There is a profound wisdom to old proverbs that belies the simple practical truth behind them. You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks is one such timeless pearl, especially as it pertains to The Dog Hisself -- better known to his fans as Seasick Steve -- and a mini-crisis he underwent last year when asked to play Glastonbury’s 40th anniversary fest.

“We were going to be on the main stage and I wanted it to be a bit special,” Steve recalls. “I was real tired one night and got to thinking, ‘Maybe I should get some new clothes and fix my shit up a bit. Maybe I should get some backing singers.’ Pretty soon my brain was going, ‘Maybe I should get one of them light show things. Yeah! And invite all these guests!’ Then, all of sudden, this hammer come on my head: ‘Shut the fuck up. Just go out there and play. That’s why people like you; and when they stop liking you, you can go home and get a new job.’”
Indirectly inspiring the title of his new album You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks, Steve believes that “even if I wanted to make something fancy, it wouldn’t work”.  But perhaps that depends on how you define “fancy”, for in fact You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks showcases Seasick Steve and his eccentric drum virtuoso sidekick Dan Magnusson flaunting some pretty fancy footwork as they agilely and adroitly step from genre to genre.
In addition to Steve’s signature array of classic blues styles (of which he is acknowledged master), many new and previously unheard sides of Steve’s songwriting breadth are herein on display: songs that invoke musical territory that ranges from the Appalachian mountains to down home Kentucky bluegrass, from Nashville country gospel to Greenwich Village coffee house folk balladry.
“I never actually thought of myself as everyone keeps calling me,” reflects Steve, “as a blues musician. I love country music and bluegrass. Even when I made the last record [Man From Another Time], I actually recorded these more country things; but somehow they just didn’t get on there.” Going into the sessions for the new album, Steve was keen and ready to widen his scope. “I recorded You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks without no record company involved at all; I didn’t have a deal at the time. So I just said, ‘If I want to make a country tune or banjo song or whatever I’m going to do it.’ I felt allowed – I allowed myself.”
Given the aural evidence of his back catalogue, classifying Steve as a blues artist is pretty understandable, but it does do him a slight disservice. His material, like his life, is drawn from a long rich history of experience and a broad palette of influences. “I got so many damned songs, it’s like a big old train and only part of them get into the station,” Steve affirms. “The rest of them are just waiting for the next station.”
Despite his claim that he finds the recording process “real boring” nowadays (“probably because I did it as a job”), Seasick Steve is clearly in his comfort zone in the studio, both figuratively and literally on this record. Temporarily converting his living space into an old school analog recording studio, he had it fitted out with a two-inch Studer tape machine, an old Neve desk and an array of vintage mics. “It was a pretty comfortable,” assures Steve. “We had all this shit set up in the front room and amplifiers up in the bedrooms. The shit was spread around and we just lived in it.”
To keep the tape reels turning and session momentum ticking over nicely, Steve has devised a simple but effective methodology: “Me and Dan, we just sit around and play a little bit and drink a little bit and play a little bit and drink a little bit. I’ll go, ‘Well here’s one,’ and we just start playing. If it’s grooving, I turn the tape machine on. If within five or ten minutes it sounds like it’s happening, then we just try to figure out how to end it.” In the spirit of keeping sessions economic, spontaneous and hard-line authentic, Seasick Steve refused to hold onto more than one take of any song. “I won’t have five takes of a song to listen to,” he insists. “We usually have just one take, so we have no choice at the end. We just slam it to tape, mistakes and all.”
A musician’s favorite record is typically the last one they’ve created, and Steve is no exception. “I like this record the best of any of them I’ve made,” he affirms. “I’ve always liked what I was doing -- I just didn’t think anyone else would! Every time I go to make a new one, I’d be surprised that I was there doing it. But when this one come around, I wasn’t surprised no more. Not in like a cocky sense: just like I felt I been wearin’ these shoes for a while. I just felt kind of at home when I was doing it  -- and I was at home, as a matter of fact!”
In the course of recording with Dan, Steve found himself hankering for a little something extra low end on some of the tracks: “I was sitting there, daydreaming, thinking to myself, ‘It’d be fun to have bass on a couple of these songs. And I thought, ‘If I was to get me a bass player, who’s like the best rock bass player around? Hey, I like that Led Zeppelin guy, he can play the hell out of a bass.’”
