Thunderbox Interview - Steven Seagal has the blues

EMMA LEE Hollywood action hero Steven Seagal is taking a break from movies to take his blues band on the road. Emma Lee spoke to him ahead of his appearance in Norwich.

EMMA LEE

It was a text message I could never have imagined sending. “Hiya, sorry, running late, waiting for Steven Seagal to phone, X”. But there I was on a Saturday evening, nervously pacing around my living room waiting to interview a real-life Hollywood action man.

The jitters weren't exactly helped by a number of ominous missives from his PR people along the lines of “don't ask him about his films”, “make sure you've read his biography” and repeated wishes of “good luck”.

Seagal, the star and producer of numerous films involving running, shouting and lots of big explosions, is currently on a mammoth tour of the UK, having reinvented himself as a blues man.

He and his band, Thunderbox, will be at the UEA, Norwich, on Thursday, to promote his latest album Mojo Priest. And looking at his itinerary, it's more of a case of which places isn't he visiting?

Although known as an actor, martial arts exponent and brand name (he has his own line of energy drinks), his first love was always the blues.

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He was born in Lansing, Michigan, just outside Detroit and growing up in a multi-cultural neighbourhood was exposed to blues music at a very young age through hanging out with musicians.

In person, pony-tailed Seagal, who is an imposing 6ft 4in tall, is softly spoken and polite, though, in truth, a man of few words. He was also suffering the after-effects of a cold, so there was lots of throat-clearing.

“I got my first guitar when I was 12,” he explains, speaking to me from a theatre in Swansea where he's just sound-checked for that night's show.

“The blues got into my blood, you know. I started to imitate them and tried to learn from them.”

He's at great pains to emphasise that his tour is a case of his career coming full circle, rather than him being an actor who just wants to try doing something different for a while a la Keanu Reeves. He's jammed with the legendary BB King and John Lee Hooker.

In the 1960s, while his peers were listening to psychedelic rock, he still had the blues in his blood.

Due to conflicts at home, Seagal left when he was only in his mid teens. By then he had also begun to study martial arts and ended up going to Japan to learn from the masters, making ends meet by teaching English.

Excelling in Aikido, Karate, Judo and Kendo, he was the first American to open a martial arts studio in the country. He returned to the US in 1985, and opened a martial arts academy in LA. It proved to be his ticket into the movie business.

He was soon choreographing scenes in action films. And even though it had never been his goal to be a movie star, before long he was on the big screen himself - his first role was in Above the Law in 1986.

Although films like Under Siege 1 and 2, On Deadly Ground, Fire Down Below and Exit Wounds, have made him a Hollywood high earner, he's done a lot of charity work. A deeply spiritual man (he's a Buddhist), his Save A Million Lives organisation has built villages and helped children who have been orphaned as a result of Aids.

Seagal still writes, produces and acts in films, but has spent the last year putting his touring band together and writing and recording Mojo Priest, a 14-song album celebrating the delta blues legends. He wrote all but three songs on the record.

When I ask him which musicians he would like to collaborate with if he could, he replies that he's already worked with everyone he wanted to. But one of the highlights includes a track with the legendary Stevie Wonder on his first album, Songs From The Crystal Cave.

“He's an old friend of mine. A great friend and musician and he was kind enough to come and do it,” he says.

As well as playing the guitar, Seagal is also a collector.

“My guitars are from amazing players, like Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker. And I've got so much respect and admiration for them that I couldn't say which is my favourite. I play them all,” he says.

He says it's good to be back on the road.

“I've been doing shows for 30-something years and we're playing about 80 dates. All I need is a nice hall with good acoustics.”

t Steven Seagal and Thunderbox play the UEA, Norwich, on Thursday, February 29. For ticket information call 01603 508050 or visit www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk

t The album Mojo Priest is out now.

 

 

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