Learning to Go it Alone

By Beacon Staff

After nearly four decades of singing, writing and performing music, Stephen Jackman now finds himself in a relatively new place in his career. For the last four years, he’s been going it alone.

The Whitefish resident’s album titles attest to this phase in his life. Jackman’s first effort from 2006 was “Band O’ Steve,” and he gets even blunter with his latest album, “Steve Me Alone,” released in July.

But the independent approach suggested in these titles can also be daunting, Jackman said, creating new challenges for a musician who played in bands for so long.

Jackman has played music in the Flathead Valley for years. He and local favorite Andre Floyd played in Bigfork in the early 1970s, living in a cherry shed on Finley Point.

The two musicians knew each other from high school in Great Falls and formed the band Flo and Glass while they were at the University of Montana. They also played in Missoula and opened for such acts as the Mission Mountain Wood Band.

“We were pretty good for some young guys,” Jackman said. “We did a lot of original music and it wasn’t genre specific.”

After Flo and Glass split up to pursue different interests, Jackman toured around with local musician Chuck Beagle. The duo, dubbed Pappy Jackman and the Salty Dog, covered the ground between Bozeman, Boise, Idaho, and Bend, Ore., extensively, Jackman noted.

Soon, though, the touring caught up with Jackman. He stopped traveling and playing for audiences, eventually becoming a radio DJ. By the early 1990s, though, Jackman was back in Missoula playing weekly gigs again with Floyd at the Rhino and Old Post bars.

“We were into doing our own stuff, that’s what we hung our hats on,” Jackman said.

It wasn’t until 2006 that Jackman, now living in Whitefish with his wife Dru, began laying tracks for his first solo effort.

“The touring is a little hard sometimes and it wears on you,” Jackman said. “What I did instead was write, write, write.”

This writing became the foundation for “Band O’ Steve,” which was designed to sound like the work of a full band. Jackman plays the guitar and keyboard on the album, but also dabbles in the oboe, saxophone and mandolin.

Some of the songs come from his early songwriting days, including “Montana Mambo,” from 1973. Others just started forming when he would least expect it, he said.

“They come to me really quick and other times they don’t come for many years,” Jackman said.

Jackman said he has accepted the fact that he goes through songwriting droughts, so once the music began flowing he took full advantage and began his sophomore album, “Steve Me Alone.”

Jackman considers his music as a sort of jazzy pop, with influences from such musicians as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.

Floyd, who now plays with his own band, Mood Iguana, said he knows Jackman as an intelligent songwriter.

“He’s a consummate musician,” Floyd said. “He makes the listeners work for the song.”

“The people who love him really love him because they’re the pipe-smoking intellectual types who like to work for their reward,” Floyd added.

His music can be tough to access initially, often taking several listens to really understand, Floyd noted. However, the writing is inspired, Floyd said, and he has covered several of Jackman’s tunes during his own concerts.

Jackman has played several shows in the area since the release of his latest album, including Art in the Park in Kalispell and at the Columbia Falls farmers’ market.

And while he’s excited to share his music, Jackman admits to the seemingly overwhelming challenges of being by himself.

“Playing a solo is way hard,” Jackman said. “The places to play a solo show, it’s not about your own music, it’s more about background music at a dinner place.”

Currently, Jackman is in the process of possibly forming another band. He is also shopping his album around to various music outlets, but he doesn’t know if he’s ready to get back on the road.

“What I’d really love to do is be creative and write the songs,” Jackman said.

He plans to continue his journey as a solo artist at least through August, with shows in Great Falls and Bozeman. His shows promise the unexpected, Jackman said, with varying degrees of improvisation and song choice.

Regardless of whether he ends up in a band again or continues his one-man act, Jackman is dedicated to his craft.

“I’ve quit doing everything else so I can devote all my time to music,” Jackman said. “It’s a full-time job basically just trying to get out there.”

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