- Alive on Arrival (1978)
- Jackrabbit Slim (1979)
- Little Stevie Orbit (1980)
- Steve Forbert (1982)
- Streets of This Town (1988)
- The American in Me (1992)
- Best of – What Kinda Guy? (1993)
- Be Here Now (1994)
- Mission of the Crossroad Palms (1995)
- King Biscuit Flower Hour Records: Steve Forbert (1996)
- Rocking Horse Head (1996)
- Here’s Your Pizza (1997)
- Evergreen Boy (2000)
- Any Old Time (2002)
- Just Like There’s Nothin’ to It (2004)
- Strange Names & New Sensations (2007)
- The Place and the Time (2009)
- Over With You (2012)
- Compromised (2015)
- Flying at Night (2016)
- An American Troubadour: The Songs of Steve Forbert (2017) – tribute album
- The Magic Tree (2018)
- Big City Cat: My Life in Folk Rock (2018) memoir
By Nicole Rafferty (SHS)
Steve Forbert’s extensive and on-going musical career of twenty years began when he earned wide critical acclaim as “the new (Bob) Dylan” (Geisel). Forbert made his appearance in the late Seventies as a “quirkily original singer-songwriter in the Loudon Wainwright/John Prine mould” (Hardy and Laing 174).
As Gregg B. Bangs puts it, Forbert writes “well thought-out verses combining insight and depth” (Bangs 3D). Since his debut, Forbert has released twelve albums, all of which are a blend of folk and rock that exemplify his perpetual originality.
Forbert was born in 1955 in Meridian, Mississippi, and grew up there. At the age of ten, Steve Forbert began playing the guitar (“Steve Forbert: Bio”) and, as he said in a recent interview, “for me playing guitar means singing.” Forbert comments that, during high school, he “gave up an interest in art work and drawing to move more into music” (Devlin).
Later, Forbert attended junior college for a few years. He then got a job as a truck driver at White’s Auto Store, but lost it when the store went out of business (“Steve Forbert: Bio”). Forbert was a member of several different bands from 1965 to 1975. One such band was Puddin’ Head Wilson, which got its name from a Mark Twain story and which Forbert played with in 1972. However, his next step toward becoming a professional musician he took alone.
In 1976, at age twenty-one, Forbert traveled to New York City by himself, taking with him his harmonica and his guitar. Living in a room at the YMCA on 23rd Street, working odd day jobs, and playing at night for spare change at Grand Central Station, Forbert began his career. On his way up, he graduated from busking to audition night to playing at clubs. Forbert opened regularly for bands like Talking Heads and musicians like John Cale, receiving praise from both critics and audiences. Finally getting a recording contract with Nemperor Records, Forbert began to release albums (“Steve Forbert: Bio”).
Forbert’s 1978 debut album, Alive on Arrival, was a success, holding a place in the Top 100 for months. This first album also received a substantial amount of air play on FM radio in New York City. Alive on Arrival concerns Forbert’s move to New York City and his adjustment to it. Forbert plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and is accompanied by David Sanborn on the alto saxophone. “Grand Central Station, March 18, 1977” is an autobiographical song, and describes singing for change on street corners.
Several other songs on Forbert’s first album have elements in them that may be considered autobiographical, but also contain insights that have a wider scope. One such song is “It Isn’t Going to be That Way,” which, according to Bangs, is “a poignant warning that combines skepticism, concern, and trust without sounding like a sermon” (Bangs 3D).
His next album, Jackrabbit Slim, was an even greater success, reaching the Top 20 (“Steve Forbert: Bio”). This fruition was a result of the hit single “Romeo’s Tune,” which held a spot at #11 (Pareles and Romanowski 197). Following Jackrabbit Slim, Forbert released Little Stevie Orbit in 1980 (Carson) and Steve Forbert in 1982. However, neither album was “able to establish a suitable aesthetic direction for Forbert or sustain his sales” (DeCurtis 65). Despite this, Forbert had created a foundation of fans at this point (“Steve Forbert: Bio”).
