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Dog House Music
Seasick Steve is a member of a very exclusive club. He plays music that is squarely rooted in the heart of 'blues', yet he does it absolutely on his own terms and without pandering to the cliche and conservatism that has come to dominate the genre. In the last 30 odd years how many artists with as strong a claim to 'authenticity' (that much overused word) in this field have been able, like Steve, to resist the lure of the Focus Group Blues and become parodies of themselves? Certainly not many...
Steve plays as 'real', 'authentic' and 'genuine' as anybody around and yet he chooses to do it not in the beard stroking, reverential world of the blues establishment, but in the real world where the only distinction is between 'good' and 'bad' music.
Last year he started playing again after a heart attack which ended his collaboration with The Level Devils - the mighty Swedish duo that backed him up on on his fantastic and hard rockin' 2004 album 'Cheap'. The songs he was doing, solo, and usually to a rapt, non blues audience (how many other solo blues artists could lay as much waste to the 30 something trendy media types at The Big Chill as Steve did in 2006?) were what became this album.
When I spoke to him in March 2006 I asked him about the new CD being recorded using only one track. He replied:
"You know, for me that's all I wanna do anymore and if people don't want to hear it then whatever. I just can't do the other thing no more. Everybody else is making all kinds of fancy records so that area's covered. There's not too many people just sitting with a guitar and making a record.
I got a 4 track... I'm using one old microphone from the 1930s. I got one of them old stoves that's always warm, kinda like and Aga, and I just sit there and open the stove up and I have coffee on there and I sat right there and recorded a whole album like that. Except for when my boy played some drums in the other room! I played the spoons on one song too."
The result is fantastic, featuring mainly just Steve singing and playing and stamping his foot and taking us through an extraordinary repertoire of songs. Although the playing is great throughout it's the story telling that makes this a great record. Here is man with something to say and the ability to say it well. When all too often - especially in the blues world - the song is just the thing that gets you from solo to solo, this old school approach is welcome indeed. As with 'Cheap', we even get a track that's all story and no song, but since once again it's a helluva a story and told by a natural story teller it's welcome.
Steve's playing IS great though... From raw stompin'
boogie with his 'three stringed trance wonder' - the guitar he bought
it for $75 from a man named Sherman Cooper, vowing that he would tour
the world telling how Sherman ripped him off (and every time I've seen
him play he's been true to his word) - to some extremely delicate and
sensitive slide playing and even the "one string diddley bow,
custom made for me personally by Super Chikan" here's a man that can
play it for real.
For all his primitive vibe Steve's nowhere near as naive as he makes out and this a sophisticated record made by a man who knows exactly what he's doing. The result is a cohesive album - unlike a lot of blues releases which have some great tracks but don't work as a whole, this is a record you can sit down and listen to from start to finish. Even better, and rarer, once you've done so you'll know something about the world you didn't before.
Those people who consider themselves aficionados of 'real' blues (whatever that is) would do well to check out a man who is a true embodiment of the spirit of the blues. For the rest of us though the point is that we needn't give a toss whether he is or not. The only thing that really matters is that this is great music.
The fact that, following Steve's show stopping appearance on Jools Holland's New Years Eve Hootenanny show, the album is, as I write this, grazing the UK charts demonstrates that blues music doesn't have to be just the preserve of the enthusiasts. Amen to that. If only there were more people playing it with the same heart, soul, integrity, talent and charisma as Seasick Steve...