Author and ad guy Mark St. Amant talks to rock legend & sports radio host, Steve Gorman, about life on the road, fatherhood, air-drumming to the Beatles, and puking up tainted Sloppy Joes.
If you have anywhere between one and two human ears and have listened to music since 1989 or thereabouts, Steve Gorman doesn’t need much of an introduction. He’s a founding member, along with brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, of one of America’s most sacred rock n’ roll treasures—The Black Crowes—as well as the band’s longtime drummer.
I’ve been a Crowes fan pretty much since their inception. Their 1990 debut “Shake Your Money Maker” quickly became the official soundtrack to my senior year of college (i.e. the official soundtrack of Phi Kappa Tau beer pong matches). And, as a—insert finger quotes and awkward throat-clear–drummer and guitarist myself, I played in bands that covered that album’s many hits like “Twice As Hard,” Jealous Again,” “She Talks to Angels,” “Seeing Things,” and “Hard to Handle,” ham-fistedly banging away on my poorly maintained Gretsch set with a skill level that could aptly be described as “Steve Gorman-esque (if Steve was blackout drunk and had two fractured wrists).” On a good night.
But it wasn’t until 2011 or so that our paths actually crossed…thanks to, of all things, fantasy football. See, Steve is also a massive sports fan–a weirdo mix of Baltimore Orioles, University of Michigan, and, oddly, for reasons he’ll explain below, the Dutch national soccer team. So when he wasn’t on tour with the Crowes or working with Trigger Hippy (a side band that includes singer/songwriter Joan Osborne), Gorman, a broadcasting major in college, hosted “Steve Gorman Sports,” a hybrid sports-music-pop culture podcast and a refreshing change, in my opinion, from your cookie-cutter, meathead-driven sports shows where most hosts believe that if YOU YELL LOUDER THAN THE OTHER GUY, YOU WIN THE ARGUMENT!! (Thanks a lot, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.) And when you think about it, it’s not surprising that a guy who’s played basketball his whole life also helped form a seminal American rock band, in that sports and music are both uber-competitive landscapes. (Steve once remarked on his competitive spirit, both on the court and on-stage, in an interview with Pittsburgh Sports Report’s Tony DeFazio: “I will fight through every set if its not going right. I can’t stand it. Some of that goes back to competitive sports too – I played a lot of basketball where we were down by 50 points and you just get so angry. You get that attitude, ‘You might beat us by 50, but you’re not going to beat us by 51, goddammit.’”)
The podcast’s popularity soon led to a radio show on 102.5 The Game (ESPN Radio) in Nashville, TN. And last year, through mutual friend (and SGS show co-creator and semi-regular “character” Mitch Blum), Steve brought me on as the in-house fantasy football dorkling. I helped run a league with his great listeners, and Steve and I even co-owned a team – cleverly called “Saint Gorman” — which was anything but blessed considering we finished a humiliating 4-9. (Yeaaaaah, some “expert” I was. You might blame me for drafting Jimmy Graham late in the first round, one year too early; Graham’s blowing up THIS YEAR, of course. But I’ll conveniently blame Steve for wasting time on this silly “Black Crowes” pipedream of his and not focusing on the important things in life, like our fake football team.)
Which brings us to the present, and this latest Man-to-Man. Steve was kind enough to answer my questions between sets and tour bus naps – not to mention schooling unsuspecting patsies in 2-on-2 hoops with Crowes’ frontman and, apparently, lethal outside shooter, Chris Robinson. I’d sent him so many questions, in fact, that he rightfully remarked, with trademark dryness, “Jesus, there are a lot of questions.” Yes, readers, I took a bullet for you to make sure we heard as much as humanly possible from one of rock’s greatest drummers and mold-breaking sports radio hosts. (Speaking of, I didn’t ask him about his eventual split with 102.5 Nashville after a successful 18 month run, but know that the SGS show will be back somewhere “very soon,” according to his @SteveGormanSports Twitter feed. Which will be a relief to sports and music fans alike.)
Enjoy . . .
