Steve Dawson
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Steve Dawson

Brentwood, Tennessee, United States | INDIE | AFM

Brentwood, Tennessee, United States | INDIE | AFM
Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos




It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint Steve Dawson through the smooth fabric of his music; now on his fifth Black Hen solo record, this sideman, producer, record label owner and gifted multi-instrumentalist has so adeptly woven the threads of multiple musical interests into his records that they sound like addendums to his productions for other people.

Using many of the same studio players (keyboardist Chris Gestrin, bassist Keith Lowe and drummer Geoff Hicks) probably adds to this, but it also might be his low-key vocal presence.

While Dawson’s lyrics are often introspective (Have That Chance) or even jauntily morbid (The Side of the Road), his tone is laconic. No tortured artist, he’s got the even-handed patience of a craftsman, but with the innate gift of someone who can throw out a zinger like Dylan (We Still Won the War).

Of course, there’s also his guitar work, as offhandedly brilliant as any he’s done, flashy at moments, painterly at others. He also makes nice use of talented guests like vocalists Jeanne Tolmie and Jill Barber.

– By Tom Murray
- Penguin Eggs - March 2011


Canadian blues-roots veteran Steve Dawson has wrapped work on his fifth solo album Nightshade.

No Depression magazine referred to Dawson as Canada's T Bone Burnett, in part because of the number of musical hats he wears so well. Dawson is a noted singer,songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. He is joined on Nightshade by frequent collaborators Geoff Hicks on drums, Keith Lowe on bass, and Chris Gestrin on keyboards. These musicians have helped him on the numerous projects he has produced for other Black Hen releases including albums by Jim Byrnes, The Sojourners, and the Mississippi Sheiks tribute album and its accompanying live DVD.

Nightshade collects 11 originals and also finds him returning to the Sheiks for inspiration, tackling their "Gulf Coast Bay." He first performed the song as part of the Sheiks tribute concert and has now recorded a studio version of it for this album.

There is darkness in the subject matter of many of these songs and Dawson attributes this more to art, film, and music he listens to than any sort of personal demons.

“As far as musical influences, I count Joe Henry and Elliott Smith as direct influence on my writing. Their music is dark, but for myself, I don’t feel that dark as a person. Maybe writing music like this is a way to get it out of my system.” - Blinded by Sound - March 2011


Over the past decade or so Steve Dawson has become such an indelible fixture on the Canadian musical landscape that it’s tempting to take him for granted. One of the drawbacks of being so talented is that Dawson makes everything he does sound so effortless. The music that continually flows out of him is so natural and unforced that it’s possible to forget all of the toil that went into producing it. Behind the organic, flowing guitar work, the crisp arrangements and the laconic singing voice, resides one of the brightest, hardest working musicians the country has ever produced.

A new solo album from Steve is always something special. Because Dawson is such a diverse artist, you’re never quite sure what kind of mood he’ll be in when he finally makes it into the studio to record. A master of many genres from gentle acoustic ditties and gut bucket blues through to free flowing experimental compositions, Dawson is comfortable in almost any musical setting you could name, and his newest album, “Nightshade” draws from these many interests to form his most satisfyingly complete album to date. - Blues Festival E-Guide - March 2011


Stepping away from all his wonderful production work for anyone rootsy in Canada, Dawson amps it up a bit this time and comes in like a turned up singer/songwriter with a roots bent and a wider appeal. Solidly fun listening date that falls just to the right of outsider music and seems open to being a good time for all. Too much of a pro to let a false note slip by, Dawson and his handpicked crew sound like they are playing for the fun of it but they want you to have the good time. Solid stuff that works throughout. - Midwest Record - March 2011

