Steven Gene Wold (born 1941), commonly known as Seasick Steve, is an American blues musician. He plays mostly personalized guitars, and sings, usually about his early life doing casual work.
Wold was born in Oakland, California. When he was four years old, his parents split up. His father played boogie-woogie piano and Wold tried to learn when he was five or six, but could not. At the age of eight, he learned to play the guitar from K. C. Douglas, who worked at his grandfather's garage, later realising that he had been taught the blues. Douglas wrote the song "Mercury Blues" and had played with Tommy Johnson in the early 1940s. Wold left home at 13 to avoid abuse at the hands of his stepfather, and lived rough and on the road in Tennessee, Mississippi and elsewhere, until 1973.
In the 1960s, Wold started touring and performing with fellow blues musicians, and had friends in the music scene including Joni Mitchell. Since then, he has worked, on and off, as a session musician and studio engineer. In the late 1980s, while living in Olympia, near Seattle, he worked with many indie label artists. In the 1990s he continued to work as a recording engineer and producer, producing several releases by Modest Mouse including their 1996 debut album This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About.
At one time, living in Paris, Wold made his living busking, mostly on the metro. After moving to Norway in 2001, Wold released his first album, entitled Cheap, recorded with The Level Devils as his rhythm section, with Jo Husmo on stand-up bass and Kai Christoffersen on drums. His debut solo album, Dog House Music was released by Bronzerat Records on November 26, 2006, after he was championed by an old friend, Joe Cushley, DJ on the Balling The Jack blues show on London radio station Resonance FM.
Wold made his first UK television appearance on Jools Holland's annual Hootenanny BBC TV show on New Year's Eve 2006. He performed a live rendition of "Dog House Boogie" on the "Three String Trance Wonder" and the "Mississippi Drum Machine". After that show his popularity exploded in Britain, as he explained in an interview:
"I can't believe it, all of the sudden I'm like the cat's meow!"
He was well received in the UK, winning the 2007 MOJO Award for Best Breakthrough Act and going on to appear at major UK festivals such as Reading, Leeds and Glastonbury. In 2007 he played more UK festivals than any other artist.
Wold toured early in 2008, playing in various venues and festivals in the UK. He was joined on stage by drummer Dan Magnusson. KT Tunstall also dueted with Wold at the London Astoria in January 2008. Wold also played many other festivals throughout the world in 2008, including Fuji Rock in Japan, East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival in Australia, also in April 2008, and Roskilde in Denmark.
Wold's major-label debut, I Started Out with Nothin and I Still Got Most of It Left was recorded with Dan Magnusson on drums, was released by Warner Music on September 29, 2008, and features Ruby Turner and Nick Cave's Grinderman.
He has toured the UK extensively since 2007 being supported by Duke Garwood, Gemma Ray, The Sugars, Billie the Vision and the Dancers in January 2008, Amy LaVere in October 2008, Melody Nelson at the Brighton Dome on 7 October, and Joe Gideon & The Shark in January 2009. His tours in October 2008 and January 2009 were all sold out and included performances at the Royal Albert Hall, the Edinburgh Queen's Hall, the Grand Opera House in Belfast, the Apollo in Manchester, the City Hall in Newcastle and the London Hammersmith Apollo.
In 2009, Wold was nominated for a Brit Award in the category of International Solo Male Artist, That same year, BBC Four broadcast a documentary of Wold visiting the southern USA entitled Seasick Steve: Bringing It All Back Home. On January 21, Wold hosted "Folk America: Hollerers, Stompers and Old Time Ramblers" at the Barbican in London, a show that was also televised and shown with the documentary on BBC Four as part of a series tracing American roots music.
In an interview with an Australian magazine, Wold attributes much of his unlikely success to his cheap and weather-beaten guitar, "The Trance Wonder" and reveals the guitar's mojo might come from supernatural sources.
"I got it from Sherman, who is a friend of mine down in Mississippi, who had bought it down at a Goodwill store. When we were down there last time he says to me, 'I didn't tell you when you bought it off me, but that guitar used to be haunted'. I say, 'What are you talking about, Sherman?'. He says, 'There’s 50 solid citizens here in Como who'll tell you this guitar is haunted. It's the darnedest thing – we’d leave it over in the potato barn and we'd come back in and it would be moved. You'd put it down somewhere and the next morning you’d come back and it would have moved. When you took that guitar the ghost in the barn left'. He told me this not very long ago and I said to him, 'Sherman! Why didn't you tell me this before?' and he said, 'Well the ghost was gone – I didn't want it around here no more!"
On January 3, 2010, Wold appeared on the popular BBC motoring show Top Gear as the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car. He was the last star to drive in the blue Chevrolet Lacetti.
In February 2010, Wold was nominated for a Brit Award in the category of International Solo Male Artist for the second consecutive year.
In 2010, Wold made numerous festival appearances throughout the summer, including the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, the main stage at V Festival, the main stage at the Hop Farm Festival and many more.
