Steve Forbert doesn't get stuck
by Seth Rogovoy
(PITTSFIELD, Mass., March 18, 2004) – One of the trademarks of a Steve Forbert concert is the manner in which he keeps the songs coming one after the other with hardly a breath in between. When asked where he picked up this unusual but highly effective technique, he doesn’t skip a beat.
“The Ramones,” said Forbert in a recent phone interview from his car, hurtling down the New Jersey Turnpike.
It may seem surprising that the folk-rock singer-songwriter from Meridian, Miss., should name the quintessential New York punk-rock band as an influence. But when Forbert arrived in New York in 1976 with guitar in hand at age 21 to make his mark on the city’s Greenwich Village folk scene, the Ramones were making their own mark in rock clubs.
The rock and folk clubs were often next door or across the street from each other, and the energy that the Ramones packed into a three-minute burst of rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t lost on Forbert, who soon found himself performing in punk palaces like CBGB’s, opening for the likes of Talking Heads and John Cale.
Within two years of his arrival in the Big Apple, Forbert garnered a record deal. Two years after that, with the release of his second album, “Jackrabbit Slim,” he had his first hit single, “Romeo’s Tune.” Forbert’s rock ‘n’ roll- and country-fueled style of folk-rock has been entertaining a small but devoted coterie of fans ever since.
Forbert brings his never-ending roadshow to the Berkshire Museum on Saturday night at 8, as part of the “Originals in Song” series.
“Fortunately, I’ve always played folk-rock, and it’s something you can play solo. That’s a big plus. Bands break up, but I’m just me so I can’t break up.
“I’m able to just keep going, and that’s the challenge. It’s the next song. And then just enjoying the shows and people who come out to the shows. It’s pretty organic, really.”
Forbert has followed that organic approach through over two decades of albums, including “Little Stevie Orbit,” “Streets of This Town” and “The American in Me.”
In 2002, he released “Any Old Time,” a collection of songs by fellow Meridian native Jimmie Rodgers that garnered him a Grammy nomination. Spending all that time with the songs of the Singing Brakeman, widely regarded as one of the pioneers of modern country music, was bound to rub off on Forbert.
“Any time you spend some time learning good material you’re going to benefit,” he said. “What goes in might come out. Plus it’s always great to keep learning songs. It helps keep your mind learning and hopefully growing.”
In May, Forbert’s 11th studio album, “Just Like There’s Nothin’ to It,” is scheduled for released. Recorded mostly in Forbert’s adopted home of Nashville with producer Jason Lehning, the album features guest appearances by Edie Brickell, bassist Viktor Krauss, bluegrass guitarist/banjoist Bryan Sutton, John Deaderick, keyboardist in the Dixie Chicks’ touring band, and renowned steel guitarist Dan Dugmore. The album also reunites Forbert with veteran session bassist Hugh McDonald, who played on Forbert’s 1978 debut album, and E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent, who produced two of Forbert’s albums.
The album has a typically rootsy feel, with some hard-rocking tracks alternating with more quiet, contemplative ones. There’s even one number featuring just piano and acoustic bass dancing around Forbert’s raspy vocals.
Songs don’t come as easy these days as they once did.
“It’s a much slower process,” said Forbert. “I used to have a lot of time. When I was writing ‘Alive on Arrival,’ I didn’t even have a telephone. It was me and radio and solitude.
“Now life is different. I have to work on the songs longer to get them finished. I just don’t have as much time to focus entirely on the songwriting. It’s probably my fault with my time-management skills.”
Years of experience, however, have taught Forbert one thing above all.
“In a broad sense, if something’s not working out or stuck or jammed, it’s best not to force it. That’s probably the main thing I’ve learned in life. Like when something is stuck physically, or jammed, if you force it, you break it.”
[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on March 20, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]
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