Steve Hill's guitar "pusher" offered to sell him a guitar: a Gibson ES225. He wanted it but he didn't have the money for it, so they worked out a trade. A solo show in Drummondville in exchange for the guitar. It was three weeks before the release of his sixth album, Whiplash Love, but he felt he had bottomed out professionally, because though he knew it was a good album, the record label wasn't getting behind it. The album wasn't going to go anywhere. There were no gigs booked.
So he called his agent, gave him a list of clubs to call, and asked him to book him some more solo shows. After all, the Drummondville show had gone well, he had had fun playing it, and the fans seemed to dig it. He pressed 500 copies of Alone, Hungry, and Mean; ten solo tunes on CD that he could sell after the shows to make a couple of extra bucks. A revamped version of Alone evolved into the 2012 release of the newly baptized Solo Recordings: Volume 1. Little did Hill know five years ago that the Gibson guitar deal would be the genesis of a major change in the course of his career...
Steve Hill sang "...the guitar, the amps, the left foot, the right foot, the voice, equals the band..." on Solo Recordings: Volume 1 in The Ballad of Johnny Wabo. The song was his story: the break away from touring with a band to favour the solo act approach. He lamented the state of the live music industry. The economics of touring with a band just didn't always make sense. Make some money, lose some money. A stripped down solo show could get you into smaller rooms, and club owners could afford smaller entourages, and you could play more often. It was economic survival in the new music world order. There was an audience, of both spectators and club owners, for this format. Now he just had to fill out his sound. Enter a bass drum, a snare, a hi-hat, and guitar modifications which included an additional pickup to accentuate the bass notes and a drumstick attached to the headstock to hit the cymbals. Volume 2 saw the introduction of the harmonica that he adopted and practiced while driving between gigs. Indeed, the guitar, the amps, the left foot, the right foot, the voice now did equal the sound of a full band.
To say that this switch has paid off would be an understatement. It has blossomed into 7 Maple Blues Awards in the past two years, and the release of Solo Recordings: Volume 2, in March 2014, which garnered a Juno Award last year. The recognition afforded by the numerous awards he has picked up, coupled with his willingness to travel tens of thousand of miles each year on the road criss-crossing the country to play coast-to-coast has paid off. Hill is one of the busiest blues musicians in the country.
This week marks the release of Solo Recordings: Volume 3. Another twelve tracks to add to the live show arsenal, featuring nine original tunes and three covers. Though he had enough material for an all original album he felt that a couple of the songs didn't mesh with the overall blues feel he was going for. He put them aside, but don't despair, those left over songs will no doubt appear on a future project. Hill