In the spirit of creativity and controversy, the Black Crowes follow a long line of rock 'n' roll debauchery and grandeur that is seemingly spearheaded by a dynamic duo of musicians throwing punches in the gutter and gracious handshakes in the face of success.
Within the eye of this melodic storm, Chris and Rich Robinson have garnered an array of material meticulously interwoven into the fertile American musical landscape. Their creations not only provoke reflection, for good or ill, but they inspire pure pursuits of genuine purpose as we all mosey down the road a little further.
But behind every cherished lead singer and guitarist resides an equally beloved drummer. For the southern rock rebels that hatched in Atlanta as Mr. Crowe's Garden in 1984, Steve Gorman is a perpetual force of reason, onstage and off.
He is the backbone of an aging, yet "wiser for the time" musical body, one that is currently hitting their artistic pinnacle thus far. The sextet provokes goose bumps with such ease, you feel intoxicated by the aroma of psychedelic-rock soaked with an embracing sound paying ode to the likes of the Grateful Dead, The Band and Led Zeppelin.
Checking in from Nashville, Gorman spoke of the road to redemption the band has taken over the last decade, why the group is going on hiatus in 2011 and how "floating" is a feeling that occurs frequently onstage.
PULLING THE PLUG
Garret K. Woodward: Let's get right down to it. Hiatus or breakup—
Steve Gorman: It's not a breakup, it's 'let's stop with no guarantee we'll start up again.' This is us being 20 years into this, six straight years on the road. The Black Crowes are an all-consuming band for the people in it. We've have learned, hopefully, from our past mistakes, about grinding ourselves in dust. So we want to pull the plug before that happens again.
GKW: Since 2006, it seems, you guys have been on the road the whole time.
SG: Definitely. We went from the early 1990s until 2001 without even taking at least a mental break. There are a couple times, looking back, we all agree that at different times during the '90s we really should have shut it down and said 'see you in a year.' We haven't made things really easy for our fans sometimes. A lot of those things come from being so close you can't see it. We really want to make sure nothing like that happens again. It's funny, because it's prompted by the fact that we're really happy with what we're doing right now. I mean, if we were sort of floundering and it didn't feel like we were really on a roll, I don't know if we would even be having this thought of 'let's shut it down.' It would probably be more like 'maybe we are done.' If there is going to be another Black Crowes, there needs be a Black Crowes that's been away for one or two years.
GKW: I lost track of you guys after the first hiatus (2001), and a lot of fans wandered off as well. But over the last five years, you've reclaimed anyone who ever doubted the band. It's very bittersweet when you put out a milestone record like 'Before The Frost, Until The Freeze' and now decide to take a step back.
SG: I appreciate that. We are very proud of that record. We're old enough now to realize that it's going to be around. If anything, I think the way people see that record will only improve over time. The truth is we need a break. As much as we're all happy with the band, there is another side of us that knows if we go our separate ways and get focused on other things, it's going to be hard to get it back together. But we just got to see what happens.
GKW: When you're behind the kit, when the band is hitting their stride, where do you go in your mind—
SG: It's hard to say, because when the show's done, it goes out of my mind immediately. You know, on a good night, it's the feeling of almost like floating. You find yourself in a state of complete focus and complete relaxation at the same time. And it's not because of what I'm playing, it's listening to what everybody else is doing, and we'll hit these strides. A lot of the things (that are) most exciting to us, the audience might not immediately get it. Those moments, they are the best, but you can't think about it either, because of the momentum. In the old days, we would try to steer it, now we try to hold on for dear life.
GKW: If you were never to play together after this tour, is this the creative peak of the band—
SG: I would like to think that people see it as that. One of the biggest reasons I came back in 2005 was because I couldn't stand the way it ended before. I didn't think we had another big future ahead of us. I wanted to come back and straighten up the mess we left behind.
GKW: What's the legacy of the Black Crowes— Let the music speak for itself—
SG: Absolutely. We didn't change other things, we kept doing what we're doing. That was simply the focus. We lost track of some stuff and we got it back. The key is not to lose it again.
The Black Crowes, who recently performed at Higher Ground in Burlington, complete their tour in mid December. Learn more at blackcrowes.com.
Garret K. Woodward, a native of Rouses Point, reviews music for several publications, including The Press-Republican, State of Mind Music Magazine, Roving Festival Writer and Fourth Coast Entertainment Magazine. Read his blog at: TheRFW.com/blog/Garret.