The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 11 by Steve Louw

Pat Thrall called me from Atlanta in September 2003, where he was working with EurythmicsDave Stewart. They were coming to Cape Town and wanted to record with local musicians, in preparation for an album and concert to raise funds and global awareness to help fight the AIDS tragedy. I knew Dave Stewart as a great producer, musician and songwriter, and I looked forward to them coming to Cape Town.
 
Brian May walked into UCA, carrying his red guitar by the neck, plugged into a VOX AC30 amp and the sound of Queen filled the room. He was adding guitar parts to a track that Dave had finished the night before. Pat had called me that morning, laughing. “You lucked out Steve, after you left last night, Dave decided to work on the track you guys did together and it’s come out great! He is going to finish it today.”

Amandla – 46664


I stood backstage at the Green Point Stadium on the 29th of November 2003, where 40 000 people had to come to watch the first-ever 46664 concert. Johnny Clegg was singing “Asimbonanga” and “The Crossing” to Nelson Mandela in the audience. It was a riveting performance and a highlight of the concert. We had sat in the sunshine, outside the rehearsal venue, the day before and spoke about the years since 1985, when we had played together, the death of my mother, South Africa, and Johnny’s upcoming US tour. When he walked off stage, I hugged him. “You’re out the van, and in the big tour bus after that, Johnny!” We laughed, happy to be together on such a great night.
 
I had been on my farm for a few weeks working on my songs in early 2019 when I heard a crazy buzzing outside the window where I was sitting writing. I got up and looked up into the eaves at a watermelon-sized blob of hanging buzzing bees about to move into a new home. There were bees everywhere, and I locked down all the windows to keep them out. I phoned my buddy who was a beekeeper to come around and help me out. He calmly stuck his hand into the middle of the swarm, extracted the Queen, put her in a wooden box, and watched as the whole swarm followed her in. It was sunset, and I had the tag for the song I was working on. “You’re my Queen, my Queen Bee maybe, I’ll stick with you ‘til the sun goes down.”

Steve Louw – Queen Bee Maybe

 
I love the sound of a Hammond organ and its rotating Leslie speaker working together. Steve Winwood, Richard Manuel, Benmont Tench and Kevin McKendree can each make that sound. I heard it as Kevin played his solo on “Queen Bee Maybe”, the first song we recorded in Nashville in February 2020. I knew then that we were going to have a great time making this record. 
 

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #11

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Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

“Sixto” by Orjan Hulten Orion featuring Ernie Bruce

Liberia Ballad by Orjan Hulten Orion featuring Ernie Bruce
“Sixto” by Orjan Hulten Orion featuring Ernie Bruce

I am Ernest Bruce (Ernie Bruce), a singer living in Monrovia, Liberia (West Africa).

In collaboration with the Swedish group Orjan Hilten Orion, we recently released an album entitled “Liberia Ballad… Orjan Hulten Orion featuring Ernie Bruce” The album does include a song that is dedicated to you, and tells your story. It was originally written by Orjan, the leader of the band, and is an instrumental on the group’s album Faltrapport.

The band met me while visiting Liberia on invitation from the Swedish Embassy…there was an instant exchange of artistic creativity, and Orjan asked whether I would write some lyrics for the song “Sixto”.

We are all pleased with the outcome of our collaboration, and are simply making an effort to make you aware of it and, hopefully, enjoy it. While the album is now available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and others.

Blessings to you in all your future endeavours.

https://www.thejazzmann.com/reviews/review/orjan-hulten-orion-featuring–ernie-bruce-liberia-ballad

Ernie

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 10 by Steve Louw

It felt like my nervous system had been flayed from my body, stripped bare and draped over my shoulders, that I had been recalled and rearranged.
 
The world stopped turning in November 2001. My mother had died in a violent attack in her garden in Cape Town, and it felt as though I couldn’t speak. I headed for Cape Saint Francis, a place that feels as if energy lines converge on a point in the sea where great waves consistently break. I couldn’t speak, but I could sing, and I wrote most of the songs which would become the album, Beyond The Blue, in about ten days, in a rented house on the beach. I poured myself into music, it was all I could do, and singing and writing the songs felt healing. I knew I had to get back to the studio to record the songs and get out and play live. 

Steve Louw in studio recording Beyond The Blue with (from left) Blondie Chaplin, Kevin Shirley, Steve, Keith Lentin, Adam Holzman, Pat Thrall and Anton Fig.
Steve Louw in studio recording Beyond The Blue with (from left) Blondie Chaplin, Kevin Shirley, Steve, Keith Lentin, Adam Holzman, Pat Thrall and Anton Fig.


Kevin was there for me, and two months later I was with friends in Englewood, New Jersey, in a studio converted from a hundred-year-old railroad station. Anton Fig, Blondie Chaplin and Keith Lentin, all from South Africa, and Pat Thrall and Adam Holzman. Anton, Pat and Adam had all played on “Destiny”, the track we recorded for The Best Of The Decade, and it was a great play with Blondie and Keith, both of whom I had been a fan of since seeing The Flames and Hammak, in Cape Town, 30-years ago.
 
After a couple of days, we finished the record and Kevin and I headed out to Long Island, where he had a beach cottage. We tore around the back roads in his sports car, body surfed, drank and laughed. He slowly put me back together.
 
He was packing for London, moving and upgrading his gear in preparation for the gig of mixing Led Zeppelin’s live concerts, which would become the album and DVD “How The West Was Won“. He signed the one-page letter agreement and looked at me. “I never thought I would see my name next to Led Zeppelin’s in a contract!” He scribbled his signature, “Let’s go for a drink!”


 
It was Spring 2019 when I rode down, down the rocky path from the Drakensberg mountains in Lesotho, back toward the Karoo plains. I had been following the Orange River for 3000 km from the Augrabies Falls, back to its source in The Highlands. The power of nature was all around me, and the massive cliff drop-offs scared me. Riding alone in a remote place brought the surroundings into sharp focus. “I’ve crossed rivers, that were just dry sand, asked for deliverance from this promised land” (“Heavy Weather”). Rob McNelley had been sitting playing his red Gibson 335 as we tracked “Heavy Weather”, and as he started playing a solo, he stood up, lent into the guitar, and the notes wailed across the room.

Steve Louw – Heavy Weather


 

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 9 by Steve Louw

Rodriguez arriving in Cape Town, 2nd March 1998
Rodriguez arriving in Cape Town, 2nd March 1998

Rodriguez walked into the UCA rehearsal studio in Cape Town, grinning, looking fit and healthy, despite having just got off of a flight from Detroit, leaving the freezing winter behind him. It was the 5th of March 1998, the day before the first show of Rodriguez’ sold-out arena tour of South Africa, and the first time he had ever been to South Africa. There was a media frenzy around the tour and the fact that he was here, alive, well, and ready to rock a country where he was a mysterious, multi-platinum-selling artist, whose only media profile was the picture on the cover of Cold Fact.

Rodriguez - Cold Fact (South African pressing)
Rodriguez – Cold Fact (South African pressing)

 
We handed him the guitar we had bought him. Laughingly, he said he hadn’t played for a while as he’d been busy working, mainly on construction jobs. Then the voice and the songs we had all been listening to for the past 25 years filled the room.
 
Graeme Currie, our bass player, played the riff of “I Wonder”, for about the 15th time, and glanced backstage over his shoulder. The Bellville Velodrome was packed, and 7000 frantic fans surged forward to see “The Man”. Standing backstage, Rodriguez looked stunned. The audience spotted him as he took a step towards the lights. Seven thousand
voices erupted in a frenzy as he reached the mic and “I wonder, how many times you’ve been had….” filled the arena.

Rodriguez and Big Sky On Stage 7 March 1998
Rodriguez and Big Sky On Stage, Bellville Velodrome, 7th March 1998
Rodriguez Live In South Africa 1998
Rodriguez and Big Sky, Backstage, Bellville Velodrome, March 1998


The next week’s six shows around the country were just as triumphant as the opening night, and it felt as though this was Rodriguez, stepping out into worldwide artistic and commercial recognition. That would only happen more than ten years later, after the release of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The last time I saw him was Friday 13th March 1998, standing in his cowboy boots at 3am on the Durban beachfront, holding a beer and grinning. He looked like a happy man.

Searching For Sugar Man

It was 2019, the end of the decade, and 1998 seemed a long way back. I crossed the white-baked salt flats of Verneukpan, on my motorcycle, tracing the still visible route of Malcolm Campbell’s unsuccessful attempt to set the world land speed record in 1929, in his racer The Bluebird. My father was 14 when they came through his hometown of Calvinia, and I was always fascinated by this story. My dad was the ukulele player in a band, and together with a
banjo and a concertina player, they played the local folk songs at their towns’ weekend dances.
 
My bike kicked up fine white dust and the setting sun was blinding in my eyes. It was the second day of a solo motorcycle trip around South Africa, and it felt like I was back in a far-off distant time. The back of the bike was fishtailing as it spun in the soft sand, a jackal bolted for the bushes, and I turned out onto the road to the Namibian border. In a few months, I would be back in the studio after a long break. I opened the bike’s throttle as far as
it would go and felt the future accelerating towards me.

Steve Louw, Verneukpan, 2019
Steve Louw, Verneukpan, 2019
SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 9

 

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

Dead Men Don’t Tour, Rodriguez in South Africa 1998 (TV Documentary)

This documentary was shown on South African Television this week, 20 years ago.

Footage from this documentary features strongly in the Oscar winning film, Searching For Sugar Man.

Dead Men Don’t Tour

Directed by Tonia Selley and featuring Big Sky, “Dead Men Don’t Tour”, was first broadcast on SABC 3 at 9.30pm on the 5th July 2001 just after ‘Ripley’s Believe Or Not’.

This film features wonderful concert footage, backstage antics, interviews with Craig Bartholomew Strydom and Stephen “Sugar” Segerman, Rodriguez and his family, the promoters, the fans and the musicians.

All live footage was filmed at the concerts in Pretoria, Durban and the Blues Room in Johannesburg.

The soundtrack for the documentary is based on the Live Fact CD with video collages from the various performances. The concert footage is linked with interviews, backstage antics, rehearsals, etc.

  1. I Wonder
  2. Inner City Blues
  3. Jane S. Piddy
  4. Sugar Man
  5. A Most Disgusting Song
  6. Like Janis
  7. Establishment Blues
  8. Climb Up On My Music
  9. I Wonder by Generation EXT (filmed during the studio recording)
  10. Forget It

Produced by Incha Productions
Executive producers: Georgina Parkin and Charles Watson
Directed by Tonia Selley
Edited by Cathy Winter

March 1998 (left-to-right): Willem Moller, Sixto Rodriguez, Tonia Selley, Steve Louw, Graeme Currie, Reuben Samuels, kneeling front: Russel Taylor
March 1998 (left-to-right): Willem Moller, Sixto Rodriguez, Tonia Selley, Steve Louw, Graeme Currie, Reuben Samuels, kneeling front: Russel Taylor

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 8 by Steve Louw

I was back in Brooklyn Recording, in early 1997, and the room felt familiar. We were tracking the songs that would become the album, one of which was “Going Down with Mister Green”, and the band that played on Horizon was back in the groove. We were friends, and I was getting used to producing. I figured it was easy. Just show them the songs and let everyone play! Horizon had done well, and the songs for the next album had come quickly. Benmont Tench (the keyboard player with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), walked up to me during a break. I had first met him in 1988, when he played on “Waiting for the Dawn” and “Diamonds and Dirt”, and he was a Southern gentleman, the son of a Federal Court judge, and a musical genius. I had been a fan of his since hearing his piano riff on “Breakdown,” and his Hammond B3 solo on “Refugee”. It was always a privilege to hear him play.

Steve Louw 1997

He had just traded his old Camaro Z/28 for a Mercedes sports, with a car phone, and we took a walk outside to have a look. As we looked over the car, Benmont looked up at me and said, “These are the best songs you’ve written. I love your lyric on “Hitchhike” … It’s easier for the needle, to pass through the eye of the meek. Lay down your guns, boy, sink down to your feet. We were standing in the hot LA sun; the studio was set up and we were into it. It felt like it was going to be a good album. 

Steve Louw in the studio recording “Going Down With Mr Green”, 1997

Kevin was in New York, producing Nine Lives, the Aerosmith album which went on to be one of their most successful. He was on a winning streak, having just done Silverchair’s Frogstomp, and Journey’s Trial by Fire, all of which had been multi-platinum successes. It had taken him just seven years to become a world-famous producer and engineer, and there was no holding him back. He had moved to New York City, and his 25th birthday party, at Rita’s, seemed a long way back. 

It was Saturday afternoon, the 29th day of February 2020, and we had finished eight songs in the last two-and-a-half days. I had called the songs that I felt hung together the best, first, but now my choices were becoming more difficult. I still had four or five songs, but I knew, as soon as we had tracked a song, Kevin and the band would look at me and say “What’s next?”

Steve Louw – Headlight Dreams

I had left the rockers to last, and I felt we could try one now. I played the acoustic intro to “Headlight Dreams” and looked for the reaction. “Cool, let’s do it, sounds like fun,” said Kev (McKendree). I liked the song’s story, and as I played the acoustic intro, the band kicked in, sounding big and heavy. “That was fun,“ Kev laughed, as we walked back into the control room. We were grinning at each other, and it felt like we had been playing together for years. As we walked up to the console, Kevin pushed up the faders, opened a bottle of red wine and started mixing.

Steve Louw and Kevin Shirley mixing Headlight Dreams, February 2020
SPOTIFY PLAYLIST: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 8

 

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Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

BLK JKS – Abantu / Before Humans

BLK JKS, (pronounced Black Jacks), are a South African rock band from Johannesburg, formed in 2000.

Childhood friends Mpumelelo Mcata and Lindani Buthelezi grew up together in Spruitview, East Rand, where they founded the Blk Jks in 2000. After varying line-ups, they were joined by Molefi Makananise (bass) and Tshepang Ramoba (drums) from Soweto and the four played their first gig in Grahamstown in 2005. A year later, they came second in the run-up to represent South Africa at the Global Battle of the Bands competition. After the release of a self-titled EP with five songs, the band began recording songs at SABC studio for a LP titled ‘After Robots’. Due to lack of funds and without a record label, these unedited masters were not completed. Instead, in 2007 the Blk Jks released a collector’s 10-inch of ‘Lakeside’ and a series of lo-fi records titled ‘Kilani Sessions’.

Notwithstanding limited recognition in South Africa, Blk Jks gained international acclaim. American DJ Diplo noticed them while on tour in South Africa and offered to sign the band to his Mad Decent label. While the deal was never closed, Diplo still brought them over to New York City. So, early in 2008 Blk Jks toured the United States and in March appeared on the cover of Fader Magazine. Later that year, they also toured Europe and eventually signed with U.S. indie label Secretly Canadian. Their EP ‘Mystery’ was recorded at New York’s famous Electric Lady Studios. It was first released independently in 2008 and later reissued with Secretly Canadian in 2009.

Another tour to the United States included a gig at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Being signed to a label also allowed the Blk Jks to finally finish their debut album. Produced by Secret Machines’ Brandon Curtis, ‘After Robots’ was released by Secretly Canadian on 8 September 2009. Rolling Stone magazine dubbed Blk Jks “Africa’s best new band” and rated ‘After Robots’ three-and-a-half out of five stars; the review states “When  Blk Jks do it their way, they sound like nothing else”.

Likewise, a review on Pitchfork appreciated ‘After Robots’ as “a hugely ambitious album, with swooping forays into kwaito, ska, reggae, ambience, jazz, prog, and furor.” Nonetheless, the review’s author complained the Blk Jks would not live up to the hype created by comparisons calling them the “African TV on the Radio” and he only gave the album a 6.2 rating. Foo Fighter frontman Dave Grohl, on the other hand, declared ‘After Robots’ his favourite album of 2009.

Credit: Mail & Guardian

Their international reputation also gained the band more attention nationally. The Mail & Guardian listed the Blk Jks in their yearly feature of eminent 200 Young South Africans in 2009 and 2010. The band was nominated for best album and best English alternative album at the 2010 South African Music Awards, taking home the latter. Blk Jks released their EP ‘Zol!’ just two days before performing at the 2010 FIFA World Cup Kick-off concert in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium on June 10, 2010. The band’s track ‘Lakeside’, taken from After Robots, also featured on the soundtrack EA Sports’ FIFA 10 video game.

After their international tours, the Blk Jks kept playing gigs in South Africa. Lindani Buthelezi and the other band members were eventually estranged. Buthelezi formed God Sons and Daughter in 2012 and left the Blk Jks shortly after. Mcata and Ramoba started a DJ project called Blk Jks Soundsystem together, as well as the band Motèl Mari with João Orrechia. Mcata directed ‘Black President,’ a documentary film about Zimbabwean artist Kudzanai Chiurai. Ramoba started producing for singer Moonchild Sanelly. The three remaining band members nevertheless kept working together. In 2014, they opened for the Foo Fighters on their tour in South Africa and terminated their contract with Secretly Canadian. Two new members also joined the group: trumpeter Tebogo Seitei and Hlubi Vakalisa on saxophone and keyboards.

