Described by Real Blues magazine as currently the best blues guitarist in North America, Trois-Rivières-native Steve Hill is a true guitar hero. With no musical lineage or formal instruction, he dove headlong into playing at the age of 12, and was a pro by the time he turned 18. Influenced by 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 played alongside Ray Charles, Johnny Lang, ZZ Top, Tragically Hip, Jeff Beck and Santana, and gone on to record five more LPs (including 2011’s Whiplash Love, released in October). 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.
People have described you as a prodigy – what do you think of that word?
Well, it’s not one that I usually use to describe myself (laughs). Um, I guess it’s used because I started playing at an early age: I was playing clubs at 15, and at 18 I was making a living out of it.
Did you always know that playing guitar was what you wanted to do?
I never thought I’d become a real musician until I met some friends when I was about age 11 or 12; one guy had an electric guitar, another had a set of drums, and that’s when I realized it was possible and I started to play. About a year after that, I was already in a band.
Where did it go from there?
After a couple years together, we started playing in clubs and by the time I was 18, I was picked up by Bob Harrisson. At the time, he was the biggest name on the Quebecois blues scene. I played with him for a couple years, then started my own trio when I turned 20.
Wow, that’s momentum.
Yeah…I used to book the gigs for my trio myself and we would play 150-200 shows a year, so I got to learn a lot by playing all the time. And also, you learn a lot when you play with musicians who have a lot more experience than you have. I played with [Michel] Pagliaro for three years and Zachary Richard and lots of others, so I was very fortunate.
How does it feel to take the stage with players you admire?
If I play with an artist like Jeff Beck or Zachary Richard or Eric Lapointe, they want me to do what I do in their show so that gives me confidence. It comes out of friendship, too – they’re already my buddies or they quickly become my buddies – but there has to be something there. I don’t want to play the music that I play with people I’m not comfortable with. At the same time, when I played with [Jeff] Beck for example, I had to change some things about how I play…but that helps me to become a better player. He helped my songwriting and my singing, too.
Would you say you’re used to it?
Well I’ve been doing it for a long time so I don’t really get nervous. Sometimes I do, but mostly not. I always try to do the best I can and even if there is 50 people or 50,000 people, I really try hard and take it seriously. If I don’t do a good performance, I feel bad until I do a good one.
All of them are different; I’ve done six records and none of them are the same. This one is pretty diverse: there’s rock, blues-rock and country, but it all comes together well. There are some ballads – and I haven’t done those in a long time – which I wrote on the piano, and naturally they are different than what I write on the guitar or with the band. It was a long record to make; I started on it even before my last record, The Damage Done.
What’s your writing process?
I write all the time. Some songs just stick out and I know they’ll make it on an album. And they just come up; I don’t really think about the creation part too much. They just come into my head. I might be jamming in front of the TV or walking down the street or I could be driving – it’s never the same.