Singer Steve Forbert to play Tulsa, talks about early success, evolution
BY JOHN STANCAVAGE World Business Editor
Saturday, December 08, 2012
12/08/12 at 4:48 AM
Watch a video: See where it all began as Steve Forbert plays his early hit, “Romeo’s Tune.”
Steve Forbert is a survivor in an industry littered with broken dreams and worse.
More than 30 years ago, the Mississippi-born singer-songwriter found himself in the spotlight with a hit single, "Romeo's Tune," and press clippings hailing him as the "next Dylan."
It was heady stuff for a skinny kid who had been playing street corners and subway stations in New York. But, in typical music business fashion, the bubble burst.
Follow-up singles disappointed, and Forbert encountered label problems that kept him out of the studio for several years.
The can't-miss phenom could have become a footnote, but he endured. Amazingly, he did so with his dreams intact.
"I guess I could have just said, 'The record business is too hard. I've lost my opportunity,' " Forbert remembered during a telephone interview.
"But I thought about how bad it could have been. Jimi Hendrix died young. Same with Gram Parsons, who wrote some great songs. He self-destructed."
Forbert picked himself up, found some other interested labels and kept going. His dreams, it turned out, were not dependent on Springsteen-level fame but more humbly on remaining an artist who makes his living writing and performing songs.
"I concentrated on doing that and recording albums I was happy with," he said.
Today, Forbert tours regularly and recently released his 15th studio album, "Over With You." The record, a concept album about a breakup, is drawing critical raves as one of the best of his career. That's high praise, indeed, as his catalog already contains plenty of underappreciated gems.
"I'm pleased with it," he said, simply.
Throughout the 10 songs, Forbert sings about finally putting a longtime romance to rest, but the ache in his leathery vocals suggests the opposite is true.
Fans of top-notch lyrics will find much to pore over here. In the title track, for example, Forbert examines the meaning of "forever" in a relationship:
"Forever's such an easy word to say or write on paper / All things end in time / We have been together far too many nights and days for us to end unkind."
As with most of his albums, Forbert is backed by a rootsy band that pulls off the difficult trick of being tight enough to serve the songs but still loose enough to let the music breathe. Guests include Ben Sollee on cello and bass and Ben Harper on guitar.
Unusual for a breakup album, the players keep the tempo up on many of these songs. And Forbert's wry sense of humor surfaces often enough to keep the listener from wallowing in the subject matter.
"It's only about 38 minutes long," he noted. "I like the fact that you can put it on and it just flows - before you know it you're back to track one. It kind of reminds me of The Band's 'Music From the Big Pink' in that respect."
The music business certainly hasn't gotten any easier since Forbert's youthful brush with fame. But the artist, who'll turn 58 next week, has proven to be adept at staying in at least the peripheral portion of the public eye.
Forbert, for example, has been operating a first-class website for years. He not only offers tour news and T-shirts there, but he also sells a variety of demo collections, live recordings and DVDs.
The singer also has contributed songs to movies and even has ventured further out into the creative arts with a traveling exhibition of photos he's taken with an ancient cellphone.
Mainly, though, Forbert keeps his flame alive by playing 100 concerts a year. Most of those are solo performances, as will be his show Saturday night at the All Souls Acoustic Coffeehouse.
"I'll do some old songs and some from the new album, but outside of those I have no set list," he said. "I'll take requests, and I might even try to sing a song that I don't really know. That's what keeps it interesting for me, and, hopefully, fun for everyone."
Buying Steve Forbert
Forbert is a rare artist who doesn't have any duds in his catalog. Here are some standouts, however.
"The Best of Steve Forbert: What Kinda Guy?" (1993): "Romeo's Tune" and early fan favorites.
"Mission of the Crossroad Palms" (1995): A mid-career gem, produced by Bruce Springsteen bassist Gary Tallent.
"Live at the Bottom Line" (2000): A lively concert appearance with a backing band.
"Young, Guitar Days" (2001): A collection of unreleased tracks that prove Forbert's throwaways are better than most singers' A-list efforts.
"Over With You" (2012): Confidently answers the question about whether an artist, later in life, can still make a record that stands with his best.
When: Saturday, doors 7 p.m., show 7:30 p.m.
Where: Acoustic Coffeehouse, All Souls Unitarian Church, 2952 S. Peoria Ave.
Original Print Headline: Artist in autumn
John Stancavage 918-581-8314
Steve Forbert is set to perform in Tulsa on Saturday. ALAN MESSER/Courtesy