At a time when most musicians fade into oblivion, Seasick Steve, at 73 years old is still touring sold out shows. Now touring with his seventh studio album, Sonic Soul Surfer, Steve’s raw and unproduced sound has expanded from hillbilly blues, to out and out psychedelic rock n roll, and never forgetting that touch of southern folk.
For a humble man, who spent his formative years living hand to mouth, he has a huge following, and he still remains affable. The most endearing quality about him is his normalcy.
He says to the crowd on more than one occasion, “It’s a miracle that a crusty guy like me can sit up here and play guitar.”
His storytelling in-between songs makes him even more likeable, especially when he recalls stories from his younger years. He adds humour and lightheartedness to his set, despite there sometimes being a darker tone to his stories.
In peaceful dreams is a dark tale recalling certain parts of the Deep South, where murders go unnoticed. It’s a ghostly hillbilly track with added depth from talented violinist, Georgina.
Along with multi-instrumentalist, Georgina, drummer, Dan, joins Steve onstage. He’s introduced to us as, “Dan, on the cast iron frying pan”. He proceeds to hit his frying pan with gusto, and it must be said, absolutely wails on the drums throughout the entire set.
Standout track of the night, Barracuda 68’ is the name of the car that Steve-o used to ride around in in the late 60’s with a friend, whilst listening to Hendrix and whilst they were, as he puts it, “stone cold sober”. The song is an absolute rock n roll stomper.
Summertime Boy is an ode to sunshine and surf, whilst Roy’s Gang is a crowd-hyping track that Steve wrote on a part banjo, part washboard instrument that he fashioned himself. Bring It On is all simple rhythms and unpolished southern twang and Sonic Soul Boogie, well, “you either gonna feel it or you don’t”.
A particular highlight of the night comes when a young lady from the crowd is plucked from the front row, so that she can be serenaded by Steve’s rendition of Walking Man. Steve-o jokes, ‘let’s just imagine that we’re sat out on a porch and I’m courting you…let’s also imagine that I’m 45 years younger”.
Latest offering from Seasick Steve, Sonic Soul Surfer, is a southern blues groove that goes into the details of Steve’s life on the road, up until the point he made his mark on music. With the success of his first album, after that infamous appearance on the Jools Holland show back in 2006, Steve has gone on to mark out a clear musical road for himself — with one foot still firmly placed in the Mississippi mud, and the other coasting freely on the unexpected career that began in the later years of his life.
On stage, Steve is confident yet bashful at the cries of attention he receives. It’s clear that the older members of the audience admire him for his wont to hold on to that lust for life that he has, and as he puts it, “just keep on keeping on”.
He’s obviously no stranger to hard work, and deserving of the praise he receives for his musical talent. Of course, he’s not the best guitarist in the world. But he can fashion an instrument from nothing, talk to the crowd as if they were having a drink with him at the bar, and play like his life depends on it.
New album Sonic Soul Surfer is out now. Visit his web site for gig guides, videos, and the latest news from the man himself.
Review: Lisa Coghlan
Photographs: Katie Foulkes