Interview: Steve Poltz, Part 1

Troubadour Steve Poltz (poltz.com) has been a mainstay of the San Diego music scene for the better part of two decades, starting with the Rugburns (“Hitchhiker Joe,” “Me and Eddie Vedder”), later collaborations with Jewel (including her monster hit, “You Were Meant for Me”), and a successful solo career. He also is a fellow USD alum, diehard Padres fan, and faithful reader of Ducksnorts.

Poltz currently is working on two CDs and touring like a madman. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to meet with me at his Starlite club (Poltz is co-owner with Tim Mays of Casbah and Turf Supper Club fame), where we discussed music, baseball, and life over pork chops and steak.

Ducksnorts: You’re originally from Nova Scotia, Canada. When did you first come to California?

Steve Poltz: We came out to Pasadena when I was a toddler. My dad woke up one morning and we were snowed in, and he seriously said, I’m out of here. He was sick of it. All our relatives are Canadians. My grandparents came from Hungary to Canada. My mom’s mom came from Italy, and her dad came from Ireland. They moved to Halifax, which is really Celtic. I was born in Halifax, and one day my dad just drove all the way across the country with us.

In fact, I have a song coming out on my new CD that’s called “A Brief History of My Life.” It starts off with us moving to Pasadena from Halifax and taking an oath that we wouldn’t join the Communist party. That’s the first thing I remember — standing next to my dad, and him becoming an American citizen.

Then later in the song, the chorus goes:

We talked Hollywood and baseball in the car
The voice of Vin Scully will travel real far

The next chorus says, “The voice of Jack Buck”; the third one says, “The voice of Ernie Harwell”; and the last one says, “The voice of Jerry Coleman still travels really far.”

DS: You still have family back in Nova Scotia?

SP: Yeah, I was just playing there a few weeks ago, and all my relatives were there. We were the only ones that moved out. When I go back it’s kind of funny because all my relatives are scattered across Canada and I’m this weird experiment who knows nothing about hockey. For some reason, I never took to the game, so when I go back — it’s like religion back there — they look at me with shame and disgust. I can talk baseball with them, but when it comes to hockey, I look like a blank slate. I don’t even know what they’re talking about.

DS: I’m a fan of Ashley MacIsaac. Are you familiar with him?

SP: Yes, he’s a fiddler from Cape Breton. In fact, I was just up there, playing with all these Cape Breton musicians, doing a showcase for Music Nova Scotia — they still claim me as one of their own.

DS: How long have you been performing?

SP: I started playing guitar when I was six. My uncle Louie is a classically trained piano player and he plays in bars up in Pasadena still — he’s 60 something years old now. He took me to the Hollywood Bowl to see a classical guitarist named Julian Bream when I was about six, and I said, “I want to do that.” That was what I loved, that was all I’d listen to; then I discovered the Monkees, and that kind of changed everything.

As for performing, after I graduated from USD, I took a job in sales. I left USD in ’85 and took a job selling pipe nipples. I was a nipple salesman. It was such a weird time in my life. I was out of money after USD — I was there on a scholarship — and I really needed a job. I worked there for seven years, and it was fun; however, it wasn’t my call, so in ’92, I walked away from the job — my illustrious career as sales manager for pipe nipples — and I decided to pursue music full time.

DS: You were playing before then. You used to come and play at the Crossroads, on the USD campus, and I used to see you there.

SP: Yeah, we played there a lot. You know, you’ve got to play a thousand gigs to learn who you are, to find your voice — and that was the beginning. Even though I’d always played guitar, I would be so nervous. I knew a zillion cover songs and only had probably written three songs. I used to want to vomit before a show; I’d be so scared, I couldn’t sleep the week prior to it, and now I do it for a living. Now I only get nervous if I do the national anthem at the ballpark. When I do that, I don’t sleep the night before. But now to play a gig, I get up for that.

When I was a kid, my uncle had me play the part of Oliver. He would do recitals, and I’d do songs from Fiddler on the Roof. I was raised on musicals, and it’s no coincidence that my uncle is gay [laughs]. To this day, I love going to his gigs because all his Broadway show tune people come out. I still love to go to this place — the Stoney Point in Pasadena. I’ll stay there for hours watching him do show tunes because I was raised on those.

