By B. Simm
CALGARY — This year Quebec guitarist Steve Hill won four Maple Blues Awards in the following categories: Electric Guitar, Guitarist, Recording /Producer and Entertainer. To top it off, he won a 2015 Juno for Blues Album of the Year. Not too shabby, and a big boost for a veteran player whose career has seen better days.
Speaking from his home studio in Montreal, I ask Hill if he’s still basking in the afterglow of his Juno win. “Oh man, I’m looking at it right now. It really helped,” he says. “It’s a Juno! I’ve one a lot of awards, but a Juno is quite a big thing. I’m still psyched about that.”
Before the Juno fame, who was Steve Hill and where did he come from?
“I’ve done many things,” replies Hill. “Started playing at 16 and was doing it as a profession at 18. Put my first album out at 20 in 1997 and eight since then. I’ve done blues rock, stoner rock, country, I’ve done a lot of things. A lot of things here in Quebec.”
Hill notes that it’s not about blues, rock or country, it’s just music, genres that he likes to mix together. When he travelled down the stoner path he says,” I’m a big fan of bands like Humble Pie, ‘70s rock. But the guys I was playing with were more metal heads, and that made it a bit heavier than I would have thought. But I still had fun playing, although I can’t say I got rich,” chuckles Hill, his ragged vocal chords revealing two decades of hard singing and playing.
Four years ago Hill released an album, the label did very limited promo and he didn’t have enough gigs to support his new release, let alone himself.
“I needed to find a way to be a musician and not have a day job. I never had a day job! I needed to find a way to make some money,” Hill says flatly. “When I was 18 I’d play on the corner, make ten bucks and go to the pub. I could always make a living with a guitar. So I started doing solo shows. I was footstompin’ and figured I’d get a bass drum and it would sound better. So I got a bass drum.”
In his studio he added a high hat to the bass drum and put down tracks to what would become Steve Hill: Solo Recordings Vol. 1, a growling, primitive, bluesy Jack White affair that had a definite voice of its own. Critics picked up on it, and fans started buying.
“It’s probably my best selling album ever,” says a grateful Hill. “The tour for that album was almost 200 shows. And as I kept going, I kept adding more stuff and was able to do more complicated things other than just the boom-ching, boom-ching thing with the kick and cymbal.”
To get more of a rock ‘n’ roll backbeat, he added a snare and then really revolutionize the sound of his one man band by adding another pick-up to his guitar, which directs the signal of the two lower strings into a bass amp. He also rigged up a crash cymbal, and started playing the harp to fill his overture out even more.
The one man band isn’t a novelty act. It’s a complex operation that requires skill, fire and years of experience to pull off a superb performance.
“I’m working on it all the time, thinking about how can I make this better. Same thing in the studio. With the profits I made from Vol. 1, I got more gear to do Vol. 2. And with the money I made from Vol. 2, I bought a shitload of gear to do Vol. 3. I’m just a gearhead,” laughs Hill. “And having fun doing it.”
Steve Hill brings his bluesy wall of sound to the Ironwood Saturday, June 20.AB, Alberta, Ironwood, Ironwood Stage & Grill, Steve Hill