The Black Crowes need a break. Since their 2005 reformation, the group has toured incessantly (tonight's Verizon show is their fifth Houston stop), released three studio records, one live record, two DVDS and now Croweology. That double-disc effort features new, acoustic recordings of previous material to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker.
So they're going "on hiatus," but not before embarking on a tour that will find them playing an hour and a half acoustic set, followed by the same time plugged in. Rocks Off spoke with drummer and original Crowe Steve Gorman about the band, the record, and one helluva party in Houston.
Rocks Off: At what point did the band decide it was time for a break?
Steve Gorman: It was last year. We were discussing what turned into Croweology, then we realized it was the 20th anniversary, and we had to do something special, and then we got excited. We're not killing the thing, we're just pulling the plug for awhile. We don't want to drive ourselves down again.
RO: How did you decide on which songs to revisit for Croweology?
SG: Chris, Rich and I each wrote down a list of 25 songs we wanted to try, and quite a number were on all three lists. Then we went to what was on two lists, and we talked out the rest.
RO: Most of the new acoustic arrangements make the songs sound very different - "Downtown Money Waster" for one.
SG: I really liked how "Hotel Illness" came out. It was a fun vibe. That wasn't on anybody's list, but Chris suggested we do just a four-on-the-floor honky-tonk version, and we just knocked it out. It was perfect the first time we played through it.
RO: With all credit to Marc Ford, I also think that Luther Dickinson's more bluegrass and country style with the slide work really shines on the record.
SG: Oh, entirely. I spoke with a friend of ours who has known the band since 1990, and she said that [the current lineup] played like one organism. And that's about as good a compliment as I can get.
Our band has always been the sum is greater than the parts, and since Luther and [keyboardist Adam MacDougall] have been with us, it's been the most cohesive lineup we've ever had. Even though it wasn't when we started. And that's not a disparaging comment to the guys who have come before.
RO: With the exception of a short time after the 2005 reunion, you've had the seat behind Chris and Rich for the entirety of the band's existence. Is there anything about them today that you would have thought would have been impossible 20 years ago?
SG: I think the single biggest thing is not that we're all in our 40s or that we've done this so long, it's that everybody's a dad. I know there are guys that doesn't change them too much, but that's not the way with us. Everybody's changed dramatically.
Rich had his first son in 1996 when he was still young, and I didn't have mine until I was 35. I needed a reason to grow up, I think [laughs]. But it gives you an instant perspective. When you go from being the center of your universe to simply being a bridge from one generation to the next, it changes things pretty dramatically.
RO: There's a clip on one of your DVDs where, early in your career, Chris alludes that you are the most demented person in the band. Then they cut to you with this wild-eyed look wearing a near crew cut. Care to comment?
SG: Well, based on hairstyle alone, that would seem to make it true [laughs]. I do remember a time when it was my job to remind Chris that he was insane, and he looked at me very calmly and said "Funny, I 've always thought that you were the most insane person I've ever met!
RO: The format of the tour is interesting. Not to sound elitist, but I think it will bring out more of your hardcore fans.
SG: I understand what you're saying, and yeah, if I'm in an airport and having a conversation with somebody, I'd rather it be a hardcore fan than someone who just says "you're in a band, aren't you?"
There are fans that I've even gotten to know who come to dozens of shows that I've spent hours talking to over the years. Those are the people we look forward to seeing, but they're not less important than the casual fan. At this point in a lot of [our friend and fans] lives, they're not getting out to that many shows a year. And if that happens to be a Black Crowes show, that's awesome.
For this tour, I want all the casual fans to come back. Maybe they like four songs, but will get turned on to some of the other things we're doing. The simple fact that is that bands and music in general are not on people's radars as much as they used to be. There's so many other things that get into people's heads that now fill that space in their brain of what are they going to do with their free time, and I can't fault them for that.
RO: Some casual fans might have a hard decision, though. The same night you're here in Houston, Tom Petty and ZZ Top are playing together.
SG: Ah well, that's unfortunate!
RO: Any specific memories of Houston over the years?
SG: Well, I've yet to have a bad meal in Houston. People don't really talk about it as a restaurant town.
But my favorite memory was in 1990 we were touring with a band called Junkyard out of Austin. One of their friends was having a party at their house. I don't know the neighborhood and we were completely out of place, but everyone was so cool.
It's funny, because to this day when we go to Houston, something about that night will come up between myself and Rich and Chris. The whole thing was like a scene out of Dazed and Confused. But it cemented Houston as a cool place in our heads.
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RO: With the band going on hiatus, what's going to happen to your advice column on the Web site, "What's Wrong with Steve?"
SG [laughs]: That's funny! You're the second person to ask me that, and I hadn't even thought about it! When I'm at home, that part of my brain shuts off and I'm just thinking about what the kids are doing in school or keeping the yard cut. But when I'm on the road, I'll go "Hey, I feel funny today!" and write something. So we'll see.
RO: Finally, as a younger music journalist, I was fortunate enough to attend your backstage press conference during the 1992 "High as the Moon" stop at the Sam Houston Coliseum. It was the first time I'd seen Red Stripe beer. So thank you for turning me onto that.
SG: Ah, well, it's the little accomplishments that matter!