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Seasick Steve

Steve Leach as Seasick Steve

Seasick Steve is fake. A phrase that was trending on social media after Bob Stanley wrote a piece in the ‘Guardian’ exposing him. The old hobo with a long beard and three string guitar was it turns out just a work, a character, a gimmick, a fake.

What surprises me isn’t that Seasick Steve’s story isn’t real, it’s that so many people thought it was. That these same people are now so angry that the truth has been exposed. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t fooled, I just didn’t really care enough to buy into it. The story always seemed too perfect and far fetched, relied too much on coincidence. It was just PR smoke and mirrors.

In the mainstream media Seasick Steve’s story was always protected, presented as fact. Away from that is where the cracks started to show. A comment in a guitar magazine by bluesman Popa Chubby in 2010 using the name Steve Leach and calling Seasick Steve a character, a comment from Walter Trout in a blues magazine, a comment about his work with Crystal Grass in a BBC documentary about disco.

The point is it was a good story, but that is all it was. It wasn’t any more real than Jack and Meg White being siblings or Ziggy Stardust being from Mars. No one lied, no one suppressed the truth. The character of Seasick Steve was invented.

So why are people upset?

Not because they have been lied to, mislead or hoodwinked. It’s because they wanted to believe in the perfect story of the underdog. Now it turns out that rather than being a drifter Steve was actually a hardworking man who stumbled on a gimmick that worked.

People want to believe that Keith Richards had his blood replaced, in reality he said that as a joke. People want to believe that Alice Cooper sacrificed a chicken on stage, in reality he threw it back to the audience who ripped it to shreds. (Alice’s comment was “I’m from Detroit the only chicken I’d ever seen was Kentucky Fried, I thought it’s a bird, it has wings it’ll fly away.”) People want to believe that Gene Simmons of KISS had his own tongue replaced with that of a cow, or that Tom Waits drank a pint of battery acid to win a bet. Everyone loves a good story.

Sometimes the story is true, Ozzy Osbourne did take a leak against the Alamo dressed in women’s clothing, he did bite the head off a live bat believing it to be rubber he did not however snort a line of ants mistaking them for cocaine. A story also told of Lou Reed, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, John Entwhistle, Eric Clapton, Sid Vicious, Boy George, Pete Burns, Marilyn Manson, Keith Flint, Liam Gallagher and many others. But people love a good ant snorting story, or rather the one mediocre ant snorting story retold over and over.

That Seasick Steve was the bass player in a space hippy band, worked with a much sampled disco outfit while running his own recording studio to make a enough of a living to support his family rather than hopping trains and living a hand to mouth existence shouldn’t really make any difference to whether or not you like his music.

So it was a work, but does it really matter?