Always in the shadow of neighboring New York, New Jersey often doesn’t get its due. The Garden State, though, will always be close to the heart of singer-songwriter Steve Forbert.
Forbert, whose new album is appropriately called Moving Through America after he spent decades traveling to concerts from state to state, he grew up a long way from New Jersey in Meridian, Mississippi. He traveled to New York to make his mark in the music world and found New Jersey was a place to call home.
“Back in the early Eighties, I discovered that the Jersey Shore was a fun place — not too far from the city, a perfect getaway,” Forbert says. “I spent some weekends there and liked it a lot, primarily because of the music scene. A lot of people on the Shore basically live for rock ‘n’ roll, and Bruce Springsteen validated it in a bona fide worldwide way.”
Springsteen’s saxophone player, Clarence Clemons, opened a Jersey Shore club called Big Man’s West in Red Bank in 1981, and Forbert played shows there. Red Bank, which today calls itself “the Greenwich Village of the Garden State,” is about a 90-minute drive south of midtown Manhattan.
Forbert met Diane DeFazio in Red Bank in 1982, and they started dating. But they went their separate ways — each married and had children — until they met again in New Jersey in 2001.
“After my divorce in 2001, I saw Diane at one of my shows in Long Branch and later gave her a phone call,” Forbert recalls. “We got more serious about each other, and I spent more and more time on the Jersey Shore. The Shore still had some of the old magic, and I liked being back in that area. It took me a while to recognize it for what it actually is: a rock ‘n’ roll Never-Never-Land.
“It may be the only place in America where an older generation still holds a bit of sway in the nightlife scene,” Forbert explains. “A 65-year-old can hang out socializing and not feel totally behind the times. Every city I know is overrun on weekend nights by youth culture. Asbury Park has a youth culture, too, of course, but it hasn’t obliterated a good time for older people. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people, made some good friends, recorded my two latest albums with producer Steve Greenwell and even had a couple of my photography exhibits on display at art629 in Asbury Park. The boardwalk itself is a great thing. On nights when the weather is good, you’ll see people from all walks of life just being themselves, strolling along the boardwalk, enjoying an evening by the ocean.”
New Jersey is just one of 49 states where Forbert has performed. He has never played in Hawaii. Outside the USA, he has played concerts in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, Canada, England, Ireland and Scotland.
The travel to nearly every state has helped shape his identity and music.
“All of this American travel makes me who I am,” Forbert says. “A perfect example would be the title song of my new album Moving Through America. The song describes a 10-day solo tour I did through the Midwest in January 2017. It’s a travelogue of places and feelings I enjoyed. If you listen to the entire album, I’m name-checking Palo Alto, California; Gainesville, Fla.; Madison, Wisconsin; Houston Texas; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Atlantic City, New Jersey.”
Forbert says he usually stays in “old-style motels” where a parking space is adjacent to a room’s front door. He vividly remembers waking up one night in such a motel about 12 years ago, because “some creature” was “climbing furiously up the curtain.” He opened the door to let the animal out and presumed that it escaped. The next day, he got down on the floor to look under the bed. “There, in the darkness, backed against the wall, was a big, wide-eyed cat staring back at me,” he recalls.
A stretch of highway in Colorado that he has driven on more than one occasion elicits other memories.
“One American road that’s made a lasting impression on me is the drive down Colorado 550 from Grand Junction to Durango,” Forbert says. “It takes you through the mountains on a so-called highway that’s pretty precarious. You wonder how they even built it — just a two-lane road planned into the side of a mountain with lots of hairpin turns and no guardrails.”
New Orleans is his favorite place to rest and relax.
“The French Quarter is like being in a foreign country without the travel hassles and language barriers,” Forbert explains. “It’s the food, the architecture, the music and the local characters that make New Orleans such a great destination.”
Listeners may enjoy getting glimpses of other destinations when hearing Moving Through America. As he states on his website, “Steve Forbert is still moving through America, and, with his latest album, he takes us with him.”