"The Steepwater Band was influenced by Zeppelin and played with Gov't Mule, Bon Jovi, Cheap Trick, Buddy Guy and Aerosmith's Joe Perry." - Interview

I was in Milwaukee and my roommate from college tells me I need to check out this band he saw earlier in the year, opening for Gov’t Mule. He said they were called The Steepwater Band (my first thought was the band from the movie “Almost Famous?”).

Then he tried to describe their sound. He said, “They don’t sound like Led Zeppelin, but they kind of do.” At this point I’m thinking that he doesn’t want to oversell the band by saying they’re like Led Zeppelin, because Led Zeppelin is, well Led Zeppelin.

So I headed on over to www.steepwater.com, the band’s website. I read up on the guys. They’ve played with Buddy Guy, Wilco, Gov't Mule, Cheap Trick, The Redwalls, Taj Mahal, Bon Jovi, Rose Hill Drive, Bad Company, King’s X, Drive-By Truckers, Heart and my childhood hero Joe Perry from Aerosmith. They’ve been together for roughly 10 years with each year getting bigger and bigger and more support.

I listened to their most recent album “Grace & Melody” and their latest EP (released in 2010) “The Stars Look Good Tonight.” I guess now it’s my turn to try and attempt to describe their sound. The Steepwater Band is a Rock n Roll band, there’s no mistake about that. It is blues based rock, but they kind of sound like a bluesy jam band as well. The main riffs in their songs, are rock riffs like Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Black Crowes (etc), but when the songs get to the bridge or the middle section you can tell that they’ll probably jam on those for the most part. So let’s say if The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin had a kid, it’d probably be The Steepwater Band.

One thing I’d like to add is that they sound great on CD, but once you see them live, they sound so much better. I saw them at a venue in Rock Island, IL called Ribco. There weren’t a lot of people there, but everyone there, was there to see them. In the middle of the show (near the end of their first set) 4 college aged kids came in from outside, because of what they could hear coming from inside. These guys are amazing musicians. I thought Joe Winters was amazing on the drums. I always enjoy watching a good drummer. I don’t really know if he did a drum solo, but a couple of the songs it seemed like the drum beat was complicated enough to be a solo.

Tod Bowers on the bass really pulls the band together while Jeff Massey is a flat out virtuoso. I’m not saying he’s the best guitar player I’ve ever seen, but he’s as good as anyone I’ve ever seen. The coolest part for me was that there weren’t that many people there and they were playing as if there were 30,000 people out there. It was really cool to see. They were so good live that when I popped their albums back in, I liked them even more, because I actually got to hear it live.

A couple of hours before the show, I got a chance to talk with singer/guitar extraordinaire Jeff Massey.

Jeff Massey – Hello?

Q – Hey, how are you doing?

A – Hey man how are you?

Q – Good, I guess I’ll just jump right into it, how would you describe The Steepwater Band’s sound?

A – Well, I’d like to think of it as original (laughs). I mean it’s a blues based rock n roll band, but it’s based around the songs we write. There’s a lot of blues influence in it, the occasional slide guitar in it. It’s just all about writing tunes, but most people describe it as a rootsier type sound.

Q – I got a chance to listen to your latest album “Grace & Melody” and your latest EP “The Stars Look Good Tonight” and your songs almost kind of sound live, kind of like what Led Zeppelin sounded like on their albums or early Aerosmith. They sound like they’d translate really well live. What can your fans expect from your live shows?

A – Whenever we play live it’s a different show every time we play, just to keep our own interest and to the people that come out. We usually don’t play the same set twice. A lot of times we’ll play a lot of songs off of “Grace & Melody” or “Revelation Sunday” but we’ll mix in a few covers now and then, sometimes a new song, but it’s always different and we’re always mixing it up. Even when we play songs off of our records, a lot of times we jam on them and they’re a little bit different, depending on the night. There’s a little bit of improv when we’re playing live for sure.

Q – Of all of your songs, which would you say is your favorite song to play live?

