In a world where music is as much about how it sounds as the story accompanying it, Seasick Steve seemed too to be true at first. When he started garnering attention around 2005, much was made of his former life, illegally riding freight trains across America, travelling from town to town, job to job, and his seeming inability to put down roots.
He was blessed with an almost supernatural musical ability, the skill and soul of a long-dead bluesman too.
Everything about him was shrouded with mystery – that he’d played with Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, his years spent working in various studios as an engineer and session musician. Even his age appeared vague while his various guitars never had the correct number of strings. For the same reasons, there was also something of the gimmick about him. Even if his music was ‘authentic’, a factor so important to many fans, it was likely the novelty wouldn’t last.
Perhaps even more interesting than his mysterious past is the fact he’s managed to stick around long enough to release his fifth album and headline the first day of this weekend’s Lounge on the Farm festival in Canterbury.
Speaking to the man – real name Steve Wold – he’s as surprised as anyone that he’s still here.
Lounge on the Farm takes place at Merton Farm, Canterbury, from Friday, July 26, to Sunday, July 28. Weekend tickets £100, family weekend from £201.50. Day tickets £38.25. For other prices check out www.loungeonthefarm.co.uk
“I didn’t think I’d even release one record, let alone five!” he says. “I didn’t even know I was making a record, we just recorded songs over a long time and eventually there were enough. When it did good, I thought I might be able to play for another year or so, or play in some bars every now and again. Then a year became two, and three, and things got bigger, and here we are.”
He’s every bit the gentleman of the road, the hobo raconteur, one would expect. He’s 71 or 72 (reports vary) but speaks in a way that seems even older, belonging to a long-passed era.
“I don’t get why it’s me that got famous,” he says. “There are people out there that do what I do, but better. This is not me trying to be humble, I’m really not, but the one thing I can take from it all is there must be a bit of a hunger for raw music all over the world. I still don’t get why I was chosen though.”
His first album was recorded in Norway, where he’s lived since 2001. Steve “married a Norwegian gal 31 years ago”, and living there has been the nearest thing he’s ever had to a settled life.
“I’m not there all that much these days,” he explains, “but it’s where I pay my taxes. I speak the language too. My wife talked Norwegian to the boys when they were growing up so I heard it every day. I’m just not the quickest of talkers.”
If he doesn’t like spending too long in one place, he doesn’t like spending too long recording an album either and won’t do more than a couple of takes for each song.
“We’re not like those dudes in Nashville who get on a computer afterwards and neaten it all up. We just play,” he says.
“A lot of time people will have 30 takes of each song. I ain’t trying for perfection, cos there ain’t no way I can be perfect so it don’t matter. There’s nothing else perfect in the world, so why try for that?”
WEEKEND LINE-UP AT LOUNGE ON THE FARM
Lucy RoseSyd Arthur
Coco and the Butterfields
Man Like Me
Soul II Soul