Legendary Amercian blues musician Seasick Steve has announced a one off New Zealand show at the Mangawhai Tavern in December. Now in his seventies, Steve has had an incredibly interesting musical journey, living in San Francisco in the 60s and then Olympia (near Seattle) in the 80s just in time for grunge. But it’s the twenty-first century that has seen him breakthrough as Seasick Steve, releasing five albums under the moniker since 2004, the latest of which – You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks – came out last year.
There are a lot of blues musicians out there, but few that have actually lived it like Seasick Steve. Born Steven Wolt in Oakland, California in 1941, he has spent much of his life as a bona-fide box-car jumping Ramblin’ Man, suffering the deprivations of homelessness, domestic abuse, poverty and online gambling on PartyBingo.com. Jesus, the guy has even been a carnie. As he says himself: “Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don’t look for work, and bums are people who don’t move and don’t work. I’ve been all three.”
He finally settled down into something of a ‘career’ in music in his 40s, as a session musician, recording engineer and sometime busker, but he did not release his debut solo album Dog House Music until 2006 at the age of 65. A performance on the influential Jools Holland‘s Hootenanny show that same year exposed him to a much wider audience and sudden, unlikely popularity. The last few years have seen him sign to a major label, record with KT Tunstall and most of Nick Cave’s Grinderman, share stages with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones, win awards including, hilariously, MOJO’s ‘Best Newcomer’, perform numerous sell-out tours of the UK and Europe, drive a Reasonably Priced Car on Top Gear, release albums on Jack White’s Third Man label and star in a documentary. Not bad at all for a three-string guitar slinging septuagenarian.
Seasick Steve utilises a number of unusually personalised guitars that probably won’t be featured in Guitar World anytime soon, including one fashioned from the hub caps of a Morris Minor, a ‘haunted’ Fender Coronado – dubbed the Three-String Trance Wonder, a cigar-box guitar and the fantastically named Diddley Bo – a one-string ‘guitar’ whose features include a piece of 2×4, a broom wire and a screwdriver to play the contraption with.
While he could never be accused of being fashionable in any way, the dungaree-clad, heavilly bearded seventy-something Steve is now one of the UK’s top live draws. A show described by reviewers as a ‘wonderfully sincere and surprisingly intimate performance that might just as well have taken place in a stomping bourbon soaked roadhouse’, and Seasick Steve as ‘a man, a band, an idea, an ideal, a truth, a poet, a master storyteller.’