Last year, everything changed for Steve Strongman with his fourth album, A Natural Fact.
“Every time someone introduces me at a show now, they say, “Juno winner Steve Strongman”, which is really amazing,” explains Strongman who won last year’s Blues Record of the Year at the Juno Awards. “Any time you can get any kind of recognition for doing something you love and work hard at, that’s pretty amazing but when you get that recognition from our highest national award for music, it’s pretty big. I try to be humble. I think I have to be humble still.”
The now Juno winning Strongman, though still modest — in Hamilton you have to be unpretentious — does have something to establish with his new disc, Let Me Prove It To You.
“In the last year alone, I’ve won a Juno, opened for Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Johnny Winter and still, I have people come up to me at shows and they say, ‘I’m a huge blues fan — but I’ve never heard of you’,” confides Strongman. “Okay, so that makes me think I have to keep getting out there and Let Me Prove It To You is a statement. Here I am and I guess that’s what it really comes down to for me.
“I felt like A Natural Fact was a very special record for me and a bit of a departure but most people know me as an electric based artist,” adds Strongman. “With the Juno win, a lot of people were telling me to do another acoustic record. It would have been strange for me to go back and do that just because that’s the most success that I’ve had so far and I just felt like doing another electric record. I wanted to get back to the electric blues I love and this album is what I do with my band every night on stage.”
Let Me Prove It To You, Strongman’s new collection of electric songs, is electrifying. The disc highlights Strongman’s songwriting prowess and guitar virtuosity moving effortlessly over a variety of shades of blues.
“I wanted to make an electric, exciting, fun record,” offers Strongman. “I think we all wear our influences on our sleeves. It’s quite a challenge to write a blues tune that still has those classic sensibilities of what you love about the blues and still try to do something that’s a bit new and you’re own take on it. That’s certainly what I try to do on this disc. I’d say this kind of record touches on a lot of different style of blues because that’s what I love. There’s definitely a rock element in there, there’s a pop element and a couple of tunes even have kind of a country vibe but I’ve been shouting this from the rooftops for quite some time – to me, the blues isn’t just one thing. I hear blues in everything and hopefully that comes through in all the different styles of my music. I don’t subscribe to that whole purist line of thinking. There are so many different colours to choose from, why would you just focus on one thing?”
Strongman returns with a familiar cast of characters for his new disc including producer Rob Szabo, and featuring Dave King, Adam Warner, Alec Fraser, Mark McIntyre, Marc Rogers, Jesse O'Brien, Emma–Lee and even a special guest appearance from Quebec blues harmonica virtuoso Guy Bélanger. Musically his strongest effort yet, “Let Me Prove It To You” should definitely be Juno worthy this year but accolades aside, Strongman is acutely aware of what fans want. Steve Strongman is a good songwriter, a consummate guitarist and, best of all, one hell of an entertainer.
“I always think of myself as a guitarist first and foremost,” notes Strongman. “I sing, write, perform and all that but I still think of myself as a guitarist. It’s so important for me to dedicate the time in order to try to be a great guitar player and it never goes away. I practise every day. But some artists maybe forget that this is entertainment. People are coming to spend their hard–earned dollars to come and see a show. So it’s important to be entertaining. I love it when I’m up there. It seems sometimes that everything surrounding the shows is the work part of it and once you’re on stage playing and doing it, that’s where you’re supposed to be.
“What we’re going for is that emotional connection of trying to have a meaningful experience together,” adds Strongman. “Let’s face it, you can sit and watch virtually any show on youtube.com that you want to see but there’s nothing like being in the room. Live, that’s what you’re getting — that back and forth between an audience and the performer. You don’t get that feeling from just sitting in front of a computer.”
Historically, Hamilton musicians blossom without the rest of the country necessarily noticing but from here on out, things are different for Steve Strongman even if he’s still got to introduce himself to some new fans. And with a trio of Hamiltonians backing him for his hometown return, Steve Strongman is ready to show everyone what he means when he says, ‘Let me prove it to you’.
“It’s nice to be back to the Studio Theatre because it’s been a while since I’ve been back there,” says Strongman. “I love it and it’s an amazing place to play. I’m going to have the great Dave King playing drums, Jesse O’Brien is going to be on piano and Mark McIntyre is going to be playing bass. I look forward to getting all of these new tunes to the people of Hamilton.
“And I know from experience, there’s an expectation some fans have if they learn that you’re from Hamilton,” smiles Strongman. “There’s some pretty good music that’s come out of this city — and especially with the blues from the likes of Crowbar, Richard ‘King Biscuit Boy’ Newell, Harrison Kennedy, Alfie Smith — so I just hope not to disappoint them.” V
Steve Strongman plays Friday May 9 at Molson Canadian Studio at Hamilton Place with Sean Pinchin. Doors are at 8pm and tickets are $28.50 (plus applicable fees), at First Ontario Centre box office or through Ticketmaster. Click on stevestrongman.com