MARK ST. AMANT: What’s the worst decision you’ve ever made – personally, professionally (not counting this interview), or both — and how have you learned from it?
STEVE GORMAN: That’s a tough one, as I have a long list of bad decisions to look back upon. My worst personal decision is no one’s damned business. Come to think of it, neither is my worst professional decision. However, I can say that I have learned from both the same thing—which is to always, when making key decisions, look ahead ten years and imagine telling the story that led to the decision at hand. Don’t think about what’s going to happen immediately, don’t think about how it’ll make you FEEL in the short term. If people you know to be straight with you in the good times are saying what you don’t want to hear in the bad times, you’re probably making a poor choice not to trust them.
MS: Who is the best man you know, and why?
SG: I have a great friend in Nashville (as he’s a private citizen I won’t name him here, but it’s okay because he knows how I feel) that I have heard myself say many times, “He’s who I always used to think I was.” Steady, straight, all heart on top of a maddeningly reasonable and rational mind. A tremendous father, husband, friend, and musician. In that order.
MS: You’re a Michigan guy, born in Muskegon…basically the pinkie of the Michigan “mitten”. Were you, by law, forced to be a Wolverine fan growing up? And who is your most favorite Michigan – the university, or the state itself — athlete of all-time? (And Jack Kevorkian doesn’t count, even though he made suicide kind of a spectator sport.)
SG: I left Michigan when I was 3, but every Saturday in our house it was still Go Blue for sure. None of my siblings, or cousins, or anyone named Gorman that I know of for that matter, ever went to Michigan. It makes no sense to cheer for them after all these years but most of us still do.
MS: Okay, I’ll just go ahead and mark you down for Tom Brady as best Wolverine ever. What’s your most cherished “ritual” as a guy?
SG: Nothing comes to mind. The only rituals I give a shit about are the ones with my kids.
MS: Little known fact: I was also a drummer. My first set was a 4-piece, sparkle-blue Slingerland that my insurance executive dad bought me for like $350 bucks (a fortune at the time, and I’m still grateful to him) at the legendary Jack’s Drum Shop in Boston. When did you get your first drum set and who/what inspired you to start playing?
SG: I heard “Ticket to Ride” when I was five years old. I was air drumming, which I have never seen anyone do at that point, before the second chorus hit. I listened to it over and over that first day and felt like I was being summoned. I knew, literally from that day, that I would be a drummer. Which of course makes the next part of this answer ludicrous. I got my first drum kit in 1987, when I was 21 years old. I moved to Atlanta to start a band with some guys who were under the impression that I had already been playing steadily for years. I bought a Pearl Export kit, loaded it into the band house, and waited for them all to leave so I could figure it out on my own without too much embarrassment. I had actually played on a borrowed kit a few times (meaning less than a dozen) while in college so I wasn’t completely clueless. But I had never played alone. Every time up until that point that I had ever sat at a kit, I was playing songs with other guys. Ramones covers, Clash covers, anything straight and without fills.
MS: Speaking of air-drumming, no lie, I once sat behind sports columnist Rick Reilly on a flight from LA to Denver and he was occasionally air-drumming to something on his iPod. Probably Creed. You come from a large family — five brothers, two sisters. Where did you fall in the pecking order, and how did your “place” as a child affect your adult personality or outlook on life?
SG: I grew up the youngest of 8. Being the youngest had some advantages for sure. Having five older brothers is a pretty good security blanket. I never worried about any older kids in the neighborhood messing with me. They would have been destroyed. And in fact there were several instances of kids getting in my face and paying for that with a busted lip and a bloody nose. I always got along with all of my siblings. In fact, my closest brother in age (2 years older) and I have had exactly two arguments in our entire lives. There were some other feuds in the family over the years but I was always a diplomat. I haven’t really thought much about the connection to my outlook on life, but it’s clear upon reflection now that I still play that role in various relationships.
MS: When we were like 6 and 9, my older brother, Doug, urinated on my security blanket, knowing I liked to chew on it. Which I did. So there’s that. Speaking of family infighting, are Chris and Rich Robinson the Noel and Liam Gallagher of American rock? And do you get sick of questions about those two, or is that just part of the gig for the non-Robinson Crowes?
