As the drummer for the Black Crowes for 27 years, Steve Gorman has seen some shit. He recounts a lot of it in his new book Hard to Handle: The Life & Death of the Black Crowes — A Memoir, a backstage tell-all that features more than a few fights between brothers Chris and Rich Robinson.
“‘You’re gonna have to write the book, man.’ That’s something everybody would say to me,” says Gorman, sipping a coffee in a popular Nashville breakfast spot. “And what I said for 25 years was, ‘Well, I would, but nobody would believe it.'”
Obviously he relented, and with the book written, published, and receiving good word-of-mouth for its juicy tales of rock & roll and even rockier relationships, Gorman is happy to put those dysfunctional days with the Crowes behind him. He much prefers the calmer waters of his latest project, the Americana jam-rock-country band Trigger Hippy.
On Friday, the group releases its second album, Full Circle & Then Some — but it’s not exactly the same Trigger Hippy that put out its self-titled debut in 2014.
Along with Gorman and co-founding member, bassist Nick Govrik, Trigger Hippy 2019 features two new members, as well as a more stable foundation. Guitarist Jackie Greene and vocalist Joan Osborne exited the lineup in 2015. “She’s super busy and didn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for a million reasons that all make perfect sense,” Gorman says of the multi-tasking soul singer. “I was laughing because I lost two bands in two years. Chris blew up the [Black Crowes] in ’14 and Trigger Hippy blew up in ’15.”
The amicable exits of Green and Osborne left the future of the band in limbo — until Gorman and Govrik began jamming with singer-guitarist Ed Jurdi of the Texas group Band of Heathens. “Ed was a big part of us doing something again,” he says. With a new core in place, Gorman and Govrik followed a tip from a local record-store owner and club promoter and found singer Amber Woodhouse fronting a cover band at a Nashville honky-tonk. “We watched her sing two songs and went, ‘What the fuck was that?’ She was just great,” Gorman says, “and this album only scratches the surface of what she can do vocally.”
The track “Dandelion” proves Gorman’s point. Woodhouse’s sky-high pipes shake the rafters, as the band lays down a funky rhythm behind her. In lead single “Don’t Want to Bring You Down,” she blends her voice with Jurdi’s and Govrik’s, revealing the group’s secret weapon: call-and-response vocals. But it’s on the LP’s title track where the band preaches its mission statement, or at least that of the at-peace and (mostly) at-rest Gorman: “No more life on the run/we’ve come full circle and then some.”
Gorman says that unlike his experience in the studio with the Robinsons, making music with Trigger Hippy has been a process built on understanding and compromise.
“The older I get, the more patient I get,” says Gorman, who will take Trigger Hippy on the road into December. “I’ve had too many false starts and I’d rather go much slower and never backtrack.”
He does have one regret about his old band, however: that the Black Crowes didn’t do right by their fans when they called it quits. According to Gorman, the group was to embark on a 25th anniversary tour in honor of their 1990 debut album Shake Your Money Maker, but Chris Robinson quashed it with demands for more money. “The terms were nonnegotiable,” Gorman writes in Hard to Handle. “Give him what he wanted, or he wasn’t coming back.”
Gorman takes a final sip of his coffee. “It’s not a problem to sit across from someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be in a band anymore with you.’ But let’s figure out a way to consciously uncouple, and show respect to what we built together and to all the people who gave us this life,” he says. “We don’t have to agree, but we have to meet in the middle. That’s what any band is. What are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good? The answer to me is a lot; the answer for them is very little.”