Like all teens, Steve Strongman had a little secret. He’d tell his mother that he was going to the library to study but head for Kitchener’s famous second-floor blues bar Pop the Gator and listen to the music that would become his life’s mission. “I guess I was really studying,” Strongman says with a chuckle.
Imbued with youthful musical curiosity, Strongman’s apprenticeship was a mix bred of blues, rock and country bands. After a taste of the L.A. music scene as sideman for Randy Bachman’s son Tal, Strongman formed his own rock band, Plasticine.
When that venture folded after two CDs with the failure of their record company, he performed some solo blues gigs between tours as lead guitarist for Canadian rap/alt-rocker, Kazzer.
Strongman donned his blues mantle permanently upon moving to Hamilton. “Blues is really interesting to me musically because it covers so much,” he says of his choice. “You have to try and push the envelope, bring a unique perspective to blues.”
A compelling stage presence, emotion-charged vocalist, sensational guitarist, superb songsmith and gifted harmonica player, Strongman’s success has been uncanny.
His four solo CDs have won four Maple Blues Awards including Recording of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Guitarist of the Year (twice) plus a Juno Award for Blues Recording of the Year.
He’s toured Canada, the U.S.A., South America, Mexico and Europe, appeared at major blues festivals and opened shows for Johnny Winter, B. B. King and Buddy Guy.
Although he’s best known for his scorching electric and killer slide guitar work, his most successful album, A Natural Fact (2012) set the bar for contemporary acoustic blues in Canada.
“I’ve always loved acoustic music,” Strongman says. “There’s an intimacy that happens with acoustic instruments.”
Blues music’s heritage aside, Strongman takes a here-and-now approach to crafting songs.
“I can’t write about what it was like for the traditional blues artist,” he says. “I’m writing about what it’s like for me. It’s a hard thing to do, to still be honest and stick within the parameters.”
For all the accolades, Strongman keeps a level head.
“You don’t become a musician and write songs to get awards,” he insists. “When it does happen though, it really puts wind in your sails. It makes you realize, wow, I’m on the right path and I’m doing a good job of it and people are enjoying it.”
Steve Strongman will be appearing at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 5 on Friday in support of No Time Like Now, his new album of compelling electric blues. Another proud presentation by the Thunder Bay Blues Society.
For details, visit www.thunderbaybluessociety.ca or www.stevestrongman.com.
Ken Wright is a charter member of the Thunder Blues Society.