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He’s the former hobo who stumbled into cult success in his '60s. En route to Ireland for a Marlay Park live date, Seasick Steve explains that he still hasn’t made sense of his unexpected upswing in fortunes.
Sarah-Jane Boylan, 30 Jun 2011
“People are tired of things being so fancy,” reckons Seasick Steve, the down-to-earth rocker with a John Deere cap who found fame in his seventh decade thanks to a three-string guitar, a hellraising turn on Later... With Jools Holland and a gold-dust backstory about his time as a train-hoppin’ hobo.
“It’s not that they want the techno and all that to go away,” he continues, “it’s just that it made a little bit of room for music that is raw. Everything got so fancy, even the rock bands are fancy. Then me and my band get up there and go, ‘Yeeeah!!’ [he roars] and bang on shit instruments and people love it! They're hungry for something like that. So that thing about the new album title, You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks – well, that’s what it’s about.”
If there’s one thing Steve is, it’s true to himself. Genius and authenticity shine through in his music. Jack White spotted this, and invited the old dog down to his Nashville home to record two whiskey-soaked tracks late into the night (“He’s like some weird, scattered conductor. I really like him!”), while John Paul Jones – yes, of Led Zeppelin fame – is now playing with Steve for, one presumes, much the same reasons. For a man who first tasted celebrity long after his beard turned grey, it’s all rather surreal.
“I used to play at home. No-one was listening!” he laughs. “I’d play for my dawg. My kids, when their friends would come over, would say, ‘Oh that’s just my dad...’ as they walked past. I was like a lava lamp in the corner.”
One thing he has trouble coming to terms with is his fame.
“I get so shocked that, wherever I go, people know who I am. I think it’s the police or something coming to tap me on the shoulder! It’s bizarre. The only bad part of it for me is that I can’t go outside at festivals. And I love festivals! They remind me of carnivals. I used to work at carnivals and I remember the smell of the grass in the mornings when we’d be banging in the tents. When I’m playing festivals I’ll be up early at six in the morning wandering round the main arena, inspecting the scaffolding, or looking at the trash on the ground. I like it! I just wish I could go out near bands and stuff. I’m goin’ have to get myself a Big Bird costume!”