Seasick Steve: Eccentric Roots Rock
Originally published in Guitar World, July 2010
The eccentric roots guitarist lives up to the title of his new album, Man from Another Time.
"I figured there was about as much chance of me getting famous as a flying saucer buzzing out of my ear,” says raggedy-ass roots guitar savant Seasick Steve Wold. “I couldn’t even get a gig at my neighbor’s house.”
But after decades of busking and jobs as a shoe salesman, ambulance crewman, fireman and construction worker, Seasick Steve caught a break: he had a heart attack.
“I was recovering at home in Norway without much to do, and my wife said, ‘Why don’t you get that old tape recorder’—I had a beat-up four-track—‘and record some songs.’ I figure she thought that’d be a way to keep me interested in stayin’ alive.”
So he drew on his passion for rural blues and early country to write an all-solo lo-fi album about dogs, hard work and hoboing that perched at Number 37 on the British charts in 2006 and propelled the bearded American ex-pat with Mississippi roots to European stardom at age 66.
“When I went on a big festival stage for the first time with just my three-string guitar and a chair under my arm, the crew looked at me like I was the janitor,” Steve says. But after numerous TV appearances, a BBC documentary, critical huzzahs and two sequels to his debut Dog House Music including the new Man from Another Time, Seasick Steve is as recognizable as he is colorful.
“What I do musically is a novelty to most people,” he says, referring to the rusty amplified caw he spanks from a beaten hollowbody with three strings and electronics held in by duct tape. He also uses various cigar box guitars and a diddley bow, a one-stringed instrument from the blues’ primeval years. These days he employs their sounds and drummer Dan Magnusson to support his lived-in yarns about the joys of tractor driving and the dangers of crossing johnny law.
“I’m not the greatest guitar player, and I’m used to clearing out rooms,” Steve relates, “but today I can play to 90,000 screaming fans. It’s mostly just luck, but I also know people are tired of music that’s bullshit. What Dan and me give ’em is 100 percent for real.”