Steve Forbert

19 Studio Albums In, Steve Forbert Still Creates Indelible Songs

When Steve Forbert walked up to the mic recently in Baton Rouge, he was holding a well-worn Gibson acoustic and a harmonica attached to his jaw. It was almost like a blast from the past, when songwriters had only themselves to rely on, to add different textures to a song and create magic with basically what they had in their heads and on their backs. It was a good time then, when music was raw and virtually unblemished by sound effects, lasers and multi big screens behind them. That was the music Steve Forbert became impassioned with when he was a kid. It was the music that lured him from his home in Meridian, Mississippi to the Village sidewalks of New York City.

But as Forbert told me in an interview last week, he was not a true-blue folkie when he arrived there and that enabled him to walk onto stages like CBGBs with his acoustic guitar and just perform. He recorded albums with pop inflections spread over songs that had meanings and motives, without corrupting their integrities; because for Forbert, songs are magical and they always have been. He was in his first little band at age nine, with plastic guitars and tin can drums. He went head over heels for the Byrds. By 1976, as he writes in his new memoir, Big City Cat, “I was really getting antsy to make a more serious move.” And his radar was pointed towards the Big Apple.

Believe it or not, that was forty-three years ago, nineteen studio albums under his belt and a hit single, “Romeo’s Tune,” that he still sings to this day. His show at the Red Dragon Listening Room was like a walk through time with Forbert, his autobiography come to life, twenty-one songs that swept over you like a fond summer breeze. Honoring his hometown hero Jimmie Rodgers with two songs – “My Blue-Eyed Jane” and “My Carolina Sunshine Girl” that segued into his own “Goin’ Down To Laurel” – was indeed magical as the harmonica brought the section to a close in a wistful goodbye. He encouraged people to sing – “Where’s that one person?” he joked, looking out into the darkness for the person who had sung “That’d Be Alright” along with him – and informed the lady who had made a bathroom run during “Tonight I Feel So Far Away” that she missed him calling Donald Trump a “junebug.”

But the night definitely belonged to the songs. From 1978’s Alive On Arrival to 2018’s The Magic Tree, nothing fell flat or sounded dated, which is what every songwriter hopes their songs will not become. They were breezy and fun, serious and enchanting. At times he was so into his music that he needed no other encouragement but his own. “Go Steve!” he called out while stomping his foot in conjunction with his guitar picking, eyes closed and loving the moment.

[It should be mentioned that Christy Lee Gandy and Danis Salassi opened the show in Baton Rouge, playing some beautiful classical music, and a few other recognizable tunes, on their violins. It was most definitely music for the soul]

When I spoke with Forbert a few days prior to his concert, he made mention several times to his recent book and the stories he shared in it. The next day, I was reading those pages and having a hard time putting it down. Big Cat City is a fast-paced read, indeed filled with stories stemming all the way back to his adolescent band the Mosquitos back in Meridian, to begging older kids to play the Byrds’ “Mr Tambourine Man” on the jukebox, to NYC and into the present. He talks making records and touring the world; sneaking in to meet Howlin’ Wolf and opening for the Talking Heads. He intersperses hindsight with journal entries and lots of photographs. It is the perfect book for a music fan who wants to know what one young artist can do with their life and career. And although I still have a few pages left to read, I’d recommend it to anyone, not just Forbert or folk music fans.

“I was always a rock & roll nut and a pop music addict,” Forbert reflected in Big Cat City. “The misfit angst I had been through growing up as a skinny kid in the football-obsessed culture of a small Southern town, and the intense focus I had for what I wanted to accomplish, and the experience of having already been 100% involved in music for years all gelled into an ability to achieve anything I set out to achieve.” That is Steve Forbert in a nutshell.

Back to blog