By Tommy Johnson
If you find yourself scrolling through the never-ending barrage of videos that will undoubtedly suck you into the vortex that is YouTube, Jeff Massey has a recommendation for you. He states that you need to search for a group from Japan titled The Takers. Once you come across the results of your search on the band, you will notice there’s a few live performance from what appears to be a dive bar that they performed at. What you will be witnessing as you watch the videos is that The Takers are actually a pretty stellar tribute band for the Chicago based group The Steepwater Band, whom which Massey himself is the lead vocalist/guitarist for.
It all started a few years ago when Massey received a message on Facebook from a member of the band. The member asked if it would be alright if they played homage to Massey’s band. They were even going to allow Massey to name the group. Coming from their 2011 release Clava, Massey got the Japanese group’s name from the song “Remember The Taker.” After giving his blessings to let the band proceed as a tribute band, Massey soon started getting videos from what would be The Takers.
“They have the same guitars, same guitar tones, and they are nailing all the guitar solos,” Massey says. “I saw the videos, and said ‘Holy shit-the guy is playing all of my guitar licks note for note. I was pretty flattered.”
Besides having a tribute band in honor of them, The Steepwater Band are starting to see their music getting even more exposure. Just freshly signing with Sun Pedal Recordings (Warner Bros. Music Group) in October of last year, the band recently released their first album under the label-Diamond Days: The Best of The Steepwater Band 2006-2014. Releasing for all intents and purposes a “best of” album may seem a little unorthodox for many bands, especially when the band has been around for some time.
However, it’s also a brilliant strategy. The ever-devoted fans of The Steepwater Band were able to choose what would mostly be on the album back in October when the decision was made to release the first album under Sun Pedal. On the other side, the album is a great introduction to most that aren’t really familiar with the band. Diamond Days features remastered songs, along with a new version of “Hard As Stone” and the brand new track “Silver Lining.”
Growing up in the Chicago region, Massey fell in line with a lot of us childhood friends and began playing the guitar. Inspired by not only his siblings playing their extensive record collection that contained the essential classic rock bands that were beloved at the time (Led Zeppelin, most notably). Sometime when he was between the ages of 17-19, Massey became enamored of the blues. The soulful sound that it brought started to really sway him.
As he got older, Massey began going to blues clubs regularly and jam nights around the Chicago area. When Massey, along with bandmates bassist Tod Bowers and Joe Winters met, they formed a blues ensemble titled The Big Skinny Blues Band. The band lasted for about a year, as the keyboardist/singer left the group. The remaining trio decided that they had some good material, and wanted to continue playing. With the idea to tour heavily, the men created The Steepwater Band.
Since the formation of The Steepwater Band in 1998, Massey, Bowers, and Winters have not only have continued writing music focusing on their devotion to the sultry workings of delta blues, but they also have expanded their sound with an assortment of psychedelia, jazz, and classic rock to be included. The band also has released several albums, with their first EP released in 1998.
As the members of the band go, there have a few additions and subtractions along way. With the staples of Massey, Bowers, and Winters being intact throughout the changes, Eric Saylors joined in 2012 after sitting in during some shows with Steepwater and his previous band, Healing Sixes. With Saylors being added into the band, the group has now broaden their music to new levels.
“The trio thing was cool, but ran its course,” Massey says. “It’s great to have another member, especially live. Eric can sing harmonies, play rhythm and lead. He plays lap steel guitar also, which brings it to another level.”
The Steepwater Band have been known for being road warriors, with roughly averaging about 140 shows per year. They have toured and shared the stage with acts such as Gov’t Mule, Buddy Guy, Wilco, Taj Mahal, Marc Ford, ZZ Top, T-Model Ford, North Mississippi All Stars, Leon Russell, Drive-By Truckers, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Cheap Trick, Bad Company and Heart. Over the past couple of years, The Steepwater Band have taken their music over to Europe, where they have performed in rock festivals.
Before they headed out for their first leg of tour dates in 2015, which will include a round of dates possibly in Europe later in the year, the members of The Steepwater Band have been hard at work with producer Jim Wirt (Incubus, Fiona Apple), recording at Crushstone Studios in Cleveland. Slating two weeks to get in some recording in, the group have been feverishly laying down new tracks for an upcoming full-length. The band’s ahead of schedule, as they were about to go into mixing. With Wirt producing, Massey mentions that they is going to be a lot of “ear candy,” with extra vocal harmonies, piano and organ fragments. The collaboration between The Steepwater Band and Wirt has been nothing short of amazing.
“He’s one of the guys that is just a genius. He has perfect ears,” Massey proclaims. “There were a couple of songs that he helped with us with the arrangements, and made them for the better.”
After recording is wrapped up, Massey plans to do a few solo gigs around his current residence, in the upper Indiana area. The other members plan to rest and relax till the band hits the road.
As far as that group, The Takers-they have their hands full with trying to accomplish one key element to add to the band, Massey said.
“Now that we have Eric, they put something on Facebook about how they are looking for their Japanese Eric now.”
Maybe a stop in Japan should be on the horizon for The Steepwater Band.