BOOK REVIEW: Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes–A Memoir

by | Oct 8, 2019 | Reviews

Hard to Handle: The Life and Death of the Black Crowes–A Memoir

Steve Gorman with Steven Hyden

(Da Capo Press)

The Black Crowes’ drummer details the wrecks, drugs, and rock and roll of one of the most intriguing bands of the ’90s – and beyond. 

By most rock metrics, The Black Crowes are a resounding success. Their first two albums (Shake Your Money Maker and The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion) swaggered on the scene in the early ’90s with a distinctive sound and brashness reminiscent of a Southern Rolling Stones. Pre-dating the grunge explosion, the Crowes navigated that brave new world as well as the preceding glam metal era, becoming staples on MTV and throwing down hit after hit (even scoring a few later in their career) that remain in regular radio rotation to this day.

But what is made clear time and again by drummer Steve Gorman in his often hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, and many times frustrating memoir is this band could have been legendary. The frustration comes not from the book’s prose or with Gorman himself but with the constant series of self-inflicted wounds that stymied the band in its heyday and prevented it – and ultimately its fans – from enjoying the fruits of its labor.

Gorman documents these wounds and their main culprits, lead singer Chris Robinson and his guitarist brother Rich, in excruciating detail, showing the rise and gradual fall of the band as a result of the brothers’ inability to just enjoy being in a successful rock band. The reader is left as powerless as Gorman to understand the Robinsons’ self-destructive tendencies and near-constant infighting.

While that self-destruction permeates the book, there is a liveliness that carries it through, particularly in its descriptions of Gorman’s beginnings in the band (then known as Mr. Crowe’s Garden). Gorman’s enthusiasm for drumming and joining a band – even one as dysfunctional as the Crowes – is contagious, especially as he details how he willed himself to be a drummer despite only having air-drumming experience prior to his twenties. 

As anyone who watched the Crowes’ VH1 Behind the Music, listened to Gorman’s riveting episode of co-author Steven Hyden’s Celebration Rock podcast, or checked out his current radio show know, Gorman has charisma and good humor for days. This quality shines through the darkness of the book. One can imagine the same material in the hands of the Robinsons as a bitter collection of score-settling, and the fact that Hard to Handle rejects that path is a testament to Gorman and Hyden’s good choices.

The sections in the book detailing The Black Crowes’ incredible but ultimately doomed collaboration with Jimmy Page truly shine, with a glowing behind-the-scenes look at the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist that is almost never presented. It is moments like these, along with other aspects of recording, touring, and meeting musical heroes, that shed light on why Gorman kept returning to the Crowes despite the misery they often caused him.

Luckily for readers, Gorman’s torment at the hands of the Robinsons makes for extremely entertaining reading and a reminder that, even in the most successful bands, outward appearances can be deceiving. But, like Gorman himself discovers, being in a tormented band can still be worth the ride. 

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