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

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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 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

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 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

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead, part 2 by Steve Louw

All Night Radio (early 80's) with Steve Louw (centre)
All Night Radio (early 80’s) with Steve Louw (centre)

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.

A & R Recording, Inc. Analogue 1/4 inch tape master
A & R Recording, Inc. Analogue 1/4 inch tape master

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.

Steve Louw – Wind In Your Hair (feat Joe Bonamassa)

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.

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #2

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 1 by Steve Louw

MARCH 2020: It’s a cold winter Sunday morning in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped next to the big black idling tour bus parked outside the studio. Joe Bonamassa climbed down grinning, wearing his trademark baseball cap and hoodie, carrying his Les Paul and a small vintage Fender Deluxe amp.

Joe Bonamassa, Nashville, TN, March 2020. Laying down guitar solo on "Wind In Your Hair" | Credit: Steve Louw
Joe Bonamassa, Nashville, TN, March 2020. Laying down the guitar solo on “Wind In Your Hair”. Photo: Steve Louw


He had just driven in from Florida. He was on his way to do a show in Chicago, when Kevin (Shirley, his producer) called him in the night to tell him that he’d left off the solo on the title track of his new album Royal Tea, which they had just finished recording in London, at Abbey Road Studios. Laidback and laconic, he sipped his coffee, plugged in, and played a blistering solo to the track. The studio we were in was in a converted church, filled with vintage analogue gear, and we were set up recording my new album with the band Joe used on his own projects. As he laid down his vintage 59 Teaburst Les Paul and reached for his coffee, Kevin hit play and the song we were working on “Wind in Your Hair” came through the speakers. ”Play along to this track of Steve’s,“ said Kevin grinning. Joe’s lovely, lyrical guitar licks and a blazing solo filled the room. Everyone was stoked, Joe smiled, stretched back, swigged down his coffee, and headed for Chicago.

Steve Louw and Kevin Shirley, February 2020
Steve Louw and Kevin Shirley, February 2020
Steve Louw – Wind In Your Hair feat Joe Bonamassa, April 2021


The full moon shone in through the split windscreen of my old VW bus, lighting up the narrow road through the mountains better than the six-volt headlights. I was heading to a small theatre venue in the middle of a town square in Stellenbosch, to play a set of new songs and a few blues covers. I had decided to do what I thought was a Led Zeppelin cover, Gallows Pole.


It was 1976, and I had recently met two phenomenal musicians Rob Nagel who played bass and blues harp, and an electrifying guitarist, Willem Moller. We were doing separate sets on the same bill at the Stellenbosch Folk Club. Also on the bill were David Kramer and Lesley Rae Dowling.

All Night Radio, 1984: Rob Nagel, Steve Louw


As I pulled in, I flipped the cassette and Rodriguez’Sugar Man” filled the van from the big wooden speakers lying in back. I had my 12-string Ibanez guitar which I had bought in 1969, (it’s on the intro of “Waiting For The Dawn“) and my 20-year-old self was psyched up for the gig. Steeped in Zeppelin, Muddy, Little Walter, Hendrix, Duane Eddy and Dylan, I was ready. The future seemed a long way off….. right now felt good.

The Cold Facts…. A Journey On The Road Ahead #1

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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