By Max Stewart
Recently, I had the pleasure of getting to speak with Steve Gorman: former drummer of the Black Crowes, current drummer of Trigger Hippy, and host of the radio show Steve Gorman SPORTS! on Fox Sports Radio.
As a lifelong Black Crowes and Atlanta sports fan, this was truly an honor and a ton of fun. Gorman is about the most open and humble dude you’ll ever get the chance to talk to; he is very cool, calm, and collected as he reflects back on his incredible career. As he pointed out to me, the day we spoke (February 20th) happened to be 30 years on the day since he up and moved from Kentucky to Atlanta to pursue music.
Please be sure to tune into his radio show Steve Gorman SPORTS!, which is nationally syndicated on weekdays from 6:00 – 8:00 ET on Fox Sports Radio; the show definitely caters to sports and music fans alike. As an example, Steve and his co-host Jeffrey Gorman (his cousin) do a very unique segment every Wednesday called Midweek Mixtape where they come up with a story or theme in the sports world, and listeners submit suggested songs on Facebook / Twitter and the best cuts are chosen to be played on the air. Recently, my submission of Little Feat’s “Oh Atlanta” and OutKast’s “Ain’t No Thang” both made it because the theme was the oh-so-terrible Super Bowl 51, not one of ATL’s finest moments (which we ended up discussing…).
Our in-depth conversation veered all over the place from early days of the Crowes and the man who helped shape the band’s sound, to the new Trigger Hippy album that will be released later this year (!), to Gorman acting as the film runner on the field in the 1995 World Series, to an unreal story about recording Before the Frost…Until the Freeze at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, NY.
We covered so many topics, that we are splitting the entirety of the conversation into four parts, starting today with Part I. Enjoy!
Music-Sports Hybrid and Growing Up in Kentucky:
MS: You have managed to do something very remarkable with your career, take two of your passions and achieve major success in both. Personally, I believe music and sports are two of the greatest forms of entertainment and escapism that keep us all sane throughout the chaos of everyday life. A music-sports hybrid makes your radio show unique and stand out amongst the overabundance of carbon-copy shows where two grown men yell at each other for half an hour. Very cool that you are bridging the gap and bringing people from two different worlds together.
Did the idea of the show come together organically and how did you get started in broadcasting in the first place?
SG: Yeah I mean, it always made perfect sense to me because that’s always the two things I cared about most too. I have always said my brain has two sections in it, you know, that was it my whole life. I mean nothing beats watching a game while listening to a great record. That’s just how I spent years of my life. And I was a broadcasting major, and when I got to college I wasn’t playing drums yet. I had always wanted to be a drummer for as long as I can remember I just never saw a path. In a small town in Kentucky, and almost by design, I was listening to some of the most out-there music I could find at the time to figure out who I was. There just wasn’t anybody I could look at and say ‘Hey let’s start a band’. I mean everybody would have laughed at me. You know, it didn’t make sense. Whereas, when you’re a kid growing up, everybody plays sports. I was definitely like a jock with a bizarre record collection for a small town in the late 70s and early 80s. It wouldn’t have sounded bizarre to someone in a bigger city, but from where I was (Hopkinsville, KY), it felt like that.
Music was first, and closely followed by sports. When I got to college (Western Kentucky University), I thought I could be a broadcasting major because people kept telling me I had a good voice and I thought ‘What does that mean?’ Then it dawned on me that you can actually use that, there was a skill there that I could develop. So my original plan was to be a sportscaster, that’s what I was going for in college. And the mid-80s was when ESPN was starting to blow up too, and I’d watch Sports Center and I’d watch Nick Charles on CNN and I’d think: ‘I want to do that, I wanna do sports highlights for a living’. But then I met a kid with a drum kit and started playing drums, and then right away realized that’s what I really wanted to do. But again, it didn’t seem like there was a way to make it happen, it wasn’t realistic. As I was getting closer to graduating I was really, really in the back of my head I kept thinking if I don’t really try to do something in a band, if I can’t at least try something, I am going to wonder. I knew it was yelling at me. I knew I didn’t want to get a degree and be in the real world yet.
