by HAP MANSFIELD
It used to be that if you called Steve Poltz to leave a message while he was on tour in 1997/98, you would get an original 45 second song from the singer/songwriter. He kept this practice up for more than a year; a grand total of 56 songs which he subsequently released as a CD, “Answering Machine.”
The title of the release is more than descriptive, it is also a Replacements song title penned by Paul Westerberg, of whom Poltz is an admitted devotee. The grand twist to the story is that Neil Young is reportedly a devotee of Poltz’s telephonic release. This is how things always go with Poltz– he is everybody’s “undiscovered” gem. He’s an unassuming charmer.
Poltz is a magical vagabond ragamuffin troubadour who is almost always on tour and has been for the last 15 years. One of the original Rugburns, a music sub-cult favorite band, Poltz set out on his own solo song writing career in 1998.
You may know one of his songs without knowing his name. He co-wrote the top-ten hit “You Were Meant For Me,” with his friend (and at the time, girlfriend) singing sensation Jewel (Kilcher) in 1996. He also appears in the video with the Alaska lass. He and Jewel wowed the crowd at the Driscoll hotel at SxSW in Austin that year with a spirited rendition of their song, “Daddy She’s A Goddess,” a tune entailing a couple of good-hearted, wrong-headed, backwoods inbreds kidnapping a young woman. This is the usual Poltz songwriting fodder, tongue in cheek and very cheeky.
A Poltz song, ‘Everything About You,” made it to the soundtrack of the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts flick, “Notting Hill.”
Poltz is always on the verge of being too famous for his own good. In addition to being on NPR’s Mountain Stage, he has been featured on the popular nationally syndicated radio program, “The Bob and Tom Show.”
He is a character of the first water who has a signature wild sense of humor and a broad warm smile in addition to a knapsack full of songs and stories. His website, Poltz.com, always greets the reader with “Hi! I’m Steve Poltz.” He recently gave his dad birthday accolades on the site and related the tale of a year when he was a youngster giving his dad a Monkees album for a birthday present because he wanted it for himself. His dad graciously accepted it.
“I’ll be at South By Southwest this week,” Poltz said in an interview for the Mercury, “but then I’m going to Australia. I’ve been there eight times. It’s fun.”
His constantly touring life would seem to be a rough one but his enthusiastic declarations deny this.
” I love my life,” he said. “I couldn’t have picked out a better one.”
The music business can prove daunting for some but Poltz says it’s all just a part of the life.
“Yeah, you may be toiling in obscurity, playing for a room of five people, and hoping that maybe lightning will strike. But if you love it, you’re going to do it no matter what.”
As always he has a tale of his touring life.
“I played at Britt Festival, that’s the name of an amphitheater in Jacksonville, Oregon. I opened for Styyx. So the audience was full of Styx fans who didn’t know who I was. The emcee was a local deejay for a classic rock radio station who got the crowd all lathered up to see Styx. ‘Are you ready to see Styx?’ and the crowd would roar. ‘Are you ready to rock wth Styx?’ and the crowd would yell. ‘Are you ready for some Styx?’ and the crowd is going crazy. ‘Okay, but first, here’s Steve Poltz.’ and I could hear this audible groan.
“I slowly won some of them over. By the time I finished my set, I had them laughing and applauding. I didn’t bomb.
“Later this guy came up to me to me. He had on a bandana and an old Styx t-shirt and he said,’ Man, when you first started playing I hated you. Then you got me laughing and I was starting to like you. Then my girlfriend said you were cute so I hated you again. But finally I really liked you. So now I want to buy a Steve Poltz t-shirt.”
It’s always like that with Poltz. His live shows are bound to make you smile and tap your toes.
Being a veteran of both touring and SxSW, which took place this weekend in Austin, means that he will be there at a variety of venues. If you hate fighting the traffic and madness of that music industry throw-down in downtown Austin, but would like to see Poltz, you are in luck. He will be at the Cheatham Street Warehouse on Monday, March 19 at 9 p.m.
He will probably win you over, too.
[This interview may need a bit of a disclaimer since Steve Poltz is a dear pal of mine and has been for at least 15 years. It's impossible to talk about him without mentioning the buoyant enthusiasm he has for music and musicians and we've spent hours talking about it both in person while trading shots of powerful blackberry brandy at Nye's Polonaise Room in Northeast Minneapolis, over brews at Emo's in Austin or on the phone while he was on tour. He's on a touring schedule that is so demanding he once fell asleep on the phone after calling me from a motel in New Jersey. At least I hope that's why he fell asleep. I don't think I'm quite that boring. We reconnect every few years or so and we did so for this interview.]