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

Steve Dawson is a simple man, with two distinct musical passions – multi–instrumentalism and seeking out amazing playing partners. Whether it is as a solo artist, a band mate in Zubot and Dawson, or a producer/engineer for a variety of artists like Jenny Whiteley and Kelly Joe Phelps, Dawson has found a way to make a living through using these aforementioned passions for the greater good of his albums, and those by others. His credits alone speak for themselves.
Dawson’s discography ranges for 14 years and two complete MS Word document pages, and definitely sheds a light on just how much this B.C. native loves his work – but it goes beyond that. Throughout the 75 plus projects he has partaken in, eight of them have been nominated for Juno Awards, and four of those eight have been victories for Dawson. The rest of the award list is too detailed to fully get into, but let’s just say that Dawson has serious credibility amongst his peers. So, when he decided that 2008 would be his year to shine on a solo level, Dawson zoned in on tracking down some musical friends and strangers to help him put the finishing touches on not one, but two brand new albums. “A lot of it is personality. As weird as it sounds, probably 60 per cent of making a record to me is the hang [outs that are] involved – like making everyone comfortable and relaxed so that they’re being at their best,” explains Dawson from New Brunswick. “If there’s someone involved who is not really buying into it or being a nuisance, it totally ruins the vibe of the recording. Since a lot of the stuff I do has a lot of live elements to it, everyone has to get along and personally be on a good level. “Pretty much every time I make a record, there’s five people playing music in a room together. Whether that is what ends up on the record or not, it depends on a lot of factors. But, that is always the situation that I put those people in,” he continues. “It’s just one of those things where it has to be that way, or else it’s going to be tense and weird and you’re not going to get the best performance and music out of people.”
Fortunately for Dawson, his mix of musicians for his 2008 efforts Waiting for the Lights to Come Up and the all- instrumental album Telescopes led to a pair of quickly produced (five days of recording combined), yet significantly different projects. On Waiting, Dawson takes on a diversified rock/roots flavour throughout, while Telescopes essentially came to life once the musician received a government grant that afforded him the opportunity to learn the pedal steel guitar. Figuring that this would be the only time he could afford to make such a bold splash, Dawson went for it – instead of pushing away any of the ideas he had, Dawson wanted to use them all right away so that nothing would be lost over time. As for why Dawson has so much fascination in taking on as many projects and instruments as he does, it has more to do with being able to capture, and fully bring alive any musical idea that may cross his mind without any roadblocks. “It was sort of out of necessity and partly out of curiosity and partly that I really admire people that can do a lot of different instruments and have that as an arsenal,” says Dawson of his multiple–instrument prowess. “The guitar for me is always going to be my primary [instrument] that I’m the most interested in, and I feel naturally more inclined to play that. But at the same time, there are a lot of other interesting sounds out there, and I want to be able to do as many as I can. “I don’t necessarily want to be a great player on an organ or a piano or anything – although that would be fun, I know that’s realistically never going to happen because I can’t devote my life to that,” he adds. “So, if I can get good enough to hear parts in my head on something, then I’ll try and do that and that’s where I’m at. I don’t intend to be a concert pianist, but I want to be able to play enough piano, so that I can play a part that I hear in a song [idea] – and the same goes for other instruments.”
- Adam Grant
- The Record - April 2008

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

Steve Dawson doesn't want for work - the Vancouver producer and string-thing sideman keeps busy with projects galore. This year, he has his own albums to do, starting with the dashing roots music of Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, with Telescope still to come. Inspired musicianship and sound-crafting serves Waiting, a well-mannered collection with stick-out tracks that are invariably covers and instrumentals (Fun Machine One is a fun one!). It's a wonderfully coloured record - sliding and resonating guitars, animated pump organs and Wurlitzers, charming ukuleles and deft drumming - but Dawson's impassive vocals don't sell at all. He needs to work on that. Steve Dawson begins a Canadian tour tomorrow in Halifax, with a Toronto stop at Hugh's Room on April 8.
- Brad Wheeler