And a buddy of mine that I had gone to high school with – who I had always stayed close with – had moved to Atlanta, and he just called me one day in September of my senior year of college and said ‘I’m going to quit college and start a band, do you want to do it?’ And I just went, ‘Yep, I’m in. Yes, thank you.’ I just needed somebody to open a door and I was gonna run through it. And actually, it was 30 years ago today that I moved to Atlanta. I got a Greyhound bus to Atlanta, GA. And my buddy was Clint Steele and his two roommates were Sven Tipien and Chris Robinson, so I met all of them my first night in town. It was the four of us thinking, ‘Okay, here’s the gang, what are we gonna do now?’ I saw that it was February 20th and it took me a split second and I thought, what’s February 20th? And then thought, oh my god, it’s 30 years since I moved to Atlanta via Greyhound…
Formative Black Crowes Years in Atlanta:
Wow. Very cool. I believe I told you I am from Atlanta. I think you worked at [the record store] Wax N Facts? My dad actually went there the day it opened and he grew up around the Atlanta music scene. And I know the area of Little Five Points very well and I have always been mystified thinking about you guys doing the Atlanta club circuit back in the late Eighties.
Do you have any memories before the Black Crowes had “made it in the mainstream” and you guys were slugging it from club to club?
Yeah, I mean I say this and people roll their eyes but that was my favorite time ever, from ‘87 – ‘90. Because every day you had to get by on wit. There wasn’t anybody doing anything for us. I worked at Fellini’s Pizza and Wax N Facts in Little Five Points. I’d work at Wax N Facts from Noon – 7:30, and then I would go around the corner and walk into Fellini’s and be there till 2:00 or 3:00 AM. It’s called Little Five Points pizza now. It was funny, cause when I first got to Atlanta, literally the first week I was there, I was at Fellini’s and then I was at Little Five Points and I thought, ‘Man, those are the coolest places I have ever been.’ Because everybody that worked at Fellini’s was in a local band, including the owner. Every person on staff had gigs to schedule around. It was just the heart of the local music scene, as far as I knew. When I got to the point where that was my two jobs, believe me I had made it. I thought, ‘Nothing could top this.’ And it really was just a lot of fun. I think in those 3 years I lived in 6 different places. And, you know I had about a six month time frame at each place (laughs). Every six months I was moving to different parts of town. But wherever I lived, my base was Candler Park, Inman Park, and Little Five Points. That was just the hub.
The White Dot is an old place on Ponce [de Leon Avenue] that’s no longer there, the Metroplex which is Downtown, and the original Comedy Club at 10th and Peachtree were all the places we played. But the coolest place closed in ‘87… I only played it once but I was the doorman when I first got to town. It was called The Dugout, and it is now the Emory University Bookstore.
OK, yeah my Grandma lives in Druid Hills and that is near the roundabout where Everybody’s Pizza used to be?
Yeah, that big bookstore right there across from the main gate to the university. I mean that used to be a great bar with a tiny stage back in the corner. Then they made it a real club right after I got there, the owners decided to just make it a real music venue and they built a great stage, brand new PA, everything. And it was the spot in town for about 3 months and then they served a bunch of underage kids and they got shut down.
Well, that’ll do it.
Yeah, and actually the first gig I ever played was at The Dugout. The first time I ever hit a kick drum that had a microphone set up in front of it. I don’t think I breathed for the whole set (laughs).
Was that with the band you moved down to be in with your friend from Kentucky (Clint Steele)?
Yep, that was a band called Mary My Hope. That was Clint Steele, Sven Pipien [future Black Crowes bassist], me, and a guy named James Hall, who I brought to Atlanta from college with me in Kentucky. I convinced him to come down to Atlanta with me, he showed up a few months after I did. And that band got signed, I only played 3 gigs and then I went to Mr. Crowe’s Garden [which would become the Black Crowes]. And then Mary My Hope got a record deal within a year, and they were the buzz band in Atlanta for a while. They were awesome. What they didn’t have was good management, they didn’t have anybody that was honestly trying to help them out and kind of show them the way. And that is almost always the difference.
Head Coach Drakoulias for the Black Crowes:
Sure, that leads me to a question I wanted to ask about George Drakoulias. From what I understand, he was pretty instrumental in turning the Black Crowes on to the right records at the right time, and maybe fine tuning the sound a bit in the early days?
Oh yeah, his impact cannot be overstated. I mean it was like the perfect case of what a producer should do. George saw us in 1988. It was the first time we had ever played in New York City and we got an offer to go up there and open for a band for $500, which back then was a fortune. So we didn’t think twice about driving 16 hours to New York to play a 40 minute set, that made perfect sense to us at the time, since we had a place we could crash. And so, we played this club in New York and George just walked into the dressing room afterwards… And it’s funny because I was 22 or 23 at the time and he is a year older than me but he seemed 10 years older because he was an A&R guy for a major label in New York City, he just seemed to be so worldly to us, you know? We had met some A&R guys before they were always blowing smoke, I mean you could tell they were full of shit right away and we never really cared for any of them. And he came into the dressing room and introduced himself [after the show] and we said ‘What’d you think?’ And he looked right at us and said, ‘Well, you’re not very good. But the two covers you played were cool, why would you do those songs?‘ Cause we did an Aerosmith song and a Stooges song in that set and then a bunch of originals. It was just honest (laughs).
