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John Paul Jones performing with Seasick Steve


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Seasick Steve - You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

Wednesday, 11th May 2011

Matthew Tomlinson

It's funny what difference a few years can make to an old man. Normally the changes are limited to hair increasingly retreating from where it's meant to be and instead sprouting uninvited out of every other cavity you'd care to imagine, maybe coupled with a serious reduction in the old grey- matter's effectiveness. For Seasick Steve, however, the last couple have seen him transformed from a footloose, washed up hobo, to a worldwide festival favourite and novelty comfort blanket to the nation.Back at the end of this month with his sixth studio album, he hits the nail squarely on the head with its title, You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks. As always, "Produced and recorded by the Dog Hisself", played on the usual eccentric array of handmade instruments, a well-worn slide on his finger and John Deere cap on his head (remember 'Big, Green and Yella' anyone?).

Packed full of raw, wailing blues riffs punctuated by lilting acoustic ditties, …New Tricks is perhaps Steve's most consistent record to date in terms of keeping you interested throughout and never tempted to reach for the skip button. Easing, rather than bursting into life with an almost Celtic arrangement called 'Treasures' forming the backdrop to Steve's soft, deep, almost bedtime-story vocals, before turning up the amps and kicking into boogie mode, highlights of which include 'Back in the Doghouse', 'Days Gone' and the title track itself. For some of these tracks a certain John Paul Jones also makes an appearance on the bass, and fans of his recent work with Them Crooked Vultures may find this record a surprisingly enjoyable purchase.

Lyrics-wise, all his signature themes are in the mix: the wife, hobos, hobos, drinking, the wife, and the list goes on in similar fashion, but as …New Tricks enters its home stretch, Steve enters some uncharted territory as he begins thinking about the numbered days of his own existence. Admittedly, lines like "when I find all my lost friends… we're gonna have a party… and we're gonna drink forevermore" hint he isn't taking it all too seriously, but 'What a Way to Go', on the other hand, seems as honest as they come, and couldn't be written by anyone other than a seventy year-old bluesman watching old mates drop like flies around him, giving the record a personal, bittersweet tinge that we haven't really seen emerge from the doghouse before.

All in all, this isn't really ground-breaking stuff from Seasick, but let's be honest, did anyone really expect it to be? He's given us another solid album, maybe even his best, that'll keep plenty of people happy enough when he hits the festivals with it this summer. It's not particularly artistic, it's never heard of subtlety, and it sure as hell ain't polished, but bless him – you can't really help but love the old dinosaur.


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A furious and frantic performance from Seasick Steve

"Pretty good band, huh?" was Steven Wold's understated recognition of his extraordinary musicians for this benefit gig.

The veteran Californian bluesman, better known as Seasick Steve, was admiring the contribution not only of his grizzly bear of a drummer, Dan Magnusson, but also John Paul Jones. The Led Zeppelin bassist is a fan and he joined in for this Streets of London show for The Connection at St Martin's, a day centre for the homeless.

Jones guests on the latest Seasick Steve album, You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, so this power trio in Camden offered an established collaboration rather than a glorified celebrity endorsement. Jones may have lacked the whiskery beards of his band mates but his chunky bass sound was an easy fit with their ragged blues-rock.

The focus was on pounding, ramshackle rhythms powered by some astonishing makeshift guitars, including one known as the Morris Minor made from hubcaps.

There were folk and country textures, too, and Jones played banjo on Treasures, a fittingly sad song about Wold's hobo life in the Seventies. For the bluesy ballad Walkin' Man, Wold strummed and serenaded a female fan, while Jones plucked at a mandolin.

Back in the Doghouse was a wonderful bad luck anthem, and the new album title track had a defiant tone from Wold, who is apparently 70 though he can still get away with wearing a vest on stage.

He had an incredible control over his guitars, too, even if they did sometimes fall apart mid-song.

But that was the joy of this performance: furious, frantic and as far from a slick rock group as you could hope to get.

By André Paine


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Q: On your new album you have John Paul Jones playing bass on a couple of tracks. Did you ever see Led Zeppelin live?

SEASICK STEVE: I saw them play in 1969. I was playing at a pizza parlour and this guy came in and asked if I wanted to see an English blues band. We went over to this amphitheatre and saw them play. Man, they was good. I didn't think of them like a blues band but I thought I ain't ever seen [imitates Robert Plant swinging microphone by its lead]... and the hair, plus they was so much better than everybody else. I'll never forget that show. I went backstage and saw that Robert Plant was smoking English cigarettes. I'd never seen an English cigarette before in my life so I bummed one off him. That was my big claim. I now know Robert Plant quite well and I told him but he don't remember. It tasted like shit. I was smoking Lucky Strikes at the time and that cigarette tasted poor, poor, poor. I felt sorry for him - "Man, you call that a cigarette?"


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