Together with the South African ensemble The Brother Moves On, Blk Jks collaborated in a project called ‘Blk Brother’ in 2015, something they have done in the past with Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré and his band. For the Afropunk Festival in Johannesburg in 2017, they collaborated with singer Thandiswa Mazwai as ‘King Tha’ vs. Blk Jks. As a tribute to the legendary South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela, who died in January 2018, the Blk Jks covered ‘The Boy’s Doin’ It’ together with Masekela’s son Selema ‘Sal’ Masekela of Alekesam and nephew Selema. It was the band’s first release in nine years.

In 2019, the Blk Jks announced their upcoming second album with the release of their single ‘Harare’ (feat. Morena Leraba). And in June 2021, Blk Jks have released their latest album ‘Abantu/Before Humans’. The nine-track album is “a sonic ode to the continent of Africa that offers a soul-lifting and punk-electronic experience”.

Buy at Permanent Records

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 7 by Steve Louw

“What are we doing, a polka thing?” Scott Crago laughed as he breezed past me into the studio. With long blonde hair and Southern Californian surfer vibe, he looked the part for the gig he had just landed as the Eagles’ drummer for their reunion tour. It was May 1994, and I was in Brooklyn Recording, a studio filled with vintage gear and an old Neve console. It was good to be back in a recording studio making music.

A lot had happened in the last five years. I was married, we had three daughters, and life was beautiful. Waiting for the Dawn had been well received in South Africa, with three songs getting heavy airplay. We had toured behind the album and had been as commercially successful as you could be at the tip of Africa.

 Steve Louw
Steve Louw

The world had undergone seismic political upheaval. Apartheid was over, the USSR was dismantled, South American dictators were on the run, and I had just participated in South Africa’s first democratic election and seen Nelson Mandela inaugurated as the country’s first President.

I was, by default, producing the album and Kevin was on the verge of a breakthrough in Australia, working with three fifteen-year-olds, making the album that would become Frogstomp by Silverchair. I didn’t know much about production, but I knew that I needed to get my songs into a studio with a great bunch of musicians and play. The rest would take care of itself. The engineer, Bill Dooley, a laconic New Yorker who shared my love of NHL Hockey and the New York Rangers, helped us all get comfortable with each other and rocking.

I had released Waiting for the Dawn as Big Sky, and this album, Horizon, would be the follow-up. I had taken a while to come up with the songs, and taken a few detours along the way, working on film scores, buying some land where I built our family home, and starting a tree farm.

Nashville 2020: “Play that again, you just played it in a different time signature” laughed Greg Morrow. “I don’t know if I can, what I played, in the beginning, is the right riff.” “Oh, OK,” and he changed his notes. I had been struggling with “Get out of my Heart” for days. I had written it as a full-on rocker, a call to arms, and performed it live to raucous applause. It never felt like I had found the song’s heart, and that there was so much more ambivalence in the song that wasn’t being projected. I hit upon the weird time signature, and then, the lyric and the vocal sat comfortably within the music. I had hoped that I could pull it off. Rob McNelley nailed it down right away, and with him leading, we cut the track, slower than the other songs, but powerful. It felt like I was on a back road in Twin Peaks territory, loving the nightlife.

Steve Louw – Get Out Of My Heart

I walked out into the cold Nashville night carrying my guitar. I felt like I could walk down that road and just keep going until the city’s lights faded behind me and only the moon to light my way. I was far from home, alone in a strange city, but it felt like I had turned back onto the right track.

SPOTIFY: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #7

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Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 6 by Steve Louw

It was past midnight when Jimmy Iovine and The Edge walked into the studio where we were mixing “Waiting for the Dawn”. He was producing Rattle and Hum with U2, and they were recording guitar in the room next door. The studio sheet showed that “MaWayJa” was in with Shelly Yakus, and they wanted to know what that was all about. I had got the name from Don Laka (it means Voyager) and it seemed like a good fit for me.  I was trying to finish the album that had been put on hold six months earlier, on the 27th of November 1987. I was alone making creative production decisions that I probably wasn’t in a state to make. Kevin was back in Australia, and his son Josh had just been born. 

Steve Louw

 
There were musicians all over the place in the A&M Recording studio complex, and after 25 years in the business, Shelly Yakus knew them all. Benmont Tench, Waddy Watchtel and Roy Bittan were all talked into adding parts to the album. It was a heady time, but I missed Kevin’s decisiveness, and I felt out of my depth. I wanted to get the album finished and to start feeling better. The album which had been put on hold in November had to be completed. I thought that this could be a breakthrough record for me, but the joy and excitement Kevin and I had shared were gone, and I struggled to recreate the magic that Kevin had created with his rough studio mixes. 

