Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book reviews. Show all posts

Nov 8, 2019

Hard To Handle: page-churning Black Crowes memoir pulls back curtain on dysfunction, wasted potential


By Kevin Broughton

The Black Crowes could have become the greatest American rock and roll band of all time, or at least in the conversation with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. Around the time the scourge of hair “metal” was fading and the fad that would become grunge was just kicking up, the band from Georgia revived Stones-style, blues-based rock in a way only Aerosmith had done (and then, briefly) before them. 

Fans of the band saw the potential immediately; within a few years and albums, though, they became vaguely aware of the dysfunction that would cripple the band. Sure, Chris and Rich Robinson didn’t get along, but how bad could it be?

Worse than anyone could have imagined, it turns out. And thanks to former drummer Steve Gorman’s enthralling memoir, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of The Black Crowes, fans get an intimate look at a slow-motion train wreck. Think of Almost Famous in real life, with fist-fights.

Gorman, the youngest of eight kids from Hopkinsville, dropped out of Western Kentucky University in the late 1980s to move to Atlanta and join a band – a band that didn’t yet exist. He didn’t own a drum kit; bought his first one about a week after arriving. He had only “air-drummed.”

It was also about a week into his Atlanta residency that he met Chris Robinson, then fronting Mr. Crowe’s Garden. When Drivin N Cryin poached drummer Jeff Sullivan, Chris (who had recently gone cold-turkey off his antidepressants after his therapist committed suicide) gave Gorman the hard sell. He soon relented and along with Rich (still in high school), formed the core of what would become the Black Crowes.

Steve Gorman
Fortune smiled on the band early. It was a different era in the music business, obviously, but they were on the fast track after being signed to Ric Rubin’s label, Def American. George Drakoulias prudently informed the band they needed to tour and practice more before hitting the studio. Before heading back to Los Angeles, Drakoulias gave them some sage advice: Start listening to the Stones, like Beggars Banquet- and Exile-era Stones. And to young Rich Robinson: Learn to play in open G tuning, like Keith does. This, without question, impacted the Crowes’ sound on their first three albums – and their overall sound -- more than anything else. Gorman, incidentally, refers to Rich as a guitar savant; the same applies to himself behind a drum kit. Those two were the instrumental backbone of the Black Crowes.

Drakoulias produced the first two records, Shake Your Money Maker and (to this day the band’s masterpiece) The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. So, after massive record sales, universal critical acclaim and touring all over America and Europe, what’s the next move? Chris decides the band doesn’t need a producer anymore. Oh, the hubris that ensued.

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind about their third album, Amorica? Probably the album cover: a young lady’s midsection clad only in American-flag bikini bottoms, with, uh, some grass showing on the field.

Gorman: “Chris, what the hell are you thinking? Places like Wal Mart and K-Mart will never carry this album.” (They didn’t.)

Chris: “I don’t care. Black Crowes fans don’t shop at those places.”

Predictably, album sales absolutely tanked as a result. (It’s a shame, too, because Amorica is probably the band’s second-best record.) It would be the first of many times Chris Robinson would presume to speak for Black Crowes fans, and over the years he’d be proven wrong manifestly and continually. At one point Gorman, sick of the presumption, told him, “You have no idea how to relate to our fans. How much money would you say you spend on weed in a year?” Not batting an eye or catching the gist, Chris deadpanned, “About a hundred grand.”

Over the next dozen years, Chris would – time and again – drop a grenade into the band’s midst. There’s a clinical term for someone who is incapable of empathy and engages in destructive behavior when success would otherwise abound. Gorman never calls Chris Robinson a sociopath, or even bipolar. But he’s surely thought it. The Robinson brothers were toxically codependent, and it spread through the band. Rich had been bullied by his older brother all his life, and rather than stand up to him, he took it out on his band mates in passive-aggressive fashion. Gorman, the runt of his own (much larger) familial litter, exasperatedly gave Rich some advice: “Next time, take a folding chair and smash Chris right in the f*cking face with it. Send his ass to the hospital, and I promise you, this will stop.” If Rich had taken it to heart and followed through, Gorman’s book would be alternate history.

But he didn’t. Many, many times, Gorman – after enduring a Chris Robinson tantrum of verbal abuse – offered him a free first punch. Had Chris taken him up, we’d again be looking at a different Crowes retrospective. He’s a bully who’s never endured a good ass-whipping, and Black Crowes fans are the worse for it.

Gorman would leave the band after the 2010 tour and return a few years later in response to the pleadings of the Robinsons and the band’s manager. This time, they promised, it would be different. And it would, for a little while. Then, in 2014 it was all over again. Rich released a letter explaining that the band was done, seemingly taking the high road: “I love my brother and respect his talent, but his present demand that I must give up my equal share of the band and that our drummer for 28 years and original partner, Steve Gorman, relinquish 100% of his share, reducing him to a salaried employee, is not something I could agree to.”

Oh, the irony. Several years earlier, the Robinsons – both of them – had written Gorman and demanded he give up his ownership in the band they’d formed together. The drummer called their bluff and was ready to walk until they quickly relented.