SG: I think that the four-year head start on their respective careers means that the Gallaghers are the Chris and Rich Robinson of English Rock, but beyond that I couldn’t care less about anybody’s family infighting.
MS: After co-founding the band in the late ‘80’s, you left the Crowes in 2001 to pursue other interests, returning in 2005. Now, sometimes “other interests” means “To drain booze and under-the-counter sedatives out of one’s system”. Sometimes that means “Fleeing Federal Marshals.” What was behind that decision, and did you accomplish what you’d hoped in those four walkabout years?
SG: I was 36 with a toddler and another baby on the way. I felt like the band had become a hamster wheel. I wasn’t willing to be away from my family anymore for something that wasn’t moving forward and energizing. Those four years were invaluable and I accomplished more than I could have hoped for.
MS: What advice would the adult Steve give the teenage Steve about life?
SG: Trust your gut. You’re almost as smart as you think you are, but that’s no substitute for experience. Learn from other people’s mistakes as you don’t have enough time to make them all yourself. Embrace change. Be honest with yourself and admit when you’re scared and out of your depth.
MS: In 1990, with the release of Shake Your Money Maker, you guys went from random, working Atlanta-based rock band to superstars, virtually overnight. How much of a misconception is the “overnight success” label and can anything prepare a 25-year-old for the tectonic life shift that such instant fame brings? How well – or not well — did you handle it?
SG: Chris had a far more intense experience than the rest of us, to be sure. He couldn’t go anywhere within a year of the record’s release. I shaved my head in 1991 and no one ever recognized me again, outside of a three-block radius of any BC gig. So I haven’t had a lot of fame issues. I had some success issues, though. To get home from that first tour and buy a condo, and a car, and to not be in the least bit concerned about paying my monthly bills, was all new to me. And as a guy raised in an Irish Catholic household, I couldn’t help but feel guilty somehow. I felt a need to buy everyone I saw a drink. I wanted to assure my friends that I hadn’t changed. A lot of trite nonsense that a lot of people in that situation feel. I should have admitted that I had in fact changed, quite considerably. I was still the same person with the same values, but my goals had changed. My perspective had changed. Some of it was positive, some of it was negative. But things had definitely changed. And I was too proud and stubborn to admit that I was bewildered by it all. I wanted to appear like I had it all figured out. And, as a testament to my acting chops, everyone around me bought it.
MS: What’s the single worst thing that’s ever happened to you during a live show?
SG: I ate some bad Sloppy Joes in 1988 and that night at the Cotton Club in Atlanta, puked my guts out onstage between songs throughout the entire set. Hard to top that one.
MS: How does touring affect being a dad? I go on a TV commercial shoot for a week or two, tops, every so often. But you’re gone for months on end. How do your kids feel when Daddy disappears? And do you ever expect to come home from a long tour and just see some other dude who kinda looks like you sitting in your La-Z-Boy, reading the paper, wearing your slippers, having assumed your role as Dad?
SG: No, of course not. My kids have grown up with me coming and going, but they have never had a moment in their lives where they had to question where they sit on my list of priorities. They are first and there isn’t a close second. We speak daily and always have. They’ve also grown up seeing me anytime they want, with video chats. It’s much harder on me to leave than it is on them. And of course, they come on the road quite often.
MARK: How would the women in your life describe you?
SG: I don’t know but you’re welcome to track some of them down and ask.
MS: You’re a huge soccer fan, weirdly supporting the Dutch side. How did you get into soccer, and what is it going to take for soccer to ever truly take off in the States? Or can it?
SG: My first real soccer coach preached the Dutch style of “total football” to us. This was in a small town in Kentucky in the 70’s, so it goes without saying that he was pretty damned progressive in a lot of ways. There are a few dozen men in their late 40’s and early 50’s running around these days still cheering for the Orange every four years thanks to his influence. Soccer will always be a slow burn here. It’s been so for the last 40 years in fact and it will simply continue that way. Although with the major networks now showing Premier League Games live on weekends, I think the growth will start to pick up pace. The MLS is better every year. Still nowhere near the leagues of Europe but moving forward. It won’t replace one of the big four sports, but it will simply become the 5th big sport.
