Q&A with Montreal-based blues rock guitarist Cliff Stevens, promises that Better Days of music are still ahead

"Music is the most powerful artform that we as humans have. It is capable of incredible healing in many ways – emotional, physical and spiritual. People react to music in different ways and take what they need from it personally in their own unique way."

Cliff Stevens: Better Blues-Rock Days

Cliff Stevens is a Montreal-based blues rock guitarist of British/Scottish descent, raised by his single mother. From a young age, he showed an interest in music and as a teenager his impressive guitar playing gained him popularity in high school. Stevens writes, sings and produces his own albums, drawing inspiration from guitarists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter and Rory Gallagher, influences that are reflected in his playing and songwriting. Like so many blues and rock musicians before him, Stevens spent much of his career in relative obscurity. As a sideman with various travelling groups, he played every type of show imaginable, from bottom of the barrel gigs to 14,000 wildly enthusiastic blues fans at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. When the non-stop grind of the road mixed with alcohol and drugs took its toll, Stevens made the decision to quit touring and make a living as a taxi driver.

(Photo: Cliff Stevens)

Ironically, he says he thought he had seen it all as a musician until he started driving a cab. Some of his experiences are described in a book he wrote with his brother called The Stroll about his life as a cabbie in Toronto, published by NC Press in 1986 and re-published by University of Toronto Press in 1995. After much soul-searching and painful life experiences, Stevens finally got sober in 1998 and hasn’t looked back since. In recovery and with a newfound sense of gratitude, he focused on his writing and started a solo career. He has toured Europe eight times since 2014 when he was the support act for legendary British rockers Wishbone Ash for their entire European tour. "Better Days" (2022) is the fifth solo release by Cliff Stevens, with eleven new original songs in an array of styles from driving blues-rock, slow classic blues to acoustic country blues. His life journey currently reflects a more personal and introspective style, all the while blending it with a blues rock edge that fans still know and love. Additionally, Cliff deepened his knowledge with a Master’s degree in Music and Education from Concordia University in Montreal. In the same way that a fine wine improves with age, so has Cliff’s guitar playing, singing and songwriting. With his latest release, Cliff Stevens promises that Better Days are still ahead.

Interview by Michael Limnios                Special Thanks: Sarah French Publicity

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I have been tremendously influenced by both rock and blues and have incorporated the two into my style of playing the guitar. Growing up in the 70’s there was a freer and more optimistic outlook to life, so that led me to having a more liberal take on my world views and maybe a bit more adventurous spirit than I should have had.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is a mix of blues, rock and old-fashioned melodic songwriting. I come from the ‘less is more’ school and I believe that music should be allowed to breathe and that you can say a lot by saying a little.

"I think what touched me the most when I tour around the world is how people react almost universally to music. It is incredible when you play a blues shuffle in Europe, Morocco, Mexico or Canada and people, you know they just feel it and it makes them move, makes them happy." (Photo: Cliff Stevens)

What´s been the highlights in your career so far? Are there any specific memories that you would like to tell us about?!

I’ve had many exciting moments. Playing blues festivals for large crowds is always exciting, as well as recording and releasing my first album was a thrill. Touring Europe for the first time in 2014 as support for Wishbone Ash was very cool. Most of all, I love writing songs and when I can come up with a finished song I am proud of that has come out of almost thin air - a guitar line, a thought or a hook, that probably thrills me the most.

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

I’m having a great time now and with the release of my new album ‘Better Days’ and the way it is being received. I am quite happy performing. Regarding music from the past, I do miss seeing some of the older guitarists that I grew up idolizing who are no longer with us. But there is a lot of great music happening now and I think the future looks bright.

What touched you from your tours around the world? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

I think what touched me the most when I tour around the world is how people react almost universally to music. It is incredible when you play a blues shuffle in Europe, Morocco, Mexico or Canada and people, you know they just feel it and it makes them move, makes them happy. For me I have realised that writing songs and being able to perform them and then to make people happy when they hear my music is all I could ever ask for.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?                                       (Photo: Cliff Stevens)
I just want to make people happy when they hear me play and I’m grateful that most of the time they seem to be happy at the end of the show.

"My sound is a mix of blues, rock and old-fashioned melodic songwriting. I come from the ‘less is more’ school and I believe that music should be allowed to breathe and that you can say a lot by saying a little."

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

Listen to the other musicians in the band, get the energy of the crowd and have a good time.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Music is the most powerful artform that we as humans have. It is capable of incredible healing in many ways – emotional, physical and spiritual. People react to music in different ways and take what they need from it personally in their own unique way. I am very aware that when I am writing, performing or recording my music, there is a spiritual aspect I experience that I just can’t get anywhere else. For me, music is life.

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