His 1984 work for Columbia, which the record company refused to release due to “communication problems,” landed Forbert in a legal tangle. For the next three years, he vanished from the music scene, eventually cutting his connections with Columbia. It was during this time that Forbert moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and found himself in 1986 “without a recording contract, back in the trenches and back to basics” (“Steve Forbert: Bio”). He began touring around the South with a group which included Danny Counts on bass, Paul Errico on keyboards, and Bobby Lloyd Hicks on drums (Larkin 1506).
Later, Forbert built a band around Clay Barnes, an old friend from Meridian (Hoyt). Forbert’s next career turn came by way of Garry Tallent, the bass player from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Tallent was present in the audience when Forbert performed with the Crickets, Buddy Holly’s renowned band. The Crickets had asked Forbert to join them for a tribute to Holly at the Lone Star Cafe in New York City. After learning that Forbert had some new songs, Tallent offered him the chance to do some recording in his 24-track studio in Long Branch, New Jersey, and Forbert accepted (“Steve Forbert: Bio”).
The result was a contract with Geffen Records. In 1988, he released his first album in six years, Streets of This Town. Said at the time to be “arguably the best record he has ever made,” Streets of This Town “chronicles Forbert’s battle against despair and bitterness that threatened to overwhelm him during his years away from recording.
On the album, Forbert’s boyish, raspy croon becomes an aural metaphor for the ravaged innocence he documents in song after song” (DeCurtis 65). Nils Lofgren was a guest musician on Streets of This Town (Larkin 1506). The American In Me, also on the Geffen label, followed in the summer of 1991, when Forbert worked with producer Pete Anderson. For the three years previous to the release of The American In Me in late 1992, Forbert toured throughout Europe and the U.S. (“Steve Forbert: Bio”). On August 25, 1991, he performed at the thirtieth anniversary of the Philadelphia Folk Festival (Harris). He then began traveling again, opening for Elton John in Europe, headlining his own shows in the U.S., and performing on Austin City Limits in the fall of 1992 (“Steve Forbert: Bio”).
Deciding it was time for a fresh start, Forbert ended his contract with Geffen. He found his new beginning with his longtime attorney in Nashville, Jim Zumwalt. Zumwalt was finalizing his plans for a singer-songwriter-oriented label, Paladin. Forbert signed with Zumwalt and claims that Paladin is “real tuned-in to what I do. It’s turned out to be the right place, right time for all concerned” (“Steve Forbert: Bio”). This statement seems to be true, since Paladin’s 1995 release of Forbert’s Mission of the Crossroad Palms is, according to Geoffrey Himes, “the best album of his career” (Himes).
Forbert has released two more albums, Rocking Horse Head in 1996 and Here’s Your Pizza in 1997, both on the Paladin label. On the former, Forbert teamed up with Brad Jones, a pop producer in Nashville. Jones put together an excellent backing group that includes most of the members of the band Wilco. Jim Ridley states that “Jones has given Forbert spare, expressive settings that place his vocals and lyrics right up front. Ridley also comments that “on Rocking Horse Head, Forbert’s songs ring with the bitterly won, but not bitter, wisdom of someone who learned what was and wasn’t dear by losing it all and sorting it out” (Ridley).
The Flying Squirrels, later the Rough Squirrels, is perhaps the band Forbert is most associated with. A newsletter, named Squirrelmad: The Steve Forbert Newsletter, has been created and is available by subscription. It seems likely that Forbert will continue to record music that will no doubt delight his fans. Although, as Forbert says, “each time I put out a record, I really am going against the odds. ‘Cause there’s so much out there and so much high gear competition from people who automatically do extensive, lavish videos and get tons of television promotion” (Devlin). Recently, he has also written hits for country artists (Ruhlmann).
Forbert has three kids and feels that the sacrifice of being on the road much of the time is rewarded by people closely identifying with his songs (Devlin). It is true that Forbert has a rare talent that has allowed him to get better, rather than burn out or fade away, over the many years.
Forbert was awarded a star on the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience museum’s Walk of Fame in 2019. He also headlined at the Jimmy Rodgers Festival that same year.
