Q&A with compelling roots-bound musician Steve Conn, his heart and soul on the sleeve of the frock of Louisiana

"I want my music to hit people in the heart and soul, and make them think. I’m not interested in making background music. I want to make the world a better place."

Steve Conn: Southern Rootsy Grooves

Steve Conn has played piano, organ or accordion with Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, Kris Kristofferson, Dion, Kenny Loggins and a multitude of others. As a session keyboardist he has played on 12 Grammy-nominated albums, including Tracy Nelson’s Life Don’t Miss Nobody in 2024 and Sonny Landreth’s 2017 live album, Recorded Live in Lafayette, on which he plays accordion, piano and organ, and is featured singing his song “The One and Only Truth.” He was a New Folk Finalist at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival, he’s had his music played on Oprah and CSI, and for two years he was the musical director for eTown on National Public Radio. He’s a master songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s toured Europe with legendary bluesman Albert King, played on “The Tonight Show” with acclaimed vocalist Shelby Lynne, and joined rock ’n’ roll icon Levon Helm onstage at the famed Ryman Auditorium. Steve's music reflects the depth and diversity of his Louisiana roots. Part funky bluesman, part soulful popster, he draws on his love of Southern literature to craft tunes.

(Steve Conn / Photo by Jack Spencer)

His first national release was the critically acclaimed River of Madness, a unique hybrid of Louisiana-influenced, pop-inspired deep grooves and high ideals. He released Steve Conn in 2003, featuring the classic “I’ve Got Your Dog” and the heartbreaking “Beautiful,” later recorded by soul icon Bonnie Bramlett. In 2011 he came out with Beautiful Dream, 12 exquisitely crafted songs full of questions and observations about loss and innocence, hope and regret, cynicism and optimism. He continues weaving those lyrical threads on 2019’s Flesh and Bone, which is full of rootsy grooves, incisive lyrics, imaginative production and unforgettable songs. In 2020, compelling roots-bound musician from Pineville, Louisiana, Steve Conn released the single "Love Always Wins". 

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned from roots music is to be myself. Roots music is a reflection of real life — dreams, pain, love, despair, joy. I’ve spent my life trying to figure out why I’m here, and writing and listening to songs that reflect that endless search. I want to be moved. Roots music moves me on a level that pop music does not.

What characterise your sound/music philosophy? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

Technique is great, but if it doesn’t have soul, the technique doesn’t interest me. And the more soul it has, the less I care about technique. When somebody has a lot of both, it’s magic, but I’ll take heart over chops any day.

Why do you think that New Orleans music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because it is soulful and infectious and rhythmic and joyous. It’s all about the groove. It hits you in the soul and makes you want to dance. It’s the real deal.

"I guess I miss the energy and purity of the music of the past. You can often tell that the artists knew they were creating something special, often doing something that had never been done before, and you can feel the excitement. Having said that, I am constantly hearing new music that blows me away, so I think the future is in good hands." (Steve Conn / Photo by Chad Edwards)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Two things that had a major impact on me were:

  • Finding some tapes of my father singing and playing violin and guitar about ten years after he died when I was 11. I never heard him play, and though everyone had told me he was great, I had no idea how great he was until I heard those tapes. It was obvious that he was playing for the sheer joy of it, not for glory. That has been a huge lesson.
  • Meeting Sonny Landreth in 1975. We formed a band the next day and have played together ever since in one capacity or another. He has been a constant source of inspiration, always raising the bar, always improving, and he has also been the truest of friends.

It would be hard to narrow down the highlights. I’ve played with hundreds of amazing artists like Gatemouth Brown, Albert King, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt and Levon Helm, but these days, every time I get a chance to get on stage and sing my songs is a highlight.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I toured Europe with Albert King in 1980. I was hired to play Hammond B3 but I never saw a B3 for the entire tour. I played everything from a Fender Rhodes to a Hohner Pianet to the dreaded RMI. It was challenging to make those keyboards fit with his music, and he gave me a good bit of grief. But a year or so after the tour, a promoter hired me (on B3) and my band to back up Albert at a concert in Fort Collins, Colorado. At rehearsal Albert was somewhat distant at first, but after awhile he turned around to me and smiled and said, “Man, you play good B3.” I can’t tell you how good that made me feel. All was forgiven. And the concert was a blast.

"Technique is great, but if it doesn’t have soul, the technique doesn’t interest me. And the more soul it has, the less I care about technique. When somebody has a lot of both, it’s magic, but I’ll take heart over chops any day." (Steve Conn, 1974 Baton Rouge, LA / Photo by Eileen Burden)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I guess I miss the energy and purity of the music of the past. You can often tell that the artists knew they were creating something special, often doing something that had never been done before, and you can feel the excitement. Having said that, I am constantly hearing new music that blows me away, so I think the future is in good hands.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Even though I believe the future is in good hands, I don’t think it’s going to be easy. It’s harder to make a living as a true artist, and there is so much noise on streaming platforms and social media that it’s difficult for true art to be heard. I think the music is being dumbed down as a result. In fact, I think the proliferation of mediocrity is having a very negative effect on our entire culture.

I want my music to hit people in the heart and soul, and make them think. I’m not interested in making background music. I want to make the world a better place.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I’m an artist, not a salesman.

The jerks get most of the attention but there are a lot of good people in the world.

Love everybody, be kind, be generous.

Don’t try to solo after Sonny Landreth.

Steve Conn - Home

(Steve Conn / Photo by Jamey Firnberg)

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