maybe Seasick Steve was not, in fact, a hobo (he was actually a session musician)
Blues musician Seasick Steve, you might remember, emerged in around 2007 onto the scene with a strange and detailed origin story that, among other things, claimed that he had been a hobo/drifter/what-have-you in the late 60s and early 70s before settling in as a member of the music industry for the roughly 35 years until his breakout in the late aughts (it has been known for years that his music industry career included working on Modest Mouse's Building Nothing Out of Something around 1999). But, according to a recent piece in The Guardian, it's pretty easy to establish that he was actually a gainfully employed session musician during the years that he was supposedly riding the rails (a fact that is probably not that surprising to many).
Steve claims to have been born in 1941, like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Joan Baez. His passport says he was born in 1951, making him a contemporary of Sting, Chris Rea and Bonnie Tyler. Wright dug out that Steve’s real name is Steve Leach, rather than the woodier-sounding Wold. The penny-dropping moment came for Wright when he discovered that in the early 70s, Steve Leach had played bass in a band called Shanti, devotees of transcendental meditation, whose sole album was reissued last year. At the time he was playing with Shanti, though, Steve had said he “was living and playing in Paris on the street in 1972. I was living in a park and it was real rough, and all that.”
The Guardian piece is perhaps a bit heavy on the "Seasick Steve EXPOSED" angle, as much of the article focuses on musical activity that happened during a period in which is was always known that he was a member of the music industry, but it is interesting to learn about what this modern-day bluesman was up to specifically in the 70s (and what types of things media will run with unchecked). He dabbled in hippie stuff, disco and soft rock, including a stint in the Mike Love's post Beach Boys outfit Celebration.
The whole thing brings up somewhat knotty questions of authenticity and appropriation--it was always apparent that Seasick Steve was playing something of a character, although the fact that he lied about his age and homelessness status might make that a higher degree of artifice than some are comfortable with. Either way, the man's obviously got an interesting tale, just maybe slightly different than what we might have thought it was. And good on this music lifer to get some success late in life, even if it means he did a bit of embellishing.
Check out some videos of Seasick Steve's 70s projects Crystal Grass and Shanti, below.