Cool blues and hot country
Steve Azar may not look like a son of the Delta, but one listen to his bluesy, hard-bitten country rock songs proves his claim as a born and bred native of Greenville, Mississippi.
“Anytime I go back I just feel it – It’s my true heritage,” he says. “The longer I’m away the more it leaks out of me. You just absorb it all – I didn’t live the life that (Mississippi Delta greats) Little Milton or Albert King did, but songs from the Delta come out of pain, and that’s what it’s like with me. I never wrote a song from a good mood; maybe you’ll hear a bright, bouncing tune, but what brought me to the room was something that was wrong.”Azar’s been plugging away at Nashville since his teens; he started as a songwriter, but unsatisfied with writing for other people, he eventually broke through as a performer, especially with his 2003 hit “Waitin’ On Joe,” which featured fellow Mississippian Morgan Freeman in the video. But the road was long and hard: When Azar met Albert King and told him he was going to Nashville, King said “Oh, the Devil goes to Nashville…boy, you are going to have one hard time. Yours is going to be a long, long, long journey.”Azar’s latest album, “Indianola,” is the culmination of that long journey. Azar wrote or cowrote all the songs, produced and recorded in his home studio. It represents the perfect mix of his Delta-dirt roots and Nashville big-country sheen.
“The hardest part was the process of me doing it without knowing that I was doing it,” Azar says. “That, and during all that I was wearing my voice out. I was on the beach on vacation, and I rememebr the waves being louder than I could talk – nobody could hear me. After I had surgery, I was good but at the time I cut the vacation a day short because I had just written a song I had to get down. My throat was probably hemmorhaging, but I kept that vocal on the album because I liked the rough sound of it.”Azar soends most of the year touring, and in July he’ll headline the Fourth of July concert at the National Mall in Washington D.C. Along with a Bob Seger tour, it might be Azar’s highest-profile gig yet. “Every day with Seger was just surreal – it was beautiful,” he says. “But I’m really looking forward to (the Fourth of July concert),” he says. “The president may show up. “I was part of the big KAtrina benefit in New Orleans, and it was very haunting and moving – one of those moments you’ll never forget. I guess this’ll be one of those moments. After 9/11 every fourth of july rings a different tone for me – I’ll be thinking about our soldiers overseas, and it’ll be special.”Azar recently wrote a country-meets-Bollywood tune for the indie comedy “Americanizing Shelley,” and more music for film is in his future: He’ll likely write and supervise the music for the upcoming film “Delta Storms.””It could happen soon – we’ve got great screenplay, and we’re waiting for final funding,” he says. “Some of these things take a while, but it’ll be great to write and be the A&R guy to find other people’s music (for the film). I know that area, and there’s great blues left to be found for the movie.”
In the meantime, Azar will tour, tour, tour. Soon he’ll join Hootie & The Blowfish for a jaunt up the east coast. Along the way, Azar hopes to refine his aready impressive golf game: According to Golf Digest’s list of the 100 best musician golfers, Azar ranks fourth.”I never really come off the road – all my great guitars are in road cases,” he says. “But I’m excited to go out, perform, see old friends and make new ones, and maybe get some lobster and golf in when I can.”Arts & Entertainment writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado