By Del Duduit
Are you content with who you are in life?
Have you ever dreamed of being famous?
If someone would place a label on you, what would it be?
My friend, Steve Free, faced all of these questions throughout his wonderful musical career and has some pretty solid answers.
The Northwest High School graduate always enjoyed writing poems and stories as a youngster in Scioto County, Ohio. He served his country in the Vietnam War with the United States Air Force. During the final year of his military career, while stationed in Hawaii, he was inspired to follow his dream.
His roommate John played guitar and encouraged Steve to do the same and put his words to music. He taught himself how to play and soon ended up with his friend in Philadelphia playing music with their own local version of Peter Paul and Mary.
Put out the message you want people to hear and let them decide for themselves.
He returned home to Ohio but couldn’t find his rhythm or a place to perform. So he went back to Philly where he received a call from Shad O’ Shae who had purchased Fraternity Records near Cincinnati, Ohio.
At the time, Steve was recording what he called “protesty” songs and ballads.
O’Shea gave Steve some advice that he still practices today. In fact, we should all follow this lead.
“He told me to put my messages between the lines, and don’t beat it over the heads of people,” Steve said. “Put out the message you want people to hear and let them decide for themselves.”
Steve listened and did what he was told, and soon O’ Shea signed him to a contract.
Then a local event that drew national attention put Steve on the map. In 1993, something terrible happened about five miles from my home. The Southern Ohio Correctional Facility was overrun by inmates, and an 11-day riot ensued. A guard at the prison was killed by the prisoners.
Steve soon penned the song “Siege of Lucasville,” which took off on the charts. A television crew from the news program 48 Hours came to Portsmouth and filmed him singing the song for a piece they did about the riot.
“That was my 15 minutes of fame,” Steve said with a laugh.
But he never left his roots of telling stories through song. His genre has been labeled in many ways from Folk Rock, to Country Rock, to Native American Folk to Appalachian and many other descriptive words.
His tune, “Ship of Dreams,” was even nominated for a Grammy Award in the obscure category of Best American Roots Folk genre.
Steve is regarded as the Jimmy Buffett of Appalachia. One of his albums even went platinum, and 14 of his songs have made the national and international charts, including his No. 1 song, “Just a Baby Boy,” which is played worldwide during the Christmas season.
In 1996, he was named the International Independent Recording Artist of the Year, and in 2008, he received the award that means the most to him—he won the Governor’s Award as the No. 1 artist in his home state of Ohio. Ironically, he and Ted Strickland, the Ohio governor at the time, were both raised on Duck Run in McDermott, Ohio.
“What are the odds of that happening ever again?” Steve said. “Two boys from Duck Run making it big.”
Early in his career, Steve was told that the life of a folk singer is obscure and without fanfare. It is an occupation where you tell stories and relate to people in an unusual and individual way.
“That’s when the light bulb went off, and I realized what I wanted to do,” he told me over coffee at Market Street Café in Portsmouth. “Rock stars, Country Music stars rap stars make it big and have money and fans. But folk singers play small venues, make people smile, and win awards.”
That is what he has chosen because he is good with his talent.
I can relate to Steve, even though I have not won as many awards as he has. His home is full of his achievements. But we do share a common trait. We both like to inspire people. Steve does it with his music — whatever genre it is now — and I try to do it with my words.
My books may or may not become best sellers, but either way, I know that writing is what I am supposed to do.
And I’m good with that. Three years ago, I never dreamed of having a book published. Today, I have two published books with eight more on the way. I have a launch planned in August and I just found out that I am going to have four more contracts to sign soon.
Steve writes and sings about his home in Appalachia. I try to write encouraging posts and express my point of view in hopes that it will inspire others.
I will take the advice Steve’s agent gave him and not beat people over the head (although I’m usually right.)
His journey is similar to mine. We are both down-to-earth guys trying to use our God-given abilities the best way we can.
We don’t try to be someone else or imitate others.
Follow me on Twitter here.
Steve has so much more to his story than what I’ve touched on in this post, but I want to leave it between the lines. I hope I have made my point clear.
Do what you know, and try to do it the best you can.
Do you make the most of your talents? How do you inspire those around you?
And whatsoever ue do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3: 23 KJV)
For more information on Steve, visit his website here.
Del Duduit is an award-winning writer and author who lives in Lucasville, Ohio with his wife, Angie. They attend Rubyville Community Church. Follow his blog at delduduit.com/blog and his Twitter @delduduit. He is represented by Cyle Young of Hartline Literary Agency.