Sitting on the couch with his parents and brothers, eating popcorn while watching The Ed Sullivan Show on a Sunday night was a regular occurrence in the Sorum household. Though, this particular episode in 1964, featuring The Beatles transformed Matt Sorum. In awe of Ringo Starr’s swagger behind the kit, the young Sorum knew he wanted to be a drummer right then and there at the age of 5.
“There was something about Ringo that left me spellbound,” Sorum tells American Songwriter, “and once they started playing ‘I Feel Fine,” I turned to my mom and pointed to Ringo and said ‘I want to be like him.’”
His Ringo-life revelation, the good and uglier parts of his Los Angeles childhood, his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and drumming for some of the biggest bands in rock are all documented in Sorum’s “Double Talkin’ Jive: True Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories From the Drummer of Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, and Velvet Revolver” (Rare Bird).
Along with co-authors Martin Svensson (Samantha Fox’s “Forever”) and Leif Eriksson, Sorum rides through the bumps of his earlier days to catching his first big break as The Cult’s drummer to Guns N’ Roses—and recording the band’s groundbreaking 1991 double albums Use Your Illusion 1 & 2—through career lulls, and reemerging with Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots band Velvet Revolver, fronted by the late STP singer Scott Weiland, to finally finding his own freedom and solace when that chapter ended.
“I’ve had to be in a band, have a band breakup, and then get back on my feet and create another band,” said Sorum. “After Sorum left The Cult in 1990, he moved on to Guns N’ Roses, replacing founding drummer Steven Adler. He later had a short run with The Cult again in 1999 around the band’s Beyond Good and Evil reunion album once Guns eventually called it quits. “It was about two or three years there that was a bit of a lull, where I was trying to figure out what the next thing I was going to do was—either scoring films or producing other bands,” adds Sorum. “Then, after The Cult broke up in 2001, I had another three-year lull where I was like, ‘What am I doing?’”
The title pulled from the Guns N’ Roses 1991 Use Your Illusion 1 track of the same name, “Double Talkin’ Jive” was the most fitting, reflecting the music industry and Hollywood life, and all the ups and downs of Sorum’s career. “I haven’t had real consistency in my career,” admits Sorum. “I didn’t explain those lulls as much in the book, and the real feelings you go through. When I left The Cult in 2001, I was already in my 40s at that point. I was like ‘oh boy, you’re in your 40s, you don’t have a band.’”
Then Velvet Revolver, consisting of Sorum, Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, and then-former Guns bandmates Slash and Duff McKagan, came along.
“That was the biggest success for me because we were able to create something, and I was a founder,” shares Sorum. “We wanted to have huge success with that band. When you come back from having been kicked out of one of the biggest bands in the world, it’s a real feather in your cap.”
In Hollywood, Sorum says you easily go from being the “flavor of the week” to the “guy who used to be in that band,” which is why “Double Talkin’ Jive” was the perfect title for the book. “There’s a famous thing that people in Hollywood like to say: ‘so what are you doing now?’” says Sorum. “I always say ‘haven’t I done enough for you?’”
When you’re the flavor of the week, everybody’s your friend, says Sorum. “I’m certainly aware of that going through the ins and outs of the business and having to deal with it,” he shares. “Then, after Velvet Revolver I was like ‘I don’t really give a fuck what anyone thinks anymore.’ I’m a guy that’s so passionate about music. I don’t need to prove myself anymore.”
Throughout the book, Sorum strives to be as honest as possible about particular situations with bands or specific members from his perspective but says it all still encapsulates what makes good rock and roll.
“You want to be truthful,” says Sorum. “You want to be able to express what you went through in your life, to give people a better understanding about why you became a rock and roll drummer, and stuff that I dealt with early on. I felt like I need a vent, and it helped me a lot. It was a very cathartic thing to do.”
Beginning the writing process in 2017, Sorum says editing the book, particularly given extra time over the pandemic when everything was put on hold, was a gift, allowing him to better tell his stories. “I had different feelings about situations and it shifted my belief pattern on some things,” says Sorum. “Some of it was forgiveness given to myself or other people—putting myself in their shoes or looking at things in a couple of different ways. There are band members who might look at me as taking sides with somebody, but it’s not my intention.”
He adds, “Obviously with all the bands I’ve been in, I had to tell kind of two sides of the story. When you talk about great rock and roll singers there are these personalities, but at the same time that’s what makes them so great.”
His time in The Cult, joining the band after a brief stint as Tori Amos’ drummer, for their 1989-1990 Sonic Temple tour, was a tumultuous one, and one he gives care in explaining, documenting some of the greater frontmen he’s worked with like Ian Astbury, ones he says continued to self-sabotage themselves.
“The Cult situation was somewhat dramatic behind the scenes at the same time, but that’s why what made for great rock and roll band,” says Sorum. “If we were punching a time clock, going to work at 9 a.m. and leaving at five and everybody got along great and everybody did exactly what they were supposed to do and everything was all squeaky clean it might not have been.”
Referencing Steven Tyler in the book, Sorum says there are certain rock and roll guys that are so intense that they just go to the top. “He’s a very A-personality kind of guy that’s driven, super passionate, and can be very difficult at times but he knows what he wants,” says Sorum of Tyler. “At the same time, that’s why they [Aerosmith] became such a huge band because he was driven and passionate. It’s the same for Axl [Rose] and Scott Weiland and Slash—and all of the guys that really eat, sleep and breathe rock and roll music.”
Sorum says there’s one missing in rock and roll now: danger. “I said I don’t see a lot of dangerous rock and roll bands that are out there anymore,” he says. “I don’t see a thing that creates this energy like ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen tonight when I see this show.’ That’s what we brought to the table in those days. When you went to see that band you didn’t know what you were gonna get because we didn’t know.”
He adds, “That’s the story I was trying to tell in the book. It was just chaos. The Cult was a band that I always wanted to go further than they did.”
Everything was mostly chaos around Sorum’s drug and alcohol dependency and benders, particularly during Guns N’ Roses’ first tour in South America in 1992 when the band found themselves sequestered in their hotel for several days in Columbia after an attempted military coup in Caracas to more natural disasters when a heavy rainstorm caused a stage to collapse in Bogotá.
“It was just a different time,” says Sorum. “It was more like the wild west out there. We [Guns N’ Roses] were one of the first rock bands to go on tour in South America. That was one of the most dangerous times to be in South America, in places like Venezuela. I had these drug benders, and it was fear-based. I’d go into a leg of a tour like that. There was some fear around not knowing what’s gonna happen.”
Now, nearly 40 years into a career, the ride has been somewhat of a dream for Sorum. A new father, Sorum welcomed his first child daughter Lou Ellington, her name an homage to Lou Reed and Duke Ellington, on June 11, 2021, and has embraced newfound freedom, still never knowing what’s next.
Continuing to record at his Palm Springs, California home and work with other artists, most recently ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (who also wrote the foreword for “Double Talkin’ Jive”) and his album Hardware, Sorum also partnered with Brazilian brewer Companhia Brasileira de Cerveja Artesanal and released a beer called The Drummer in the U.S. in 2021. Accompanying the release of the book, Sorum also released a spoken-word and music soundtrack with Blind Melon guitarist Christopher Thorn and co-producer Chad Schlosser.
“I just take one day at a time,” says Sorum. “My life has really been great like that because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I never had any sort of form in my life, which is a little weird at times but it always seems to work out—so far so good. I’m 61 years old. I got a baby, a beautiful wife, and we’re well taken care of and live a good life.”
Photo: Enzo Mazzeo / Ken Philips Publicity