Steve Forbert

New Jersey Herald: Forbert Finds The Right Balance

Steve Forbert, heralded as the new Bob Dylan in 1978, never lived up to that billing. Who could?

At just 24, Forbert's first two albums -- "Alive on Arrival" and "Jackrabbit Slim" -- were being universally praised, and his "Romeo's Tune" became a smash hit single that's still heard regularly on the radio today.

But what followed for the Meridian, Miss., native was a topsy-turvy, 40-year ride through the popular music scene -- and life in general -- a ride that he chronicles in his recently released autobiography. Forbert, who never stopped making quality, predominately folk-rock music, came out the other side, and is quite content with a career well-lived.

Forbert, now 63, will perform songs from throughout his career, including some brand new music, at the iconic Golden Nugget Saloon at Wild West City in Byram on Saturday, Nov. 10. Jesse Bardwell, formerly of Quimby Mountain Band and now touring internationally, will open the show and also perform with Forbert.

"I would like to have done more," said a candid Forbert, in a telephone interview from his home at the Jersey Shore, "but my personality was not suited to being a rock star. I like to be able to go places and be a normal person. I found a balance between doing what I like to do and being a celebrity."

Forbert's new book, "Big City Cat -- My Life in Folk Rock" (PFP Publishing), happened organically, somewhat by accident. A few years ago, Forbert was approached by a representative of a production company who was interested in creating a stage play based on his life. Forbert held meetings with a screenwriter, telling stories about what it was like when he first came to Greenwich Village in 1976. But the project fizzled out.

"It was a ‘kid comes to the big city' kinda story. But it didn't last with her," Forbert said. "But then it occurred to me I had already written down about 25 pages of memories."

So Forbert, with co-writer/transcriber Therese Boyd, continued the project, with their sights set on a book. Forbert related stories -- from childhood to Greenwich Village -- to Boyd as they traveled around the country to shows.

"It took three years to get it all together. I got way into it," Forbert said.

The result is a compelling autobiography, focused on the ups and downs of the music business as much as the open mics and early gigs at the folk clubs in the Village.

His career had its share of triumphs, stumbles and disappointments, as did his private life. Through it all, over the course of a marriage, divorce, raising three children, and fronting an ever-changing lineup of supporting musicians, he persevered and stayed true to his roots.

The book -- and a companion CD called "The Magic Tree" -- will be available at the Wild West City show.

Forbert, who hails from the same southern town as country singer, songwriter and yodeler Jimmie Rodgers, hit the big city running in '76, playing gigs wherever he could get them -- Gerdes Folk City, Kenny's Castaways, The Other End (now The Bitter End), CBGBs and, of course, on the streets and in the subway. He shared bills with the likes of Talking Heads, The Shirts and John Cale at CBGBs. He soon earned a record deal with Nemperor/CBS.

About his coming to Greenwich Village, Forbert said: "I was a wide-eyed kid from Mississippi. It was just what you would imagine. I got a job as a messenger by day and spent my spare time singing in the streets. I wanted to become a recording artist, really a songwriter, for the rest of my life.

"I was playing all the places, a lot of us kids were. The folk scene wasn't intimidating at all, except sometimes as Max's Kansas City," he added.

After the early success, Forbert released three more records on Nemperor which didn't do particularly well, leading to a five-year (1983-87) battle with the record company during which no albums were released. He has since been on several different labels, large and small. His latest album is on the artist collective Blue Rose Music label.

June 15 marked the 40th anniversary of his outstanding debut record, "Alive On Arrival." "The Magic Tree" is his 19th studio album.

"The Magic Tree," in some ways, is the musical version of the book, with lines like:

"There's not much left of the neighborhood,

But my dear friend, I see that you've withstood.

And even though it's snowing

Love is up there growing

In the magic tree..."

"The Music of the Night" is Forbert's grown-up followup to 1978's "Goin' Down to Laurel," maybe his best song, which features one of his best lines: "Love's a funny state of mind." From "Goin' Down to Laurel" to "... going back to Arlindale to listen to the music of the night," Forbert has loved and lost, but he's still singing.

Consistently upbeat and optimistic, the album's songs recorded in Meridian, Nashville, New York, New Jersey and Virginia, convey a firm sense that age ought not diminish a lust for living, a particularly apt message in light of Forbert's recent kidney surgery.

And that's the message of his book, too, which unlike the memoirs of many of today's rock stars, does not get bogged down with stories of drugs and sex. Instead, it "focuses on the power of songwriting, the power of music to shape a life...," says a No Depression review. (Forbert did have to go into rehab early on.)

Though Forbert never duplicated the success of "Romeo's Tune," a bouncy, piano-based song about a girl from Meridian, which reached No. 11 on Billboard's Hot 100, he has had other successes. "Streets of This Town" in 1988 and "The American in Me" in 1992, both on Geffen Records, were strong records that received plenty of airplay.

His songs have been recorded by Rosanne Cash, Keith Urban, Marty Stuart and Webb Wilder, to name a few. In fact, in 21 artists joined forces to release the tribute, "An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert," in 2017.

Forbert's tribute to hometown hero Jimmie Rodgers, "Any Old Time," was nominated for a Grammy in 2004 in the best traditional folk category. In 2006 he was inducted into the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame.

Forbert has been socially conscious as well. He made a music video, "Sandy," to raise awareness in the storm's aftermath, and wrote new music to support the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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