Steven Seagal: Marshalling The Art
The star of ‘Under Siege,’ and more than 40 movies made in the last 27 years which are responsible for box office receipts in excess of $2 billion, will be over here in the summer for shows with his star-studded blues band.
A very wealthy man from his movie success as an actor and heading up his own successful production company, after calling him at his Arizona home, I asked him where he gets his reference points to play the blues and make it believable.
“I was born in an all black neighbourhood, with people from Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; that’s what I grew up learning. That’s all I know. It happens to be that I love it, but it also is all I know. I don’t know how to play jazz, or rock or any of that stuff. I am a blues guy.
“I don’t think you have to be purple, green, yellow, black or white, or any colour to play any specific kind of music. Like (Clarence) ‘Gatemouth’ Brown said to me; the blues is not about depravation, or sadness or having been through terrible times or anything else. Blues is about expressing your heart."
“If you are a soulful man or soulful woman, you can express music as good as anybody and it has nothing to do with colour.”
So, is it important for him to get the message across that this is serious and not just a wealthy actor indulging his hobby?
“I really don’t care. I have been playing with the world’s greatest blues legends my whole life. My work speaks for itself. The players know what’s real and what’s not. If the people like it, great. If not, sorry, don’t come!
“I don’t need anyone’s approval. I’m not doing this interview because I need your approval, or the people who read your periodical’s approval. I’m doing it because I want to let everyone know we are coming out there to do the best we can, to play what we know how to play.”
His talents have seen him jam with BB King, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and his greatest influence, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown over the years, and many more.
He learned drums as a kid but yearned for a guitar. His Mother signed up to a year long payment-plan to buy him his first guitar from a local department store, when he was about 10 or 11. He is self taught.
He joined various bands in his teens and was invited to sit in with some of the blues greats in local clubs and bars - that’s when he first discovered nerves!
“The first time playing with famous blues legends, sitting in as guitar player, I remember how nervous I was. They were big legends to me. Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, Albert Collins, BB King…. I remember the first time I sat in with BB, 100 years ago (sic), I was very nervous; he was a big legend. But he was happy when I played for him.”
When he was planning his previous tour, some people were predicting he would not go through with it, based on the luxury lifestyle he was accustomed to. “I was already wealthy, and everybody was saying Seagal will never do this, he’s used to five star hotels and private jets. I said hey man, when I was a kid I played the chitlin’ circuit, I’ll do it again and I did it. You have to get to the point where it’s about the music, and really not about that much else.”
His old friend Stevie Wonder played a harmonica solo on his debut album ‘Songs From The Crystal Cave,’ in 2005, which mixed the musical genres, but his follow-up, 2006’s ‘Mojo Priest,’ focused on the blues.
That album is perhaps historically important as a musical document, as Steven assembled a mouth watering line-up of blues legends in a Memphis studio to guest on the record, most of whom have since left us for the great gig in the sky.
Bo Diddley, Robert Lockwood Jr, Ko Ko Taylor, James Cotton, Willie “Pine Top” Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Ruth Brown, Robert Lockwood Jnr, James Cotton, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Louisiana Red, Homesick James and Henry Townsend.
The best moment of his music career: “The last of the great blues legends were there. That is my greatest memory for me. The camaraderie. It felt like being among family, so much love and respect for each other. It was unforgettable.”
It’s been eight years since his last album, but he says a third is almost finished. On the 2007 tour, they filmed a sold out concert at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire, which will be released on DVD.
His band Thunderbox is a real who’s who of top session guys, including Marty Grebb and Muddy Water’s son Bill Morganfield. The guys have played with the likes of Springsteen, many of the Stax and Chess legends, Etta James, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and a whole bunch of big stars.
A master of several Japanese martial arts, Steven lived in Lansing, Michigan until he was five-years-old, when the family moved to California. Steven travelled to Japan around the age of 19, with his father who was on military business. He lived there for a total of about 15 years, studied Zen and perfected his martial arts, earning black belts in Aikido, karate, judo, and kendo. Afterwards, he became the first Westerner to open a martial arts school in Japan.
Seagal choreographed fight scenes in movies and coached such stars as Sean Connery. He also became interested in Eastern religion: and has been a devout Buddhist for many years.
On his return to the States, he opened a martial arts academy and worked as a celebrity bodyguard. His clients included his now ex- wife actress Kelly LeBrock and Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz. With help from Ovitz, in 1987 Seagal contracted to make martial arts films for Warner Bros.
He is an actor, producer, screenwriter, director, martial artist, Reserve Deputy Sheriff and musician. His songs have been featured in several of his movies, including ‘Fire Down Below,’ ‘Into The Sun,’ and ‘Ticker.’ He is married and has seven children and two grandchildren from his four relationships.
The UK tour dates are: July 17th: Glasgow, 18th: Gateshead, 19th: Leeds, 20th: Liverpool, 21st & 22nd: Wolverhampton, 24th: Southampton, 25th: Clapham Grand, London.
Words SIMON REDLEY