Houston Music

Steve Krase Has a Case of the Blues

Steve Krase Has a Case of the Blues
Photo by Alex R. Cruz/Courtesy of Mark Pucci Media
Steve Krase is aware that there’s a lot to be wary about in today’s world. Mass shooters in malls. Terrorist underwear bombers on planes. E. Coli. The zombie apocalypse. The singer/harmonica player name-checks all those and more on “The Word’s Still in a Tangle,” a track off his latest record, Should’ve Seen It Coming.

“One day I was on Facebook and I just thought that everybody is so afraid all the time; the news is so full of fear, especially local news,” he says. “People don’t want to get out of their house! So my message is, ‘Yeah, we have plenty to be afraid [of]. But get your ass off the goddamn couch and go out there!’”

Krase’s new song shares most of its title with a 1951 Jimmy Rogers blues tune he stumbled across on a cutout-bin compilation decades ago called The Blues Volume 3. Although Rogers’s concerns were about Commies and the Korean War, the protagonists of both songs just want to crawl into an underground cave and emerge when the coast is clear.

“I wanted to be a bit more original and rock a little bit more than like with a traditional blues sound,” Krase says when asked what makes his version a bit different. “It’s still based in the blues. I was actually nervous that the record was going to get panned, but the reviews have been great.”

Record cover from Conor Ray Music
And though he’s been a stalwart on the Houston blues scene for a quarter-century, Krase’s speaking accent counteracts any idea that he's an H-town native. Growing up on Long Island, New York, he initially studied guitar as a teen until hearing Neil Young’s harmonica work and bent notes on “Heart of Gold.” So he traded out an axe for a harp.

“I saw that the harmonica only had ten holes, which means three notes. And if Neil did that, then it couldn’t be that hard to play!” Krase laughs today. Tracing the instrument back to blues music, he began to hear players like James Cotton and James Montgomery on WPLR radio out of New Haven, Connecticut, whose signal he could pick up.

“That taught me that there’s probably more harmonica players that come out of southern New England than all of Mississippi!” he says.

As his blues journey began, Krase was particularly influenced by seeing the J. Geils Band live in the mid-’70s, and was blown away by the work of that band’s harmonica player, Magic Dick, and how he could blend blues, soul and rock into the same tune. Krase notes that in the pre- and early days of the Internet, he’d spend hours searching for live performance footage of the group from years before “Centerfold” or “Freeze Frame” were even thoughts.

It was around 1986, while studying for a degree in geology (which led to a career in the oil and gas industry, in which Krase still works today), that he decided to pursue playing professionally. But it wasn’t until moving to Houston 25 years ago that he met the man who would have a great impact on his life personally and professionally, Jerry Lightfoot. Krase would spend a decade in the blues-rocker’s backup band, the Essentials.

“The deal for me is that Jerry…I owe so much to him. Jerry was very intense and he taught me when you got onstage, it was all business. And serious business,” Krase reflects. “He said one time to me, you’ve got to act like you're about something. And that’s how he tried to carry himself. He never slacked off or backed down onstage. He wasn’t dickin’ around! And if you sucked, he’d tell you! But he was also very gracious. He would share a stage and not be intimidated by it.”

Krase also says that without Lightfoot — who died in 2006 at age 55 — to open the door, he would have never gotten to meet or play with Houston blues titans like Big Walter "the Thunderbird" Price, Pete Mayes, Milton Hopkins, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Texas Johnny Brown or Grady Gaines.

Photo by June Juarez/Courtesy of Mark Pucci Media
Krase grew particularly close to Big Walter, who – in a case of things coming full circle – wrote the blues standard “Pack Fair and Square,” a tune recorded and frequently played by…the J. Geils Band. Krase played the elder bluesman’s last ten live gigs or so, and even served as a pallbearer when he died in 2012 at the age of 97. Krase did similar duties for Pete Mayes.

“How does a kid from Long Island end up being friends with these blues legends? It could only happen in Houston,” Krase says, still in wonderment.

Today Krase handles dual careers as a solo artist and as featured sideman with the Trudy Lynn Band. In fact, Lynn and Krase just returned from a three-week European tour in which a German family group served as their backing band. There are already return trips planned for both groups. And while they may play to much larger and more adoring crowds in other countries, Krase still does not take for granted the place he calls home.

“Houston has had such an impact on blues, and we don’t do a very good job of promoting it, though," he sums up. "When people think of blues, they still think of Austin. But when Austin guys want a gig, they come to Houston if they want to get paid! I’ve traveled a lot, but the blues scene here is just magical.”

The Steve Krase Band and special guest Trudy Lynn perform 10 p.m. Saturday, June 17, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. For more on Krase, visit stevekrase.com.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero