Seasick Steve, aka Steven Gene Wold, is an American blues guitarist/singer-songwriter whose songs and stories tell of many of his exploits of life on the streets – a life he chose at the young age of 13 to escape the perils of violence at home. They are tales of survival, spun into mud-soaked Mississippi blues, boogie, and bluegrass elements. A simple man, who despite the past hardships of homelessness, starvation, imprisonment and his rolling stone years of freight train hopping from town to town, has always seen music as his solace, his release, and his best friend.
He plays a selection of homemade guitars (not all necessarily with 6 strings), crafted from household items, vintage car hubcaps and even one made from an old cigar box. He uses a Roland Cube 30 W amp, placed on a chair to his left, and set to the ‘Tweed’ setting. For added percussion, he stomps on a small wooden box covered with a piece of carpet and adorned with a small Mississippi licence plate on the front. He calls it his Mississippi Drum Machine.
His steadfast belief in never giving up led to his eventual breakthrough at the age of 65, by way of a televised appearance on Jools Holland’s annual “Hootenanny” New Year’s Eve show in 2006. Up until this time, Wold had been busking in the metro stations of Paris and had later moved to Norway in 2001. It was there he put together a debut solo album, Dog House Music (Nov. 2006), which he recorded in his kitchen on an old tape recorder. It was given support on London’s Renonsance FM radio station during a segment of their show entitled, Ballin’ The Jack. It was enough to start the ball rolling, and led to his debut performance on television that same year.
After his literal overnight success of his debut TV appearance, his popularity soared throughout the UK with offers to play larger venues accompanied with a host of interested renowned musicians such as John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, KT Tunstall, and even Tom Jones. These venues included Royal Albert Hall, Hammersmith Apollo, Grand Opera House in Belfast, Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh, to name only a few.
In 2007, he played more UK festivals than any other artist, and by 2008 he was touring the world festivals of Japan, Australia, and Denmark. In 2009, Wold would revisit his southern US roots once again, captured in a BBC Four documentary entitled, Seasick Steve: Bringing It All Back Home. I would recommend viewing this as a perfect introduction to the man and his music. It is truly an inspirational rags to riches success story that took a near lifetime to spark.
His latest CD, Hubcap Music (2013), is an ode to his guitar made from two Morris Minor hubcaps placed together to form the body. One of these hubcaps was given to him by “that Jack White boy”, who appears on track #5 on the album. Also on the album playing bass and other instruments is John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame, and guitar work by Luther Dickinson formerly of the Black Crowes. This album has a heavier blues feel to it, richer and more well-rounded instrumentally but still resonates with Wold’s raw and passionate vocals combined with his earnest, honest-to-goodness lyrics.
Every once in awhile, I come across an artist whose passion and realness inspires me to great lengths. I look forward to seeing/hearing this gem, a recently discovered living legend, weave his stories and hit me with the music of his life.
Watch Seasick Steve’s debut performance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny below: