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article imageInterview: Catching up with Steve Azar Special

By Adrian Peel     May 18, 2013 in Entertainment
Digital Journal looks at the versatile singer-songwriter's successful career and chats to him about his current projects, his home state, the secrets of a long and happy marriage and Morgan Freeman.
Best known for I Don't Have To Be Me (Till Monday), a major hit on the country charts back in 2002 (and one of the top five most-played hits on country radio over the last decade), Steve Azar is so much more than just a 'one-hit wonder'. Hailing from Greensville, Mississippi, the 49-year-old family man has always been a keen devotee of the blues, as well as country and jazz, and displayed this most prominently on his 2011 album Delta Soul Volume One.
When I enquire as to what the gifted vocalist and skilled golfer, who moved back to Mississippi with his family two years ago after 20 years living in Nashville, has been up to of late, true-to-form, the reply was not quite what I was expecting. "I've been starting to do some music supervising for some indie films," he reveals, "and we're gonna start working on them in the Fall.
"Got my taste a little bit with some movies in the past... Americanising Shelley, I wrote the theme song, and did some Hallmark stuff that was fun and challenging, and then finally landed the feature song in the last Kevin James, Salma Hayek movie called Here Comes The Boom, a song called Doin' It Right (Delta Mix) that was on my last record Delta Soul Volume One.
"It did real well for us all and so we are working our way into that world. I've always had this crazy desire to be somewhat of a mutt version of Randy Newman! I've put three records out in four and a half years, sort of taking a break from a full record, and plan on doing that in the next year and a half, two years."
And what about getting into films as an actor?
"Well it's funny... It's easy when you're acting in your own videos... At one point, I was working with people in the very beginning doing videos and as a songwriter, when some video people take your songs and they don't tell the story correctly, it can get too arty at times. It can lose the point, the emotion of the reason you wrote the song in the first place. So from I Don't Have To Be Me (Till Monday) and Waitin' On Joe back in 2002, I wrote the video, I wrote the narrative and obviously had Morgan Freeman in it, and after that I was asked to do some acting.
"I always told everybody that it seems like it's easy to act when you wrote the song and you're not having to talk - you're just having to mimic your voice and go through the motions. I don't know, I think I'd pay be a pain-in-the tail - I think we'd have to do a lot of fixing...
"When I'm acting in a video, it's easy because you live the song, you can portray all those emotions - you can put yourself in that place. But boy, I don't know if I could ever do it on the other end. I have so many actor friends that do it for a living and I respect their talent and their nerve. Actors have great nerve and are fearless and I think I'd be a problem!"
As mentioned, the singer whose uplifting melody Sunshine was one of Taylor Swift's favourite songs of 2010, did indeed manage to get friend and fellow-Mississippian Morgan Freeman to appear in the video for Waitin' On Joe, a Top 30 hit in 2002 and also the title of his second album. How did that come about?
"Well it was just one of those things... If you ask maybe every once-in-a-while, things like that work out. He'd just moved back to Mississippi, close to a town that my mom grew up in, in Clarksdale, and we just decided we would take a shot and ask him to do the narrative.
"We sent him the song, sent him the narrative and he said, 'This song matters and not only will I do the narrative, but I'll be in it'. He didn't charge us and did it and shortly after that he ended up winning his first Academy Award. He's such a great man and such a great ambassador for the state.
"We moved back about eight years after he did and moving back home to the Delta has been a blessing for our family and I wanted our kids to experience what I did growing up. There's just a particular hospitality and the kind of people and the ethnic backgrounds - it's very diverse. I felt like living in Nashville we were a little one-dimensional and I felt like we were missing something.
"So my wife and I decided to come back home and be closer to family and friends and our church - everything that we grew up around - and it's really been good for them. I'm trying to do as much as I can down here because we've been a little bit left to die down here... They're taking the Arts away from kids, the thing that helped us have an identity. From Jim Henson and the Muppets to all the great blues and jazz music and how the music influenced the world.
"If you take that away from the kids growing up, you're really stripping them of any chance of really knowing their true identity. I'm trying to do like Morgan did, come home and do some things that you feel good about. I'm not even close to scratching the surface of Morgan's impact but I'm sure having a good time attempting it."
