A few quick questions between gigs...
by John Noyd
photo by Jay Blakesberg
Forty years since Steve Forbert’s breakout hit, “Romeo’s Tune,” infiltrated the airwaves and catapulted him into the spotlight, Forbert reflects while forging ahead; beginning before indie roots, alt-folk or Contemporary Americana labels existed and expanding his songwriting over eighteen studio albums, three live recordings and tours all over the world. His first show for the new year is January 9th at Madison’s Venue at Winnebago. Managing to catch Steve via email, he was kind enough to answer a few questions in anticipation of his upcoming Madison, Milwaukee and Evanston IL dates.
MAXIMUM INK: Did your creativity begin with music? Some songwriters start out as poets and some turn into novelists.
STEVE FORBERT: As a kid I did love painting and drawing, but creativity in popular music was exploding… and playing in bands was basically a whole lot of fun - pulling a U HAUL trailer to play raucous frat parties at the University of Alabama, all day outdoor events near Mobile, hippie venues in Jackson. I even played my own high school graduation dance. All of this steered me totally into songwriting.
MI: You arrived in New York forty years ago in the middle of the punk scene, but it was also a time when punk’s anything goes ethos opened up all sorts of different scenes. Was there a specific event or person that you consider a turning point in your career?
SF: That would have to be Danny Fields, my first manager, who “discovered” me when I started playing solo sets at CBGB’s. Of course, he wouldn’t have seen me if club owner Hilly Kristal hadn’t given me a shot. Anyone who’s interested can read more of the details in my 2018 autobiography BIG CITY CAT: MY LIFE IN FOLK ROCK.
MI: The way you breeze through tongue-twisters then leave key lines out to dry, who are your musical influences? Does any one musical era or genre shine above the rest for you?
SF: I just like songs with good lyrics, whatever the genre. Doesn’t matter. “Mame”, written by Broadway’s Jerry Herman who just passed away last week, for example:
“You coax the blues right out of the horn. Mame!
You charm the husk right off of the corn. Mame!”
MI: Your Madison date has you accompanied by ace guitarist George Naha. Have you two played together for very long? Does touring as a duo significantly change how or what songs you play?
SF: I’ve been working with him for about two years now. Naturally, a musician like George adds a lot to the show. There are dozens of songs I can perform solo that he doesn’t know yet, but we’re adding selections all the time. Lately we’ve been doing some shows performing “Jackrabbit Slim“ (my second album) in its entirety, so those ten tracks are now on the list.
MI: You are being honored as the “Excellence in Music,” recipient at the 2020 Governor’s Arts Award in Jackson Mississippi this February. Reflecting back on your roots what do you think is your most Mississippian trait?
SF: My most Mississippi trait is that blend of country and blues that Jimmie Rodgers and Elvis made so popular. I’ve mixed that trait with a love for folk-rock and sixties/seventies pop.
Sounds like a road-tested recipe for a great night of sharp guitars, bayou grooves and clever words set to jumping tunes.
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