Steve Gorman and his bandmates are happily hitting the target
Steve Gorman isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to struggle with artistic insecurity. Widely known as the drummer of the wildly successful (and now defunct) rock band The Black Crowes, Gorman has toured the world, played with icons like Warren Zevon and Bob Dylan and found success in myriad side projects, musical and otherwise. But like any other artist, Gorman can’t help but turn a harshly critical eye (and ear) to his work. That is, until he released his new record with the soulful rock band Trigger Hippy, Full Circle & Then Some.
“It’s the first album, from any I’ve ever been on, where I listen now and I have no thought of, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done that differently,’” Gorman says. “I guess that’s the one benefit to taking a really long time. Nothing was by design, timetable-wise, other than not wanting to rush anything. It was productive. Every time we got together and worked and recorded, we loved what we did. So we were like, ‘Well, if this is the pace that makes sense, the result is worth it.’”
Trigger Hippy is the brainchild of Gorman and frequent collaborator, bassist Nick Govrik. The band made its self-titled debut in 2014 and has since rounded out its lineup with the addition of vocalist/guitarist Ed Jurdi and vocalist/saxophone player Amber Woodhouse. Joan Osborne and Jackie Greene played as part of Trigger Hippy on the band’s debut album, but have since left amicably to pursue other projects.
The updated lineup began recording Full Circle & Then Some in 2016, after the band took a hiatus following touring in support of their debut, Trigger Hippy. As Gorman explains it, it was Ed Jurdi who greased the wheels and got things moving for the band again. After bringing Jurdi into the fold and recruiting Woodhouse, the foursome began what would be a two-year recording process for Full Circle & Then Some.
“Ed played me two of his demos and I just looked at him and thought, ‘Oh my God, these are fantastic,’” Gorman says. “Right away I thought if I’m this excited over a little Pro-Tools-into-an-iPad demo, this guy is a real songwriter. … They moved me immediately and they were just off-center enough, too. They were real. I had to get something going with this guy.”
The band recorded most of Full Circle & Then Some at Gorman’s Nashville home studio, the Tree House. The album picks up where Trigger Hippy left off, blending Southern-influenced rock with funk, soul, and a little bit of country twang, a sonic patchwork stitched together with healthy doses of palpable joy and fun. The band also recruited a handful of their most talented friends to join them in the studio, including guitarist Sadler Vaden (Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit), harmonica player Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson), Nashville-via-London pedal steel player Spencer Cullum (Steelism, Miranda Lambert), and others.
Opening track “Don’t Wanna Bring You Down” sets a joyful tone for the album with its breezy acoustic guitar, funky organ, and soulful vocal harmonies. The title track is all groove, with crunchy electric guitar riffs and Govrik’s lively bass adding a suitably hefty arrangement to support Woodhouse’s powerhouse vocal. Gorman nods both to Govrik and to the new band members as essential to fleshing out the sound hinted at on the Trigger Hippy debut.
“Ed’s writing and his ideas and his ability to take an idea that someone else throws out and immediately make it grow. … He has a straight line musically from his heart and his gut to what comes out,” Gorman says. “And Amber’s talent as a singer is through the roof. She’s also an incredible saxophone player. She’s very much a spark plug. There’s an energy and a vibe of anything being possible with her.”
The band maintained a purposeful openness to collaboration throughout their time in the studio, an ethos that was made easier by recording in bits and pieces over a long period of time. While Gorman credits the band’s slower approach to recording as integral to his contentment with the album, he also realizes that, this far into his career, he’s due a chunk of that credit, too.
“They always say you have to trust your gut, but your gut gets smarter over time, too,” he says. “It’s really a question of learning what your gut impulses really are telling you. When I was younger, I used to say, ‘Oh, I’m just going off my gut.’ But my gut was filled with anxiety and fear. This is common to pretty much anybody, I would hope, but you wake up one day — hopefully before you’re too old — and start to put together not what you think but why you think that way, and how much of it is authentic.
“All this to say, I’ve been through an awful lot of creative situations in studios — records that were my band and records where I was playing on other people’s music — and I’m in a place right now where I feel pretty confident with what I feel makes sense and what doesn’t.”
Full Circle & Then Some is an appropriate name for the project, as the album found Gorman reuniting with Thirty Tigers founder David Macias, who was integral to the early success of the Black Crowes. It isn’t lost on Gorman that he’s maintained such lasting relationships in a typically fickle business; in fact, he found that revisiting their professional relationship awoke the excited young musician in him.
“We have obviously been friends for over 30 years and stayed in touch and see each other in Nashville,” Gorman says. “But when this record was done, I went to see Dave to play him some music and see if he wanted to work with it and I was actually laughing at myself. … I walked in and started the first song and got really nervous, like, ‘Oh man, I hope he likes this.’ … If he could have given me a reason he didn’t want to do it, it would have been fine. But it just means a lot when someone you respect that much says, ‘I get this. I dig it.’”
Gorman is plenty busy outside of his work with Trigger Hippy. He hosted the long-running Fox Sports Radio show Steve Gorman Sports! until September of 2018 and recently began a new classic rock-themed show, Steve Gorman Rocks! He also released his first book, Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes—A Memoir, in October, a project that took a “warts and all” approach to sharing the story of the dysfunction that ultimately led to the end of the Black Crowes (see sidebar review).
“The book is just me,” he says. “Steven Hyden helped me shape the narrative and he greatly helped me edit the book. But that book is just me. A radio show and a band are both very collaborative, in different ways. I’m a team player to a fault. I look at things almost like it’s a basketball team. ‘You be the point guard; I’ll be the center; let him be the guy that shoots.’ I don’t think that limits creativity. I think that everybody understanding their role enhances it. I like to work towards people’s strengths at all times. The fatal flaw in the Black Crowes was not understanding people’s strengths
In conversation, Gorman is audibly happy to have so many outlets for his seemingly boundless creative energy. And he’s also happy to be part of an album that he can enjoy for repeated listens.
“The things I hear in my old albums that I wish I could change are nothing anyone else is aware of,” he says, laughing. “I don’t think the whole world is still upset about the fill going into the second verse of [The Black Crowes’] ‘Sting Me’ from 1992. I think that’s just me. But at the same time, the new Trigger Hippy album has none of those for me.”