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.
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”.
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.
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.