AUGUST 1981: The Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ echoed off every wall, and blared out of every cab window and shop door in the hot August weather in New York City. Their groove and the pulse of the city seemed to be superimposed, laying down a thick backbeat. Keith Richards’ guitar owned the city. I had listened to that sound since buying the seven-single of ‘Satisfaction’. His groove felt like the heartbeat of Africa. His sound took me to Elvis and Duane Eddy.
I had arrived from Cape Town, with a guitar, demos of my songs and an intro to legendary engineer and producer Phil Ramone (Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan). I knew I was closer to the heart of the music I loved, than ever before.
Phil owned A & R Recording Studios, where engineers Shelly Yakus and Bob Ludwig began their careers. Our paths would cross, but now as I listened, my music filled the control room of the legendary studio where Dylan had sung the songs which would become the masterpiece Blood On The Tracks. I knew Phil recognised that I still had a long way to go. That was OK, I wasn’t in a hurry, and just being there in that room was good enough for me.
NEW YORK CITY March 2020. The 5th March 2020 was our wedding anniversary. I had just got back to NYC from Nashville recording the songs that would become the album ‘Headlight Dreams‘ with Kevin ‘The Caveman’ Shirley. We had made five albums together, and been friends since playing small Cape Town clubs in the early 1980s with our bands ‘All Night Radio’ and ‘The Council’. Kevin had gone on to become a world-famous producer and engineer (Aerosmith, The Black Crowes, Led Zeppelin), but he had always looked out for me, and we had had a great time making records together.
I looked at my phone and saw an email headed: Bob Ludwig Master. A wedding anniversary present from Kevin! I clicked on the link and ‘The Wind in Your Hair’ played out across the NYC winter streets. “What a great song, vocal and band, this album sounds extra real like you-all were having a lot of fun” was the note with the link from Bob.
I had written the song after spending a few months alone looking after our farm, and Erna being back in Cape Town looking after our young children. She had decided to make the six-hundred-kilometre road trip alone to come and see me. Walking down the farm road I saw the dust of a car approaching and then stop. Squinting into the sunlight I realised who it was, and my eyes filled with tears. The most beautiful radiant smiling eyes looked back at me.
Forty years later the NYC streets seemed as though they were welcoming me back. It would be the last few days before the city would be locked down, and a global pandemic would strike. I walked out on the streets thinking of myself as the 25-year-old kid trying to hustle his way into a music career. I passed the building where the club ‘The Bottom Line’ had been and where I had seen so many riveting performances by artists I had followed for years from South Africa. I crossed Washington Square and headed uptown to where Phil’s studio had been.
It was great to be alive.
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.