26 Sep 2021

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Steppin' Out


Every music connoisseur knows, the best Blues comes from the deep south, and you don’t get much further south than New Zealand. Thousands of kilometres removed from the Mississippi Delta, sheep rather than cotton are found in the fields, and I’m not sure that slavery has ever been an issue here, yet the Blues evolved from this fertile ground is as gutsy and authentic as blues born anywhere. Love and passion, pain and regret are common to the human condition.

From this melting pot of cultures, further enhanced by geographical isolation, a lively and fecund Blues music scene has emerged. Prominent against this backdrop are Steppin’ Out, a band focussed around the father and son team of Mike and Paul Garner.

There are many children who have followed their fathers into the Blues- Big Bill Morganfield, the son of Muddy Waters, Shemekia Copeland, daughter of Johnny, and even John Lee Hooker’s little girl, Zakiya have made significant contributions to the genre. Steppin’ Out are continuing along this time-honoured course - the subtle blending of the old and new to create something firmly rooted in tradition, but still evolving towards the future.

The Blues Boom of ‘60s England from which bands such as The Rolling Stones and Cream rose to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic, saw Mike Garner dropping out of University to pursue his passion for music. Initially drawn to the Folk Blues of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Mike explored the nuances of the art form through the guitar and harmonica. He performed across England sharing the stage with such luminaries as The Groundhogs, blues diva, Jo Ann Kelly and guitarist, Sam Mitchell.

It wasn’t until 1980 that Mike tackled electric blues, eventually forming his own Dirt Road Blues Band. Having supported acts such as harp player, Carey Bell and the eccentric ensemble of Chicken Shack, The Dirt Road Blues Band amassed a considerable following, releasing three acclaimed albums. It was also this band that first brought Mike to New Zealand and in 1987, he became a permanent resident.

Mike’s contribution to the local blues scene is not confined to his being a musician and songwriter of repute. For seven years he hosted a national blues radio programme on the commercial Rock FM Network. He also founded the New Zealand Blues Society in 1995, continuing as the editor of the Society’s newsletter - a high quality, bimonthly publication, attracting local and international contributions.

Also stepping out is Paul Garner. Not content to rest in his father’s shadow, Paul has forged a Blues identity all his own. His Stratocaster flies, ducking and weaving through jazz swing sensibilities and seductive soul stirrings, always returning home to roost in the blues. It’s not difficult to believe Paul’s been playing since the age of five, when you experience his intuitive feel for a groove and easy familiarity with the bluest rhythms and hoodoo beat.

The songs of Albert King, Otis Rush and Muddy Waters are found in the repertoire of Steppin’ Out, yet the band avoids a tired regurgitation of hackneyed standards. Instead they take each song and remould it to reflect their own experiences and emotions, giving each tune a new relevance and feel, just as the Delta bluesmen did at the turn of the century.

Having played at numerous New Zealand festivals including the Bourbon Street Blues Festival (’96, ’97 and ’98) and the Gisborne Blues Festival (‘96), Steppin' Out have drawn a substantial following. In answer to the overwhelming audience response to their live performances, they have just released 'Steppin’ Out To The Blues'. The album features eleven juicy tracks, six of which were crafted by Mike himself. From the early acoustic feel of 'The Weary Blues' and the instrumental, 'Sliding Out' which sees Mike playing a Dobro, to the funky feel of Bo Carter’s 'Tellin’ You ‘Bout It', the album is testament to the band’s ability to boogie ‘n’ groove.

As good as 'Steppin’ Out To The Blues' is - and it is good - the true mettle of the band is fully realised during a live performance. The interplay between father and son. Mike’s powerfully emotive voice combining with Paul’s tasty but tasteful guitar, laid down on a rhythmic bed provided by New Zealand’s finest rhythm section, create a rich-textured tapestry all in shades of blue.

Their performance that spans many styles and flavours, not just Texas and Chicago blues, is further punctuated by Mike’s plaintive harmonica playing. Add to that picture bucketloads of energy, a passion for the music, superb musicianship and some well-crafted material, and you have a world class act, guaranteed to satisfy even the most jaded blues palate.

Band Members:
Mike Garner
Paul Garner


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