Steve Forbert brings his brand of folk rock to My Father’s Place

Steve Forbert brings his brand of folk rock to My Father’s Place
Photo by Jay Blakesberg


When it comes to categorizing Steve Forbert’s music, he’s more relaxed than a lot of music writers.

Folk? Folk-rock? Americana? Country rock?

Don’t sweat it, says Forbert, who will be playing all of it when he comes to My Father’s Place in Roslyn on March 7.

“Labels can be convenient,” he says. “I’m pretty comfortable with ‘folk-rock.’ ‘Americana’ came up a few years ago and I don’t mind that being applied to me, either.”


Truth is, Forbert has avoided narrow niches in a career that now spans more than 40 years and almost two dozen albums.

His latest album, The Magic Tree, reflects his stylistic range, and he talks about that subject, among others, in his recently released memoir Big City Cat, My Life in Folk Rock.

He’s now finishing up another album in which he remakes some of his favorite tunes from other artists – and fans can get an idea where that might take him from a playlist he posted on his website to accompany Big City Cat.

The tunes there run from “Angie” by the Rolling Stones to “Stardust” by Nat King Cole to the Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and the B-52s’s “Rock Lobster.”

Plus, happily, an extensive sampling of his own music, from “It Isn’t Going To Be That Way” to “A Good Planet Is Hard to Find” and “Romeo’s Tune,” his 1980 debut single and biggest radio hit.

In fact, the only correction he gently makes about labeling his music is that he doesn’t call it “music.”

“Music can be anything,” he says. “From Gregorian chant to Dizzy Gillespie to girls singing around a campfire in the woods. What I’m doing is playing songs.”

Songs first fascinated him, he says, when he was growing up in Meridian, Miss., in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Then, as sometimes happens, one song brought it all together.

“I heard the Byrds’ ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and it hypnotized me,” he says. “It was the combination of the playing and [Bob Dylan’s] song. It was the sound and also something between the lines of the poetry. It was new. There was this element to it. It had magic.”

Soon thereafter, in high school, he started writing his own songs. “They came easy then,” he says. “I’d write two or three a week.”

In 1976, soon after he turned 21, he moved to New York. Downtown New York.

“It was time to get there and see what was going to happen,” he says. “It was now or never. And it turned out that there was enough of the old folk-type Greenwich Village to dive into.

“Every Tuesday I’d be at Folk City. Kenny’s Castaways was a great place. Then I decided to branch out and try CBGBs, where the scene was just starting. Television, Blondie, the Talking Heads. I got to open for the Talking Heads, and John Cale. It was a very open environment, a lot of action.”

A business dispute kept Forbert from doing many recordings for several years in the 1980s, and in 1985 he moved to Nashville.

That probably had some commercial ramifications, but in retrospect, says Forbert, he’s been one of the fortunate artists who could largely record what wanted to.

That includes both his own songs and, for instance, a tribute album to Meridian’s most famous musical son, 1920s country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers.

The Rodgers album was nominated for a Grammy, and Forbert still does Rodgers songs in his live show. Fittingly, he just received the Mississippi Governor’s Arts Award.

Like most musicians, Forbert says he could not have predicted where life, the business and the road would take him when he decided to follow “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

In 2007 he wrote “Middle Age,” a song with lines like “Now you hafta laugh at what you / Used to think you knew.”

Thirteen years later he still sings it, “because even though it’s now more like late middle age, it’s still fun.”

For that matter, he says he still enjoys playing “Romeo’s Tune.”

“I still relate to it,” he says. “I don’t feel separated from it.”

What does get more challenging over time, he says, is songwriting itself. Songs still come, but not at the rate of two or three a week.

“Most people do their most popular work by the time they’re 30,” he says. “Who are the exceptions? Leonard Cohen and Howlin’ Wolf?

“And I understand why, because as you get older and other things come into your life, like maybe a family, you’re never going to have as much time or be as carefree as you were in your 20’s.

“That would be weird. No one would want to have lunch with you.”

In late middle age, then, Steve Forbert carries on.

“I feel,” he says, “like I’m still a part of something.”

[Steve Forbert at My Father’s Place, 1221 Old Northern Boulevard, Roslyn, at 8 p.m. Tickets $40. Call 516-413-3535.]

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  1. Excellent and informative article on singer/songwriter Steve Forbert.He has long been one of my favorites.Thanks for highlighting his long career and stylistic range.


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