Clarion Ledger: Folk Rock Singer-Songwriter Steve Forbert Comes Home To Mississippi For Show

Singer-songwriter Steve Forbert once turned down the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.

It's true.

"My second record had just come out. I came out of Mississippi and everything was new to me and I was just trying to adjust to everything. I was young and just wanted to concentrate on writing good songs," Forbert, 64, told the Clarion Ledger recently via phone.

Those songs are the reason the magazine sent rock writer Robert Palmer out to interview the Mississippi native on the heels of his 1979 Billboard No. 11 single, "Romeo's Tune," an achingly gorgeous slice of catchy American folk-pop.

Forbert will be playing a show at Duling Hall in Jackson Saturday night.

"It was a strange time to experience fame. Do I regret turning down the cover? No. Would it have made a difference? Who knows. That kind of thing is so abstract," Forbert said.

It was a heady time for Forbert after heading to New York City from his hometown of Meridan to try and make it as a singer-songwriter.

Following a stint playing at folk clubs in the city, he got a gig at NYC's fabled rock club CBGB's opening up for the Talking Heads. First, he asked the club's sound man if he could play there before approaching the club's owner, Hilly Kristal. Although the club wound up becoming the launching pad for American punk and New York City new wave, Kristal loved country music and intended his club to host those kinds of bands.

Forbert's folksy, acoustic sound was a perfect fit.

After a record company bidding war spurred by a 1977 New York Times article on Forbert, he signed with CBS records. He was managed at the time by Linda Stein and Ramones and Iggy and the Stooges manager Danny Fields.

Before he knew it, Forbert was being compared to John Prine and Bob Dylan.

"I thought it was a nice thing to be put in that company. I related to those people because of the songwriting," Forbert said.

Forbert's music and songs definitely had a Dylan influence but also sounded like the early material of Dire Straits and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, bands that had both just started their careers around the same time.

With The Byrds' 1965 version of Dylan's "Mr. Tamborine Man" as a major touchstone on Forbert's music and life, the Mississippi songwriter was creating "Americana" music before the alternative country genre even had a name.

"Yeah, I remember when I first heard the word used to describe Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Whiskeytown. That's what I was doing, too. But not just me. Gram Parsons was doing the same thing, too," Forbert said.

Today, Forbert has a new album out, "The Magic Tree," as well as a memoir he wrote about his career in music, "Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock."

The newly released music, with songs that were written between 1985 and 2018, is a companion piece to the book.

Still, Forbert's most recognized song is "Romeo's Tune," which turns 40 years old this year.

The first time he heard the song on the radio was on a tour bus "when we were out running all over the place.

"It was a hit but we recorded that song live. We did it on our own terms," Forbert said.

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