Each of the book’s 40 chapters are packed with vignettes that will leave fans shaking their heads at what might have been. No spoiler here, but the one that sums it all up involves Jimmy Page. You remember they toured together and made a double album, right?


Of all the infuriating episodes in Gorman’s tell-all, it’s the one that will piss you off the most.

Still, it’s a book you can’t put down. As in, buy it on a Friday afternoon and you’re up till 3:30 a.m. reading.

And you’ll finish it while watching your favorite team the next day…in between plays.

Gorman says, “This isn’t the story of the Black Crowes, but it’s my story of the Black Crowes.” It’s one well told, but ultimately sad. I hope the movie isn’t a letdown. Meantime, let’s remember what was, and what could have been.


Jul 25, 2019

Rock & Roll Book Review / Drew Fortune / No Encore

Who Doesn’t Love Rock and Roll Stories? I know I do.

By Robert Dean

Who doesn't love rock and roll stories? Now that our world has been scrubbed of fun thanks to everyone being mad at everything, every five minutes, it's refreshing to read about the world of music. From Van Halen's brown M&M's to David Bowie's time living in Berlin, who doesn't love this stuff? 

In Drew Fortune's new book, No Encore, Fortune rounded up an all-star cast of miscreants and got them to tell their most insane stories both good and bad, or at least the ones they were willing to get on the record. (Some things you just can't print – think of the children!)

There are blackouts, fistfights, a lot of drug abuse, and GG Allin smearing crap all over himself. Surprisingly, a lot of bad shows happen in San Francisco, must be the ghost of the city before the tech bro's ruined striking back for something cosmic. 

Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr/Sebadoh tells the story of his wicked addiction to speed, along with his first time tasting it – just before their much-hyped set at the Reading Festival. Barlow doesn't spare details explaining  Courtney Love screaming at him for fucking up in front of so many people, drugged out of his mind, while she too, was drugged out of her mind. Lots of heroin in these pages. Lots of it. 

Drew Fortune
However Fortune got these folks to open up, he did a bang-up job. The stories are vivid and wildly entertaining for anyone who's fascinated with the culture of music. People assume once you've got a record out you've got it made, the cash rolls in and everything is cool. Nothing could be further from the truth, because for just about every working band, they make their lives on the road. And for every killer show, there's always a clunker waiting to rear its head, reminding even the best of us that we're human. 

Apparently, Dave Navarro used to play in rock and roll bands before becoming famous for being a shirtless guy with nipple piercings who judges tattoo shows. Some band called Jane's Addiction was playing a radio festival in LA at the height of Fiona Apple's celebrity and considering Navarro was a full-blown junkie at the time, he shot up and then wrote he loved her on the wall in his blood. Fiona Apple and her people were not amused by his ode of respect and adoration. Even weirder, Navarro had a habit of doing this to a lot of people and would shoot up in his friend's homes and spray blood on the walls. This even grossed out Marilyn Manson. Navarro's TV wife Carmen Electra was into it and thought the heart he made for her was touching, and that's why we got a gross reality show out of the deal.

If you're into Ween, Dean Ween tells the hilarious story about the time they played a college – with Busta Rhymes and hardly anyone showed up to see Ween. Shirley Manson shares her story about being at the height of the Garbage's fame, but still managing to get booked at a picnic in Germany to a massive crowd of 30 families enjoying a quiet meal. 

From Debbie Gibson to Taleb Kwali to Alice Cooper, they're all in here. If you want another hardcore heroin story, Al Jorgenson from Ministry has got you covered. And this was when Ministry was "Ministry" the 1994 dark as fuck Ministry that was riding high of Psalm 69. 

Sean Yseult from White Zombie shares her experiences with Dimebag Darrell and Pantera, while also talking about her time in White Zombie. At a show with 10,000 people, Dimebag and the Pantera roadies apparently poured ten dollars-worth of pennies down her boots. Sadly, we don't see a lot of Sean these days, she was always a force of metal. While on the subject of White Zombie, The Melvins Buzz Osbourne absolutely shits on Rob Zombie, talking about much he sucks. Osbourne doesn't save any love for the powers that be running Ozzfest, either. The Melvins were booked on Ozzfest 1998 as a contract requirement to land Tool, and all through the tour, the Melvins were miserable. (I know because I was there at Alpine Valley and the Melvins played one slow, one-note song for their entire set.) He didn't blame Ozzy for how his band was treated, though. "do I hate Ozzy or Sabbath? Absolutely not! He's got bigger things to worry about like what's two plus two than worrying about us." If you want some pure Buzz Osbourne fury, it's right there and mean.

Foster the People talk about fingers in butts, David Yow explains his habit of getting naked at Jesus Lizard shows, and who knew some of the guys in Slipknot were into Third Eye Blind?

One of the best stories in the book comes from Brent Smith, the singer of Shinedown. Smith talks about their time opening for Van Halen and the time Eddie Van Halen pissed all over a deli tray. 


Drew Fortune put together a fun book that's a perfect addition to any rock and roll nerd collection. There are plenty of moments of cringe, but there's a lot of heart and hilarity there, too. He did talk to Insane Clown Posse, but you're going to have to buy the book for that story because come on, you know it's wild. Have you ever seen footage of one of their shows? 

No Encore is available everywhere you buy or download books.

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