By SARAH LYNCHIt doesn't take much to inspire award-winning singer/songwriter Steve Free when it comes to composing music. He's got plenty to write about, such as his Appalachian background and the Native American blood that runs through his veins. That Native American heritage was something he was able to tap into when he and his family lived on the outskirts of a Navajo Reservation in Arizona when he was in elementary school.
“My songs are not complicated,” Free said with a grin.
Not complicated, but perhaps educational.
Free is a Vietnam War veteran and began his musical career while stationed in Hawaii in the 70s. That's where he learned how to play the guitar. He, along with his current bass player, John Starky, and a young lady friend from the midwest, started up a “Peter, Paul and Mary type of group.”
“We played mostly folk songs and some protest songs,” Free said. “In the '80s, I was playing with an acoustical group called Muddle Pudding. We came up with that name by flipping to a page in the dictionary and pointing to random words.”
Free started playing solo in the late '80s when he says folk music started making a comeback. He plays about 200 shows a year at different venues, mostly coffee house-type settings where he can get up close and personal with his audience.
Free fits into many musical genres: He's rock, he's country, he's folk; a little Bob Dylan, a little Neil Young and a little bit Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; and all songs tell a story. Free writes of his surroundings, experiences he's had and lessons he's learned.
The newest and third album Steve Free and his band have cut is due out in stores within the next two weeks. “All Points Between” is a perfect example of Free's musical diversity and the story telling wisdom he's gained from his world travels and adventures.
The CD features a variety of instruments from the accordion and dobro to fiddle and the cello.
“I just thought, 'Well, this song is about Mexico, so I need some Mexican sounds' and 'I should use the Native American flute in this song because it's about the Indian culture,” he explained. “When I got all the songs together, I realized what I really had was something like a travel log.
“Every song is a little different. For the song 'Belle of the Ohio,' which is a fictional story, I used the sound of a carnival pipe organ and the banjo. Sounds associated with riverboats. It's a real wild album.”
Steve Free and his band, which includes bass player John Starky, drummer Wyatt Bates and wind instrumentalist Susan Sanimons, can be seen performing from 8 to 10 p.m. at Borders Bookstore in Cincinnati's Eastgate Mall.
Free has won numerous awards, including five ASCAP awards, and he's written several charted songs, like “Just a Baby Boy” which made the International Independent County/Folk Charts just this year. He is one of the most accomplished musicians in the Tn-State area.
Despite all the awards he has won and things he's accomplished, Free doesn't plan on moving off to Nashville. The Ohio- born musician plans to stick with his roots. His appalachian roots, that is.
“I've been away many times,” Free said. “I've been all over. But this is home.”
“All Points Between” from Fraternity Records, will be available at Borders, Barnes & Noble, Ye Ole Lantern in Portsmouth, where Free plays at 7 p.m. every Thursday, and at The Frame Up Gallery in Ashland, where Free plays at noon on the second Thursday of each month.
The CD and more information on Free's accomplishments and gigs can also be found on his Web site at www.stevefree.com. SARAHLYNCH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2662. Steve Free