By Max Stewart
Rejoice music fans, Part III our Conversations with Steve Gorman is here! If you are new to this series, Gorman is a renaissance man of sorts, handling a full music career as the drummer of the Black Crowes and Trigger Hippy, while also working full-time as host of Steve Gorman SPORTS!, a nationally syndicated radio show broadcast weekdays from 6:00 – 8:00 ET on Fox Sports Radio.
If you haven’t already, please check out Part I or Part II to find out about Trigger Hippy’s plans for a new record and tour, where the Black Crowes cut their teeth in the early days, how Gorman was able to celebrate the ‘95 World Series win with the Atlanta Braves on the field, and who really shaped the Black Crowes sound (spoiler alert, his name is George Drakoulias).
In Part III, we discuss Gorman’s drumming inspirations including Ringo Starr and John Bonham, an endearing story about recording at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, a Led Zeppelin tribute show in Nashville that included members of Wilco and My Morning Jacket, and the ebbs and flows of life in a band.
Drumming Influences: It Don’t Mean A Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing
You have a very signature drumming style which anchored the Black Crowes’ sound, really serving the song while adding unique and substantive drum parts that never came off as flashy. Whether the timeless snare intro on “Hard to Handle”, the steady groove on “Wiser Time”, the soulful swing on “Halfway to Everywhere”, or the down tempo assertion on “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye”, you kept everything going with ease and precision.
Who would be included in your “Mt. Rushmore” of drummers that you admire and have had the most impact on your drumming style?
Ringo Starr is #1 always, without question. So there’s Ringo, and then there’s everybody else.. but everybody else is pretty great. John Bonham is huge. Ringo was my lifelong guy, but like I said when I first got a drum kit [in Part I], that’s when I started listening to Led Zeppelin, so that stuff really washed in. Bonham fills were great, but it’s the swing. You know, Ringo swings. All I really care about is the feel of things. Fills are cool and they can be fun, but if they don’t punctuate a point of a song and if it isn’t musical and doesn’t swing, it doesn’t mean anything to me. That’s not to say that drummers that approach it differently aren’t amazingly talented, it just doesn’t move me at all.
But you go back to that stuff that I listened to as a kid… I went through a really heavy Earth, Wind, & Fire phase for about a year in 7th grade. There was a time when Earth, Wind & Fire and Devo were my two favorite bands.
And I grew up in a house with older brothers. I had one brother that just listened to Soul music and one brother that just listened to Prog-Rock. So I had Yes albums and Al Green albums to pick from. There was other stuff that I could listen to that was being played on the one record player in the house all the time. So, a lot of that stuff, like that sponge when you’re kid, all that stuff was just seeping in. Even as a kid, the stuff I liked, it just felt good. I never got into the technical players at all.
Even like John Densmore [of the Doors], all those Doors albums. No one talks about him, he is such a fucking great drummer.
And Big Star, when I got those Big Star records, Jody Stephens is just great. There’s so many.
I got into The Band, and of course Levon [Helm] is just Levon. He is on that list.
Speaking of.. the Black Crowes recorded 2009’s Before the Frost…Until the Freeze at Levon’s studio in Woodstock, NY when he was still around. Any highlights from recording that album?
Oh yeah, I spent some time with him. One of the great moments, just a straight-up moment of my life was the day we were setting up for that record in the barn and Levon was in there and he was looking at the [drum] kit that I had and he said, ‘Well, anything that you want from my locker, you’re welcome to it’. And I said, ‘Thanks, man’. Just amazed that I am talking to Levon, much less in his barn and he if offering me his drums.
And at some point he just said to one of the guys working there, ‘Hey, go fish out that kit that Ringo gave me.’
(Laughs) Ohhh man.
And I just stopped, and I was literally pulling a tom out of the case. And I just put the drum down, and I stood up and put my hands on my hips and stood perfectly still for five seconds thinking, ‘Levon Helm is offering me use of a drum kit, that Ringo Starr gave to him.’ It was kind of beyond description, truly.