“So, when are you are going to listen to the songs?” We were about to head out to dinner, the night before we would start recording in Nashville, TN, in February 2020. “OK, play me a couple now.” After five minutes Kevin looked at me, ”let’s go eat,” he said and headed out the door. 
 
Walking down the dark windy streets I thought of the next day. I felt like I was a minor-league player, tossed out onto the field by mistake, at the start of a major league game. I was invisible on social media, hadn’t been in a studio for years, and had just played my top three songs to the producer with no visible reaction. Kevin looked at me. “How are you doing, Stevie? That “Seven Roses” is stellar, let’s get a steak!”

Steve Louw – Seven Roses


 
It sounded to me like the E-Street Band and The Heartbreakers had come to town. What great players, what gracious and humble people, what a killer intro. We had just cut the track for “Seven Roses” on our first day in the studio. Like magic, there was the song, playing, as I listened. It sounded great, it sounded like we had been playing together for years. It sounded like we were having fun. I felt like I was back where I belonged, making music.

SPOTIFY Playlist: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 6

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 5 by Steve Louw

Tony Visconti wore leather pants, his greying hair slicked back. I was straight out of two years of smoky, sweaty clubs and other dives. He was straight out of stardom, working with David Bowie. I had been asked by my record label to look after him during his trip to Johannesburg to record local stars, Ymage.

Steve Louw 1990
Steve Louw 1990

At the time, I was working on the songs that would become “Waiting for the Dawn” and Kevin was coming back to South Africa to produce it. He had been away in Australia for a year making a name for himself as a recording engineer.

Visconti had split his recording project into two parts, and Kevin and I would go to Cape Town with Godfrey Mcinga, Jimmy Mngwandi and Don Laka to cut the tracks of the album’s songs at UCA studio, while he went back to London. He was demanding. I was a bad gofer and was glad to be back at UCA’s studio with the three great players we had met in Joburg, making music. I felt good about the songs, and we, Kevin and I, thought that we could break through with a song like “Waiting for the Dawn”. Kevin was booked to fly back to Australia, via London, once the album was mixed by Shelly Yakus (Tom Petty, Patti Smith).

Steve Louw & Big Sky – Waiting For The Dawn

I sat at the bar having a beer with my brother Ardi, before leaving for London. He had introduced me to the music of Lou Reed, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, and I had highjacked his Gallotone guitar and learned to play out of Alfred’s Chord Book. He looked into my eyes, saying: “Looks like you are going to make it, Boetman, I’m proud of you.” We had had a tumultuous fist-filled relationship, but we were finding our way back to each other again, and I felt like he thought my music had some worth. “Thanks, I think so too,“ I replied. It would be the last time I looked into his eyes.

Kevin put his arm around my shoulders as we walked through Hyde Park. I felt broken and numb. I had just heard that, as we flew to London, the 747 plane my brother was flying back to South Africa on, had blown up near Mauritius. It felt like the world had stopped turning. Everything seemed still and I couldn’t hear any music.

In late October 2011, I was journeying through The Grand Canyon on a raft atop a raging Colorado River with a group of friends who were serious adventurers, all about 20 years my junior. They had done first descents of remote Alaskan rivers, skied down 14 000-foot mountain peaks in Wyoming and kayaked over 200-foot waterfalls in Patagonia. I was glad to be invited along and glad there was a guitar to play every night.

This trip was a walk in the park for them, but serious adventuring for me. I felt I was deep near the Earth’s beating heart’s core, and for 21 days she and I were one. I left the river with my mind wiped clean and the rhythm of it in my heart.

Steve Louw – Crazy River

When I heard “Crazy River”, playing over the studio speakers 10 years later, I was right back in the Canyon carved by the Colorado River. I could see the night sky and full moon; I could feel the Earth’s heartbeat. The song’s beat was the Earth’s heartbeat, the rivers were the Colorado, Amazon and Nile combined. Wild, free, places always moving from the mountains towards the sea of change and greater possibility.

Spotify Playlist: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 5

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 4 by Steve Louw

It was Kevin‘s 25th birthday and he was leaving South Africa for Australia. He had hired Rita’s, a big underground club, and all of the artists with whom Kevin had made records were playing.

