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In Their Own Words

Young Dogs, Old Tricks: Seasick Steve Gives Lessons To The Youth
Ian Johnston , June 6th, 2011 06:57

He's been around the block and slept on a few, now Seasick Steve offers up some good ol'fashioned advice for any youth following in his wake. Treat songs as friends and stay off the booze, he tells Ian Johnston.

Do I have any words of advice for young people? Oh boy…. My ‘Oh boy’ was more about my reluctance to tell anybody about what they should or shouldn’t do, you know. One of the things I can think of is that if you want to do something, especially like music, or something that you love, just keep doing it. One thing for sure, if you have something you love and you quit, nothing ever gonna happen with it. So like in my case, where I just kept on keeping on and something finally happens. But something more important than that, at least for me anyway, I can’t talk about too many things apart from playing the guitar, is a lot of people I think start that thing already reckoning to be famous at it.

I think that something like music or art or whatever it is, if it’s your friend, it’s going to give you a lot of pleasure over the years anyway. Like playing the guitar, to me, was like my best friend so even if I never got nowhere, which I never did, I would have never have changed anything. I always wanted to play so, two things, one is to enjoy what you do and like what you play, or art, or hobby that you like, don’t worry about getting successful at it. But if you want to get successful, it’s a good idea not to quit. It took me awfully long time to get a job, so I could have quit 50 years ago, really more like 30 or 35 years ago would have been a sensible time for me to quit.

You always hope in the back of your mind but... My biggest ambition in the last 35 years was that maybe I’d write a song that someone might want to record, you know? But, mainly, mainly, it was because I liked it so much. I wouldn’t know what else to do. I would just sit around. A lot of people they maybe build something or fix something, but I like sitting around playing the guitar, so it’s like a friend.

And it's a friend that has seen you through a lot of trials and tribulations and given a lot back, without anyone listening, you know? Without anyone being around. I think, at least for me. I think a lot of people, and I’m still talking about music again because I don’t know so much about nothing else, a lot of people, a long time ago, started playing music just for fun. Maybe they’d get a band, something would happen and they’d go, ‘Oh, goddamn.’ But there wasn’t so much planning (laughs). The minute you’ve picked up your guitar you have already practiced your autograph. You start to learn after a while how not to burn your fingers or hit yourself on the head with a hammer, if you are alive long enough.

Everybody knows what they should and shouldn’t do. The one thing I’ve notice about drinking and stuff like that is that if you drink too much, then you wreck it and then you can never drink for the rest of your life again. If you screw it up then you’re gonna be one of those people who don’t get to drink anymore. It’s always that same thing I guess, you got to have some sense about it, or your gonna be one of those people who can’t have a drink because you’re an alcoholic.

You got to be teetotal, and that’s alright too, but a lot of people why they become like that is they went so overboard that they can’t touch a drink again. I don’t give a shit if people drink, they probably don’t even need to, but if you want to do it… This binge drinking that people do and stuff like that, the one thing I think of is that they are going to wreck it for themselves, either that or they’ll be dead. If you wreck it, you wreck it.

I’m a lucky son of a bitch as far as travel goes. It’s amazing that I get to go round to do this. Maybe I can understand how I could do it in England, but why everywhere I go people want to let me do it is a little bit beyond my imagination. I could probably philosophise about it, but me, I’m just lucky. It is cool that you can go and play music. I mean, I always heard that you could go and play music; I always used to do it playing on the street or something. It was a type of thing you could take everywhere and play. If people like what you are doing you don’t have to talk, you just play.

People don't need to speak the same language to get you. We play in Spain or something and they don't speak English but they are all rockin’ and everything. It’s amazing that music moves people and you don’t have to understand nothing. That’s all it’s ever been for me too. I kind of like music to wash over you. It’s a groove thing, that you groove to, some kind of pretty thing that washes over you, you know. You don’t have to understand nothing.“

I think playing on the street is always like the strangest and you'll learn a lot from that. You are just out there and no one asked you to be there, so the people stop. Me and the guy who plays drums with me [Dan Magnusson] played on the streets in San Francisco. That was so much fun because we were just sitting in a doorway, in the street, playing. People would come by; obviously the people who know me would come by and say, ‘What are you doing on the street?’ Another person would come by and say, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be playing Reading Festival this Saturday?’ [Laughs] Like I’d really fallen on hard times. You just do it, just to do it. You don’t want to stop because they like it, not because they pay or 'cos they heard about something, you know.

If you’re not entertaining on the street you don’t get no money. It’s a pretty good, clear-cut deal. If you sit down and look at your shoes, you ain’t gonna get no money, probably, especially if it’s noisy. I learned to be, whatever entertainer I am, I learned that out on the street, and that was just trying to get attention so they throw money at you.