Music City Mike

11 Questions to a Nashville Musician: Steve Forbert

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Photo by Matt Wade

For those of you too young to remember, during the 70’s there was this horrible journalistic cliché that whenever a talented new singer-songwriter who played in a folk vein came along, he was dubbed to be the “New Bob Dylan.” One of those young men whose career managed to survive this dubious claim was Steve Forbert.

The launch of Steve’s now classic 1978 debut album “Alive on Arrival” caught much attention at the time, especially in the New York City area where both Steve and I lived back then. In December of that year, I was quite fortunate to see Steve and his great band play a major buzz-worthy showcase at the legendary nightclub, The Other End (formerly and currently known as The Bitter End).

Since then, I have remained a fan of Steve’s work which with 2016’s release of “Flying at Night” makes for a remarkable 17-record catalog. There is also quite a collection of exclusive releases available through steveforbert.com. A big moment in his recording career came in 1979 when “Romeo’s Tune” from his second LP hit #11 on the Billboard charts.

Steve spent many years here in Music City, and while here, had one of his records (1988’s “Streets of this Town”) produced by then-Nashvillian and New Jersey Shore native, Garry Tallent. Now, much to my surprise, I learned that Steve has since moved to the Jersey Shore himself. (Nuts, I guess that means we won’t see him guesting with The Long Players as much.)

As you will read below, Steve has a new book about his career on the way and on October 6th, Blue Rose Music will release “An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert.” This fitting tribute to this great songwriter will include covers of Steve’s songs by some of our Nashville friends: John Oates, Bill Lloyd, Todd Snider, Jim Lauderdale and Nicki Bluhm.

So here we go, and thanks to Steve for being such an eloquent contributor to 11 Questions.

Where are you from originally, when did you move to Nashville and why

I left Meridian, Mississippi in 1976 at age 21 and went to Greenwich Village. Then moved back down south to Nashville in 1985. (I elaborate on my Tennessee move in Big City Cat, the memoir I’ve just completed.) Put simply, I was attracted to the mid-eighties singer/songwriter phase Music Row went through. I stayed in Tennessee, living near Franklin till a year ago when I moved to New Jersey.

What are the first and the last records you bought, and where did you buy them? Were they CD, vinyl or digital?                    

First record I purchased was “Limbo Rock” by Chubby Checker, a 45-rpm single. Got it at a Meridian, Mississippi, supermarket: the A & P. The last record I bought was Randy Newman’s new album, Dark Matter. I bought it on compact disc at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank, New Jersey.

First and last live concerts that you’ve seen?

First concert: The Lettermen in the Meridian High basketball gym. Last concert: a Jersey Shore rehearsal performance of Bruce Springsteen’s new Broadway show.

Whose star should be added to the Music City Walk of Fame?

Kenny Lovelace, who played fiddle for Jerry Lee Lewis for decades! He’s also right at home on a tribute record to Jimmie Rodgers that I recorded in Nashville.

Where do you go in Nashville for coffee and pizza?

I’m not much of a pizza snob or a coffee connoisseur. Jet’s Pizza in Green Hills is okay with me. I liked getting coffee from Bread and Company. It’s been demolished now. I can almost remember the bar that was there even before Bread and Company. It served Bar-B-Que sandwiches, featured live country music and stayed open quite late.

What’s your favorite record to ever come out of Nashville?

I really like those hit records that Charley Pride and Jack Clement made for RCA: “Does My Ring Hurt Your Finger?,” “I Know One,” “The Snakes Crawl at Night,” Charley’s live cover of “Kaw-Liga.” I wish they had recorded Harlan Howard’s “Pick Me Up on Your Way Down,” too!

PS “There Stands the Glass” by Webb Pierce is quintessential.

Where’s the best place to eat late night after a show?

You just have to wait till La Hacienda (the one next to Phonoluxe Records) opens up the next day.

The Bluebird calls and asks you to host an “In the Round.” Pick three local songwriters to join you.

I would ask Lucinda Williams, R. S. Field, and Al Anderson. Of course, I’d ask Al to bring along his Telecaster. Like Richard Thompson, Al takes a Fender apart right before your very eyes!

What are your favorite music venues to play in town?

I like the City Winery. Played it two years ago, and I hope to return.

Name a musician who you’d like to see move here?

Well, Mike, I spent 30 fun years in the ever-growing Nashville metropolis. But at this point, I wouldn’t want to see any more people move to the area.  My friend, guitarist Steve Allen, has talked to me a lot about the strain the infrastructure is under in this decade.

Finally, what’s in your musical future?

As mentioned, a memoir is being published in 2018. There will be sort of a career-spanning compact disc to go along with it. All of the tracks are previously unreleased except one called “Lookin’ at the River in the Rain.”

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