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Songwriter Delivers His Message

by Janet Nesler


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Steve Free success is relative. 

It’s the song that counts, not getting rice and famous,” he said.  “I’d rather sing before 50 people who got the message than 10,000 who didn’t.”

Free’s far more than just any singer though.  He is also an environmental activist, Native American and veterans’ rights activist and an ASCAP Award winner, who writes and sings songs with a message.

His new CD “Rivers, Rails and Tales,” from Fraternity Records has just been released, and he’ll be at Disk Jockey records at Cedar Knoll Galleria at 3 p.m. Saturday to promote it.

His songs deal with everything from human rights and world problems to the human relationships related in love ballads, sung in a unique folk-rock-country blend.

“A lot of places don’t know how to market me because they say I’m so diverse,” said Free.  “So I tell them, that’s the way to market me, as diverse.”

It is that diversity that makes Free a cool change, as refreshing as clear blue water flowing across the green meadows he tries to protect as an environmental activist.

After a tour of duty in Vietnam, Free attended The Ohio State University and earned a degree in literature and history.  He taught for a while but realized it wasn’t really what he wanted to do, so he started putting some of his poetry to music.  He’s followed a long road to this place in his life.

In 1994 and 1995, the American Society of Composers (ASCAP) awarded Free $1000—in 1994 of his album “No Regrets” and in ’95 for the single “Siege at Lucasville,” which made the Cash Box Top 100 country singles chart.

“Siege at Lucasville” was written about the prison riot at Lucasville, OH, in April 1993.  Although Free didn’t write the song until the following September, it didn’t take long getting on the charts.

“I write my songs as a story teller, not as out and out protest songs,” he said.  “I try to write song that mean different things to different people.  Folk artists don’t care if they get rich and famous.  It’s the song that matters.  I don’t play because of the money.  If the money is there, that’s great, but that’s not why I play.”

Another of Free’s songs to reach the charts was a love song titled “Theresa’s Eyes,” written about his former drummer and his girlfriend.

Free was born on Duck Run in Scioto County, but grew up outside an Indian reservation in Arizona.  His Appalachian roots and Native American heritage come alive in several songs on his new CD, like “Let Us Pray,” about the arrest of Indians who were praying at Serpent Mound in Adams County at sunrise last year.  He recently received a letter for one of them thanking him for writing it.

“Appalachian Skies” is another song about this area and the environmental beauty of Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.  “One Day Pilgrim” is about the homeless, telling how it could happen to anyone.

Active in several organizations, Free is a member of the Ohio Arts Presenters Network and performs in schools and on college campuses.

“You can get the message across and have fun in the process,” Free said.  “Kids will sometimes get the message quicker than adults.”

Audience participation is a big part of the fun.  “Ancient Voices/Modern Song” is an Indian chant that has a lot of audience appeal.  The audience first sings the Indian chant and then the meaning of the chant in English; in the second verse Mother Earth speaks.

Just last week, Free received a letter from the office of Ohio Gov. George Voinovich and the Board of the Ohio Arts Council congratulating him on being nominated for the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Ohio.

A board member of the Appalachian Ohio Rural Action Network, an environmental organization, Free presented some important messages during a free environmental concert in Massie Hall at Shawnee State University in December, 1994.  During that concert the free tree program recruited volunteers and collected donations for trees for the 1995 Arbor Day giveaway.  Portsmouth Mayor Franklin Gerlach declared Dec. 10, 1994, as Steve Free Day in Portsmouth for his environmental activities and music accomplishments.

Free also is a member of HO-WA-NE-BA-KE-CHE, a Native American Organization of the Loyal Shawnee Tribe to which he dedicated “Panther in the Sky” a song about Tecumseh.

Free is not a sign-toting 1960’s rebel, however.  He is a 1990’s entertainer who believes his words can bring attention to things that need to be changed.  He hopes he can broaden the public’s view about important issues.

“I’m not a radical,” Free said.  “I’m just a guy who has something to say and wants to sing his songs and better his world at the same time.  The most important thing is to make people have a good time.”

“I try and make it fun and sneak in a serious song every now and then.  I hope this new CD will establish me as a songwriter.  It’s more mellow and people will find out I can write about subjects that aren’t all environmental.”

“Ridin the Rails” the single from the new CD is being shipped to 2,000
Radio stations.  Another from the CD “Evil Woman,” which deals with drug abuse, has been included in a rock music CD compilation by Rodell Records, Hollywood, Calif., titled “Songs From the Underground,” which includes groups from Canada, South Africa, Japan and Israel, all artists with styles a little off center.

Every Thursday night Free performs at Ye Olde Lantern in the Historic Boneyfiddle area of Portsmouth, when he isn’t on the road of playing at schools and colleges.  In March, he will be performing in New York City at the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame ceremonies.  Then he will travel to Henry Ford College in Detroit and on to Imaginator Theater in Chicago.



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