Westside Steve Simmons has been a fixture on the Northeast Ohio music scene for more than three decades — first as a member of popular 1970s group Easy Street Band and then as a solo act.
Since ESB disbanded, although it still sells out annual reunion concerts at the Tangier, Simmons has become one of the more popular performers in Put-in-Bay serenading the drunks and party boat-goers (and drunken party boat-goers) in various venues.
The bearded singer/songwriter is a gregarious performer who also records his original songs and popular covers. He has just released his third solo album, A Pirate’s Life, with help from a few local musician buddies. The album was recorded in Simmons’ “Coal Cellar” and released on ESB International Records.
On his previous release Limestone Cowboy, Simmons hewed closely to the acoustic- driven Celtic theme suggested by the album’s title, but on his latest, he stretches out a bit more stylistically, offering Celtic tunes, a contemporary sea chantey, some pop-rock, Caribbean island flavoring and folk all sung in his big tenor voice, which often seems to be imbued with a smile.
Many of the album’s baker’s dozen tunes seem primed for his bread-and-butter live sets.
The title track is a chantey-style travelogue with Simmons displaying his Ohio pride and is sure to be a popular sing-a-long at the various bars at which he works. The breezy AC pop-rock tune Carry On is an ode to life as a working musician and more universally an ode to enjoying what you have and not wasting time and energy pining for what you don’t.
On Northern Lights, Simmons sings a love song over a pleasant low-key cha-cha groove and some nice Spanish acoustic guitar from Dan Goodman. Simmons goes country for the “sad cowboy” ballad Abilene with help from violinist Sarah Wilfong and continues the country theme with a cover of the traditional hillbilly favorite The Long Black Veil with back porch harmony from frequent live guest Susan Ebert.
Cimarron sports a light So-Cal country-rock sound and catchy melody that would fit in nicely on WAPS (91.3-FM), and album-closing ballad Lullabye sports a light Celtic lilt and finds Simmons in restrained crooner mode backed by a tasteful cello and piano arrangement.
The album’s covers include late Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers’ rather depressing Great Lakes- (an obsession of Simmons) themed White Squall, give the world yet another version of the hoary old blues standard House of the Rising Sun, offer a jaunty arrangement of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald and gives the classic English folk song Scarborough Faire — popularized by Simon & Garfunkel — a jaunty Irish jig groove.
Simmons has built a 25-year solo career and a strong fan base through a combination of knowing what your audience wants and how to pace and mix a long evening of singing, comedy and talent. While his albums may not contain much of Westside Steve Simmons the convivial party boat host, they do allow Westside Steve Simmons the singer/songwriter to shine.
A Pirate’s Life will be available at iTunes and other retail digital download sites later this month as well as at Simmons’ shows. If you want to check out Simmons in his natural habitat (holding court at a bar) he will be appearing at 2 p.m. today and Sunday at Frosty’s Bar, 252 Delaware Ave., Put-in-Bay.