"Yeah I have my own day!" laughs the modest musician when I point out that he is highly regarded in his home state and that March 13th is 'Steve Azar Day'. "I think the governor may have been drinking some extra Kool-Aid that day!
"I've always written... in all my records I would spend half the time writing about home and half the time trying to have hits, and it was an extreme juggle for me. But as I started doing it more - and failing more at it - it started to become one, and that can only come as you grow a little older and as you have kids and as you start experiencing some of the things that your parents experienced. You start being able to live some of their moments that they had raising us.
"Then you really start gravitating back to your roots and as I've gone on, my records have turned into sort of a Delta first, Nashville-thing second. I've been a slow learner; it's been really hard for me to combine the two and now, especially with Delta Soul Volume One, I feel like I'm making records that represent both sides."
Do you plan to release Delta Soul Volume Two at some point?
"I do, I do... My oldest son is a fantastic filmmaker. He's young still but at 14 he had a Top 40 Video of the Year on CMT... filming and editing and now he's directing videos. He just won the Mississippi High School Film Festival and he's a lot more talented than I was as a kid, way more talented - 20 years ahead of me.
"He keeps going back to, 'I want you to make a rock record'. When I grew up, we were more considered a rock band and I was doing all this crazy original music. It was about four hours' worth and we had these two 30-foot trucks going down the road, as a teenager and into my 20s, into college... We had this cult following but it was rock, sort of rock blues.
"It was a combination of the best musicians in the Delta at the time and we were pretty nutty. I mean I can't tell you the times I picked up my guitar player and threw him into my drummer! It was crazy! But we were growing up and we were learning how to entertain and there were no bars, hell we were just letting it fly!
"I'm sure we were pretty bad at times but we didn't know it, so I guess we were able to make people believe 'Well that's okay!' But with that said, I've always thought it'd be kinda funny to do the '80s Azar' version, where I go back to the late '80s and the music that I wrote and work on the lyrics a little bit now and make that record.
"And at the same time talk to James Cotton, Matt 'Guitar' Murphy - there's some opportunities for me to make a record with them right now and that would be Delta Soul Volume Two. It's been in-the-works but getting us all together has been difficult. But that's the way I would go, I would really get back to my roots and the people that influenced me. I would love to do a collaboration with Delta Soul Volume Two.
Aside from his own projects, the artist who has toured with the likes of Tim McGraw, Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire (who also cut his song Big Blue Sky) has been working with some young up-and-coming acts, including pop band The Vettes and a young singer by the name of Kallie North.
"I've been doing a lot of that and we're doing a big charity event down here called The Delta Soul Celebrity Golf & Charity Event, where we raise money for the Arts for kids," explains the seemingly tireless workaholic, leading me to wonder where on earth he finds the energy.
"It's our second year and last year we had almost 20 Grammys on stage... We had Emmy winners, we had great comedians and actors, Hall-of-Fame football players, gold medal winners - the list went on and on. And they're all coming back down to celebrate again this year and to raise more money."
Steve Azar has enjoyed a long and very fulfilling career, which began when he started playing bars and juke joints while still in his early teens, and remains determined to keep striving for more ("I'm busy, as you can tell!" he laughs). What does the boy from the Delta consider to be his greatest achievements to date and what does he feel he still has left to accomplish?
"Well I mean I gotta tell you, it's a cliche, but just trying to be a good dad, a good husband... I've been married for almost 24 years now and obviously seen a lot of our friends, their marriages haven't worked and how people just quit.
"We've been great for each other and having her as my best friend... Those are important things, they're values that my parents and her parents gave us and we've been able to carry on to our kids. I think in this era you can just quit and I've had enough of that. I don't think that that is an option.
"I hope we're leaving that legacy to our children and also our foundation. For years my wife said, 'We've gotta start doing this in a bigger way' and I felt like I was never ready, I wasn't big enough, I was trying to work on my career... and it's actually one of those things where relationships really show up.
"I'm proud of the relationships I have, from my family to my friends. I know they're real and they're solid and we're getting to show that. It's extremely moving and very rewarding. I think that sums it up."
For more information, visit Steve's official website.
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