Whenever I hear Steve Strongman play, it always takes me back 25 years or so when we were both getting our musical education in the clubs in Kitchener, Ontario. Yes, there was a ton of great indie rock happening, but almost everyone in our circle got direct lessons in the blues courtesy of venues run by Glenn Smith—who began booking artists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins and “Gatemouth” Brown in the downtown Legion Hall—and the great Mel Brown, who had made Kitchener his home and could be seen almost any night of the week laying down the classy funk first captured on his string of legendary albums for Impulse Records in the Seventies.
Steve was one of the few young punks with sufficient chops to be taken under Mel’s wing, and even though Steve tried on various styles over the ensuing years, it was evident even then that he was a bluesman at heart. Since 2012, he’s been demonstrating that in earnest with his award-winning albums A Natural Fact and Let Me Prove It To You, and sharing stages with B.B. King, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy. Like Gary Clark Jr. and Joe Bonnamassa, Steve Strongman is modern day blues guitar slinger with enough songwriting savvy to transcend the genre.
Having been based in Hamilton, Ontario for some time now, Strongman is about to release his latest record, No Time Like Now, on hometown label Sonic Unyon. Once again, it’s a showcase for his versatility, running the gamut from original raw, swampy hollers and soulful ballads, to even a cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet.”
While it will undoubtedly cement his place as one of Canada’s top blues artists, the album contains just as much crossover potential. Strongman deserves at least that opportunity for over two decades of following his distinctive musical vision. If you’re in Toronto, you can catch Steve Strongman tonight (March 9) at The Rivoli. More info is at stevestrongman.com.
What makes No Time Like Now stand apart from your past work?
I wanted to push the boundaries of blues with this album—recording in different ways than I had done previously, while still staying true to what I love about blues music. It’s a challenge to try and re-invent a style that people like to set boundaries on, but I think we achieved it with this record.
I admire how you've always aimed for originality as a blues artist. How would describe the evolution of your songwriting?
Songwriting is something I have to work at. The biggest thing that has changed for me is the amount that I write, which is way more now than I ever have before. It’s a muscle, and you have to use it. I’ve also enjoyed writing with other people, specifically my producer Rob Szabo. We have so much history together that we’re able to focus in a much more effective manner when we sit down to write. There’s no ego involved.
On the other hand, which artists have you looked up to the most?
There’s so many artists that I have and continue to look up to: Mel Brown, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin…. As long as an artist moves me emotionally, then that’s what really resonates for me.
What are a few of your major plans and goals for this year?
Getting this new record out there into the world already feels like a big achievement. Now I’m very excited to take these songs and give them the live feel. I plan on touring Canada and getting to Europe in the fall, as well as a busy summer festival season.
If there were anything you could change about the music industry, what would it be?
Good question! I would say I would like to see the commercial music world open up more to niche markets. It seems there is so much fantastic music out there, but a music lover has to really search for what they want. Also, I know we are living in a new musical world in transition all the time, but I’d like to see more long-term dedication from the industry’s side. But for artists it will always come down to: work harder, write more. And if you’re always honest with yourself and your music, your audience will feel that.