Azar found inspiration from blues performers
Ramblin' Rhodes
By Don Rhodes| Columnist
Thursday, November 05, 2009

Gardeners know Steve Azar as the smooth-voiced singer who opens P. Allen Smith's Garden Home series on PBS each week, singing the program's theme song, I Can't Help but Smile .

Sports fans know Mr. Azar as one of Golf Digest magazines' Top Five celebrity golfers, and a regular on The Golf Channel's Playing Lessons series.

Country music fans know Mr. Azar from his hits, including I Don't Have to Be Me ('Til Monday) , which has aired more than 3 million times on radio, and Waitin' on Joe, whose music video featured Oscar winner Morgan Freeman.

Mr. Azar and the Arista Nashville Records band Jypsi will perform at a free outside concert at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center, before WKXC's Guitar Pull.

Mr. Azar has been writing songs since he was 10. He was inspired by blues singers playing behind a liquor store that his father, Joe Azar, owned in Greenville, Miss.

"My father had the Jigger and Jug a half-block from where (U.S.) Highways 61 and 82 split, and Eugene Powell, who was known as Sonny Boy Nelson, lived in a house behind my dad's store," Mr. Azar said in a call.

"I just fell in love with his music even though, looking back, I didn't know what he was singing about. But I was drawn to it and would race home to write stuff. I worked three hours a day learning to play a guitar good enough to turn my words into songs."

When he was 13, Mr. Azar was climbing out an upstairs window and onto a roof to sneak off to blues clubs on his bicycle.

He was constantly getting grounded, because the following Monday those blues-club singers would be laughing and talking with his father at the liquor store.

In the early '80s, Mr. Azar attended Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., where he pursued his love of music and developed a love of golf.

His roommate, Doug Murphy, was on the college golf team, and they would play together.

His debut album, Heartbreak Town , was released on the River North label in 1996.

Mr. Azar formed his own label, Dang Records, in 2008, and released his acclaimed Indianola album later the same year.

"Now there are no filters on my music, which may be good and bad," he said. "There was a time when I tried to compromise on my recordings to make them work but it wasn't working.

"When your 5-year-old girl says, 'I just like what you're doing (at home) upstairs,' you know that you have to be honest with yourself."

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 39 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at don.rhodes@morris.com.

From the Thursday, November 05, 2009 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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