MS: Best drummer of all-time? Many say Bonham, Moon, Neil Pert. I personally say Omar Hakim. You? I know you’re a huge Levon Helm fan, he asked, leading the witness…
SG: Best? Hell, I don’t know. There are a million great ones. My favorites, however, are Ringo and Bonham in that order.
MARK: Pete Best just cried yet another, silent Iron Eyes Cody-like tear. Favorite venue in the world to play? Least favorite?
SG: Favorite—Barrowlands, Glasgow Scotland. Least favorite—any number of shitholes we played on the way up. Couldn’t pick out any one in particular.
MARK: On the official Black Crowes site (www.blackcrowes.com) you had an advice column, of all things, where fans could write you personally and ask questions about everything from relationships to career advice. So, how the hell were you remotely qualified to offer life coaching to strangers?
SG: It’s amazing how far you can coast on charm and confidence, ain’t it?
MARK: The Crowes have sold more than 35 million records, the latest being a throwback to my youth when rock bands (A) kicked some fucking ass, and (B) put out totally nutso, possibly coke-fueled octuple live albums. And WISER FOR THE TIME is just that: eight — EIGHT — sides on four vinyl albums containing 26 songs — 15 acoustic and 11 electric — all from a five-night live stand in NYC back in 2010. What’s your single favorite Crowes studio album and why?
SG: Southern Harmony and Before The Frost are tied. I love how they were both made. I don’t listen to our albums very often at all, but the experience of making those two really stand out for me.
MS: Important question that any longtime Crowes fan would ask if they could: Are you part wolf?
SG: Wow, that’s impressive.
MS: When was the first time you cheated on a girlfriend—assuming there was one because, hey, you know, rock star and all—and how did it make you feel at the time?
SG: Never did. Why have a girlfriend in this line of work unless you want one?
MS: Speaking of cheating, did you feel any shame when you’d moonlight as the drummer for Stereophonics? Or was that a necessary escape from the Crowes? Do all men need other “creative outlets” aside from their day jobs to keep from basically murdering people?
SG: Of course not. I had a blast. I can’t answer any questions about what all men need. Hell, it’s enough to deal with my own needs.
MARK: You’re playing the Boulder Theater here in my hometown on November 11th. So, um, when should I expect to receive my VIP passes? Just kidding. But seriously, when do I get them?
SG: Take a deep breath. Hold it.
MARK: Fair enough. I’ll just buy a ticket like the rest of the filthy, cake-eating masses. But know this — you’re sacrificing an invite for a home-cooked meal* (*Quiznos subs) at Chateau St. Amant, just a few blocks from the theater. Reader question, from Wade Paschall — @Suedehead on Twitter – “When are you guys going to cover Big Star’s ‘Mod Lang’”?
SG: As soon as we remember that it’d be a great one for us. Gotta write that down somewhere.
MS: This penultimate question comes courtesy of our mutual friend Don Lane — @TheDonLane on Twitter — who’s forgotten more about the Crowes than I’ll ever know: “What do you want your/the band’s legacy to be? After all, you SAY you follow your instincts and don’t care what others think. But you’re all human and probably DO care. You have pride. So do you want to be considered one of the greatest bands of all-time? From 1990 onward? Is it longevity? Is it leaving this world having gained the enduring respect of your musical idols (Jimmy Page, Dylan, the Stones, Allmans, Frampton, et al)? Or is it all about the seemingly real relationships with all the crazy fans that follow you around the world?”
SG: One of these days I’ll get around to thinking about that, I am sure. But for now as always it’s enough to just keep it going and moving forward.
Thanks for the time & effort, Steve. Readers, please visit http://blackcrowes.com/ for tour dates and info, and http://stevegormansports.com for info on the inevitable, merciful return of the SGS radio show.