s what they focused on. And again, these people are fueled by success. This stuff isn’t fueled by fame.
There’s a part in the memoir that absolutely shocked me—the Jimmy Page situation. You narrate a version of the ebook, and it’s the one time where you can really feel seething anger from you. Can you explain what happened with the Black Crowes and Jimmy Page?
Well, no… people should go read the book. [But] I can tell you that I wrote it and read it from my mindset at the time. It’s funny because I’ve had people say things like, ‘God, you’re still so angry.’ And it’s like, ‘No, that was me in 2002’—you know, it was a bit of a performance in the ebook. I’m trying to get you into the headspace where I was.
We were touring with Jimmy Page, we had a very successful collaboration, and we weren’t even to the middle of it—we were still in the first lap of the race, if you will—and Rich alienated Jimmy. And so, as far as the specifics as to why, I think people should go read it themselves, but it’s one of those things that, you know, will only grow in lunacy over time. There’s never an explanation that adds up…. One person being so phenomenally arrogant and disrespectful, that you can spend all day thinking about the ticket holders who are disappointed, and the shows we didn’t get to play, and the cities that we didn’t go see with Jimmy… That stuff all sucks, but the fundamental flaw in that is a human one.
The arrogance of it. Absolutely.
I refuse to separate my personal experience from the band…. I’m not running for office. I’m not trying to convince people of anything. I’m just telling you how it looked to me. And it doesn’t make sense for me to separate myself from the internal—I’m one of only a few people that can offer that perspective…. And again, I looked at everybody as human beings. Like, you know, when, when Chris Robinson refuses to listen to his partners, and when he lies to his partners and when he makes decisions that are ultimately damaging, it’s not that Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes did that, it’s that my friend did that to me. The guy that I used to loan money to, who slept on my floor, and who’s back I had in a million fights. That’s the guy that fucked me over. I don’t give a shit about Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. That’s why everybody in this story is left with varying degrees of damage, because people that we knew and trusted and believed in and put our lives into did not return that. And it took a while for everybody to figure that out.
And so now, rumors of a 2020 reunion are floating around. You’ve already been asked about it, and I know that you’ve said you will have nothing to do with it. Without an actual band together at this point, an actual Black Crowes, the only real impetus for a reunion, and this is my opinion, would seem to be for money.
Oh, of course. I mean, that’s not a stretch. If you’re announcing a tour, if you’re cutting deals, and you don’t have a band, it ain’t about the music.
If you were a fan, if you were completely removed from that situation—and if that was the clear intention, money—what would you think?
I’d probably think all kinds of things. You know, I love the English Beat—that was one of my favorite bands 35 years ago. I can’t think of anything I loved more in 1983 than the English Beat. Dave Wakeling tours now as the English Beat, and my brother still goes and sees them and says it’s incredible. I’m not interested. It’s just not the same. It’s one guy with another band that play the same songs. And if I went, if I found myself there, I would probably be like, ‘I love this music.’ But as a fan, I can only speak to when I was a fan myself. Those things really did matter to me. When R.E.M. put out Chronic Town in 1982, that was my favorite thing on earth. When the second album came out, I think one of them was wearing glasses and had a different haircut and I thought it was a different guy, and I was sad—and I didn’t know a thing about the band [members]. I grew up a Beatles fan, man, four people—in and out. Same four, always. And so I have a natural inclination to love bands and [stable] lineups. But that said, I don’t fault anybody that will go see Chris and Rich Robinson next year with a whole bunch of other people playing music. If you love to hear those songs and the guy that sang them, singing them, go knock yourself out. I don’t care. I don’t see any benefit in spending a second of my life thinking about other people’s motivations. It doesn’t impact me either way. If you love that music, you know… It’s always my music too, even if I’m not playing it. If someone’s like, ‘Man, I love “She Talks to Angels,”’ I just think ‘Awesome, great, thanks.’ I don’t need to be there for that. It still means something to me. And as far as them doing a tour solely for money, well, if you’re in your 50s and you can make a living playing music, you’re ahead of the curve—go for it. What you’re talking about is hypocrisy. That’s the problem, or just outright lying is the problem. Playing music that you wrote without the guy you wrote those songs with, that’s not a problem. The Crowes touring with a bunch of hired guns in the bag? Who fucking cares? Like I said, everybody’s young and stupid once. Some people are old stupid. It happens.
BE SURE TO CATCH STEVE GORMAN & TRIGGER HIPPY AT WHITE EAGLE HALL IN JERSEY CITY ON NOVEMBER 3 AND CHELSEA MUSIC HALL IN NYC ON NOVEMBER 5!