Black Crowes – “Appaloosa”. Recorded in front of a live audience at Levon Helm’s Woodstock, NY studio as part of the Before the Frost…Until the Freeze sessions.
And you know people always say, ‘What’s the greatest thing ever?’ and all this stuff and there’s not any greatest thing ever but there are a few that, to me, stand out. I will never in my head not hear him saying that.
And Paul Stacey, who produced the last few Black Crowes records, was standing with me. And I just stood there and said to Levon, ‘Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks Levon.’ And I looked over to Paul and the look on his face was just beautiful, he was just wide-eyed and a little grin. He didn’t want to say anything.
And the funny thing is, I start hitting on it and it sounds like crap. And I’m thinking, ‘Well let’s just tweak the heads up and play with it a little while.’ And Paul is tuning it a little bit, and I’m tuning it, we’re doing all the things you do to get the toms to sound right, and it was really a flat kit, it didn’t have any life to it.
And I’m thinking, ‘Man, how do I tell Levon this kit doesn’t sound good? Oh my god, this is so awkward.’ Then finally, he comes back over and says [Gorman puts on the signature Levon Southern draw], ‘It don’t really sound good at all does it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I can’t find it. I can’t find a thing with this.’ And Levon says, ‘I always had trouble with that now that I think about it. I guess we just need Ringo to play. Hell, he’d make a cardboard box sound good!’
And by the way, when I met Ringo in 2013 for the first time, which was the ultimate of all moments to finally meet Ringo and spend time with and I told him that story and he loved it. He was just like, ‘Oh god, Levon.’ (laughs) He was really nice.
That truly is unbelievable. Wow.
“Good Times, Bad Times”: All-Star Zeppelin Tribute Concert in Nashville
That Misty Marathon Hop show in Nashville you put on was really cool, how did that come together? I hope that becomes an annual event? (This Tribute to Led Zeppelin in Nashville on 12/29/16 included Audley Freed of the Black Crowes, Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket, Robert Randolph, Laur Joamets of Sturgill Simpson, Pat Sansome of Wilco, Trevor Terndrup of Moon Taxi, Guthrie Trap of Trigger Hippy, amongst many others; and yes, they played “Good Times, Bad Times”)
Yeah, a buddy of mine said we should put something together at the end of the year, and we just kind of came up with that. It was a lot of fun, I think we’ll do something like that again. But, right now I am just trying to get that Trigger Hippy record finished. I haven’t thought about any other musical projects.
But that’s the good thing about Nashville, you can always pretty much find a bunch of great players to do something.
Yeah, that was a great lineup and included the guitarist from Sturgill Simpson’s band, Laur Joamets? That guy is incredible by the way, maybe one of the best country guitarists I have ever seen.
Yeah he is really, really good. He is Estonian by the way.
Good Times, Bad Times: Life in the Black Crowes
Well, as a Black Crowes fan I really appreciate the fact that you post on social media various moments in the Crowes’ career. I am sure other fans love it too, just seeing these memories. You seem to have a very sharp memory of it all. I do notice that there is oftentimes a #GoodTimesBadTimes phrase included with these pictures you post. Is there a reason you stick with that theme? Is it a fact that life in a band on the road is a grind and lots of give and take, etc.?
It’s just, that’s what life in a band is. Especially in that band. I don’t glorify it, and I don’t piss on it. You know, it was great and it was awful at the same time. There were things about it that were the greatest thing you could ever do, and there were times that you look back and think, ‘That was just terrible.’ You put a bunch of stupid boys on a bus and give them everything they want and things tend to go awry.
Check in next week for the final Part IV in Conversations with Steve Gorman, where we discuss the Black Crowes sticking to their guns despite major record label pressure to ‘play the game’ and how the future of the Black Crowes will live on through the music.