Catching up with The Black Crowes` Drummer Steve Gorman

Steve Gorman, Nashville resident and Hopkinsville, Kentucky native, has been the drummer for The Black Crowes since the band’s breakthrough success in 1990 with the multi-platinum selling Shake Your Money Maker. Celebrating its 20th-anniversary this year, the band released Croweology, a double-album, 20-song acoustic reworking of some of the finest songs in its catalog. It’s also in the midst of the “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” tour, which includes a stop at the Ryman Auditorium on September 12 and wraps with a six-night stand at the Filmore in San Francisco in December. The band will then go on what’s being called a “lengthy hiatus.”

In advance of NPT’s broadcast of The Black Crowes’ performance on Live From the Artists Den on Friday, August 27 at 11 p.m., we caught up with Gorman in Nashville before the start of the tour to discuss the Nashville floods, the Artist’s Den, the influence of Levon Helm, Croweology, the Tour, the Titans, the World Cup and more.

On how he and his family fared during the Nashville Floods of May 2010.

Professionally, it had no impact at all. All my gear was fine. Everything I was working on … every studio I had been in that week …. everything was safe. I totally lucked out. The house took about four feet of water in the basement. It’s not a finished basement and we lost maybe our Halloween decorations. So I was really pissed off until I saw a helicopter shot of what was going on in the city, and then I felt like the luckiest guy in town.

We were just knee deep in our own crisis, and then to realize all we had was a little bit of water. I don’t even have the words to describe what went on here … everybody here knows. But it is strange to be traveling all summer, and have the number of people that I’ve talked to who’ve said “Yeah, I heard something about Nashville. Did you guys get a big rain or something?” Still, it’s weird to leave town and no one knows about it.

On taping the Live From the Artists Den show at the Lyric Theatre in Oxford, Mississippi in September 2009. The show airs August 27 on NPT and on PBS stations nation that week (check local listings).

The thing I remember — and at the time is was so specific to me — was that it was the show right after we played the Ryman here. So we had an amazing show at the Ryman, the best crowd of the year, a really special night, and then went down to Oxford for the TV show. It’s really easy to forget you have a TV show to do when you show up at the Ryman, so (the next day) was one of those days. When we were on our way down there, everybody was thinking, “oh wait, we have to do this thing for PBS tonight, we oughta probably get our heads around it” and “why didn’t we put a couple of days in between the Ryman and this show.” But it turned out to be a really good night. It was such a different venue. It was a really cool old theatre, a great room, a lot of fun. I just remember thinking the whole time, “we may have just peaked for the whole year last night.”

Watch a clip of The Black Crowes from Live from the Artists Den.

On becoming a great live band, the influence of The Band, and recording Before the Frost … Until the Freeze at Levon Helm’s farm in upstate New York.

There’s not a good enough word to describe what Levon means, not only to me, but really to the whole band. When our first record came out, we toured for two years on it. We were the guys who would run off stage, have a beer, and go right to the bus to listen to another cool bootleg someone had found that day in whatever town we were in. So we listened to tons of live shows by the Band, Little Feat, Zeppelin, the Dead and other bands. But The Band themselves was a huge part of us becoming a good live band. We were breaking it down, the way musicians do, trying to figure out all this language. How do these guys play together so well? What are they doing? It’s a slow process. You can’t just overnight snap your fingers and suddenly understand how to play with each other. We spent the two years touring for Shake Your Money Maker — to us that was school — learning and pushing ourselves every night.

Levon is as musical a drummer as anyone has ever been in a rock ‘n’ roll format. The heart and soul of The Band was always Levon Helm. So not just to me as a drummer, but as all the musicians in the band would say, no one ranks higher. Everyone has got their Mt. Rushmore of those influences, and Levon’s absolutely one of those faces on mine.

To go up and work in his studio, in his home really, was great. Obviously we got a live record out of it, and playing shows where he does his Rambles … all of those things were so special. But nothing compares to the two or three times in that process when we would take a break and he would come in and we would all sit by the fire and shoot the sh*t. He would tell stories, and we would tell stories, everything from having babies to playing shows in bad clubs with no heat. And it wasn’t like he came down to give us any sage advice. It was just a bunch of musicians hanging out. But it’s always those kinds of moments where you sit there and you have a nice flowing conversation like you’ve known him your whole life, and then he gets up and leaves and five minutes later you’re like “Oh my God, I was just hanging with Levon Helm for two hours talking about everything and nothing.” He’s a special guy.

On choosing the songs to record for Croweology, a double album of acoustic versions of 20 songs from The Black Crowes catalog.

This is 20 years since our first record came out and we were kicking around ideas on what we would do to acknowledge that and sort of celebrate it. We’ve never looked backed intentionally before, so to do it, it’s been kind of fun. It’s exhilarating and incredibly humbling. I look back and all I see are all the people that have helped along the way. In anything that has any longevity, it’s the work of so many. People focus on the members of the band, but it’s so many other people too.

There was a lot of acoustic music on Before the Frost … Until the Freeze and also on Warpaint. We’ve also done some acoustic shows over the years, so we thought, “why don’t we go pick 20 tunes out and record them in that template, so it’s not just a greatest hits record.” We still wanted to do something that was interesting to us. So to rework the songs in a new format sounded like a real challenge going in. As it turned out, it flowed pretty quickly and we felt great about what we were doing. The songs came together in that setting really nicely and we didn’t even struggle over what songs to pick out.