- 1955 – born in Meridian, Mississippi
- 1965 – began playing guitar
- 1972 – member of Puddin’ Head Wilson
- 1976 – traveled to New York City
- 1978 – signed with Nemperor Records; debut album Alive on Arrival released
- 1979 – Jackrabbit Slim released by Nemperor/Epic
- 1980 – Little Stevie Orbit released by Nemperor/Epic
- 1982 – Steve Forbert released by Nemperor/Epic
- 1984 – Columbia refused to release planned album
- 1986 – moved to Nashville, Tennessee
- 1988 – signed with Geffen; Streets of This Town released
- 1988–1991 – toured throughout Europe and the U.S.
- 1992 – The American in Me released by Geffen; performed on Austin City Limits
- 1995 – Mission of the Crossroad Palms released by Paladin/Giant
- 1996 – Rocking Horse Head released by Paladin/Revolution
- 1997 – Here’s Your Pizza released by Paladin/ADA
- 2019 – Awarded a star on the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Walk of Fame
- 2019 – Headliner at the Jimmy Rodgers Festival
- The official Steve Forbert website
- Steve’s YouTube Channel
- Steve’s Facebook Page
- Steve’s Twitter Account
- Rolling Stone’s Hit and Myth: Searching for Steve Forbert (1980)
- Still Strumming: Steve Forbert (LivingMedia, 2009)
- Bangs, Gregg B.. “Meridian Native Steve Forbert is Making the Big Time.” The Clarion Ledger. Jan. 12, 1979. 3D.
- Carson, Tom. “Steve Forbert’s Credo of Cuteness.” Rolling Stone. Nov. 27, 1980.
- Coleman, Mark. “Steve Forbert.” The Rolling Stone Album Guide. Ed. Anthony DeCurtis and James Henke. New York: Random House, 1992.
- Cooper, Steve. “Stack O’ Reviews.” ESP Magazine. n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 25, 1998. Available http://www.hpe.com/hpe/esp/cdreviews129.html.
- DeCurtis, Anthony. “Streets of This Town Steve Forbert.” Rolling Stone. Aug. 25, 1965.
- Devlin, Michael. “Talking with Steve Forbert.” Music Matters (1996): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 13, 1998. Available http://www.mmreview.com/forbert. htm.
- Geisel, Ellen. “Steve Forbert, Caffe Lena, Saratoga Springs, NY, 12/17/92.” Dirty Linen (April/May 1993): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 20, 1998. Available at http://www.musicblvd.com/cgi-bin/tw/508219892603649_105_204066.
- Hardy, Phil, and Dave Laing. “Forbert, Steve.” Encyclopedia of Rock. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Schirmer Books, 1988. 174.
- Harris, Craig. “Philadelphia Folk Festival.” Dirty Linen (Dec. 91/Jan. 92): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 20, 1998. Available http://www.musicblvd.com/ cgi-bin/tw/508219892603649_105_4424.
- Himes, Geoffrey. “Steve Forbert – Mission of the Crossroad Palms.” Washington Post. Com: Music Review (May 19, 1995): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 25, 1998. Available http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/music/96reviews/cforbert.htm.
- Hoyt, Megan. “Twenty Years On, Still Going Strong, Steve Forbert Forges Ahead at the Barns of Wolf Trap on January 15.” n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 13, 1998. Available http://www.wolf-trap.org/press/forbert.htm.
- Larkin, Colin. “Forbert, Steve.” The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: Stockton Press, 1995. 1506.
- Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, eds. “Steve Forbert.” The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
- Ridley, Jim. “Steve Forbert Rocking Horse Head.” New Country(Oct. 1996): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 25 1998. Available http://www.newcountrymag. com/members/ncreview/sf-ls10.html.
- Ruhlmann, William. All Music Guide. n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 20, 1998. Available http://www.musicblvd.com/cgi-bin/tw/508219892603649_105_103371.
- “Steve Forbert: Bio.” n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 13, 1998. Available http: //www.paladinrecords.com/forbert/bio.html.
- “Steve Forbert Biography.” n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 13, 1998. Available http://www.revolution-online.com/forbert/bio.html.
- “Steve Forbert Discography.” The Steve Forbert Home Page (Feb. 6, 1998): n. pag. Online. World Wide Web. Apr. 13, 1998. Available http://www.dip.ee.uct.ac.za/ ~brendt/music/forbert/discography.html.