Victoria Times Colonist
Steve Dawson loves the old, the funky and the weird.
The Vancouver guitarist/singer/ songwriter -- best known as half of Juno-winning Zubot and Dawson -- collects vintage Hawaiian music 78s. And antique pump organs. And he adores the sound of el-cheapo Silvertone electric guitars, popularized by Sears in the 1950s and '60s.
Dawson owns two Silvertones. Both are black with silver sparkles. He played one (acquired for $50) on the bluesy song, Fire Somewhere, from his new album, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up. Dawson's composition sounds buzzy and gritty, as though his guitar strings are caked in rust.
It's great, in other words.
"I don't always want really perfect-sounding instruments," the 35-year-old said over the phone.
"But I want something ideally really unique. I want to build textures of sound ... Those kinds of instruments, to me, they just have a lot of soul."
On the texture-building front, Dawson certainly succeeded with Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, which he produced as well. Organs grind, guitars shimmer, other unidentified sounds -- seemingly emanating from nowhere -- click and flutter. With this album, as well as his own folk and blues offerings, Dawson covers songs by such artists as Bob Dylan (Walkin' Down the Line) and the Mississippi Sheiks (Somebody's Got to Help You.)
When he and his trio play Hermann's Jazz Club, Dawson will likely lug along one of his old pump organs. The model he hopes to bring is somewhat portable, weighing 85 pounds.
"They call it a missionary organ. They used to haul it around, converting the heathens."
Since studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Dawson has forged a distinctive path in Canadian music. He and Jesse Zubot achieved national popularity, partly due to enthusiastic CBC Radio play, with a folk-jazz mix they dubbed "strang." (The pair no longer write music together, but that'll likely happen in the future, he says.)
These days Dawson -- who lives in the funky Commercial Drive area of Vancouver's East End -- helps run the independent Black Hen Music label, produces albums for many musicians, and plays many solo and band shows.
Dawson, who attended the upscale St. George's private school in Vancouver, recalls that his parents weren't thrilled when he announced his intention to become a musician. His father was an accountant, his mother was a teacher. They hoped their son would select a similarly stable career.
"They got used to it," he said, "after a while."
It's no accident that Waiting for the Lights to Come Up contains a Mississippi Sheiks tune. The country blues group, popular in the 1920s and '30s, is one of Dawson's favourites. Indeed, he's so captivated by their music, Dawson has planned an entire Mississippi Sheiks tribute album, to be recorded in June and released in late 2008. He has already lined up heavy-duty talent to participate, including Ry Cooder, John Hammond, Bill Frisell and Kelly Joe Phelps.
In September, he'll release another Steve Dawson album. That disc, Telescope, is an all-instrumental, pedal-steel-guitar-driven effort employing the same the same musicians as Waiting for the Lights to Come Up. Telescope was recorded over the same five-day period as the other disc.
Dawson declares himself satisfied with having numerous irons in his musical fire. One aspect that he particularly enjoys is being able to work often from home, sometimes doing recording there.
After all, home is where not only his heart lies, but his vintage music stuff.
" I like creaky old things," he said. "Things that are made a long time ago, that are barely hangin' on."