Once in a while a band comes along that can pull off the impossible task of putting a fresh spin on a Classic sound. Not just the same rehashing of the same legendary bands; but a near-magical combination of the elements that creates a geniune shake up in the musical landscape. Such has been the case with The Black Crowes, who’s 1990 debut Shake Your Money Maker charted a path that took them from their humble Southern roots to multi-Platinum success. Though tempers have flared and line-ups have changed, there has been one steady constant: the drumming of Steve Gorman. Pulling heavily from Bonham’s backbeat and Ringo’s sense of song, Gorman’s drumming is much like his personality: all about the music, dripping in sarcasm, and a good measure of relaxed groove and swagger. Sounding off in the midst of a massive US tour, Gorman opens up about what makes the Crowes work, how to get gigs with legends, and the power of coffee, raw fish, and forceble memory loss.
LUDWIG HQ: What is your schedule like for the next few months with Black Crowes?
Steve Gorman: We are touring pretty much nonstop through December 20th.
LUDWIG HQ: Are there particular gigs you are looking forward to?
Steve Gorman: The final five nights of the tour are at the Fillmore in San Francisco, and that is one of my favorite places to play. Also, we play the Ryman in November, which is the Mt. Olympus of live American music. But, really, there are a lot of places where we always have great shows...Austin, Detroit, Chicago all come to mind for towns we haven't hit yet. Not to mention NYC where we have a week at the end of October to get excited about. Hold on...L.A., Boston, Atlanta...Hell, I guess it's all gonna be pretty good!
LUDWIG HQ: The musical chemistry the band shares is undeniable, but it’s no secret that the gig has had its share of tension. How do you think the band –and you as a drummer- have benefited from that combination?
Steve Gorman: Simply put, the tension helped a lot. When the band was unable to communicate effectively on any level offstage, the onstage communication became far more important. A great gig meant that the all the other bulls*** was still worth it.
LUDWIG HQ: What are some of the drawbacks?
Steve Gorman: Well, I think that being in a band that all wants to kill each other presents a fairly obvious set of drawbacks.
LUDWIG HQ: The band's new album “Warpaint” is the first to be released on its own label, Silver Arrow Records? How did that affect the way you played on the recording?
Steve Gorman: It had no effect whatsoever. I have never drawn a connection between what I do in the studio to what our status with a record label is or was.
LUDWIG HQ: The Lost Crowes, a two-disc set featuring the legendary “Tall” Sessions from 1993, was unveiled a couple of years ago. Those sessions have been the stuff of rock n’ roll legend. Can you shed any light on what went down during those sessions?
Steve Gorman: Well, let's see...we were about to break up, there was no agreeing on what direction we should be going in (musically speaking), we were all pretty much wasted, and there was a massive earthquake in the middle of recording. Then, things really got ugly. Luckily, I have forcibly forgotten vast periods of time in the band's career, and the time spent recording "Tall" was the first to go.
LUDWIG HQ: What was “Tall” meant to have been, and why was it on the shelf for all those years?
Steve Gorman: It was meant to be our third record. There was nothing more or less to it at the time. After we finished it and went home for a few weeks and listened to it a few hundred times, we realized that we could do better, basically. I know a lot of folks prefer "Tall" to "Amorica", but I am not one of them. I think "Amorica" is a far stronger record. As for why it was on the shelf for so long, see previous answer about forgetting vast periods of time.
LUDWIG HQ: What does drumming for “The Most ‘Rock n Roll’ Rock n Roll Band in the World” demand?
Steve Gorman: After all these years, I have happily realized that what it demands is showing up on time for soundcheck and the gig, pretty much.
LUDWIG HQ: What do you do to keep up with these demands?
Steve Gorman: Day in and day out, I always go the extra mile to know what time zone we're in.
LUDWIG HQ: You have been with the band since its inception. Are there certain shows that stick out in your mind above others?
Steve Gorman: The first time we played the Barrowlands in Glasgow, Scotland, in the summer of 1990 has always stuck in my mind. We'd never played to a more enthusiastic audience and at the time we all probably felt like we never would again. Every show there is as good as it gets. We had one weekend in 1995, where in less than 24 hours, we had a cookout at Duck Dunn's house, jammed with the Allman Brothers in their studio, and opened for the Grateful Dead. Not a bad day, really.
LUDWIG HQ: You have played with some of the biggest names in the History of Rock, such as Bob Dylan, Jack Bruce, and Warren Zevon. What about your playing makes you the right drummer for these gigs?
Steve Gorman: In most cases, it usually turned out that I was in the right place at the right time. If a session pops up, and the producer or the artist just ran into you at a coffee shop, chances are they'll call you for the gig. My advice to aspiring session drummers -- hang out in coffee shops where producers hang out. Just don't drink too much coffee. Sip it slow...you don't want to be jittery in the studio. The occasional sushi joint works, too. God knows I have landed many a job thanks to my love of raw fish.
LUDWIG HQ: What was the strangest thing that has happened (or that you have seen,) during a tour?
Steve Gorman: We started our 1999 summer tour in Stockholm. I walked into the dressing room and opened my wardrobe case to discover all my suits covered in a soft, fuzzy gray mold. The case had somehow been rained on in transit, and never opened up. So, for about two weeks, my soaking wet clothes were left to their own devices in an airtight case in the back of a truck. The sight of those ruined clothes, not to mention the smell, still lingers in my mind strongly.