- Globe and Mail - April 2008

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

Steve Dawson could never be accused of shirking his homework when it comes to expanding his musical horizons.
The Vancouver musician, producer, record label founder and songwriter was an acknowledged expert on most of the stringed family when he decided a few years back to pursue the pedal steel guitar -- a deceptively challenging instrument and one of the few that he hadn't already mastered.
So, armed with a government grant, Dawson approached pedal steel master Greg Leisz -- an American musician whose work has appeared on albums by Joni Mitchell, Beck and Wilco -- and hunkered down for months to obsess over the finicky ins and outs of the instrument.
"I liked the process of learning and was really drawn to the idea of a steep learning curve," says Dawson, in an interview from his home in Vancouver.
"I find with the guitar, I don't really learn like I used to when I was a kid. I wasn't sitting down and every day coming up with something new." The education was so in-depth, that Dawson was eventually able to base an entire album around his pedal steel prowess. The all-instrumental Telescope will be released later this year. Earlier this month, Dawson released Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, a song-based album that explores an entirely different set of his talents Having two albums on the go is not surprising given Dawson's busy schedule and artistic restlessness.
It's all a matter of being ruthless with those demanding his time and focusing on the task at hand, he says with a laugh.
Dawson will be returning to Calgary on Sunday for a CD release show at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Hall.
The show will focus on Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, an album that keeps Dawson firmly planted in the Canadian blues/roots community he has helped create over the past 10 years.
In the 1990s, Dawson became frustrated when approaching major labels about a less-than marketable collection of acoustic instrumental tunes he had recorded with long-time collaborator Jesse Zubot.
When enough doors had been slammed, he decided to create Black Hen Records to release the disc.
A decade later, it remains one of the most powerful forces in Canadian blues and roots music, boasting a roster that includes everyone from gospel group The Sourjourners to accordion-wielding ex-punk rocker Geoff Berner.
As creative director, Dawson produces a good number of the new releases on the label. That, combined with his sideman duties with artists such as Jim Byrnes and Kelly Joe Phelps, places him in good company when it comes to soaking up songwriting tips.
"People like Shuyler Jansen, Kelly Joe Phelps and Jenny Whiteley are pretty top-notch songwriters," he says. "They all have their own styles. But one thing I do notice with those people and others I work with is that they are not afraid of simplicity in songs. That's one of the stumbling blocks of myself and others who keep trying to make songs more clever and crafty. I noticed that good writers write really simple songs. They are much harder to come up with."
-Eric Volmers

- Calgary Herald - February 2008

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

Although still virtually unknown in the United States, Steve Dawson is already a much sought after producer, player, and songwriter in Canada. This is one of two albums Dawson is releasing in 2008. Telescope is an album of tracks he recorded to showcase his newly acquired skills on the pedal steel guitar. Waiting for the Lights To Come Up was recorded during the same time period but features the more familiar sound and style Dawson is already known for. Steve surrounds himself with top-notch players and this is evident in listening to this CD. Super polished and mature, these organic pop tracks are smooth and ultimately accessible. We weren't surprised in the least to find a Bob Dylan track covered here ("Walkin' Down the Line") as his music seems to have heavily influenced Dawson. These folky and slightly bluesy tunes are ultimately inspired and sound instantly familiar. Dawson's killer guitar playing is highlighted on tracks like "Fire Somewhere," "Room to Room," "Fun Machine One," and "Swinging in a Hammock." Good solid stuff. (Rating: 4++++)
- - 2008

