Steve Gorman, the drummer and a founding member and partner in the Black Crowes, has just penned the first-ever account of a great American rock and roll band that found multi-platinum success in the early 90’s but quickly fell victim to infighting, dissent, and the substance abuse which squandered its creative energies and imploded the group long before its time. It’s a tragedy, really, because the Black Crowes had the potential to be considered among history’s great classic rock legends, like the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, or Guns n’ Roses. Instead, theirs became a relatively brief appearance, and when you’ve finished “Hard to Handle – The Life and Death of the Black Crowes,” you realize that the band members' shot at immortality was sabotaged mainly by themselves.
The chief source of turmoil was the battling Robinson Brothers – Chris the singer and Rich the guitarist.When they could work together, theirs was a potent songwriting partnership, but arguments, both verbal and physical, ultimately defined their relationship.The siblings’ conflicts enveloped the band; as Gorman summarized: “Two brothers battling for control of something neither were qualified to pilot.”
Chris Robinson’s domineering, selfish, and often brutal personality fueled much of the band’s turmoil, as described in this quote from Gorman’s book: “By 1992, being in a band with Chris Robinson was like sharing a house with an arsonist.”
But there were good times too, a happy one being the Black Crowes fortunate association with Jimmy Page. After backing the iconic musician and producer on a set of Led Zeppelin songs for a one-off benefit concert, the Black Crowes found themselves invited by Page to take the show on the road, which they did, also recording a concert album “Live at the Greek” in Los Angeles. Gorman also describes fond memories of being on tour warming up for the Rolling Stones and how Robert Plant became one of the earliest and most sincere of the Black Crowes’ supporters.
There was also an ongoing love of creating new music in the studio, which despite the personality conflicts, would always serve to bring the band back together even after the most bitter of conflicts, insults, or abuse. That creative chemistry, when it was allowed to properly ferment, produced so many brilliant songs and sold 35-million albums. But, in typical fashion for them, when the members planned a fitting tribute to the music they had created together with a final 25th anniversary tour celebration in 2015, it all blew up, mainly over Chris Robinson’s demands for a controlling financial interest in the group.
Now, the Black Crowes, who are essentially just the Robinson with hired help, have announced intentions to go out in 2020 for a 30th Anniversary tour. Steve Gorman has no desire to participate, and if the brothers got a hold of an advance copy of his new book, they probably wouldn’t have invited him anyway. Besides, he’s out on the road with his own band Trigger Hippy, which has just released a second album.
“Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes” is a riveting read. It’s Steve Gorman’s best offer to the band’s fans, whom he feels deserve to know – what was so great, and what went so wrong.