Legendary “Led Zeppelin guy” John Paul Jones had actually seen Seasick Steve perform before a tiny audience many years ago at the 12 Bar Club. Luckily, Steve had recently by sheer coincidence met the luthier who builds John Paul Jones’ basses. “I called this guy and I said, ‘This is probably a wacky question, but I would just like to have John Paul Jones play some bass.’ And this guy goes, ‘Well, let me give him a call.’ So then John called me and he goes, ‘Yeah, I want to play.’ I went ‘You do?’ I was really surprised!” Jones’ vigorous and supple bass work can be heard on the title track, “You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks” and “Back in the Doghouse”; he also played mandolin on “It’s a Long, Long Way”.
“That ‘Long, Long Way’ song, we started playing it at the end of the festivals last year,” recalls Steve. “The thing that was a miracle was that all them kids started singing that song within one half of a chorus. It was amazing! I didn’t think anyone was going to join in. So now we’ve played it quite a bit around and I just played it out in California. Everyone sings! And people goes, ‘Yeah, that’s a really cool song. Whose song is that? I remember that song.’ I go, ‘Oh no you don’t!’” The sing-a-long atmosphere carried over into the overdub sessions in London. Steve corralled everybody that works at AIR Studios in for a good old group caterwauling: “All the secretaries, anyone in the kitchen, the whole gang -- they wanted to be called the Lyndhurst Rabble Choir.”
A lot of lyrics on You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks including “It’s A Long, Long Way” are written from Steve’s current perspective. One song that definitely hearkens to the past is “Treasures” which according to Steve “is literally about when I used to wander around looking pretty ratty (which probably hasn’t changed too much). People used to look at me and think that I wanted to steal something from them. Even now, sometimes when I wander down the street: ‘Oh, look at that poor guy there’ or ‘I better watch out, he might come and ask me for something.’”
“Whiskey Ballad” is both a cover song, and a family affair: it’s written by Steve youngest son Paul Martin, himself a singer/songwriter, who whistles and plays washboard on the recording as well. “He wrote it by himself when he was 15,” attests Steve. “I’m not exactly sure that reflects so great on my parenting skills; but it does say something about my ability to pass on a taste for the moonshine. But he’s 22 now, so he’s survived his ‘Whiskey Ballad’ phase.”
You Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks will be released on 30th May 2011, on Play It Again Sam worldwide, except for the US where it comes out on Third Man Records, Jack White’s label. Steve met Jack White at the Brits and on the festival circuit and has reportedly even done a session with him. But with regard to rumours about some other music legends he is reputedly has known, Steve is adamant: “You can definitely say I am not friends with, and I have never been friends with Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, or Joni Mitchell. I am so tired of people asking, ‘What did you and Kurt used to do?’ Once that gets printed out there, and it gets on that Wikipedia or whatever, it never goes away.”
More resolutely hardworking than his “it’s all good” philosophy might suggest, Seasick Steve appreciates that he’s in a privileged place career-wise these days: “Now that I sold a million records, I realize finally there are some people out there who actually wanna listen to what I’m doing. They’re going to put up with me. And I I’m okay either way, but I figure I’m just going to say what I gotta say and if someone want to listen, good; and when they get tired of me, I’m pretty sure I’m going to find out.”
Restless by nature, never wholly settled down, Steve is not full of himself and his good fortune. “I think if I would have got famous a long time ago I would have been a complacent dickhead probably by now,” he guesses. “I’m not no better than nobody else.” The urgent need to get his work out there into the world burns within him. “Time feels precious,” he affirms. “I ain’t got no time to be sitting around looking at my toes.” And let there be no doubt: this is one living legend that won’t be resting on his dungaree-ed laurels anytime soon: “I feel more on fire now than almost ever in my life!”


Track Listing:
1. TREASURES                        7. BACK IN THE DOGHOUSE
3. BURNIN’ UP                        9. WHAT A WAY TO GO
6. WHISKEY BALLAD                    12. IT’S A LONG, LONG WAY