We had just finished the second All Night Radio album, and Tim Parr of Ella Mental had come in and played a beautiful solo on the title track, accompanying David Kramer’s dobro blikkitaar. It was a beautiful night to say goodbye.

Kevin left, drove his Toyota convertible to Cape Town airport, parked it, got on a plane and was gone, on his way to Australia, and the next part of his rock ‘n roll journey.

Kevin managed to get a release for “The Killing Floor” in Australia, and a year later we would be back together at UCA making “Waiting for the Dawn“.

Steve Louw & Kevin Shirley, February 2020, Nashville, TN…. just the cold hard facts.

Fast forward to March 2020 – “I’ve got to mix “Train Don’t Run” on this console,” Kevin says to me. “It’s the same one they used mixing Dark Side of the Moon”. He was excited. A tornado had just passed through Nashville, everything was eerie and, as usual, he wanted to make music. “This is your best song ever, Stevie,” Kevin declared, as Rob McNelley’s soaring solo filled the room. “I love this song!” It was good to be together again.

In 35 years, his passion for making music had always burned bright. Whether working with me or mixing “Stairway to Heaven” for “How the West was Won” (which he would change to “Stairway to Kevin” and crack them up!) with Jimmy Page, he could only do a great job. I was there because he had forced me to step up and believe in myself. I had been working hard for the last year and fragments of songs had been worked into stories. My friend’s direction, coupled with my daily discipline, felt good.

I had bought a small three-quarter Martin guitar in Vancouver, where I was spending Christmas 2019 with my family. It sounded great in the shop, and when I got back to my hotel room, I started playing it with a capo high up on the neck. That small guitar gave me the gift that would become “Train Don’t Run”.

Steve Louw – Train Don’t Run

The song had the wind, the dust and the breadth of the Karoo plains in it. A few months earlier I had been riding cross those plains for weeks on my motorbike. Alone, day after day, for 8000km. The landscape seeped into me. I could see ow the plains had looked for thousands of years, I could see how settlers had come and attempted to force nature to bend to their will. Now time reclaimed space. The rusted overgrown tracks where my father had got on a train to find work in the city of Johannesburg; the area where my grandfather had looked after an area of regional track for the State railway bore silent testimony. The sidings were empty and broken, trees grew through the railway tracks, the wind blew through the pepper trees. The earth was healing as time passed.

Spotify Playlist: The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 4

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Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

Illuminating Headlight Dreams

by Brian Currin, June 2021

Back in early April 2021, I read a press release announcing a new album coming from Steve Louw and it included the video of a song called “Crazy River”. I loved the big open spaces this song evoked (and enhanced by the video) and the subtle African guitar sounds reminded me of early Johnny Clegg.

I first heard of Steve Louw in 1990 when the cassette version of the “Pop Shop 48” album featured the song “Waiting For The Dawn” by Big Sky as a bonus track. There is actually no real band called Big Sky, it is the name Steve Louw has used when he surrounds himself with the cream of the crop of American and South African musicians.

I first met Steve in March 1998, backstage at the first Rodriguez concert at the Bellville Velodrome, outside Cape Town. Steve and that year’s incarnation of Big Sky were a worthy support act. The rest of Big Sky (led by Steve’s old buddy since the seventies, Willem Möller) also backed Rodriguez for his set. That sold-out tour of South Africa is featured in the Oscar-winning film, “Searching For Sugar Man“.

Steve recorded two albums in the 80’s with his band All Night Radio, and then four albums as Big Sky between 1990 and 2008, as well as a compilation album, “Best Of The Decade” (in 1999), and a live concert DVD recorded over two nights in 2008.

And now he comes blasting back with his first solo album (well, technically) in 13 years. As in his Big Sky days, he has surrounded himself with some top players in their fields. So let’s drop a few names; “Headlight Dreams” was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, produced by Kevin Shirley, mastered by Bob Ludwig, liner notes by Stephen Thomas Erlewine (from AllMusic), and a guitar solo on “Wind In Your Hair” by one of my favourite guys from the more recent crop of Blues guitar-slingers, Joe Bonamassa.

Louw also brought in some of the best musos in Nashville, namely Kevin McKendree (keyboards), Alison Prestwood (bass), Rob McNelly (guitars) and Greg Morrow (drums). Steve Louw wrote all the songs and sings and plays acoustic guitar.