Chris, Rich and I each wrote a list up of about 25 songs, and I was saying I bet we have five songs in common between the three lists. We looked at each other’s lists and I think we had a dozen songs right off the bat that we all had written down. Then we said, “what songs songs made two of the three lists?” Between those two Venn Diagrams we had enough songs to attempt, and then enough of them worked out and we got twenty to put on the record.

On the “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys” Tour, and temporarily wrapping up a 20 year-career.

It’ll be a 90-minute acoustic set and then a 90-minute electric set, so it’s a long show. It’s a nice way to wrap up 20 years, put it in a pretty box and leave a big bow on top. Then at the end of the tour we’re going take a break for what I imagine will be several years. We feel great about what the band is doing. We really like the last three records and feel like we’ve really gotten it together. We put together a thing that seemed irretrievably broken six/seven years ago so that, in itself, took a lot of work. We’re very proud of it and now we feel like, let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past by driving it into the ground, where we sort of implode. Let’s pull the plug while we’re in a great place and let everyone go and refresh themselves, do something else and then we’ll see. Something about 20 years just seems like a really nice time to shut it down again. It’s a much cleaner, much happier ending than the first time we did this.

On the idea that in five years the band will be eligible for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

(Laughing) It’s interesting. I don’t think we’ve kissed enough babies along the way to make that happen, frankly, and I don’t know if there’s enough babies in the world we could kiss at this point. I don’t know if the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame wants anything to do with a rock n roll band anymore, but we’ll see. I don’t have any issues. I don’t mean to downplay it. I’ve never been there. If I’m in Cleveland I’m going to check it out. I’d love to see it. It just seems like you have to be a little more industry savvy for them to notice you, and we’ve just never put ourselves in that position.

On Steve Gorman Sports, his sports radio show formerly on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville and now available as a podcast.

A few years ago I went down to the station here in Nashville, 104.5, to just sit in on the afternoon show with some of the guys. They were doing a fundraiser so I was helping out with that and I just stayed on the air for an hour and a half. As I was leaving the station the P.D. said, “Man, you sound great on the air. You should come in and we should do a regular feature. It was really funny to hear you talk about the stuff.” I said (without thinking that there was anyway in the world that this guy would said OK), “instead of me doing a weekly appearance, why don’t I just do my own show,” because that’s just the kind of guy I am. I have to stink a little, and I was really just trying to tweak him, and he’s said “that’s great, when can you do it?” (Laughing). So right away, I was thinking, “I just stepped over a line I didn’t mean too.” But there was no backing out at that point of course.

For a couple of years I was on Sunday nights, doing Steve Gorman Sports on the air. The touring always gets in the way, of course, so now we’re just doing it in podcast form. Ultimately, it’s either me and my co-host, or a musician or an athlete just talking for an hour or so. If I have an athlete, we tend to talk about music. If I have a musician, we talk about sports. Sports and music have always been the two passions in my life, so it’s a pretty natural fit for me.

On the show’s logo.

We’ll know we’re a success when Major League Baseball sues us. That’s the goal.

On the Tennessee Titans this year.

I think they’re definitely a playoff team. I think this is a great chance for them to get it back together. They had a nice run at the end of last year, but there was just no way they were going to get in. Plus they didn’t really have it. They weren’t as solid as that eight-game winning streak might have suggested. But I think this year their schedule is just tailor-made for them to make a run on the playoffs again. There’s no telling if they can get past the Colts, but I think they’re easily a wild card.

On Italy’s quick exit for the World Cup — my heartbreak — and rooting for the Dutch teams.

Heartbreaking for you, nothing happier for me. I am no fan of the catenaccio style of play. Just by default, I always cheered for the Dutch teams as a kid. The total football of the 70s is what I grew up obsessing over, and for Italy to win those World Cups and the Dutch to be empty handed…. for some reason I reserve a special resentment for the Italian Team based on nothing but childhood lunacy. I’m always happy to see a powerhouse go down like that. I’m actually a fan of a lot of the French players, but I love seeing them implode. It just adds to the flair of the whole thing.

On the World Cup Final.

I was definitely going for the Dutch. I along with everyone else in the world, of course, predicted Spain would win the thing before the Tournament started, but I was actually more upset with how the Dutch played than the loss. It was weird to think that at that level you can still be psyched out by your opponent. They walked on to the pitch knowing full well “we can’t just play against these guys straight up, we have to try and break their legs.” So I was a little disappointed after the game that they didn’t trust their skills enough to stay with Spain. But then again, everyone else did the same thing. Spain, even though their scores may not have shown it, had a pretty impressive romp after that first round loss to Switzerland.

On where he likes to hang out when he’s home in Nashville.

I like to hang out in my house (laughing). That’s where the action is, man. This has been six straight years, really, that we’ve been on the road, so when I’m home I burrow in pretty much.

I go see bands wherever they’re playing. I don’t have a regular hang anymore. I’m just so involved with the kids and with their school and the sports they play. I don’t get out nearly as much as I did five and six years ago. It’s just go wherever the gig is. You and I used to see each other at the Family Wash a good bit, but I just haven’t gotten over there that much as of late. But that’s still a place I get out to when I’m out. The Mercy Lounge always has good shows. I go to the Bluebird every now and then just to sit in on writers-in-the-round. There’s no shortage of places to go.

On Whether the “What Wrong? … With Steve” Advice column, accessible now at, will continue during the hiatus.

In some format. We may just have to move the whole thing over to the sports page. We’ll have to see. But as of right now, of course, I’m still here to lend a comforting and sarcastic ear to many of the conflicted Black Crowes fans in the world. These are some troubled, people, let me tell you (laughing).

Interview conducted and edited by Joe Pagetta, NPT Media Relations Manager.

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