A – That’s tough to say, I enjoy playing a lot of them. We have this one song off “Grace & Melody” called “Waiting to be Offended.” Which is one of my favorite ones just because it kind of stretches out (phone briefly broke up); it gets kind of crazy in the end. So whenever it’s in the set list I always look forward to playing that one. It’s a song right in the middle of “Grace & Melody;” it’s a really long tune, you can’t miss it (laughs).

Q – What was it like working with Marc Ford (Black Crowe’s finest guitarist) and how did that come about?

A – That came about because we were booked together at a festival in Spain. Marc was over their touring with his own band. We met that night; they were on the same bill and we asked Marc if he wanted to sit in and jam with us. We didn’t even have much of a conversation with him except, ‘hey do you wanna jam?’ He sat in with us that night and we had a great jam. He was gone by the time we got done, so we didn’t get to reconnect with him. A couple weeks later we ran in to him again in Chicago. Working with him is great; we flew out to Compound Studios which is out in Long Beach, California. We took a batch of ideas and songs with us, went into the studio every day, through trial and error, just went in there and jammed and experimented. Marc has a great ear for ideas and arrangements, he even picked up a guitar and got in there and jammed with us. It was great to work with him. He had really good ears and really good ideas. He introduced us to things we weren’t use to and we ended up making a really good record with him.

Q – What was it like touring with Gov’t Mule?

A – We did five dates with them. It was great. Everybody in their crew, everybody in Gov’t Mule was really cool to hang out with. They were really easy going guys. Me and Tod (Bowers) actually sat in and jammed with Gov’t Mule a couple of nights. I hope we can do more stuff with those guys, because they were a pleasure to be around. Watching them play every night was a blast too. It was a great time besides the weather (laughs), we drove through a lot of shitty snow (laughs). Besides that it was great.

Q – You guys have been doing this a long time, what keeps you motivated?

A – I think we have enough people that come out to our shows and support the band and we always seem to have something cool around the corner that we want to do. This year we went a little more extensively in Europe then we had ever been. We’re always visiting new places and meeting new people. We still enjoy playing together, we still enjoy playing live and I think we’ve got a lot more songs in us. If we didn’t enjoy it we’d wrap it up, but we like being on the road, we like playing, we like meeting other bands. It’s just something that we have no intentions of quitting anytime soon.

Q – Who are some of your early musical influences?

A – Mine personally, I’d have to say when I first started playing, and I’m still into now is Zeppelin, the Doors and classic rock stuff like that. As I got a little older I started going back and getting into the blues. I was listening to Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. Early on though, Zeppelin was the big one for me.

Q – How old were you when you picked up the guitar?

A – I believe I was 14 and I had played piano prior to that, but that didn’t amount to much (laughs).

Q – What is the band’s greatest achievement thus far?

A – I’d say staying together (laughs). No really, being together is an honor; I think we’re all pretty proud of that. We’ve had opportunities to play some big festivals and play in Europe. We don’t feel like there is one moment where we’ve arrived, the greatest thing is that we’re still together.

Q – When can we expect a new full length album?

A – We just put out that EP “The Stars Look Good Tonight,” that was a left over track from “Grace & Melody,” a cover track and two new songs. It’s looking like we’re going to go into the studio and record another full length record this fall, so realistically I’d say early 2011 would be the follow up to “Grace & Melody.”

Q – That’s all I had is there anything else you wanted to add?

A – Nah, we appreciate the interview, we’re out on the road, so check our website www.steepwater.com and check the dates we’re out all over the place.

I tend to oversell things that I’m passionate about sometimes, and I don’t want to do that here. The Steepwater Band is not a commercial rock band ala Nickelback (no offense to Nickelback). The Steepwater Band plays their version of blues based rock. If they ever become a commercial rock band, it’ll be because commercial rock radio changed to sound like The Steepwater Band, not the other way around.

Check them out at www.steepwater.com, www.facebook.com/thesteepwaterband, www.myspace.com/thesteepwaterband, twitter.com/steepwaterband.


Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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