In February 2011, Wold signed to Play It Again Sam to release his new album with the exception of the US, where it will be released on Third Man Records. Subsequently his new album You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks was released on his new labels and it was announced that former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones had played on the new album, and performed alongside Wold to promote it. This caused some to believe that he will tour with Wold as a part of his backing band, joining his then-current drummer Dan. John Paul Jones did indeed appear onstage to play with Wold at the Isle of Wight 2011 festival and on the main stage of Rock Werchter 2011.
On 16 August 2014 he was the headline act at Beautiful Days in Exeter, UK, and on the 24th August he headlined at 'Victorious Festival' in Southsea, Portsmouth, UK.
Wold owns and plays several obscure and personalized instruments.
The Three-String Trance Wonder
This is a normal guitar that resembles a GHI Guitar made in Japan in the 1960s. It has an old Harmony pickup added with duct tape, and is tuned to G, A and B using an E string in the A position, a D in the G position and a G in the B position. At his gigs, he often tells the story that he bought it for US$75 in this condition in Como, Mississippi, from a man named Sherman, who later told him he only paid US$25 for it the day before. Wold vowed never to add another string, and that he would tour the world telling his story of how Sherman ripped him off. All in good fun as Sherman Cooper is a good buddy, who gave him the guitar having had it nailed to the wall as a decoration. A lot of the time he also adds, while picking up or putting away the guitar, that it is the "...biggest piece of shit in the world, I swear." In a BBC interview Wold claimed that the guitar was found by a friend, just with the three strings on it, and he decided to keep it that way.
When on the TV show Top Gear, presenter Jeremy Clarkson commented that Wold's car history of over 100 cars included a Morris Minor. Wold then presented a four-string guitar that his friend Davey had made out of two old hubcaps from a Minor 1000 joined back-to-back and his wife's broomstick. Wold then played it a little in the episode. Clarkson replied that it was the best use of a Morris Minor he had ever seen.
A similar guitar was made out of Hudson Terraplane hubcaps, one of them given to him by Jack White, referring to "Terraplane Blues" by Robert Johnson.
The Mississippi Drum Machine
A small wooden box that is stomped upon, providing percussion. It is decorated with a Mississippi motorcycle registration plate ("MC33583"), and a small piece of carpet.
When asked about his nickname, Wold has said: "because it's just true: I always get seasick". When he was ill on a ferry from Norway to Copenhagen, later in his life, a friend began playfully using the name and, despite Wold not rising to it for a while, it stuck. When asked about his name on British Sunday morning television show, Something for the Weekend, he replied, "I just get sick on boats". On Top Gear, when asked about his name, Wold replied "Well, I guess I just don't like boats!"
Wold had two children with his first wife: Sevrin and Ivan. Sevrin is the lead singer in a rock band called Peratus. Wold married his second wife in 1982 and together they have three adult sons. Wold has problems putting down roots in one place, and he and his wife have lived in 59 houses to date. They currently live in Norway and the UK.
One of Wold's sons, Didrik, is an illustrator who is responsible for designing all of his father's album artwork, merchandise, print ads, and websites. His youngest son, Paul Martin Wold, played drums on Dog House Music and first made a guest appearance with him on percussion at the Astoria in January 2008. He has since performed with Wold frequently, playing washboard, shakers, tambourine, floor tom and occasionally guitar. He also works as Steve's guitar-tech. Paul Martin Wold, aka "Wishful Thinking", released his debut album A Waste of Time Well Spent on November 2, 2009, and showcased a selection from the album whilst touring the UK with his father.
Like T-Model Ford, Seasick Steve (aka Steve Wold) began recording his own music much later in life than other musicians. A storytelling singer reviving traditional country blues, Wold spent his childhood in California, but left home at 14. As a hobo, he traveled for several years, jumping trains and working odd jobs. After drifting around the U.S. and Europe, he finally ended up in Norway.
Aside from his respectable musical background (which includes recording early Modest Mouse, appearing on BBC television, and playing with John Lee Hooker), Wold is also noted for his unusual custom-made stringed instruments. By the time he was in his sixties, he'd finally released some official material. His first solo album, Doghouse Music, out in late 2006, was performed almost entirely by Wold. Another record, Cheap, was recorded with the Swedish rhythm section the Level Devils.
An amorous seven-track Valentine's Day EP called Songs for Elisabeth (six of the cuts were culled from previous releases) arrived in 2010. With a rustic and at time almost punk-blues approach to his material, Wold increasingly merged country blues trance boogie with a street-holler voice that makes Tom Waits seem like a mainstream crooner, and the best of his songs carry a hard-earned wisdom that can only come from living on the street one block over from the edge of civility. He released the stark and powerful You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks in 2011, and returned in 2013 with his sixth offering, Hubcap Music, which featured guest appearances from Jack White and Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. In 2015, Seasick Steve showed that his blues power was still running strong with the release of the album Sonic Soul Surfer.
Dog House Music (2006)
I Started Out with Nothin and I Still Got Most of It Left (2008)
Man from Another Time (2009)
You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (2011)
Hubcap Music (2013)
Sonic Soul Surfer (2015)
Songs For Elisabeth (2010)
Walkin' Man - The Best of Seasick Steve (2011)