Steve Forbert

The Roanoke Times: Steve Forbert to play The Spot on Kirk on Friday

Lots of autobiographies include a personal scare, maybe a disease or accident that leaves a person with a new perspective on life, and stronger for having experienced it.

Folk-rock singer and songwriter Steve Forbert decided against that.

His memoir, “Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock,” came out in September. He’ll have copies of the book, and a new album, “The Magic Tree,” when he plays The Spot on Kirk on Friday.

That show date comes a year after Forbert twice canceled at the Spot, having received a cancer diagnosis. He had a kidney removed, received chemotherapy and has a positive prognosis. None of that stuff made the book.

“Some people, and I’m not criticizing them, but one of their main topics in a situation like this is what they went through and that sort of thing,” Forbert said in a recent phone call. “I wanted to avoid that altogether. Where we had the story ending was just fine with me.

“I have the new record out now, and the book itself, so that is the next work that has happened since then. I just didn’t want to do an AARP kind of a thing, ‘My Bout with Cancer and How I Found the Secret of Life,’ or something.”

Not that Forbert avoids some hard topics. Anyone in the music business as long as Forbert is bound to have screwed up a time or two.

“It’s kind of hard, you know, because if you’re trying to be honest at all about it, and unless your feet don’t touch the ground, which mine do, you have to grapple with some things you might regret or know you should have done differently,” he said. “People normally don’t have to review their life every day and do that, but in writing a book you kind of do.”

All told, it’s a book to which his audience can relate, he said. Forbert has a stalwart fanbase that he has cultivated since the late 1970s, after moving to New York City from Meridian, Mississippi. Forbert released a trio of albums that sold pretty well and got critical love. He even got a Billboard top 20 hit single in 1980, with “Romeo’s Tune.”

“It’s fantastic,” Forbert, 63, said of his fan support. “It’s what keeps me going. This is kind of a specified situation. The people that come out to hear me usually are our age. They’ve been with me a long time, and when I sign a copy of the book for them, they can kind of compare notes as they go along. The decades, the records, the experiences, probably kind of sync up with them, I think. So it’s a pretty heavy thing.

“Here’s the book, here’s the story of what’s gone on that you probably didn’t know. But you know me. [The book has] been described as having like a long lunch or a couple of drinks with an old friend, and that’s fine.”

Its merch table companion is a bit of a look back, too, he said. Where the book comes from the back catalog of Forbert’s mind — old journals, plus memories phoned in from the road to co-writer Therese Boyd and her recording device — the album features multiple songs chosen from among previously recorded demos, with new backing tracks. Forbert recorded a handful of new songs, too.

“It’s a trip through a few decades,” he said. “Some of the songs go back to 1985, then they were enhanced by an engineer/producer in California [Karl Derfler], who I think did a really good job.”

Forbert will play them live in Roanoke with an accompanist, Jesse Bardwell, who plays guitar and mandolin, and who will open the show.

Forbert has seen the vagaries of the music business over the decades. His most recent Roanoke appearance, in 2010, provides a good example. That year, he played the same room he’ll play Friday. Back then, it was called Kirk Avenue Music Hall. He had a new CD then, too, albeit one that lay unheard for a quarter century due to a clash with the long-defunct Nemperor Records label, which had released his biggest stuff.

He is not blind to the new realities of selling product. “The Magic Tree” is out on Blue Rose Music, also home to Jackie Green, The Mother Hips and Laura Reed.

“The model is doing the best you can with what there is,” he said. “Obviously there aren’t many record stores, and a lot of them are used record/CD stores. And that’s the way that goes.

“The model is, I’m sorry to say, it’s downloads and working with social media, and I’m physically taking myself around and doing shows like I always do, but it’s great to have a book to sell.”

And great to have a healthy Forbert back in town, to sing and play.

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