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

Steve Dawson loves the old, the funky and the weird.
The Vancouver guitarist/singer/ songwriter -- best known as half of Juno-winning Zubot and Dawson -- collects vintage Hawaiian music 78s. And antique pump organs. And he adores the sound of el-cheapo Silvertone electric guitars, popularized by Sears in the 1950s and '60s.
Dawson owns two Silvertones. Both are black with silver sparkles. He played one (acquired for $50) on the bluesy song, Fire Somewhere, from his new album, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up. Dawson's composition sounds buzzy and gritty, as though his guitar strings are caked in rust.
It's great, in other words.
"I don't always want really perfect-sounding instruments," the 35-year-old said over the phone.
"But I want something ideally really unique. I want to build textures of sound ... Those kinds of instruments, to me, they just have a lot of soul."
On the texture-building front, Dawson certainly succeeded with Waiting for the Lights to Come Up, which he produced as well. Organs grind, guitars shimmer, other unidentified sounds -- seemingly emanating from nowhere -- click and flutter. With this album, as well as his own folk and blues offerings, Dawson covers songs by such artists as Bob Dylan (Walkin' Down the Line) and the Mississippi Sheiks (Somebody's Got to Help You.)
When he and his trio play Hermann's Jazz Club, Dawson will likely lug along one of his old pump organs. The model he hopes to bring is somewhat portable, weighing 85 pounds.
"They call it a missionary organ. They used to haul it around, converting the heathens."
Since studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music, Dawson has forged a distinctive path in Canadian music. He and Jesse Zubot achieved national popularity, partly due to enthusiastic CBC Radio play, with a folk-jazz mix they dubbed "strang." (The pair no longer write music together, but that'll likely happen in the future, he says.)
These days Dawson -- who lives in the funky Commercial Drive area of Vancouver's East End -- helps run the independent Black Hen Music label, produces albums for many musicians, and plays many solo and band shows.
Dawson, who attended the upscale St. George's private school in Vancouver, recalls that his parents weren't thrilled when he announced his intention to become a musician. His father was an accountant, his mother was a teacher. They hoped their son would select a similarly stable career.
"They got used to it," he said, "after a while."
It's no accident that Waiting for the Lights to Come Up contains a Mississippi Sheiks tune. The country blues group, popular in the 1920s and '30s, is one of Dawson's favourites. Indeed, he's so captivated by their music, Dawson has planned an entire Mississippi Sheiks tribute album, to be recorded in June and released in late 2008. He has already lined up heavy-duty talent to participate, including Ry Cooder, John Hammond, Bill Frisell and Kelly Joe Phelps.
In September, he'll release another Steve Dawson album. That disc, Telescope, is an all-instrumental, pedal-steel-guitar-driven effort employing the same the same musicians as Waiting for the Lights to Come Up. Telescope was recorded over the same five-day period as the other disc.
Dawson declares himself satisfied with having numerous irons in his musical fire. One aspect that he particularly enjoys is being able to work often from home, sometimes doing recording there.
After all, home is where not only his heart lies, but his vintage music stuff.
" I like creaky old things," he said. "Things that are made a long time ago, that are barely hangin' on."
-Adrian Chamberlain
- Victoria Times Colonist - February 2008

"Waiting for the Lights to Come Up"

The first of two Steve Dawson releases slated to come out this year, Waiting for the Lights to Come Up is the third solo record from this Vancouver-based multi-instrumentalist/slide guitar master/producer/record label exec/general overachiever. As on 2005’s We Belong to the Gold Coast, this album sees Dawson playing multiple instruments on several of the tunes; catch him on the tricone, acoustic, electric and baritone guitar on the waltzy toe-tapper “Dry as Our Luck,” (not to mention the mandotar and pump organ) or manning the ukeleles, weissenborn and electric guitars on the vintage Hawaiian tune with a twist, “Swinging in a Hammock.” But while the songs on this album still incorporate the blues, folk, Hawaiian and occasionaly twangy bluegrass sounds Dawson fans know and love, one thing we hear of more on this album than previous efforts is his voice. Nine of the 15 cuts feature Dawson’s singing, a big leap from only five tracks on Gold Coast. Sure, Dawson’s voice isn’t the strongest one on the roots scene, but the mixture of well-penned original tunes (The opener “At Arms Length” and “Today’s Surprise” being my favourites) and covers (Dylan’s “Walkin’ Down the Line” among them) make for a solid album. Also present is a cast of talented collaborators, with Chris Gestrin on organ, Scott Amendola on percussion, Keith Lowe manning the bass, Jeanne Tolmie offering haunting background vocals on a few tracks and a few others sitting in for the occasional tune. Indeed, Waiting for the Lights is an accurate snapshot of the accomplished musician’s career; solid songwriting, outstanding musicianship, great musical friends and a voice sure to get even better as he flexes it more. I already can’t wait to hear what comes down the line when Telescope hits the shelves later this year.
-Amanda Farrell
- Monday Mag - February 2008


If an artist is going to make an instrumental album and expect people to listen to it as something other than background music, it had better be darn interesting. Thank god Steve Dawson was aware of that when making this album. Telescope is full of sonic subtleties in the mix that encourage (if not demand) close and repeated listens. As you listen, you can practically hear the band around you, and you're placed in the middle of the room as the four-piece band weaves jazz, folk, rock and country elements together, enveloping your senses. It's a wonderful thing. Upright bass, organ, drum kit, and Dawson's highly evocative pedal steel guitar work as a seamless tapestry of musical genres that are hinted at, played around, and finally explored, to varying degrees. From the lazy western swing of "Chris Gestrin", to the hip-hopped folk-funk of "Speaker Damage", this album gets it right. The mood of the album is cheerful but inquisitive, with enough melancholy to satisfy Willie Nelson fans. Bill Frisell and Daniel Lanois are likely influences, but Dawson isn't derivative; this album is fresh and original, while respecting the genres that paved the way for it. - CD Baby


