“I’ve been breaking through for 45 years, so, I got some more breaking to do”. These were the words of Seasick Steve – aka Steve Wold – upon winning best breakthrough act at the 2007 MOJOS, at the tender and young age of 56 (or 67 years of age, depending on your source). It did seem highly unlikely that an artist nearing their pension, playing a rough and ready raw blues sound on a three stringed guitar, with a hobo image, should become an international gold selling, sell out artist, but that’s happened to Seasick Steve.
Much is made of Steve’s public image, the authenticity of his “hobo” past and his musical background – but this just detracts from what Steve is as an artist. He is, despite his persona, a highly accomplished musician and musical technician with a sound that journeys through the history of Blues Rock, and is tinged with BB King, Howlin’ Wolf, and ZZ Top all the way to The White Stripes.
Steve’s pre-breakout years are clouded in mystery, and the image he wishes to portray is as a vagabond drifter that has endured all of the hardships of busking, moonshine and heartbreak. It seems, according to the stories most agree upon, that Steve has been in the music industry for 50 years, working with and meeting the likes of Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell and Kurt Cobain – all of the while honing and crafting his sound. Many of the myths surrounding the man have subsequently been debunked or disputed, but whether Steve was the hobo busker, session musician or alleged Seattle paramedic probably doesn’t matter – his musical sound was the sum of all parts and after making his UK television debut on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, his popularity exploded.
It was after many years of mystery that Steve exploded onto the scene. His raw guttural style on his debut album Dog House Music (2006), playing unapologetic country hobo-blues in the grand tradition of anecdotal drifter narrative, caught the public’s attention straight away.
Steve surprised many, not least himself, by going Gold in the UK and peaking at number 36 on the album charts. Upon his performance on Jools Holland he was voted the best performer for that night ahead of Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and The Kooks, with whom he shared the bill with. However, it wasn’t until his third album at the age of 60 that Steve cracked the top of the UK album charts, peaking at number 9 with I Started Out With Nothing and Still Got Most of it Left (2011). Working with the likes of KT Tunstall and the charismatic Dan Magnusson on drums and even featuring Nick Cave, the album cemented Steve as one to watch. His star well and truly rose with appearances on Top Gear alongside Jeremy Clarkson.
Steve’s recent efforts have been in the surfer genre (he did after all allegedly play with The Beach Boys) and he has tried somewhat to be more versatile outside of his hobo-Blues profile ; he has also worked with the likes of rock legend and ex-Led Zeppelin John Paul Jones There was a slight decline in recent years in the Seasick Steve myth – with many going so far as to label him a “fraud” – but the man’s musical talents remain beyond question .
As a live act Steve does his best to silence his critics, staging a fantastic show (even with a three stringed guitar named “the three stringed wonder”) and has headlined at Glastonbury, Bestival, Reading and Leeds – within 2007 Steve played more festivals than any other UK-based performer.
It is Steve’s most recent album effort which has led critics to draw comparisons to ZZ Top, and secured his stature as one of the best blues artist currently playing. In the album ‘Keep the horse between me and the ground (2016)’, Steve harks back to the rough and ready Hobo-Blues which made him famous, with songs such as Walkin Blues and Gypsy Blood. At times, Steve hits elegiac and poetic melodic heights with songs like Bullseye, a song of Clapton-esque beauty.
There is something mysterious, mythical and exotic about a UK based American performer, gleaming off a Steinbeck image, playing rough and ready blues. And by cracking that previously non-existent market at the age of 50 (or 60), he has been destined for rock legend status ever since. Whatever it is that kept Seasick Steve so secret for so long is now over and he’s a welcome addition to the rock annals.
Steve will next be playing in London in Hyde Park on 8th July 2018 – after touring the USA.
Londoner, foodie and film/literature fanatic. Kieran is a Manchester United supporter, his favourite artists are Prince, ZZ Top and The Rolling Stones. Currently writing part-time and work in law. The dream is to publish the ultimate non-fiction novel.