One of the most innovative resonator guitar stylists in North America, Vancouver-based Steve Dawson, has plenty on his plate. The 33-year-old has been composing, recording, and touring with long-time partner, fiddler Jesse Zubot, in the Juno award winning ensemble Zubot and Dawson, and also with the avant-garde folk outfit The Great Uncles of the Revolution. He's got his own solo career and the release of his sophomore CD, the Hawaiian-flavoured We Belong to the Gold Coast. Add to that studio and stage work with the likes of roots music greats Kelly Joe Phelps, Bob Brozman, Don Rooke, Jenny Whiteley and Veda Hille, among countless others. He offers his astonishing slide-guitar workshops at festivals as far away as Slovakia and Monterey. On top of everything, Dawson has been at the production/engineering helm for sessions with roots album Juno-winner Whiteley, West Coast bluesman Jim Byrnes, country rocker Linda McRae and renegade accordionist/songwriger Geoff Berner. Yes, you're looking at one busy musician. But there's more:Dawson also runs the prestigious, 10-year old Black Hen label on which many of these artists are released. Yet, he juggles multiple careers with the same dexterity he applies to his famed Weissenborn Hawaiian guitar, and his dobro, lap steel, and pedal steel. "Well, my primary instrument is guitar, but no one even counts that now," says Dawson. "And I've become reasonably proficient over the years with other instruments I use in the studio - xylophone, tres (a mando-guitar), banjo and pump organ. In a strange way, they're all related," he says. But it's the slide guitar for which Dawson has become known. And that's by way of an epiphany that occurred 15 years ago, when his uncle gave the young guitarist a simple and inexpensive chrome-plated metal bottleneck, with which Dawson began emulating blues and rock guitarists known for their slide work. "It's a fairly short path from the Allmon Brothers to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, and not much farther to (1930's African-American Hawaiian guitar master) Casey Bill Weldon, and the Hawaiians themselves - Sol Hoopii and King Nawahi," Dawson says. "It's a particularly rich field of music, and I was encouraged to go there by (veteran American Hawaiian guitar whiz) Bob Brozman. "Not that there's much evidence of that music in Hawaii now. It's a forgotten art form. You can find remnants in Honolulu, but ony if you're looking hard," he adds. Founding his own record label was an extension of his passion for recording, Dawson says. "There was nowhere else for the music we were making. It seemed perfectly natural to start our own company, since no others were interested." With just four staffers, including Dawson's wife, and a roster that includes 10 major acts - most of whom Dawson also produces - Black Hen is potentially a threat to his own performing career, he agrees. "Most days I literally have to shut off the phone and leave the building to practise, or work in the studio, or just to find time to think. After producing a record, I usually take a couple of months off just to reorient myself. Studio work is a really draining emotional process. You have to stay incredibly focused over long periods of time." Still, the juggling continues. After this month-long tour of Ontario and B.C. with Whiteley and Jansen, Dawson is booked solid for the next six months. "Jesse and I have just finished writing for the next Zubot and Dawson CD, which we'll start recording soon. Jenny's ready to start another album in November, and then I'll start on Jim Byrnes's next. After that we've got plans to go back to Europe for another tour, and maybe Australia and South America. "It's a plan...more recording, more touring, more of the same."
- Greg Quill