He’s billed as a one-man band, but Steve Hill and his music are as far from the typical street corner performer, with cymbals between his knees and a drum on his back, as you can imagine.
“I go from Robert Johnson to (Jimi) Hendrix to jam stuff that could sound more like the Grateful Dead. It’s a wild show, it’s pretty intense,” said Hill, who is making his first appearance at the Dream Café on June 27.
On stage, Hill does it all, with a snare and bass drum setup so he can pound out a beat with his feet, and a drumstick on the head of his guitar to play the cymbal.
He’s also learned to play harmonica.
“It is keeping me busy for sure,” said Hill, who took home four 2015 Maple Blues Awards including Electric Act of the Year, Guitarist of the Year, Recording/Producer of the Year and Entertainer of the Year and the 2015 Juno Blues Album of the year for his Solo Recordings, Volume 2.
“About four years ago, I released an album and it didn’t do well. I needed to find a way to make some money,” said Hill, who added that after playing with bands and solo since he was 16, he figured he could always make a living playing the guitar.
“When I was 18, I would play on street corners and make $10 in half an hour. I figured I could go back to some of the smaller clubs where I used to play and do a solo show,” said Hill.
At the same time, he started recording some of his new solo music in the studio, stomping his foot to add percussion, and eventually adding some simple percussion he could operate with his foot. All of this was recorded live, rather than laying down separate tracks and mixing them.
That studio work eventually became his Solo Recordings, Volume 1, adding one-man band to Hill’s reputation as a blues musician.
“It has sold 10,000 copies so far. That’s pretty good for a blues album in Canada,” said Hill, noting the album’s critical success, which includes a Juno nomination among its several honours.
“I did close to 200 shows with it. That was my most successful adventure yet,” said Hill. “I had to do a follow up to it, which was Volume 2, and I added more stuff. Now it sounds more like a band than it did when I did Volume 1.”
With roots in blues, rock and a little bit of country, Hill performs his original songs, blues classics and quite often raucous renditions of Jimi Hendrix tunes. His inspiration comes from listening to some of the great bands of his youth, like Cream and Led Zeppelin. And reading interviews with them.
“They would always talk about Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson,” said Hill. “I’m influenced by the old blues guys, Delta blues and Chicago blues, but also country stuff, like Waylon Jennings Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, rock and roll from the ‘50s, Jerry Lee Lewis, all these guys.”
Putting all that together isn’t that hard a job, according to Hill.
“You know what? Old rock ‘n’ roll, blues and country? It’s the same three chords,” said Hill. “It’s all connected. To me it is just music … they can all be mixed together.”
The stop at the Dream Café is just one of many on a tour that is seeing Hill crisscross the country from Vancouver to Thunder Bay and back into his home province of Quebec.
“I do about 125 to 150 shows a year these days,” said Hill, who has shared his talent at some of Canada’s biggest music festivals, including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Mont Tremblant International Blues Festival, Thunder Bay Blues Festival, Kitchener Blues Festival and more.
Hill takes to the stage at the Dream Café on June 27 at 8 p.m. Call 250-490-9012 for ticket sales and reservations.