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I Quit a Famous Rock Band

Steve Gorman played drums in the Black Crowes from 1987 to 2001. Then again from 2005 to 2014.

Steven Kurutz

I wanted to be in a band. And I wanted that band to be great. And I wanted that feeling you have when you know you’re involved in greatness.

A band was my gang, my team, my world. It encompassed everything I thought would make sense in my life. It’s a fine attitude when you’re starting a band. It’s a terrible attitude to maintain once a band is established.

In 1987, ’88, when I started playing with Chris and Rich [Robinson], I recognized that we had chemistry. There would be a spark in the room. Initially, it was for only a few seconds at a time. I believed in it.

The culture of the band was “it’s us against the world,” but us against each other, too. There was a mistrust of positivity, a lack of regard for success. We had that punk ethos of, if other bands are popular, they suck, they’re sellouts. But everyone in the band wanted to be successful. There was angst and ennui all the time.

By the time our third album came out, the band was a miserable place to be a lot of the time. It was dark and deeply dysfunctional, with the occasional punctuation mark of: “That gig was amazing!” One great gig buys you five days. That got you to the next town. There’s a justification. That made it seem all worthwhile.

The perfect year for the yin and yang was 1995. The band was as great as it ever was or would be. We started that year in Europe with really bad weather — literally raining for two months.

And figuratively, we were tearing each other apart. At the end of that run, we got to Spain and it’s sunny. You don’t say to yourself, “There were only two sunny days.” You say, “That tour ended great.”

The first time I accepted leaving as an inevitability was that same year, in San Antonio. There was a big fight at sound check about the set list. The band was built with me in between these two brothers, Chris and Rich, who are trying to kill each other.

The fight over where to have lunch and the fight over what song should be the next single were equally intense. Nothing ever got resolved.

I said, “I’m done.” I felt this great calm and peace. That should’ve told me everything. But I couched it with “when the tour ends in September.” This was in May.

Any time someone would say, “You’ll find another band, you’re a great drummer, you’ll get a gig,” I thought, “With who?”

I didn’t doubt I’d play drums again. The impossible part was that chemistry. That six-man band we had from ’91 to ’97, there was this unquantifiable thing about us playing music together. Chemistry is everything in any relationship, especially in a six-headed monster like the Black Crowes.

Our bass player, Johnny Colt, did quit in ’97. He got sober. I saw a guy leave the band with his back straight, his head clear. Like, “I’m out of here and not looking back.” I want to get out of here, too, but I’m a mess. I knew I wasn’t on steady ground. I didn’t have my act together.

When I was ready in ’99 — and it was also my 34th birthday — on that day I was very much at peace. I called our manager and officially quit the band. His response was, “I just hung up with Jimmy Page’s manager, and Jimmy wants to go on tour with the Black Crowes.” Well, I’m at least doing that. That turned into a two-year deferral.

A lot of this can be stated as my codependency. While I didn’t struggle with addiction, I was an absolute codependent. I was stuck in a world where I didn’t know how to thrive. It wasn’t because I was in a famous rock band. It was because I was in a crazy rock band.

When I finally did officially quit, in December 2001, I felt more like myself than I had in years. I became just a guy at home, my wife and I were waiting on baby No. 2. I had made it, I had escaped.

But I was aware that I didn’t have a tour next year to buffer my life. When I went back again in 2005, it was to have a better ending and it just continued on for nine years. I looked at it in an entirely different way: It was not my life; it was my job. The band broke up in 2014.

I’m not about to say that going back to flying coach didn’t suck. It’s the difference from someone saying, “This guy is the drummer for the Black Crowes” to “This guy used to be in the Black Crowes.” I am aware of what that meant for other people. But I didn’t lose sleep over it.

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