AmericanA to Z – Steve Forbert

When he first hit the scene in 1978 someone somewhere decided that labelling Steve Forbert with the “new Dylan” tag was a good idea. Unfortunately, the “new Dylan” arrived just when singer-songwriters playing folk rock on a guitar and harmonica weren’t exactly hot. Never a good idea to call anybody “the new” anything. Well, he did play the harmonica.

I first heard Steve Forbert on a Saturday afternoon in 1979. I know it was a Saturday afternoon because, disillusioned with the dross on Top of The Pops, I had stumbled across Paul Gambaccini’s show on Radio 1 introducing the public to what was going on stateside. In 1979, that was a rare thing. Even now, hearing the distinctive piano intro to ‘Romeo’s Tune’ gives me goose bumps as it did when I first heard it.  Steve Forbert, via Paul Gambaccini, first opened my ears to what would turn out to be a lifelong love of Americana, not that it was called that then of course.

As is turns out ‘Romeo’s Tune’ would turn out to be the most commercially successful single of Forbert’s career. It was even picked up and covered by country superstar Keith Urban. The song title is said to come from the Shakespearean like theme of fading away from the world in the arms of your lover. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a great song with that killer piano intro. ‘Jackrabbit Slim’ the brilliant album from which the single came was his second album and is a classic, full of great tunes and Forbert’s hallmark clever lyrics and melodies and a distinctive voice that remains as readily identifiable now as it ever did.

For all that Forbert is an unsung hero with regard to commercial success the fact that he regularly appears on festival line ups and continues to undertake far reaching tours to places such as Holland and Germany give a hint at the regard in which he is held by his loyal fanbase.

I lost touch, for whatever reason, with the career of Mr Forbert after his eponymously titled album number 4 in 1982 but revisiting his work of that era is no hardship now. It sounds as fresh and evocative as it ever did and dips into his more recent offerings suggest that he retains the ability to write intelligent songs with strong melodies.

The Career: 18 studio albums, dating back to 1978 debut ‘Alive on Arrival’ and 3 live albums.  Most recent release was 2018’s ‘The Magic Tree’.

Key Release: All of the first four albums are great but, if forced to choose, go to the aforementioned ‘Jackrabbit Slim’ for the man at his absolute best. Highlight tracks include ‘Romeo’s Tune’, Sadly Sorta Like a Soap Opera’, ‘January 23-30 1978’ and the laid-back piano led ‘Make It All So Real’ with its evocative picture of life in a smoky downtown bar bringing to mind images set by Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’. Great stuff.

About Peter Churchill 176 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.
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Andy Riggs

Thanks for this overview – agree 100%. Although falling off your radar I discovered Steve with the Geffen record ‘Streets of this Town’ and I’ve bought every record and there are some crackers in there – ‘Evergreen Boy’, ‘The American In Me’, & ‘ the record he made with Wilco members ‘Mission of the Crossroad Palms’ – he also released ‘Young Guitar Days’ which showed us the depth of his song writing talent as this included songs never released ‘ House of Cards’ about the death of Elvis stands up as a classic. Also check out his bio ‘Big City Cat’ – to quote Steve ‘i Just Work Here’.

[…] Forbert (and you can read our appreciation of him here)  had released his debut album a year earlier, the superb ‘Alive on Arrival‘ but it […]