Steve Forbert Keeps Moving Through America
Decades after it came out in 1979, you still regularly hear “Romeo’s Tune” by Steve Forbert over PAs in the grocery store or on oldies radio if that’s what you’re into. But don’t let that early hit define Forbert’s long, distinguished career. He’s an excellent and widely admired songwriter with more than 20 albums to his credit. He dropped by Craig’s home studio to talk about his mindset moving from his hometown Meridian, MS to New York in the 1970s, on up to his latest record, Moving Through America.
He talks about being a folk singer in late 1970s New York City when the scene was dominated by the Talking Heads and Blondie.
“It didn't really affect me, like I need to adjust to this. Not at all. I'm still palling around in the more folk side of things and Danny Fields saw me at CBGB’s and became my manager. He managed the Ramones, but that had nothing to do with me. I was a completely different animal, so that was good for their roster. They didn't need another Ramones. Okay, so it was just kind of like just play wherever I could and keep doing the thing that came naturally to me. Things moved along quickly enough to where I didn't have to second guess it or question what I was doing.”
Forbert made his breakout second album Jackrabbit Slim in Nashville, to “get down to that Neil Young Harvest kind of thing,” he said.
“It had been arranged that I was going to record with the A Team, Music Row guys, but when we got in there with them, they were just a little too slick for my taste right then. It's not that they weren't great. And then it turned out that they felt the same way. So when (producer) John Simon came in to tell them something tactful about (being) too good for this job, they said we think we're too good for this job or something to the effect. We’re country guys you know, country radio, but we know these up-and-coming guys that you’ll love and we'll fix you up with them. Okay, so that worked out. That was just right. Because that next level of cats were hungry. Yeah. And they were certainly good and excellent players. And they were by and large, they were more my age and it's, you know, just it was a good group.”
The new album stands out for its portraits of American eccentrics and characters, a guy getting ready for a date to eat fried oysters, or a drug dealer feeling his oats between episodes with the law. Asked about his songwriting today versus years ago:
“The sensibilities are probably the same, all the way back to (debut album) Alive On Arrival. But never this many character sketches. You know, but I'm 67 now. I could do something crazy this afternoon, but it's just not as crazy as it used to be. I'm not as inclined to be as reckless or adventurous. I'm not as wide eyed as impressionistic. I've freakin’ been to Holland a few times, you know what I'm saying? I don't know, you kind of look out and you have things to say, but you say them through inhabiting another person's mentality.”
Also in the hour, songwriter Michaela Anne on her lovely, reflective album Oh To Be That Free.