Article in the Tri-StateLiving Magazine January / February 2016

Making music of the people

Folk singer tells stories through art
magazine cover

Story : Benita Heath | Photography Jessica St. James

His recent Grammy nomination asked, musician and songwriter Steve Free has a simple goal: Fame isn't the reason he does what he does.

steve free"I don't want to be a star," Free said. "There are people who want to be a rock singer, country singer, opera singer. Their goal is to be a star. They want to be up on stage."

But that's not the kind of music Free has built a multiple decades-old career on. He is a folk singer, pure and simple. 

"If you want to be a folk singer, you want to be down as close as you can get to people, on their eye level," Free said. "You want to connect with them and let them know you are one of them. You are a storyteller. Folk singing is the music of the people."

This spring the McDermott native may lose a bit of that anonymity with a Grammy win for his latest CD.

Free's musical roots are strong, starting with growing up with a mother who was a gospel singer and played piano in a Baptist church.  Not a talent her son inherited.

"I can't play piano a lick," he said.

His instruments of choice are varied: guitar, harmonica and Native American flute.

page spread"When I was in the service in the Air Force, I met a guy from Philly who played a little guitar," Free said. "I got one and started playing."

After the two men got out of the service, they formed a folk music group.

"Then disco killed that," he said.

But his fellow service man moved down to southeastern Ohio and now plays bass in Free's band.

Each year traveling 16,000 miles is the norm for the musician who writes his own songs that is a special creative experience.

"It takes a long time," he said. My songs are stories and sometimes it takes a lot of time. I draw a lot of my songs from the area and my Native American roots. It is any kind of story that hits me."

Those stories have made up a career where Free has learned what he does best and enjoys doing it.

In it he has won nine ASCAP awards, has a platinum record and three Americana Music Award nominations.

"This is my niche," he said. "I found out my music is basically folk-oriented, story-telling. That is the kind of music I can do best. You try different things, but people still say your music is so relaxing.  I guess I was put here to entertain people.”

Story : Benita Heath