The American Farmer
Steve Azar: The Delta Man Shares His Delta Soul
I first came across Steve Azar during one of my morning runs. His hit song “I Don’t Have To Be Me (‘Til Monday)” found it’s way through my headphones at a particular time when “keeping pace” became a bit of a challenge. My weakened stamina changed, however, the minute I heard the energy in Steve’s voice, which somehow transformed itself into more of my own. I ran an extra mile that day, playing his tune over and over. Captured by it and thus, driven to learn more about Steve Azar and his music, I began doing some research out of curiosity sake. Needless-to-say, what I found out about Steve Azar, in my initial pursuit, floored me but it would be nothing compared to all that I found out about this gentleman upon interviewing him.
Steve is a music giant in every way. His limitless talent and overwhelming appeal is all but indescribable. And the truth is, in my opinion, Steve has barely scratched the surface of what his professional future holds despite all of the awards and accolades he can already claim, including that of an entire day named in his honor by the state of Mississippi and the state of South Dakota -- Steve Azar Day - held on March 13th and August 10th respectively. Steve is not only bigger than life in music but as a human being too.
Known as “The Delta Man” by many, Steve is also the recognized brand ambassador and public image for The Fat Trout Scotch Whiskey. And if you think Steve’s bandwidth stops here, think again. Steve recently became the spokesperson for RAM Certified Agricultural Dealership Program - standing up for the American Farmer just as he continues to support the roots he holds dear through his cofounding of the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival. MMMF was recently voted the #1 New Festival in America by American Blues Scene magazine, the Mississippi Festival of the Year, and a “travel treasure” by AAA Southern Traveler magazine. It seems that whatever Steve touches turns to gold. I hasten to think that it is the passion he puts into all he does that makes it this way.
A loving husband, father, son, and humanitarian, Steve’s generosity in spirit, kindness, and gratitude makes him one of those grounded “celebrities” that everyone falls in love with because he refuses to allow himself to be “taken in” by his stardom. His strong family values and passion for cooking make him even more endearing. And then there is his championship golf skills. Ranked one of the top five musicians that play golf by Golf Digest Magazine, Steve regularly uses his fondness for the game and stellar abilities to raise money for others in need.
When you can admire a “man” just as much as you can admire his “work,” that man deserves to be recognized for his contributions. No doubt, the states of Mississippi and South Dakota were right to name days after Steve Azar and you would be right in reading this interview, learning more about him, and playing a bit of his music. I have a feeling that once you do, he will become a mainstay in your headphones too.
Enjoy getting to know The Delta Man:
Your life and work is strongly influenced by your roots of origin found within the Mississippi Delta. For those who do not know much about the Mississippi Delta, explain the importance of the Mississippi Delta as a region in our country as well as one of the best memories you have in growing up there.
I was born and raised in the heart of our Mississippi Delta, a diverse ethnic hot bed of many races and cultures. Being raised here has made me who I am and really inspired me to pursue a career in the arts. The arts are in everything and everywhere you turn down here.
The Mississippi Delta is the legendary birthplace of the blues and, as you know, the blues has impacted practically every popular musical genre. The early forefathers of the blues worked in the fields and sang about their pain and trials which influenced so many, including the king of the blues BB King, the king of rock-n-roll Elvis Presley, Jim Henson and his beloved Muppets, legendary poets like William Faulkner, authors such as John Grisham, and actors like the great Morgan Freeman. Just like myself, Morgan, in recent years, chose to move back home to the Delta. In fact, he even has his own blues club, “Ground Zero”.
The amount of talent that has come from down here is incredible and I can truthfully say that the Delta has affected every artistic thing I have ever done. It’s in my lyrics; it’s in my groove; it’s in my heart and it is a major part of my inspiration. I can already see the Delta’s influence in our oldest son, Strack’s, passion for film - yet another example as to why people down here say, “There really must be something in the water.”
As the “Delta Man,” who describes his particular style of music as “Delta Soul,” what was the first thing that went through your head when the state of Mississippi honored you with your own day – “Steve Azar Day” (March 13)?
I have to say that, musically, I’m a bit of a mutt. I’m not really country, blues, folk or rock-n-roll, yet a combination of them all. It’s a style that’s stuck with me over the years and I call it ‘Delta Soul.’
The first thing that came to my mind was pure humbleness. It was one of those unexpected honors that I will always be appreciative of - truly, the ultimate of all compliments.
What is your personal mantra?
I have always believed that if you work hard at your craft and ‘God-given’ talent...and put in the overtime...it will never let you go without.
If I asked your wife, Gwen, to describe you in one word, what would she say?
I just asked her and she says, “Funny”. That cracks me up. I like that! I do always love seeing that beautiful smile and making her laugh!
What is your biggest quirk?
I’ve never really felt comfortable being in the midst of a large crowd but sure love being in front of one.
You have been ranked one of the top five musicians that play golf by Golf Digest Magazine. At what age did you begin playing? What is it about the sport that makes you so passionate about it?
I began taking golf seriously in my college years at Delta State University. At school there - if you showed your student ID - you could play golf for free. And “free” in college was always a good thing.
My roommate was on the golf team, and I would practice alongside him for hours. A group of us, including my roommate, would battle 9 holes for dinner. That’s just the kind of things we would do.
