One-man blues band set to rock Shenkman Arts Centre

Need some ironing done, a meal cooked, or, perhaps, your tax return filled out?

Just take it all down to the Shenkman Arts Centre on Friday, Oct. 12 where blues guitarist Steve Hill is playing and surely he’ll fit it all in somewhere.

Hill does just about everything else on stage, why not the laundry?

As if playing guitar and handling lead vocals isn’t enough, Hill also plays two kick drums, a hi-hat cymbal with a drum stick attached to the machine head of the guitar and, occasionally, a harmonica.

“I started doing it about seven years ago,” said the Juno-winning artist who’s been roaming the land playing his blues, rock, country and folk for more than 25 years.

“The business was changing and what started happening was paying my crew and band at the end of the week and there was nothing left of the paycheque for me. So, I thought I’d do it for a year and pay off the credit card.”

It may have been one of the best moves the Montreal-area blues guitarist ever made.

With his own recording studio at home, Hill recorded the album, Solo Recordings Vol. 1, which earned a Juno nomination in 2013.

A second blues album, Solo Recordings Vol. 2, won the Juno Award for blues album of the year in 2015. Since then he’s released Solo Recordings Vol. 3 and this year put out his first live album, Steve Hill: One Man Blues Rock Band.

Hill also has won eight prestigious Maple Blues Awards during the years.

“That first volume outsold everything I’d put out before and that’s when my career took off,” said Hill in a telephone interview.

“Everybody then wanted more of that solo thing and I just kept adding stuff (drums, cymbals, tamborine) and it evolved to what it is today. But it took years to get comfortable. The biggest obstacle was that it is physically hard standing up and doing it so I had to make some (innovations), such as the drum stick (now with maracas) on the machine head. It’s hard on the legs, but your body gets used to it.”

Hill plays a modified guitar that allows him to play bass and rhythm or lead. He doesn’t use a guitar pick, playing only with his fingers so he can handle the bass line.

The one-man-band also allowed Hill to create sound for which he was looking.

“I could always hear it in my head, the solid rhythm section and I’m really happy with the sound now,” said Hill.

“It really represents what I’m about and what I was looking for. If I was playing only the guitar, I could do more with it, but I don’t mind playing rhythm. Actually, I love it, but I might get back with a band at some point.”

After the three volumes of solo recordings, the next logical step for Hill was to issue a live album that “captures what it sounds like live.”

The new album has drawn good reviews, in fact “some of the best of my career,” said Hill, who is putting together new material for a studio album he hopes to release in 2019.

“It might be two records, I don’t know, but I’ve got about 30 songs I’m getting ready and some songs I’ve had left over (from earlier sessions, including acoustic-based material).”

Hill was born and raised in Trois Rivieres between Montreal and Quebec City. He was 13 when he picked up the guitar.

“I had a friend whose older brother had a killer record collection and we’d sit in the basement and listen to all this great (blues-based) rock, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and that really got me into the guitar,” said Hill.

At 15, he formed a band. Within a year he was playing in clubs and at 18 working professionally full-time and living in Montreal, where he stayed for 25 years.

“I’ve just bought a house back in Trois Rivieres a year ago,” said Hill. “I still love Montreal, but I was tired of the driving, the constant road constructions and traffic. It was driving me insane. I’m on the road 150 days of the year and when I get back I like having a place to go and get away from it all.”

Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Johnson and Albert King are among the guitarists Hill says influenced his style, which is heavier on the blues than rock, a show he describes as “high energy.”

“I’m not a traditional blues player, I’m not trying to sound like a traditional blues musician or copy anyone else,” said Hill, who also is known to incorporate rock, country and folk in his music and sets. “I’m just trying to do my own take on the blues.”

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