By Melissa Fossum
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"Two years ago," he recalls, "I was sitting at my brother's house in Baltimore and he puts on MTV. The veejay goes, 'After the break, we'll have the Crows for ya.' And it comes on and it's Counting Crows! I'd never even heard of this band, and all of the sudden they're the Crows. But I think Darwinism always wins out. Give it time."
But as long as there have been rock 'n' roll records, there has been one band of Crows or another. In 1953, a set of doo-woppers called the Crows scored its penultimate hit with a giddy little song called "Gee." In 1969, a hard-rock/blues quintet called Crow scored its lone hit with a bloated Blood Sweat & Tears swipe called "Evil Woman Don't Play Your Games With Me." In the Seventies, there was an English hard-rock band called Stone the Crows that had no hits to speak of, but gained considerable notoriety for having a lead guitarist die of electrocution onstage in 1972.
The Black Crowes distinguished themselves immediately from all Crows past and present by remaining grounded and scoring four hits right out of the box. The band's 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker, contained "Jealous Again," "She Talks to Angels," "Hard to Handle" and "Twice As Hard"--all popular favorites to everyone who'd never owned a Faces record. And though the band's detractors would never admit it, those who pined for that bygone sound surely had to admire the way the group captured it so effortlessly. The band's second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, sidestepped the dreaded sophomore jinx with three more sizable hits, "Remedy," "Sometimes Salvation" and "Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye." But that was in 1992, practically an eternity ago in MTV memory banks. And we haven't even mentioned Sheryl Crow yet!
In case you haven't noticed, in the past two years, MTV has abandoned every hair-farmer band from Warrant to Skid Row to Poison that it once championed. Once the channel shifted its focus toward alternative acts, a band like the Black Crowes--that is neither glam metal nor alternative--somehow got lost in the shuffle. When asked a question about the band's current video for "High Head Blues," Gorman seemed genuinely amazed that somebody had actually seen it.
Gorman, who's been with the group since its earliest incarnation as Mr. Crow's Garden, has graciously agreed to this phone interview, substituting at the last minute for an "indisposed" Rich Robinson. Although lead singer Chris Robinson would be anyone's natural first choice, Chris isn't doing any interviews this late into the tour. Possibly, it's because he's been misquoted one too many times, or maybe it's on account of Chris' being quoted all too accurately. Pissing someone off with an arrogant comment has long been the elder Robinson's stock in trade.
Gorman has less emotional baggage to contend with than the two Robinson brothers, so the Crowes couldn't ask for a better spokesperson than the articulate and accommodating skins pounder. After all, he's had a back-seat vantage point to the band at every stage of its career.
"They do have a lot of problems just being brothers," essays Gorman of what may be the only known brother songwriting team in rock. "I have five brothers and we get along great, but there's not a chance in hell I'd be in a band with any of 'em. Writing together is such a powder keg when you're dealing with someone you've known your whole life. You tell him, 'Why don't you go to a C chord here' and he suddenly remembers when you took his lunch money in the fifth grade."
On this day in rock, the men of the Crowes are in Los Angeles midway through their "Amorica or Bust" World Tour. The satisfaction that the band must feel touring behind its best and most critically acclaimed album to date is tempered with the sobering reality that amorica, released late last year, is currently nowhere to be found in Billboard's Top 200 Album Chart.
Are the Crowes suffering from an acute case of bell-bottom blues? Gorman is philosophical about this particular growing-pain stage of the band's career. "We definitely are getting less airplay on MTV. Everyone wants the new thing. I can look back now and realize that's what happened with us. We were new and hot and young and we weren't spoiled by the industry, and everything everyone wants to turn every musician into. Everyone jumps on you and loves you.
"You look around and there's not too many people on their third and fourth albums doing their own thing that are getting a lot of exposure on MTV," he continues. "You've gotta be on your first record or 12th. You've gotta be the new savior of rock 'n' roll or you've gotta have staying power. Who cares? That's their world."
Since the original Mr. Crow's Garden, this Georgia sextet has always seemed the odd band out amid its hipper contemporaries like Drivin' n' Cryin' and Follow for Now. "We were not the most popular band in town by any means," Gorman says with a laugh. "We just wore what we wore and probably 20 people in town were into it. At the time, there were a few bands trying to do, I don't know what you'd call it--rock 'n' roll, but we definitely stood out. If we played in Atlanta, we could headline on a weekend every now and then. Out of town, we'd just open for other bands. We'd just drive around the Southeast, make 50 bucks and go home."