Interview with Joe Winters of The Steepwater Band

Hey Joe, it’s nice to get a chance to speak with you. You guys have been busy.

Yeah, we just keep going and going. It’s crazy. We played a ton of dates in 2010. It’s been good.

Sounds like you’re still enjoying yourself after all these years.

They key is we still like doing it. When we started the band, we were 25 years old or whatever. Here we are, 12 or 13 years later — we’re the same guys riding around in a van, playing gigs, writing music and making records. Little by little we’re still building it.

I heard that The Steepwater Band played a big show on New Year’s Eve. You played at Chicago’s House of Blues with Robert Randolph and the Family Band and North Mississippi Allstars. How was it?

It was great. It was sold out. We walked out to a sold out crowd at 9PM on New Year’s Eve. We did about a 45-minute set and then got to hang out and watch some great bands.

That sounds fantastic. What other places did you get to visit on tour last year?

We went to a lot of places. We were in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, Nashville, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pittsburgh at Hard Rock Cafe, and upstate New York. We were also in London, England for the first time, which was amazing. We also did a whole tour of Spain and visited Germany, France, Belgium and Holland. We did 5 weeks in Europe. More and more it’s been about trying to stay on the road. We like to keep the band working. I think we only had 3 or 4 weekends off the whole year in 2010.

Was that time off during the holidays?

Well, I got married in 2010. We played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and then I got married on Sunday. Then, we went on the road the following Wednesday.

The band played at your wedding, I assume.

Yeah, we played at my wedding as well. We really don’t stop. We must have played over 120 gigs last year.

Awesome. How was the response in London?

Really good. We had never played in the UK at all, but we’ve had a lot of people asking us to come there. We had a really well promoted gig at a place called Bush Hall in London. It’s a really cool venue. The people that came out to see us were people who have been hearing about us for years and years. We had a nice crowd and they were really into it, which is exciting. The only time I was every in London before that was on a layover to Barcelona. To go there and actually play a gig, get promoted, and have people there was awesome.

Speaking of touring, you guys have played with some diverse acts over the years. Buddy Guy, Wilco, Cheap Trick, Gov’t Mule, Bon Jovi, Bad Company, Drive-By Truckers, Heart and ZZ Top are just a few of the bands you’ve shared a stage with.

Yeah, it’s been really cool. When you’re opening for somebody who has a hardcore following, especially like ZZ Top, you never know what the reception is going to be like. It’s always a little nerve-racking. All these groups that you mentioned are people we’ve looked up to our whole lives. You go to the gig to play your songs and hopefully turn some people on to what you do, but you also go there to learn. We would just soak it all in. Guys like Gov’t Mule, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy and even Cheap Trick, they invented this stuff. To get a chance to play with them and see how it’s all done is really invaluable. It’s been an honor for us.

Have any tips or words of advice from those bands stuck with you?

Taj Mahal in particular was really cool to us. We got to talk to him and tell him how much we were influenced by his music. He could definitely tell we were in awe when talking to him. At one point, he said, “Quit talking to me like that. I used to be the same way around Muddy Waters. He would tell me the same thing. I’m just a regular person like you.” You do realize that most of these guys are just people doing their job.

Warren Haynes was also really cool. He took us on his bus and shared some stories about Allen Woody, his bass player that passed away ten years ago.

When we opened for Bon Jovi, it was in an arena in Chicago. Jon Bon Jovi actually came down and introduced himself and was super cool. He thanked us for being there and everything. He’s about to play a gig in front of 20,000 people or so and he comes down to introduce himself as if we don’t know who he is. It was really cool.

Sweet. Not too long ago you guys released your first live album, ‘Live at the Double Door.’

Yeah. We didn’t even really announce we were going to make a live record. We just rolled the tape. We had a Pro Tools session running that we were able to take home with us after the show. After playing for many years, people were coming to the merch table at our show asking for a live CD. Now, we finally have something for the people who like it raw and live.

What we ended up doing was playing a really long set. We played our last two studio records front to back in their order. We played great on about 90% of it, so we just picked the best 80 minutes of an almost 2 hour night and put it on our album, ‘Live at the Double Door.’

The atmosphere was nice too?

Yeah, people were excited to be there. We had a huge crowd. The club holds about 500 people. People knew we were going to play both our records, we did advertise that. If I remember right, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen’s son Miles Nielsen opened the show for us that night.

Great. We have a whole new year ahead of us. What are some things you guys are starting to put together?

We’re going to be releasing a new studio record this year. Our promoters in Europe won’t bring us back over there unless we have a new album to promote. They brought us there twice on our ‘Grace And Melody’ studio record and we thought we could flip over there again on our live record, but they want a brand new record. We really want to head back over there, it seems real promising right now. So, we’ll be spending the winter writing and rehearsing, which we don’t do much because we’re always out playing. We’ll be announcing tons of new dates in the summer in the States and hit Spain and maybe Scandinavia in the fall.

We do a lot of one-off gigs, where we get to open for a band here and there. We’d like to spend a constant 6 to 8 weeks out with one or two bands instead. When we toured with Gov’t Mule in February of last year, we opened for them for around two weeks. We also did a co-headlining tour with Healing Sixes. We did about three weeks with them that were super cool. They’re super professional and we’re kind of in the same boat with them. By that, I mean, both bands have been together forever and have had our brushes with fame and being on and off record labels. I’m hoping we do a bunch of dates with them sometime in 2011.

How did your new single “The Stars Look Good Tonight” come about?

On a weekend off, we went into the studio and cut some new tunes because they were hanging around. They came out so well that our manager decided we should release one as a single. So, we did a video for it and went to radio with it. It’s not on a full-length record yet. We might put it on the next studio record if it works in the context of the other songs. We haven’t done an actual single in about 12 years, but it might be a way for people to discover one tune that they dig and end up buying a whole record later on.

Right. The band has certainly come a long way since your early beginnings as just a blues band.

Yeah, we’re definitely leaps and bounds away from where we started. In the beginning, we would all hang out at blues clubs and Jeff [Massey] was really getting into slide guitar at the time. We were all listening to Muddy Waters, Elmore James, and Little Walter. We all wanted to be in a blues band and play the blues clubs. Once we started playing for a few years, we realized we all like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc. We decided to throw some riffs and songs together. It was also maybe more satisfying to make a record of original music. The more we wrote, and the more we expanded our influences, we’d drift a bit away from the traditional shuffle blues. But, there’s still a common thread with our music and blues that you can’t really deny. It’s just really natural.

Three young guys from Chicago aren’t really going to convince people, when you can go out and see Magic Slim and the Teardrops or Buddy Guy. To convince people that you really feel this music is difficult. I do think anyone who goes out and plays real blues music is helping the world.

Definitely. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Good luck on tour!

Thank you for supporting bands like us.

Pick up The Steepwater Band’s new live album, Live at the Double Door.

Check out The Steepwater Band on tour, head over to their official tour page for dates.