On this edition of Drive Time music reviews I will review “Walkin’ Man: The Best of Seasick Steve”.
Seasick Steve (Steven Gene Wold) is one of those incredible American musicians that doesn’t get enough respect in his own land – he was “discovered” in 2006 in England and now plays festivals, including Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage, and on several TV shows such as “Later..with Jools Holland”. And before you say “So what?” – how many musicians can call up John Paul Jones, from Led Zeppelin, and convince him to join their band? (Yes, John Paul Jones is his bass player.) In addition to having Jones playing bass with him, he also has an incredible Dan Magnusson on drums.
Steve tends to rely on “unconventional” instruments, such as a 3 string guitar, a 1 string slide “guitar” called a “Diddley Bow”, an MDM (Mississippi Drum Machine) – a small wooden box that he stamps his feet on to provide percussion, a 4 string cigar box guitar.
Steve, born in 1941, started on his own at 13 due to an abusive step father, and lived on the road until 1973 by hopping trains and working as a farm laborer, cowboy, and several other jobs. Steve stated “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”. Although knowing many famous people – Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain, members of Modest Mouse, it wasn’t until 2006 he released his first album, “Dog House Music”. And despite all the hard living, in interviews he is the nicest, most grateful artist I have seen in forever.
“Walkin Man” is a great blues album. Steve sometimes tells a little story before some songs, such as “Cheap”, and some of them are pretty amusing. Some of the songs display a beauty that is only recognized in the powerful, minimal music that the Delta Blues offers – I actually got goose bumps the first time I heard “Prospect Lane”. Steve also sings about how to live “on the cheap” while living behind a grocery store on the song ‘Cheap”, the hazards of riding the trains on “St. Lious Slim”, his Diddley Bow on “Diddley Bo”, and being in jail on Christmas on “Xmas Prison Blues”. His lyrics, his voice, and his guitar playing ring true the hardship of living without means and having to scrape by on the bare minimum. To see his incredible musicianship give a listen to “Diddley Bo” – some of his songs would give Jack White a run for his money when he gets a “blues” streak in him.
Overall, Seasick Steve is one of a dying breed – a true bluesman who spent his life working to become one of the best. While it is a crying shame he has such little recognition in his own country, it is great that England embraced him like they have and thus provides us with wonderful YouTube videos of him in action. If you enjoy the blues, I can’t recommend “Walkin Man: The Best of Seasick Steve” enough.