For the road weary folk-rock musician Steve Forbert, it was one of those rare “take it easy” days when a Gusto reporter recently talked to him by phone at his home near Nashville, Tenn.
“Hey, I’m at home, and it’s fantastic,” he said in a cheerful, raspy drawl. “I’ve got my record collection here. After I finish up with a few various duties of adulthood, I’m going to listen to Earl King singing, ‘Let The Good Times Roll.’ ”
Forbert, who turned 59 on Dec. 13, has a unique talent for singing and songwriting, but success never came easily to him.
Born in the small town of Meridian, Miss., he started playing guitar at age 10. By his late teens, he was working as a truck driver and dreaming of life as a professional musician, but getting a record contract was tough.
“You just couldn’t get on a record label from a small town in Mississippi,” he said, recalling that he must have been turned down by “100 different companies.”
At age 21, he packed his bags and headed for New York City’s Greenwich Village, where Bob Dylan and others whom Forbert admired had played in folk music clubs until someone in the record industry noticed them. But that wasn’t easy, either.
“I found a little hole-in-the-wall apartment and played anywhere I could ... in subway stations, at Grand Central Station,” Forbert said, for any loose change people would throw his way.
Eventually, he started getting a few paying gigs in clubs. At one of those gigs, a New York Times music reviewer named John Rockwell caught his act and raved about Forbert in the nation’s most influential newspaper.
Rockwell’s praise led to a major label recording contract, and for awhile, Forbert looked like he was on his way to the big time. His superb 1979 album, “Jackrabbit Slim,” drew more sparkling reviews, especially for its hit song “Romeo’s Tune,” which shot up to No. 11 in the Billboard Top 100.
Some music critics were even hailing him as the next Dylan. That didn’t happen. He got into a nasty dispute with a record company that refused to release one of his albums.
After that, the hype died down. He kept making good music – honest, moving songs with memorable lyrics about life in a fast-changing America – but Forbert never got close to the stardom that some had predicted for him.
Nowadays, 35 years after the release of his first album, he’s a highly respected performer who writes and records. He still gets some rave reviews, but these days, they are about his live shows in small clubs and music halls. Forbert plays about 100 gigs a year all over the United State and Europe.
The father of three splits his time between Nashville, his girlfriend’s home in Asbury Park, N.J., and life on the road. As he travels America’s backroads, the modern-day troubadour said he enjoys interacting with everyday working folks and looking for ideas for songs.
“I like to think that, when I travel to Indiana, I bring a little of Tennessee with me to Indiana, and when I travel on to Buffalo, I bring a little of Indiana with me there,” Forbert said.
He’ll bring his guitar, his harmonica and a long list of really fine songs to the Sportsmen’s Tavern (326 Amherst St.) for a solo show Sunday.
Forbert will drive by himself to Buffalo for the show, in his retro-styled Chevrolet HHR station wagon.
No entourage. No fanfare, no one calling him the next Bob Dylan.
“I played the Sportsmen’s on a Sunday afternoon two years ago and it was really cool, really fun,” Forbert said. “I’m looking forward to it.”