I love to compete and there’s no better sport that gets those juices going than golf. I actually loved basketball the most but at the end of the day, life is about “relationships’ and there simply is no better place or sport that affords you the time to get to know someone better than the game of golf. It’s a place where I have made, and continue to make, the best of friends as well as do a lot of business. I think everyone should learn to play it.
You are also passionate about cooking. Can you share a bit about this passion with our readers?
We love to cook all types of meals at the Azar’s and mix it up. I strongly feel that the new generations of rock stars are coming from the field of the culinary arts. I mean what other present art form requires so much creativity and skill and always draws a crowd?
I come from a big Lebanese – Catholic family and, although my family has been in America for generations and have strong southern roots and traditions, we still cook a big Lebanese feast on the holidays and special occasions. You can’t beat raw kibbe with olive oil and hot sauce wrapped in Syrian bread! I have to say, though, it’s homemade pizza that I love to make the most.
What is the most important lesson your mom taught you?
Everyone who meets my mom says she is just the sweetest lady, but it is her relentlessness and toughness that has rubbed off on me and has helped me continue to move my career forward.
As a little girl, she was raised above my grandparents’ grocery store on the famed Highway 61 in Clarksdale; so work (and a lot of it) was always right downstairs. My mom and dad have worked together as far back as I can remember -- never apart and spending long hours on the job. Seeing their work ethic has been a big reason for a lot of my success.
Mom used to say when things weren’t going so well, “Dust yourself off, stop complaining, and get back in there.”
What is the most important lesson that you have taught your children?
HOAS – Head On A Swivel – always pay attention to your surroundings and follow your intuition.
What is one thing you admire most about your wife, Gwen?
Those gorgeous brown eyes of hers are just a hint to the beauty within. She’s an incredible woman!
Please name your favorite musician.
I mean this is tough because I love so many styles, thus, the mutt thing again. I probably listen to more jazz than all other genres combined; it’s great to cook to as well.
John Coltrane just does it for me. Then there’s Eugene Powell, AKA Sonny Boy Nelson, who was making blues records in the 30’s and was a big influence of mine as a kid, along with the always-gigging Little Milton. And if that isn’t enough, give me Bruce Springsteen or give me death. I love him.
Who, do you believe, is the most talented up-n-coming musician in “country music” currently?
To me, the most talented musicians are the songwriters, themselves, who create the songs for the artists you here on the radio. The songwriter’s - that I’ve been fortunate enough to be mentored by in Nashville - have the most unique voices and personalities.
As I mentioned before, “I’m a mutt” and writing, recording your own songs, and playing on your own records is a bit of a novelty in this industry. I chose to do that because it was important to me to be fully authentic. But it’s with this reasoning that, I feel, some of the best artists will probably never be household names, unfortunately.
What advice would you give to an individual who is currently trying to break into country music?
It takes great management, an established booking agent, and a powerful record label to make an act “break in” in a big way. These people control much of what it takes to get there. Thus, you can never be too prepared for your chance to shine when you get their attention. So make sure you’re good and ready for when the opportunity comes calling.
What is your favorite song that you sing?
Well I love the ease of performing my tune Sunshine. It sort of puts me in a soothing trance. However, for getting my juices flowing, it’s gotta be "Flatlands’ (Delta Mix)”, off my Delta Soul Volume One record. I also dig playing “Empty Spaces” from the Indianola album, which is probably the most poignant song I have written to date.
You recently agreed to become the Spokesperson for RAM Certified Agriculture Dealership Program. Tell us more about this program.
I have recently become the official Spokesperson for the Certified Agriculture Dealership Program. It is the only program in the country that trains businesses how to do business with farm and ranch families. It helps businesses know, understand, and appreciate the people of agriculture.
Agriculture speaks its own language. It makes decisions based on generational wisdom, not conventional. It convenes board meetings in the kitchen, cab or barn. It's families and faith, stewardship and community. And it takes a very unique skill set to do commerce with her people.
Ram Trucks is the foundation partner, and we are currently finalizing participation with companies representing several new business categories. I’m a big believer in the program and am excited to be involved. My song “The American Farmer” has found a home as the theme for the program.
Please explain “The Steve Azar St. Cecilia Foundation” of which you and your wife founded.
The mission of “The Steve Azar St. Cecilia Foundation” is to raise funds for charitable organizations - particularly in the Delta region - that aid sick, disadvantaged and abused children. The foundation also supports the promotion and growth of art and music programs within educational and cultural institutions. It was named after the patron saint of musicians, St. Cecilia.
Since it’s inception (and with the help of our annual event we began four years ago, called The Delta Soul Celebrity Golf & Charity Event), our foundation is nearing the $500,000 mark. We are provideing grants to many worthwhile organizations.
I could go on and on about the importance of keeping the arts pumping through communities and schools but I think my friend, Morgan Freeman, summed it up best at our Delta Soul event this year, when he was asked by a reporter the following question:
“Why the arts, Morgan?”
Morgan paused and in that one-of-a-kind voice of his replied, “No Art, No Life."
To learn more about the foundation and how to participate, go to www.SASCF.org.
When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
As the most perfect “imperfect” husband, father and friend to all those people that have known me. To be remembered as a man of strong faith -- a compassionate, caring human being that strived to achieve more than I was capable of in one lifetime.
As I said, God broke the mold when he made Steve Azar. He may call himself a “mutt” but Steve is nothing but all “thoroughbred” in my book!
Many thanks to Steve Azar and Aaron Bethune for making this interview possible