He was being real.
Yeah, and right away we were sort of enthused and intrigued by him and we ended up that night hanging out with him and went to a bar. And we woke up the next day and stayed an extra day so we could hang out with him some more. And we were all driving back to Atlanta two days later and said, ‘Well that’s the only guy we’re gonna make a record with.’ We just clicked with him immediately.
And then getting back to what he did ultimately, he was like a coach and looked at us as a team. He looked at Rich and said, ‘The way you play guitar, how you are attacking that instrument, you should play in Open tunings, do you ever listen to Stones records? I mean really dig into them?’ We all group up listening to Stones records, but Rich had never leaned on them as a thought process for how he was playing guitar. And he looked at me and said ‘You are playing too straight, you need to loosen up some.’ I mean I was the king of never playing a fill. I could have played entire sets with a kick, snare, hi-hat, and one cymbal. I was just so deliberate. And he looked at Chris and said ‘Stop doing all that, and do this.’
He just showed us what our strengths were. We had to do all the work. It’s funny because in the early days I know that both of my bandmates had a real problem with people giving George credit because that is just their personality. Truth is, having played sports my whole life I never was offended by it. I just looked at it like he was our coach. He looked at us and would say, ‘This part, stop. That part, do more of.’ And he just wiggled a lot of stuff away and he also believed in us. Again, I cannot overstate what George did for us. I am still very close with him and I never see him without at some point going, ‘Hey, by the way, thanks for my career.’ Because that is exactly what he did.
That’s amazing. So he ended up producing the first couple of albums, Shake Your Money Maker and Southern Harmony and Musical Companion?
Yeah, he produced the first two records… Shake Your Money Maker more so than Southern Harmony. Because by the time we were doing Southern Harmony, we were actually a pretty good band at that point. We could go in and had a sense of whether it was a good take. There was way more working together. And the first album, it was just him saying ‘Do this’ and we would do it, and he would say ‘No, do it again. That’s terrible… ok, there it is.’ I mean he made every decision on Shake Your Money Maker, which is a producer’s job. Especially when you are with a band that has never made a record before.
In 1989, the Otis Redding box set came out and we were listening to it constantly. I had it on cassette and it was on me always and and it would play in any car we would hop in. We were listening to Otis Redding constantly, we had all just gotten obsessed. And George said, ‘Let’s do an Otis song on the record.’ Chris [Robinson] right away was like, ‘What singer wants to do Otis Redding song first time out of the gate? I can’t sing Otis Redding.’ And George says. ‘Let’s do a fun one.’
And I honestly don’t remember who said we should do “Hard to Handle”, but I remember being in the room and us just trying to work it up and see if we could play it. And you know, we thought it would be a B-side. No one in the band thought that would make the album. When we got the mastered album in sequence, “Hard to Handle” was in there. And there was another song we had called “Waitin’ Guilty” that wasn’t on the tracks…
Oh yeah, I was wondering what happened to that song.
And we were all thinking, ‘Wait a minute? Where’s “Waitin’ Guilty”?’ And George says, ‘I think [we should include] “Hard to Handle” instead.’ He knew what it was, he knew it was a hit. And he knew that if he had told us it was a hit, we would have absolutely demanded it not be on the record because we were just from such an alternative, independent, punk mindset and that would be sacrilege to think of an Otis Redding song as a “hit”, or as a “way in” and all that. We never thought of it like that. And George was smart enough to be very low key, but he knew from the minute we recorded it: ‘Holy shit, that’s gonna be a hit song.’
Trigger Hippy’s New Album and Tour Plans
Switching gears, are there any future album or tour plans for Trigger Hippy?
We’re finishing the second record right now. I’m going to the studio in an hour to work on it. We don’t have the timeframe for anything but the record will be done later this month, so I would imagine by September we will be back up and running and playing shows and putting another record out. Nothing is confirmed yet, but that’s absolutely the plan that it will be out this year.
Great, can’t wait. Have there been any lineup adjustments since Jackie Greene left the band?
Yes, there are other people involved and I am not going to say who they are at this particular date in time. For a myriad of reasons.
Be sure to look out for Part II of our Conversations with Steve Gorman, where we talk the Black Crowes maintaining course during a changing Nineties musical landscape, R.E.M. / other musical influences, and the fact that he celebrated the 1995 World Series with the Atlanta Braves on the field!