It’s an understatement to say that Kevin Steele, who grew up in Cleveland before moving to Florida to form the glam rock outfits Roxx Gang and Mojo Gurus, had a tough time growing up. The guy’s father hired a hit man to take out his mother who then shot her while she slept, killing her while Steele was still a kid. The tragedy was even the subject of a Scene news story
years ago. “As you can imagine, I had a pretty miserable childhood,” he says via phone.
Steele, however, doesn’t dwell on the past. Rather, he maintains that he’s found a salvation of sorts in rock ‘n’ roll.
“From the time I was very young, I liked music,” he says. “Music became an escape from my shitty reality. In particular, I remember [listening to] David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
, Lou Reed’s Transformer
and Mott the Hoople’s Mott
. They looked like spacemen to me. I became enamored of glam rock. This was early- to mid-’70s, the height of that music. As a kid with an unhappy home life, that type of music became essential. Cleveland, for some reason, was always a stronghold. When Bowie and Mott and all those bands came over, those bands always did well. Hence, the song ‘Cleveland Rocks.’”
After moving to Florida, he experienced “culture shock” but eventually grew to appreciate the Southern rock that was so popular.
“I moved to Florida and it was bam, Lynyrd Skynyrd,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong. I love Lynyrd Skynyrd—the original band, not the tribute band that it’s devolved into. The original was one of America’s great rock bands and rivaled the Rolling Stones in a lot of ways. I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd as a tough street band. They were tough kids from Jacksonville.”
He describes the Mojo Gurus, who just issued a new studio album, Who Asked Ya
, as “a mixture of those two influences.”
Mojo Gurus initially made their debut in 2004 with Hot Damn!
, a self-produced and self-recorded affair.
“I never had so much fun making a record in my life,” says Steele. “We’re a live band for sure; that’s where we shine. Recording studios can be a cold and sterile environment. We’re never in a shortage for songs. To me, the whole thing is about capturing that energy of a live performance in the studio. That’s a big deal for most bands. Back then, when we had no one interpreting our music but us, we gained a lot of experience. It’s not our best album but it was our most fun to make. We had some ideas and there was nobody telling us what to do.”
Steele says Who Asked Ya?
is the band’s best sounding album to date. It opens with the swaggering “Where You Hidin’ Your Love,” a tune that features a great horn arrangement. A song like “Devil to Pay” has hints of the Rolling Stones and Mott the Hoople.
“There’s no getting away from your influences,” Steele admits.
But Steele has no desire to become an aging glam rocker who can’t squeeze into his tight-fitting clothes.
“Ian Hunter is still rocking, but he’s not wearing platform boots and satin suits anymore,” he says. “Mick Jagger doesn’t wear rhinestone spangled jumpsuits anymore. Unfortunately, [Aerosmith’s] Steven Tyler never grew out of it. It’s starting to get creepy. David Bowie doesn’t still come out as Ziggy Stardust. In rock ‘n’ roll, there’s a way to age gracefully. I’m not trying to make people think too deep about world problems. I want my music to be an escape from that. I had a miserable fucking childhood. I could have gone a totally different way and become all introspective on a downward spiral singing about how shitty life treated me. I’ve got more reason to sing the blues than most people. To me, rock ‘n’ roll is about that feeling you had in high school when it was Friday afternoon and you put that music on that said weekend and party time. I want to make people feel good. If that’s a crime or that’s passé or that’s dated, then too bad.”