Back in 1999, a friend who knows my taste in music introduced me to a duo called Zubot and Dawson. Their first album, Strang, established their distinctive sound—a unique blend of Steve Dawson’s Weissenborn lap guitar and Jesse Zubot’s violin. I was hooked! After several Z&B;releases, Dawson has gone on to become a prolific producer and sideman and has released several excellent solo CDs on his Vancouver-based Black Hen label. Telescope, his latest, is one of two new CDs from him in 2008. This all-instrumental album features his new passion, pedal steel guitar. He has used the same core players as his last release, Waiting For The Lights To Come Up, with Keith Lowe on bass, Chris Gestrin on keyboards and Scott Amendola on drums plus a few guests. But it is Steve himself, on pedal steel, guitar, lap guitar, ukulele and various unusual keyboards, who is the star here. From the opener “Caballero’s Dream,” which Clint Eastwood could use in a duster flick, to “Speaker Damage,” “Nailbiter” and ”Fun Machine Two,” it is a never-ending variety of styles and sounds, with pedal steel right up front. It is a great CD, and shows the pedal steel is not just a country instrument anymor - Monday Magazine


Here's your tax dollar going to great use. Vancouver's Dawson, already one of the country's best multi-instrumentalists and producers, received a Canada Council grant to learn the pedal steel in 2005. He was tutored by the renowned Greg Leisz and the results are in this all-instrumental disc. Instead of country, it's made up of all sorts of inventive and epic playing. Using an excellent band, Dawson experiments with arrangements and genres, ending up with much richer storytelling than most albums with words. - The Telegraph Journal


Played horizontally, the pedal steel is a variation of slide guitar, with a series of foot pedals and knee levers that raise or lower the pitch of the individual ten strings. It was a staple of many a Western swing or country band for decades. Vancouver, BC, multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter Dawson, under a grant from the Canadian Arts Council, has been studying the instrument with the legendary Greg Leisz since 2005. This 10-track, ensemble-based project is the first result - all instrumental with a crack, jazz-oriented band in tow that prove experts at emphasizing melody, cadence and, above all, reciprocity, while displaying alternating amounts of both structure and improvisation.
Indeed, joined by Keith Lowe (Bill Frisell) on acoustic and electric bass, Chris Gestrin (Randy Bachman) on keyboards, fun machine, clavioline as well as moog and Scott Amendola (T.J. Kirk) on drums, Dawson's compositions shift moods and atmospherics on a dime - from a haunting, Brian Eno-like serendipitous ambience on "Caballero's Dream" or "The Hunt Is On" to an aura of edginess in an environment of barely controlled distortion on tracks like "Keith Lowe" or the bluesily raucous "Speaker Damage", which also features a wailing guest shot from Ottawa's ace harmonica player Steve Marriner.
Further selections that not only reveal Dawson's accomplished command of the pedal steel's whorl of wonderfully benumbing nuances, but also expose his abilities on ukulele, banjo (employed most effectively on the dynamic "Fun Machine Two"), pump organ, marxophone, piano and glockenspiel in addition to a phalanx of other guitars, include the widescreen "Gunslinger Retreats and Lurks Underground" (with some phenomenal pedal steel and organ interplay as the climax approaches), another blues-tinged drama titled "No One Goes To The Park When It Rains" and the exorcistic "1000 Year Old Egg". Wow. - Sing Out!


