Described by Real Blues magazine as the best current blues guitarist in North America, Trois-Rivières-native Steve Hill is a true guitar hero. With no musical lineage or formal instruction to draw upon, he dove headlong into playing at the age of 12 and was pro by the time he turned 18. Influenced by maestros Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters, Hill recorded his eponymous debut in 1997, and soon after shared stages with Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan. Since then, Hill has rubbed elbows playing alongside Ray Charles, Johnny Lang, ZZ Top, The Tragically Hip, Jeff Beck and Santana, and has gone on to record five more LP’s (including 2011’s Whiplash Love, released this past May). Whether with his band The Majestiks or flying solo, the Juno-nominated Hill is a master of whatever he sets his mind to playing, be it blues, hard rock, southern rock, or country.
Do you come from a musical family?
Not at all; no one ever played music in my family. I have an older brother who had a great record collection and I just always loved music as a child. I remember when I was in 3rd Grade, I built myself a guitar from plywood just to do the lip-synching shows. I’d also use a tennis racket.
What attracted you to the blues at such a young age?
When I first heard Led Zeppelin and Cream and Jimi Hendrix, I read interviews with them. They’d always talk about Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Albert King, so I started buying those cassettes.
You shared the stage with some true greats when you were quite young. Did you have any inkling of how fortunate you were?
Yeah, I knew I was in the right place at the right time but also, I knew that if I couldn’t pull it off they wouldn’t hire me. I’d work hard at it and play for six or eight hours a day. I guess that helped (laughs).
Do you have a favorite guitar?
I got a bunch of guitars but right now I’m really into Gibson guitars. I’ve got a ’59 Les Paul Junior and at the moment, that’s my favorite.
What makes you decide to switch them up?
I do a bunch of different tunings, so for a show I use like, six or seven guitars. The main one is the Les Paul Junior right now, but it keeps on changing because I’m still very into trying guitars and buying guitars. I only got my first car two years ago because it was always about buying guitars (laughs).
Are you more an emotional player than a technical player?
I’ve learned all that technical stuff but that’s not what I’m interested in. I’m more interested in a guy like Albert King who plays three notes but you can really feel it. Muddy Waters played nearly the same guitar solo on everything but somehow it was always just a little bit different and it was always so good…
Joe Bonamassa told me: ‘I still feel like at any time I could be out there…and make a huge mistake or play something wrong.’
(laughs) You’ve got to be on your toes, but mistakes do happen and it just becomes about how you resolve it. If I do a bad note, I resolve it by playing a good one then playing the bad one again so it sounds like it was meant to be (laughs).
Can you channel the same energy playing guitar in the studio that you can playing live on stage?
I try to record live as much as possible. When I do that, I get the same feel that I get when I play on stage. Sometimes, you have to work on something for days, but I try to stay with the first couple of takes whenever I can.
Do you hear inexperience when you listen to your earliest recordings?
Of course; that’s all I hear (laughs). There are some really good guitar solos and people enjoyed them very much when they came out, but, again, it was a long time ago (laughs).
What are you looking forward to at the moment?
I just finished an album that will come out around February. It’s just me and the guitar and some foot stomping. I’m playing the bass drum in a couple songs and it’s all live. I’m really happy with it.
See Steve Hill perform live at L’Astral in Montreal, December 1. For more 2011 dates, visit www.stevehillmusic.com.
*Originally published under ‘Interviews’ on MyTelus.com.