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Seasick Steve

Blues. The music of the poor. So chic.

It is said that Robert Johnson is one of the fathers of Blues. He had a short life, very little time to record all of his music. The circumstances of his death are unclear, but some think he was lynched in 1938, when he was only 27. At that time, racist violence was not uncommon. It was against this backdrop that Blues was born: based on slaves’ ballads, sometimes sad, sometimes funny, so filled with the freedom that didn’t exist anywhere else.

Nowadays, we listen to Blues in the cosy living rooms of beautiful houses. Nowadays, white people sing the Blues, and sometimes we wonder whether its origins–this great yearning for freedom of which it was born–have been lost over the course of these last decades. Now they sell it in the form of CDs or show tickets.

Watch Seasick Steve’s blues, that old man in a vest; listen to the story coming out of his long, white beard. When this American dude landed in Paris in the ‘70s with $10 in his pocket, several things saved his life: nights under bridges, police vans, women, alcohol, and, above all, his guitar and his blues. Look at this former hobo who behaves the same whether he’s in a room at the Hôtel Concorde in Paris, in the streets, or on a stage in front of some 65,000 people. I can picture him in front of his label’s executives (Warner) just as well as I can envision him in front of the guy who, years ago, sold him the worst guitar in the whole world. I can also picture him being as simply captivating as the time he laughed for a good fifteen minutes with the wild crowd of the ATP Festival because he broke a string and didn’t really know how to change it.

We could tell you “The amazing story of Seasick Steve, a poor man who became rich and famous thanks to his music”, but he doesn’t need that. The first of his albums that Warner released was recorded in his kitchen with an old four-track. There’s no amazing story, there’s better: this white bluesman’s ballad in the world and in life. He performed both in the Parisian subway and at Glastonbury. Who knows what he’ll meet on the next corner? Anyway, he keeps a rhythm, and it’s this very rhythm that compels us to walk with him for hours. So we did just that on a May afternoon, immersed in Seasick Steve’s freedom.

You can also listen to the unbelievable simplicity of the guitar that is able, just like the guy who plays it, to fill the sound space only by its willingness to resound. Whether it takes place in an elevator, a taxi, a bedroom, a hotel lobby, or a street, everything adjusts with the blues’ rhythm.

We’re glad we shared a small part of the trip that this guy and his guitar continually make. We’re glad we can share it with you, too.

Gaspar Claus

Translation by Nora