LUDWIG HQ: What’s your Ludwig set-up like for the current tour, and what are you digging about it?
Steve Gorman: It's the same as it has been for a while now...four piece Fab Four kit, although I just got a new one in the natural maple finish. A few cymbals for good measure, a cowbell, and, depending on the humidity, a fair amount of sweat. I dig everything about it.
LUDWIG HQ: How important to you are the drums you play and how do you feel it affects your playing?
Steve Gorman: The drums are everything. It's hard to feel inspired when the kit doesn't sound right, and the consistency I get from the kit is fantastic. Indoors, outdoors, differing altitudes and humidity all have an impact, at least to me. Of course, I might just need some medical attention, but overall, my Ludwig kits always sound to my ear like the drums in my head sound. Of course, in my head, a far more accomplished drummer is doing the playing, but that is beside the point.
LUDWIG HQ: Can you describe how you tweak your drums to get your personal sound?
Steve Gorman: Nick Forchione gets the kit ready every day. If it doesn't sound great, I throw things at him. If it does sound great, I give myself full credit for having hired such a competent drum tech.
LUDWIG HQ: The Crowes' collaboration with Jimmy Page was captured on 1999’s “Live at the Greek” double-album. Can you share any memories of these gigs, and what you did to channel Bonham through your playing of these classic Zeppelin songs?
Steve Gorman: That was a very special time. Loving Zeppelin, and especially Bonham as I do, there isn't anything that could be more fun for me. I wasn't too concerned with channeling Bonham too specifically, mostly because I can't, but also because we were playing Zeppelin songs as a 7 piece band. My concern was getting the basic grooves together, but not sweating over specific breaks or fills. With three guitars and keyboards going, I didn't want to clutter up things too much. And the spirit of the thing was always to have fun. Jimmy wasn't overly concerned with specifics...if it felt good, he was happy with what I was doing. And I wasn't gonna argue that mindset. It was a great lesson, and one that you can never learn enough times - the spirit of the thing is what counts. Also, it's not as if I were playing with Led Zeppelin, where consciously being more Bonham-like would come into play. We were the Black Crowes playing Zeppelin songs with Jimmy Page. There's a certain comfort level knowing that our band is gonna sound like it sounds, and that's what Jimmy wanted. As for a specific memory, we opened our first show with “Celebration Day”, and as we came out of the first chorus, I remember noticing that I hadn't breathed since the song started. I guess you could say I was a little excited, and I quickly made a mental note to inhale before I passed out.
LUDWIG HQ: You decided to take a break from the Black Crowes in 2002. What projects were you involved with during the break, and what brought you back to the band in 2005?
Steve Gorman: I did some session work in L.A. and played around town with a few people but for the most part, 2002 was spent at home with my family. In 2003, I sat in with my friends the Stereophonics for a handful of shows and that turned into almost a year of touring with them all around the world. It was an unexpected thing to have fall into my lap, and I had a blast. By 2005, I wanted to take another shot to, at the very least, see if we could do it again with a more positive approach. I hated how it ended in 2001 and to make it right, in a sense, was important to me. We had no idea what would happen beyond that first year of touring, so it's been great to see it develop as it has.
LUDWIG HQ: Are there any upcoming projects that you are particularly excited about?
Steve Gorman: Yeah, but nothing I can share with you now. So many secrets, so little time.
LUDWIG HQ: Everyone has their own snare drum sound. What snare are you playing, and how have you made it your own?
Steve Gorman: I am playing the snare that comes with the Fab Four kit, the maple 6.5x14 drum. I haven't done a thing to it. It holds its feel and sound throughout the shows better than any snare I have ever had. My sound has as much to do with how I strike the drum as anything else. Being self taught, there's not much I can say about how I do what I do...but I have never been the cleanest drummer around. I always think of the sound of the whole kit as opposed to what each drum sounds like. I won't notice a head wearing out if it still feels right with the other drums. All of which to say, I don't think about it much. I know when it all sounds right, and I know when it starts to go wrong. The specifics are a little fuzzy.
LUDWIG HQ: Who are you major drumming and musical influences?
Steve Gorman: I love rock n roll music because of the Beatles and I love drumming because of Ringo Starr and John Bonham. As a kid, I was a complete Beatles freak (as opposed to now, where I am an 'aficionado') and Ringo's drumming represents every primary building block in my drumming. I didn't get my first kit until I was 21, but I had spent years and years playing in my head and everything came from Ringo. In my first year of drumming, every fill I played came from "A Day In The Life" and every beat was the "Sgt. Pepper's Reprise" beat. That still swings like nothing else to me.
I got that first kit in March of 1987, and that was just as I was listening to Led Zeppelin for the first time. So I quickly became obsessed with those records at the same time I was trying to learn how to play. It sounds weird to say, but Bonham's drumming always made perfect sense to me. Not that I could do any of it on any level, but I felt connected to him immediately. Again, going back to the spirit of the thing...he played (to my ears) like a guy who had just picked up the sticks for the first time but just so happened to have all the chops you could ever want. His drumming was so exuberant and I took great inspiration from it. I didn't understand anything about how it was recorded or mixed...I just knew that drums WERE SUPPOSED TO SOUND just like his did.
Ringo and Bonham had infallible taste and they both made the right choices every single time. Bastards.