This album is filled with great songs, from the bluesy, lyrically hard-hitting “Get Out Of My Heart” to the bouncy “Queen Bee Maybe” with its delightful Hammond organ solo from Kevin McKendree, however my favourite track on this album is the almost proggish “Train Don’t Run”. Clocking in at seven and half minutes this is an epic tune that you hope never finishes. There is a soaring guitar solo by Rob McNelly that David Gilmour fans will love. No surprise to discover that this track was mixed on the same console as the classic “Dark Side Of The Moon“.

If you immerse yourself in the Steve Louw back-catalogue you will find recurring themes and reappearing characters, in a similar vein to Rodriguez, Piet Botha and many others. It is one of the things I love about listening to music, that there are rewards for paying extra attention.

This album can be played in the background, but if you give it your full awareness and dive into its depths you will be rewarded with poetic lyrics melded with great tunes, recorded by superb musicians.

Steve’s enthusiasm for life and love is expressed in every note in this superb creation. “Headlight Dreams” deserves to be listened to over and over again, and if you do, you will get something new every time.

Steve Louw on Social

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 3 by Steve Louw

Little Steven - Voice Of America
Little Steven – Voice Of America

It was a hot summer in 1984 in Johannesburg when Little Steven (aka Miami Steve van Zandt) looked straight into my eyes through the lens of my camera. He was listening to the live recording of my band, All Night Radio, and I could see he was into it. His leopard print coat, snakeskin boots and silk bandanna were all too hot for the Johannesburg summer heat, but he looked like the coolest person I had ever seen. 

He was in South Africa to promote Voice of America, his second album. He had recently quit the E-Street Band to launch his solo career and I was interviewing him for a local newspaper. We had been talking for hours about studios, recording and his work as a producer with Bruce Springsteen, Southside Johnny and Gary U.S. Bonds, and his two Little Steven albums, Men without Women, and Voice of America.

The UN cultural boycott of South Africa was in place, and he was visiting South Africa to see for himself what was happening in the country. Voice of America was a political album, and tracks like “Checkpoint Charlie” and “Los Desaparecidos” dealt with the regimes of East Germany and Argentina. The Sun City album would become Little Steven’s natural progression of that work, and after Peter Gabriel’s “Biko”, one of the most significant protest songs against apartheid.

Little Steven’s Sun City video

I thought Steve would be cool with helping me get further up the road. He was, and he suggested we record with the engineer who had just finished his new album, and which I thought sounded great. Six weeks later we were in UCA studios in Cape Town with John Rollo, the engineer on Voice of America, and long-time associate of The Kinks. I had left NYC, figuring that recording and gigging with the great musicians I knew back home would break us through to some sort of recognition. John knew how to make a live rock ’n’ roll record, and we were ready, after a year of gigging in clubs. We stripped the UCA studio bare, brought up the freight lift, put the drums near its metal mouth, stripped off the toms and we rocked. Ten days later we were mixing at the House of Music New Jersey, and in August 1984 All Night Radio made its radio airplay debut.

All Night Radio (left-to-right): Rob Nagel, Steve Louw, Nico Burger, Richard "Dish" Devey, Pitchie Rommelaere
All Night Radio (left-to-right): Rob Nagel, Steve Louw, Nico Burger, Richard “Dish” Devey, Pitchie Rommelaere

We brought in our great drummer, Richard “Dish” Devey along for the tour and rehearsed on the stage of the now-defunct Three Arts Theatre where I had seen Ray Charles, José Feliciano and Tina Turner from backstage, with my school buddy, Dereck Quibell, the theatre owners’ son. 

We hit the road for a national tour, and from where I was sitting, behind the wheel of a VW panel van, the future looked great.

FEBRUARY 2019: “You’ve got songs, Stevie, and before I see you you’ll write more. Just be in Nashville the last three days of February next year, and we’ll make a record”. I put down the phone. Kevin (Shirley) was in Abbey Road studios with Joe Bonamassa, and I had a year to get myself together before leap year 2020 rolled around. The music started playing in my head again.

Kevin Shirley
Kevin Shirley
The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #3

Read the Complete Series


Steve Louw

Steve Louw is a South African singer-songwriter and rock musician. Winner of Best South African Rock Act, and a member of the SA Rock Hall of Fame, Steve is one of SA rock’s most talented and unassuming singer-songwriters. He and his band Big Sky appeared on stage with Rodriguez on the sold-out South African tour in 1998.

Top Tracks by Steve Louw

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