Too often, Blues guitarists remain true to the Blues and it confines them. Pigeon holes their talent and next thing you know, twenty years have passed and another whisky shot comes there way at four in the morning.
Few (over the years) have come to the realization that Blues may be the necessary classroom but diversity is the only way out of high school and into University.
Please listen below to my chat with Justin Saladino – a guy who will graduate with flying colors.
Trois Rivieres native and guitar player extraordinaire Steve Hill is a busy guy. Following a very successful jaunt to Europe – Hill is home for a little bit before heading off to England and Germany once more.
It was while he was ‘home’ and doing a gig in the province of Quebec that Steve finally recorded a long awaited live album.
“The One-Man Blues Rock Band” is the name of the album and it was a project that Hill wanted to get right. Hence the nine studio album delay. A live album can be a tricky thing when work dictates reality and time is short.
Please listen below to my chat with Steve about the live album, master classes and his upcoming gig opening up for ZZ Top in Quebec City in August.
If whiskey, cars and ladies are the three most favorite things in your life – ZZ Top is the band to rock out to …
The trio who benefited more from the age of Friday Night Videos than any other Blues and Rock formation in history – proved once and for all;
Top coat, top hat,
And I don’t worry coz my wallet’s fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
Lookin’ sharp lookin’ for love.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.
It was not just the girls who came runnin’ to the Bell Center last night. Bikers, Suburban teen boys, husbands and at least one nine year old boy – all present and accounted for in an arena filled with Southern-styled Blues.
FRANK LEE BEARD, JOE MICHAEL ( Dusty) HILL and BILLY F GIBBONS – the only trio in music more popular than Rush, set the tone early.
Gibbon’s instantly recognizable guitar riffs combined with Hill’s equilibrium ( bass ) and Beard’s somewhat maniacal and steady metronome ( drums), aroused an already aroused fan base. Thanks to opening act, The Ben Miller Band ( another powerhouse trio), those in attendance were primed to rock.
‘Got Me Under Pressure’, ‘Waitin’ for The Bus’ and ‘Jesus Just left for Chicago’ started the evening off. A perfecta to introduce what ZZ Top is all about to the novices ( TEN YEAR OLD BOY?) in the crowd. The three tunes – a summation of the group’s sound over the years. Greasy Blues, commercial Blues and Rock Blues.
ZZ Tophas done it all.
The diehards in attendance, happy from the get-go. The passing fan who only listens to Classic Rock radio, ecstatic from song four.
The quatrieme ? ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ – the song which arguably placed ZZ Top on the world map preceded ‘I’m Bad I’m Nationwide’. The latter, a tune which ( along with Cheap Sunglasses) started Top’s rise to fame outside of Texas in the late seventies. ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ almost a duplicate of the studio version while Gibbon’s vocals seemed to get lost like a needle in a haystack during I’m Bad I’m Nationwide …
The interplay / gimmickry of Hill and Gibbon’s shtick ( top hat, matching ( sharp?) suits and matching beards), has to make anyone smile. Rock and Roll / the Blues’ largest ( and first) costumed duo, hamming it up as only partners for forty plus years can. Gibbons pointed out the longevity factor during one of his very brief ‘in-between-song’ banters;
We have been here numerous times in forty years. Same three guys. Same three chords.
‘Pincushion‘ – the number one single off of 1994’s Antennae ( the first ZZ top album to contain a song with the same name), was a bit of a let down. Lacking the chord changes and natural progression and creativity of most ZZ Top hits, ‘Pincushionlive’ seemed more as a filler. Monotone music for the mindless masses. A let down career-wise as well. The final cog in the 1980’s ZZ Top money-making machine.
Two screens framed drummer Frank Beard through the evening. Two screens filled with moving pictures identifying the themes of each song played. Thankfully, for the man / woman in charge of choosing those images – ZZ Top’s repertoire contains mainly three themes. Whiskey, cars and ladies.
‘I Gotsta Get Paid’ – Top’s last and most recent hit off of the album ‘Futura’, made all the ‘under twenty- year-olds’ at The Bell Center very happy. The lone song a newer generation can claim as their own was played perfectly by the trio from Texas. Gibbon’s riffs as distinctive as all of the the band’s top success stories. Gibbons – without a doubt, one of the great guitar players of our time.
‘Flyin’ High’, a cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s‘Foxey Lady’ and a take on Muddy Waters’Catfish Blues was enough for the Blues purists in the house. ZZ Top, conscience or not – paying homage to their roots. Paying their dues to the Gods in the sky. ZZ Top were a Blues Band to begin with long before the long ( dusty) beards, the synthesizer sounds of the 80’s and the ‘flying through space cars’. Thankfully – they have retained that ability to play pure Blues. Thankfully it was played out last night.
