Steve Pineo at the Calgary Folk Festival
Steve Pineo is one of Calgary’s most gifted musicians. As a former member of Beautiful Joe and the Co-Dependents (which also featured the late Billy Cowsill) and current member of those bands’ combination into the Joe Defendants, Pineo is constantly in demand as a band leader, session player, and arranger for fellow roots and jazz musicians across the city. He’s also a well-known songwriter: in 2001, Paul Brandt recorded Pineo’s “Canadian Man,” making it a mainstream country hit.
These days, Pineo is using his weekly gig as leader of a blues trio at Mikey’s Juke Joint to polish his skills. Mikey’s is one of the few truly supportive roots venues in Calgary, featuring music seven nights a week, and a weekly spot gives artists an opportunity to develop over time. “I want to show up at the same place every week and work on songs,” said Pineo. “Sometimes when you have a new song, you don’t really have a venue to play it at and you kind of need people in front of you so you bond with your songs.” The trio has a regular audience that provides support and feedback, even though they play Mondays, a notoriously difficult night for live music. “There are people that very seldom miss a Monday. One guy comes down just to hear one song. We do a version of ‘Georgia on My Mind’ and he comes down specifically to hear that song. He applauds, then he goes.”
Pineo refuses to rest on his laurels, using the consistency of regular performances as an opportunity to improve. “You’re grounded somewhere. I was actually inspired by a video that I rented called ‘Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian,’ in which he gave this concert called ‘I’m Telling You This for the Last Time.’ He was sick of his material and wanted to get rid of everything that he used before making the Seinfeld show. Six months later, he decided it’s time to go back, so he showed up unannounced at all these comedy clubs and they show him bombing, he absolutely bombed. I don’t know if he was doing it for the benefit of the movie, but the whole movie was about, even someone who is ridiculously wealthy and successful has to have a place where they can work on stuff. You can’t just do it at home, you have to have people, you have to have energy. It really inspired me.”
Figuring that this year is his 18th at the CFF, Pineo sees this festival as a homecoming for many local acts. “The reception that Ian Tyson got was very moving, a lot of people were in tears about that…and Corb Lund came like he was a conquering hero, and our reception has been wonderful.” He thinks that the festival’s expansion into the community in recent years has been nothing but beneficial for Calgarian acts. The CFF sent Pineo out on an experimental subway ride to play for passengers on their commute earlier this week, and the festival’s outreach has been successful in a variety of other ways. As a judge for the first time this year at the songwriting awards the CFF holds in May, Pineo was pleased with the entries. “I’ve been told all along, you don’t have to have a big band and fancy production. If it’s a great song, it’s a great song. It’s great to see that in principle, to see it at work.”
Steve Pineo here on guitar and vocals with the Co-Dependents: