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Steve Forbert's folk-rock career has spanned four decades and counting. In June 1976, the twenty-one year old boarded a train in Meridian, Mississippi bound for New York City, then the epicenter of folk music. His combination of musicianship and authenticity demanded notice. In less than two years, he went from being a street performer and living at the YMCA to filling historic Greenwich Village clubs and signing a major label record contract with Nemperor Records.
From 1978 to 1982, Forbert released four acclaimed albums. Rolling Stone contributing editor David Wild wrote that “now or then, you would be hard-pressed to find a debut effort that was simultaneously as fresh and accomplished as Alive on Arrival . . . it was like a great first novel by a young author who somehow managed to split the difference between Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger.”
Forbert’s second studio release, Jackrabbit Slim went RIAA Gold Certified with its Billboard #11 hit "Romeo's Tune". Recording success vaulted Steve onto a broader musical stage, touring the U.S. and Europe many times over. Forbert even appeared opposite Cyndi Lauper in her music video for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” His early accomplishments would be a career for most artists, but he continues to write, record, and perform to this day. His artistic pursuit has resulted in twenty studio albums and numerous live releases, compilations, and accolades. His songs have been recorded by Keith Urban, Rosanne Cash and Marty Stuart.
Any Old Time, a retrospective of the music of Meridian's Jimmie Rodgers, received a2003 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album. As Rodgers' music has inspired Forbert, so has Forbert's music influenced a new generation of artists.
In 2017, twenty-one artists paid tribute to Steve by recording a compilation titled: An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert, further validating his artistic legacy. Forbert's 2018 memoir Big City Cat: My Life in Folk-Rock serves as a primer for young musicians setting out on their own journeys.
...His perspective on what life was like for a 20-something recently arrived in NYC is sharp. Forbert offers a sparkling observation about the pull of music as excellent as any I have seen,” said Entertainment Today.
Forbert’s latest studio album release The Magic Tree serves as sound track to his memoir. The album rings with the verve and vitality that Forbert’s fans have always come to expect. The Magic Tree underscores what revered critic the late Paul Nelson wrote about Forbert in Rolling Stone almost 40 years ago: “… Nothing, nothing in this world, is going to stop Steve Forbert, and on that I’ll bet anything you’d care to wager.”
Anyone who reviews Steve's catalogue of music can see the writer in the musician. His songs are as literary as they are musically vibrant. Brutally honest lyrics delivered with sensitivity create an uncommon trust with his listeners. Excelling in every decade of his career, Forbert exemplifies the best of the troubadour tradition.
Music has always been good for me. I didn't know it at the time, but when I would don my Walkman at night, and dig into the likes of Paul Simon, Randy Newman, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, ABBA, James Taylor, and other gems from my mother's modest collection of cassettes, I was learning the ropes. I had inadvertently worked out the third harmony to Simon and Garfunkle's greatest hits, and eagerly awaited their call (I'm still waiting). I was learning song structure without trying, and when I finally picked up an acoustic guitar at the age of 15, it came very naturally to me.
I was born on Hill Air Force Base in Clearfield, Utah. My mother was a Navy nurse and my father an Air Force officer. We were soon relocated to England where he would be stationed for several years. My mother grew weary of the arrangement and returned home with two year-old me in tow. Home for my mom was Cleveland Ohio, and Cleveland's been home to me ever since.
By then my musical tastes still included those classic acts I was turned onto as a kid, but a new set of influences were also presenting themselves to me. Pink Floyd's "The Wall" was a bit of an epiphany. While Paul Simon had taught me a lot about song construction, Roger Waters blew the roof off the thing. Suddenly songwriting didn't stop at the end of the song. the whole album could be the song! I dug in deep to the Pink Floyd catalog, and as that band dissolved, Roger Waters' solo albums, two in particular "The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking" and "Amused to Death", showed me that while David Gilmour's guitar playing is unmatched, it was the creative genius of Waters that spoke to me. These albums are epic, and while the musical style isn't necessarily reflected in my writing, I think the longer form of story telling is present in my own records.
From the very start, when I got my first acoustic guitar along with an instructional VHS tape, I was off to the races! As soon as I could seamlessly change from one chord to the next, I had a musical canvas to work with, and a whole lot to say. Lucky at first to have a good and equally creative friend to learn and play with, original songs started coming immediately. Of course we were beginners and the earliest material was a bit elementary. But the lesson was an immediate understanding that I wasn't Jimi Hendrix. I wasn't David Gilmour. I wasn't Paul Simon. I was Matt Harmon, and the key to my musical success would not be to sound like any of my influences, but to process what I'd learned from them through the filter of my own experiences.
I owe a great debt of gratitude to a little carriage house in the University Circle district of Cleveland. The Barking Spider Tavern was a legendary listening room, where seven nights a week there were at least two musical acts. There was never a cover charge, just an actively passed tip jar. It was here that I honed my skills as a performer. This singer/songwriting business is tricky, you know? You have to learn your instrument. You have to learn to sing and play simultaneously. You have to learn to write words you're proud enough to sing aloud. And then, as if that's not enough, you have to shed your anxiety and learn to play to a room full of listeners.
Regular appearances at the Spider made this possible for me, and no matter where I'm playing, from a coffee shop on Cape Hatteras to a Biker Bar in Detroit, mentally, I put myself at the Spider. It was there that I learned not only how to manage a 90 minute or longer set of original music, but how to assess and connect with an audience. By the end of a show, I want to know that the woman at the by the fireplace relates to ironic takes on heartache, while her husband prefers a tale of a lonely soldier at war. Martin Juredine, the late owner of the since closed Spider, pulled me aside after a show one time and said quietly "Matt, you're finding your voice". That was it. No other review or praise will ever top that feeling of acceptance, confidence and satisfaction that I had at that moment. I could tell people that I'm a singer/songwriter, and mean it.
In addition to always writing and performing my songs, primarily solo, but with great players behind me if a situation calls for it, I spent some time playing in JiMiller Band. Jim Miller is a four decade journeyman of the mid-west jam band circuit, having founded Oroboros, a fixture in Cleveland's music history. In high school, my friends and I would sneak into Oroboros shows. We were blown away that these guys were playing Grateful Dead tunes so well. Jim's orginals were no joke either, and he is a uniquely talented guitarist of the highest order. So years later, I was honored to get the job as his rhythm guitar player, and no experience has been more valuable to me as a professional musician than this. It was through Jim, that I got to open for the likes of Little Feat (one of the great southern rock bands of all time), play on large stages at big festivals, and just generally improve as a guitarist in the comfort of a stellar band. I did eventually leave that band, to focus on my writing, and on building a base of supporters for these tunes of mine, of which I'm increasingly proud.
Today, I have no delusions of grandeur. As a kid, sure, I wanted to rock the big arenas. But now, I'm happy working out a new tune while my dog snores away on the couch. In an era where music is readily available for streaming, I have achieved the greatest possible success simply by lowering the bar that defines it. This is not to say I've given up on the dream. It's just that I've refocused my objectives. I want the last song I wrote to be the best song I've written. I want to entertain my audiences no matter how big or small they may be. I want to mark my existence in this world with songs on my observations of it.
I hope you find value in my work, and would love nothing more than your feedback.
Thank you for listening,
15711 Waterloo Rd
Cleveland, OH, 44110