The homestretch commenced with ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ off of the 1979 album Deguello. ‘Chartreuse’ensued and then the ‘big boys’ closed off the main part of the show. ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’. Two stratospheric songs from 1983’s gigantic album ‘Eliminator’.
All the former teenagers from the 1980’s stood simultaneously and welcomed back their youth via ZZ Top.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band (inducted by Keith Richards no less) returned for an encore following the ubiquitous and frivolous ( you know they are coming back?) standing ovation. ZZ Top did not disappoint. Sorta …
‘La Grange’ ( every bar-band and biker’s favorite tune) was played. That’s the good news. The song was not played in it’s entirety, that’s the bad news. Instead of allowing drummer Frank Beard an opportunity of bringing himself and the audience into a mesmerizing groove, the band chose instead to enter into the song; ‘Sloppy Drunk Jam’. A great opportunity to display the skills of a pure Blues band – lost to an opportunity to jam. Fun for the crowd, sad for the fans.
The final song of the evening, played in it’s entirety? ‘Tush’.
The band’s signature song to many. The ultimate grab-a-Whiskey-grab-a-girl-listen-to-a-bar-band-play-a-song tune. The ultimate parting party song An obvious decision to leave the Bell Center ‘faithful’ – faithful to ZZ Top the next time they come.
An obvious decision to allow ZZ Topto be faithful to …
When Steve Hill was a lad, he discovered the blues much the same way many people do.
Through the music and words of others…
“Everytime I would hear guys like Jimmy Page talk about music, they would always be talking about people like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson. This is how I learned the blues, by listening to my heroes’ heroes.”
For Steve Hill – that was eighteen years ago and a lot has happened in between. A lot has happened yet Steve finds himself back where he started with his new cd – Steve Hill Solo Recordings Volume One.
Sorta, kinda …
“I had written some songs years ago that were acoustic – stripped down stuff. I was meeting a record guy in Toronto to sign a deal with that type of music. Well … the deal did not go through and the songs stayed hidden.”
Hill explains further.
“It was not the right time anyways for me. I was into electric guitar and hard rocking music. Now – I feel after all these years, I deserve and have earned to do what I want. In this case, a solo show.”
This is a big change for Steve after recently playing a recent Montreal Jazz Festival gig at Place des Arts with another guitarist, Paul Deslauriers. It was billed as a ‘ Guitar Duel ‘ and Hill enjoyed the experience immensely.
” I actually replaced Paul years ago in a band. He was one of the guys I looked up to growing up in the business. It was cool to play with him and the fans loved it.They kept coming back for more.”
Guitar duels are not heard on Steve’s new project. It is a one man show which features mostly original tunes with a couple of covers tossed into the mix – most notably ‘ Honey Bee’ by Muddy Waters. Hill explains how the album came to be.
” I was visiting a buddy and he had an old Gibson lying around. Its the type of guitar that is made for the old time blues music. He was trying to sell it and although I could not afford it at the time, it gave me the idea to do an album with just me.”
Hill’s ‘Solo Recordings’ are exactly that. It’ s a good thing the album is not called Steve Hill and One Thousand Maniacs – there is simply no room in the studio nor in Steve’s mind.
“There are two songs which I wrote on the record which I like a tiny bit more than the others (which I love)! Laughs Hill”.
‘Ever Changing World’ and ‘About Phase’ are the pair of tunes which stand out in Steve’s mind. About Phase is a definite standout, as nice a ballad you will find with a very sweet sounding riff carrying the tune …
“Musically and lyrically I am proud of the way these songs turned out. As a songwriter, if I do not think of writing and a song comes natural – the song is usually good. I have an antennae and the songs come to me through the air …”
The album, Solo Recordings Volume 1, has been online and in stores as of May. In its first week of sales, the release reached No. 10 on the Quebec SoundScan Anglophone charts.
Steve Hill is used to success. In his career spanning almost two decades, the Trois Rivieres artist has shared the stage with legends of blues and rock.
Ray Charles, B.B. King, Jimmie Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Santana, ZZ Top, Jeff Beck and Metallica. Not bad for a French Canadian boy …
This “Guitar Hero” as appointed by Voir Magazine and “Montreal blues-rock guitar god” by the Gazette, was floored when he performed with Hubert Sumlin – one of the greats of the ‘old blues guys’..
“I learned so much from him. It was funny though, I helped him to adjust his amps and stuff. He had no idea how to do it ….” Chuckles Steve.
Closer to home, Hill has accompanied some legendary Quebec artists as well. Nanette Workman, Zachary Richard, Michel Pagliaro, Éric Lapointe and Jeanm Leloup have all benefited from Hill’s lightning fast fingers and a tremendous understanding of the blues.