Steve Strongman / Tired of Talkin’ / Ontario Creates
Four out of Five Stars
Blues virtuoso Steve Strongman can claim a well-served reputation, resulting not only from the seven albums he’s released so far, but also from the fact that he’s had opportunity to land his name on the marquee alongside those of his heroes — among them, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, and others of a similar stature. It’s an honor this Canadian singer and guitarist doesn’t take lightly.
“I have been fortunate to have gotten the opportunity to meet some of the truly greatest artists,” Strongman recalls. “One thing they have in common is how gracious they are, and how generous they all are with their time. B.B. King spent almost an hour after a show chatting and answering questions for people. I grew up sitting in and playing with Mel Brown, and he was always so encouraging and generous to all the young players.”
That said, the fact that Strongman himself has been so well recognized (he’s the recipient of two of Canada’s most prestigious awards, the Juno Award and Maple Blues Award) is indicative of the fact that he too is well on his way to securing special standing of his own.
His skills and ability have never been more apparent than in the music he shares on Tired of Talkin’, a tough and tenacious set of songs recently rereleased for the American market. The infectious groove of the title track in particular demonstrates a determination to establish his own imprint within a gritty blues-based framework. Likewise, it’s the song that follows, the insistent and unrelenting “Paid My Dues” that underscores his stoic stance.
“That track is all about working hard and doing all the things that need to be done to have a career in music,” Strongman says. “I’ve done that, and I continue to work at it because I love it. I started playing in bars as early as age 16, and I now have travelled all over the world playing music. I think to be a success in any field, you have to work incredibly hard and pay your dues…and to quote the line in the song ‘I feel I’ve paid my dues.’”
Strongman doesn’t hesitate to modify and adapt his approach, even when it comes to varying the melodic motif. The easy, amiable groove of “Still Crazy Bout You,” the funk finesse that underscores “Just Ain’t Right” and a faithful cover of the Al Green classic “Let’s Stay Together” affirms the fact that he’s found some wiggle room in a rarified genre that generally hews to its own timeless template.
“Yes, this can be a tough balance,” he agrees. “Trying to bring something new to the table artistically, while still maintaining the foundation of what you love about blues in the first place, can be difficult. I have a wide variety of music I love, that I feel is all ‘blues-based’. I always push myself to try and bend the boundaries, while still sounding like ‘me’. We all wear our influences on our sleeve, but that combination of influences is what makes an artist unique. I try and stay focused on that aspect.”
That insistent attitude may best be summed up by one track in particular, “Can’t Have It All,” a song that finds Strongman asserting his desire to grab whatever rewards he might reap, both personal and professional. That desire was, in a very real way, reflected in the album’s evolution.
“We recorded the record in two different studio environments,” Strongman explains. “The producer Dave King—who also happens to be one of my best friends—had a huge impact on this record. He suggested we go to Nashville and do some recording with some friends, who all happen to be fantastic musicians; Pat Sansone, Audley Freed, James Haggerty, among them. These guys are amazing and they were very busy touring, so we had limited time. The results are awesome. We wanted the record to have a very live energetic feel, and we were able to capture that. Then the challenge became to continue to maintain that feel back in Hamilton Ontario Canada with the other awesome musicians like Colin Lapsley and Jesse O’Brien. I’m really pleased with what we were able to capture, and Dave did an excellent job with matching feel, tone, and vibe between studios.”
Not surprisingly then, Strongman’s enthusiasm is obvious, a sentiment best expressed in the tellingly titled “Livin’ the Dream,” a robust and rocksteady declaration of determination that shares his love for working the road. “It’s what I do, it’s part of me,” he sings in the song’s ready refrain.
“I think one thing in particular [that] exceptional artists have in common is a great work ethic,” Strongman suggests. “They’re passionate about the art, and they love what they do.”
That may also have something to do with the way he pursues his muse. “I try not to get in the way of the songwriting process,” he insists. “I try and capitalize on inspiration when it hits. It comes from all around me, from family and friends and everyday life the key is recognizing it when it happens. The process almost always starts with a musical idea, then lyrics will come after. I have a book that is full of lyrical ideas and thoughts. It’s different for every writer, and hard to put into words, but part of the key for me is writing every day.”
As an example, Strongman singles out one song in particular, the weary ballad “That Kind of Fight.” “I feel it’s special,” Strongman says. “I had written it a few years back, and my producer and I just decided to record it in Nashville and see how it turned out. It’s different, but that shows a style diversity that I have always had in my writing. We wanted to put the best songs that we had on this record, and that’s what we did.”
At the same time, Strongman says he always attempts to meet a high bar of his own while also tempering any expectations from others. That in itself is a feat that’s not always so easily attained.
“I don’t feel pressure from other people,” Strongman maintains. “I do put pressure on myself though. I have always been like that in everything I do. Expectations are great to have from others and to have personally, but in the end you have to do the absolute best you can with opportunities that are there for you.”
Main photo by Brent Perniac