Album Releases as Solo Artist, or Featured Band Member:
2011 – Nightshade (solo)
2009 – Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks
2008 – Telescope (solo)
2008 – Waiting for the Lights to Come Up (solo)
2005 – We Belong to the Gold Coast (solo)
2003 – Blow the House Down (Great Uncles of the Revolution)
2002 – Chicken Scratch (Zubot and Dawson)
2001 – Bug Parade (solo)
2001 – Stand Up! (Great Uncles of the Revolution)
2000 – Tractor Parts (Zubot and Dawson)
1998 – Strang (Zubot and Dawson)
1994 – Don’t Need Much (The Spirit Merchants)



Over the past decade or so Steve Dawson has become such an indelible fixture on the Canadian musical landscape that its tempting to take him for granted. One of the drawbacks of being so talented is that Dawson makes everything he does sound so effortless. The music that continually flows out of him is so natural and unforced that its possible to forget all of the toil that went into producing it. Behind the organic, flowing guitar work, the crisp arrangements and the laconic singing voice, resides one of the brightest, hardest working musicians the country has ever produced.

Steve Dawson is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Specializing in slide and fingerstyle guitar, pedal steel, lap steel, banjo and other instruments, he is in demand as a performer, session musician and producer. Over the last decade, Steve has performed at major guitar, jazz and folk festivals in Canada, the USA and Europe.

In addition to working on his own music, hes kept very busy producing memorable albums by such luminaries as Jim Byrnes, Kelly Joe Phelps, Jenny Whiteley, Old Man Luedecke, The Sojourners, and The Deep Dark Woods, as well as the award winning Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Project. Add to that his session work and touring commitments and its amazing that this 2-time Juno award winning artist (not to mention 3 other Junos for his production work!) ever finds the time to create any new work under his own name.

Steve grew up in Vancouver. At 18, Steve spent two years at Bostons Berklee College, before returning home to perform in touring original bands for several years. His interest in acoustic music began to take root at this time, as he explored the earliest recordings of blues, jazz, and Hawaiian music from the 20s and 30s.

The Spirit Merchants were the most prominent and this band played countless gigs all over North America. Steves subsequent duo with violinist Jesse Zubot (Zubot and Dawson) featured acoustic instruments in genre-stretching original music. They released 3 albums and won many awards, including a Juno in 2002.

The Great Uncles of the Revolution teamed Zubot and Dawson with 2 exceptional jazz musicians from Toronto. This band was the winner of a Juno Award in 2003, as well as The Grand Prix de Jazz at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2003.

Other artists began asking Steve to produce records for them. In between tours and sessions, he started a career as record producer. Steve has produced award-winning albums for Jenny Whiteley, Jim Byrnes, Old Man Luedecke, Kelly Joe Phelps, Ndidi Onukwulu, The Sojourners, John Wort Hannam, and many more. He has been awarded Producer of the Year honours twice at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and three times at the Western Canadian Music Awards.

In 1998, Steve started Black Hen Music, an independent record label with the intention of releasing roots, acoustic, jazz and blues music. Over the last 15 years, the label has thrived and now has a roster of almost 20 artists and over 60 releases that are distributed internationally.

Steve began his solo recording career in 2001, releasing Bug Parade. 2005 saw the Juno Award nominated We Belong to the Gold Coast, which further explored his love of antique and modern sounds, mixing traditional blues and Hawaiian music with originals.

Steve received a grant in 2005 from the Canada Council to study the pedal steel with Greg Leisz, the foremost player of the instrument outside of country music.

2008 saw the release of 2 solo albums: Waiting For The Lights To Come Up a collection of new songs, and a few traditional, and Telescope an all-instrumental album featuring the pedal steel guitar as the main voice. Recorded at the same time, these were 2 different concepts that Steve wanted to record with the same musicians. Telescope was nominated for a Juno in 2009.

Steve produced Things About Comin My Way: A Tribute to the Mississippi Sheiks in 2009. It featured Bruce Cockburn, Van Dyke Parks, Danny Barnes, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Brozman, John Hammond, Bill Frisell, Madeleine Peyroux and many more. Several high-profile concerts with various participants have taken place subsequently, and an award-winning in-concert DVD was released.

Steve Dawsons work as producer and musician has resulted in numerous accolades, including 5 Juno Awards and 16 nominations, 10 Western Canadian Music Awards, and 22 nominations, 2 Independent Canadian Music Awards for Roots Album Of The Year and a Maple Blues Award, among others.