Growing up in tiny Greenville, Mississippi, fascinated by the old blues and jazz musicians who used to congregate behind his father's liquor store - the first in the state - Steve Azar knew early on that music would be his life. Waitin' On Joe, his first CD for Mercury Records, showcases Steve's songwriting passion and performing talents against the fabric of his unique Delta heritage.
"Albums are like life," Steve says. "You put what you've learned into them. No matter who you're writing and singing about, they're still a reflection of you." As writer or co-writer of all 11 songs on his CD, Steve manages to weave favorite themes - wishing, wanting, working - into carefully-crafted mini-slices of everyday life, creating an album that's both autobiographical and universal. Whether championing "The Underdog" or shoving an elbow in the ribs of the almighty dollar ("Damn The Money") or tremulously trying to protect his heart in "How Long Is This Time Gonna Be," Steve writes from personal experience enthusiastically seasoned by his own observations.
Steve's musical education began early with the music he heard live behind the family store. "I'm not a blues musician," says Steve, "but there was this one great blues guitarist named Eugene Powell that used to be around. He used to always tell me, 'keep it real, keep it real.' His words made a lasting impression on me." Watching those guys behind the store also fueled Steve's desire to play the guitar. "It was like a sport to me - when I'd go see a basketball game, I couldn't stay the whole game because I wanted to go home and shoot hoops all night. When I watched those guys, it made me want to go home and practice."
While still in his teens, Steve began sneaking out to local nightclubs to hear other blues legends like Albert King and Son Thomas, and it wasn't long before he was fronting his own band, playing original songs. "A lot of my music reflects the sounds of where I'm from, in sound or lyric, or both," Steve explains. "Conway Twitty grew up in Mississippi - he was a Delta boy. Hank Williams had a lot of Delta influences in his sound. Bruce Springsteen kept it real to his workingman New Jersey shores, Mellencamp kept it real to his small-town heartland Indiana roots. And Willie's just real, period. I listened to all those guys growing up and it was the authenticity of who they are and what they were singing about that attracted me to them."
Eventually Steve moved to Nashville and continued to support himself performing and writing. When he went to write with producer/songwriter Rafe Van Hoy ("What's Forever For"), they clicked immediately. "We wrote two songs that day - one was "You Don't Know How It Feels" - and when I listened to the demo that night, I realized I had never heard myself sound that way. It was exactly how I'd always wanted to be recorded." With Rafe at the helm, they began work on a project that eventually got the attention of Mercury Records.
Steve's out-of-the-box hit, "I Don't Have To Be Me ('Til Monday)," taps into the increasingly relevant theme of how people accelerate into their weekends as a reward for five days of punching a time clock. Like many of Steve's songs, this one is based on a real-life occurrence. Steve got a call one day from the wife of an old college buddy, asking if her husband could fly in for a long weekend because he was showing the stress of his high-powered job. "She was worried about him," Steve recalls. "So all weekend, we just hung out and talked and laughed and did stuff together. By the time he left to go home, he was like a new man. He felt great. And it got me thinking how many people live for the weekend because it's the only time they can escape reality. I think who we are too often gets tied up with what we have to do every day, and it's essential to be able to get away from that sometimes."
The centerpiece of the album is the title cut, "Waitin' On Joe." Although Steve wrote it about his older brother Joe, who just like the Joe of the song, had a bad habit of being late - it's also allegorical. "My brother Joe is very much alive," Steve explains, "but in a sense, we all know someone like Joe in our own lives. We end up waiting for them over and over, just like we end up waiting for so many things in our lives that never happen. We've spent all that time dreaming and working toward something that never happens."
Today, Steve's focus is on getting his music heard. Now that the album is done and his first single is a hit he still feels he's only part of the way there. "I can't wait to start touring and playing this album live for audiences," he says. "To me, a record isn't really finished until you've taken it out on the road. That's the greatest feeling there is. That's when you know it works.