June 28--Mark "Steiny" Steinmetz doesn't wear bright-red, mint-green, salmon, peach, silver, gray, navy-blue and teal-green suits just to show off on stage.
It's part of a heritage he's determined to respect as a blues harmonica player and band leader.
"It's not so much I'm trying to try to be flashy," said Steinmetz, a singer-songwriter who also sports a "propensity" for two-tone and "fancy" alligator shoes. "That's how those guys did it. They never showed up without a suit. I wanted to stay true to what's been handed down to me. Everybody dresses sharp. We put on a visual show."
Steinmetz is, of course, paying sartorial homage to the American blues masters who first inspired him. He and his four-man Cadillacs suit up and perform Saturday at Jessie's Grove Winery in Lodi. The band includes Lodi guitar player Chris Christenson and Stockton bassist Chris Akin.
"I'll try to pick out the lightest-weight polyester ones I have," said Steinmetz, 56, who's also fitting fun into his blues style.
"There are lots of different kinds of blues," Steinmetz said. "If you listen, especially to West Coast blues, a lot of it is upbeat and cool. Songs that are kind of self-deprecating with an upbeat tempo. It makes you giggle at the same time.
"Even songs poking fun at relationships are still laughable. You can make fun of it. We slide in the pain every once in awhile. It's really more of a celebration and just staying above ground. It's definitely dance music."
That wasn't quite true when Steinmetz released "Welcome to the Club (featuring Kid Anderson)" in 2010.
"I was pretty heartbroken," he said. "It was just experiences I've had in life that just kind of came flooding out."
He's writing material for a less-morose third CD.
"I'm never interested in recording any music but my own," said Steinmetz, whose third-grade teacher predicted he'd eventually write for the New York Times editorial page. "But I don't want it to be contrived. It has to be coming from the heart. Good, bad or indifferent, most of them involve women.
"The next one will be a little more on the lighter side. I'm a little more focused on the upbeat, positive things. The things that tell you it's all right to just be growing within myself and life. I'm just a fellow slowing down a bit."
That doesn't include his colorful stage performances.
"People don't expect you to show up looking like you're going fishing," he said. "We really, really focus on doing a high-energy show. We hope it sucker punches a few people in the gut or heart and make them stand back and say, 'I know where he's coming from.'
"Watching people lip-synch my lyrics on a dance floor. That kills me every time. That's really the most import thing."
So is being faithful to the iconic stylists and contemporary players who influenced him: Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson, Mark Hummel, William Clark and John Nemeth.
Born in Alhambra, Steinmetz lived in Pomona until he was 15. Helen, now 83, a single mom of four boys, moved them to Rocklin.
"When I was very young, in grammar school, I had a knack for lyrics, memorizing and just rhyming in general," Steinmetz said. "It just came easy to me. I never had anybody show me how to play guitar."
He also played his own version of piano and 13. By 16, he was living in his own apartment.
"With the guitar, I couldn't make it speak the way I wanted it to speak," he said. "I always loved the blues and always thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard."
He was sweeping floors in a Forest Product Manufacturing wood mill when he became a parent (Nichole, now 34) and "buckled down and started working. Then I kind of jumped out on a ledge. I had a kid, a mortgage and got into sales."
In 1995, during a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, he saw British bluesman John Mayall perform.
"A light switch went of in my head," he said. "I started trying to figure it out and was pretty much self-taught. Within six months, I was writing songs. All that stuff built up inside me started to come out."
The harmonica helped release it.
His first instrument (a Hohner Marine band) cost $11. He now carries 30 harmonicas to shows and owns 100.
"The harmonica exactly duplicates what the lyrics are saying," Steinmetz, now a sales representative for Wisconsin Knife Works, explained. "For me, I could talk through it. I can shape the notes. It just has so much raw emotion.
"I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. All I'm trying to do is take what was handed to me by blues legends I've admired. I try to take it, stay true to it and add my little twist, for what it's worth. It's not so much grinding and dragging as it is jumping and swinging. I put my lyrics and emotions to that style. Blues is the roots of the fruits."
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or email@example.com.
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