DS: Speaking of cover songs, what were some of your favorites to play?

SP: We were so lame. I look back on what I liked, and I’m still a geek; I always will be. What I liked was never cool — I know what cool is, and I know what I’m supposed to like, and I do like “cool,” don’t get me wrong, but I can tell you something right now — today I was learning three cover songs, and here it is, the year 2007. The three songs I’m learning are “The Way We Were,” by Barbra Streisand (which Marvin Hamlisch wrote); “Close to You,” by the Carpenters…

DS: “Close to You” — Burt Bacharach…

SP: The other one I’m learning is, “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” because I’m a big Jimmy Webb fan. I do “Wichita Lineman” already. We used to do a Beatles medley — not one Beatles song, but a Beatles medley that we put together, which is sort of prescient now if you think about it, with Across the Universe and all these Broadway shows that have come out. I was really into Jesus Christ, Superstar and Godspell. I would act out the parts of Jesus and Judas. I was raised very Catholic, so all that stuff really affected me. [We also played] Earth, Wind, and Fire. I have a good falsetto even though my voice is low.

DS: You do the Philip Bailey?

SP: Yeah, I do the Philip Bailey. I would like to sit here and tell you I do Tom Waits, who I love, and Randy Newman, who I love — I know that stuff; I do love all that and I have an ear for it — but I still love Barbra Streisand.

***

In Part 2, we’ll talk about Celine Dion’s over-the-top sincerity, Steve’s favorite places to play music, and the impact James Taylor had on his love life back in ninth grade…

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95 Responses »

  1. Tom Verducci of SI in his rumors report from the GM meetings said this about Schilling and the Padres:
    “Anyone who criticizes ballplayers for seeking out the last dollar should apppreciate Curt Schilling’s decision to stay in Boston. The Padres were prepared to offer Schilling $14 million for one year, even after getting Greg Maddux re-signed at $10 million a year. “The Red Sox got the best bargain of the year so far,” said one NL GM after Schilling took $8 million guaranteed from Boston.”
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/writers/tom_verducci/11/07/gm.meetings.wednesday/index.html

    So the Padres have been connected to Schilling and a possible trade for Matt Garza. I think the front office gets that we could use pitching help.

  2. Just a reminder that the financial situation of baseball has changed radically from way back then. Another double digit increase in revenue is projected for 2009. Has anyone seen what the Padres player payroll is budgeted for 2008? At Cotes I see 4 pitchers BG,and AD booked for $36.5M. Say the SS and C positions come in at $5-6M, and you have 12 guys at $5, that totals $47M. My question is how do we perceive as available for LF(or 3B),2B,CF and 2 SP?

  3. Re: 52 I dont think they will go over $70 mil

  4. I don’t know about DeWan’s +/-, but Pinto’s PMR has Loretta identical to KG for 2007; both of them are pretty well down the list, however, and Loretta’s not likely to be very productive with the bat.

    Those crazy new defensive metrics just can’t seem to agree.

    CM: very interesting idea on Feliz. I think it’s tough to project a good glove at 3B over to SS due to the hugely higher demands on range and the requirement to turn the DP at SS, but it’s interesting, outside the box thinking. I think you’re going to take a bigger hit on O than you might be thinking though when you take age into account. Still an intriguing idea, but let’s hope the Pads can do better.

  5. 51 … good news, BenB … thanks for that link … I agree with your bottom line.

    53 … why not?

  6. Re: 55 I think I have heard SA say that a few time in interviews, but I have no real solid source.

  7. I am a big fan of Greene and his play.

    But I’m not sure the organization is. Wouldn’t the Padres have locked him up for a number of years, like Peavy, Young and Gonzalez when they were at similar ages?

    Like most of these things, it doesn’t matter what we think. If the organization isn’t high on Greene, then he probably won’t be with the team when he hits 30.

  8. 53. You’re probably right. I would rather see $80M-$85M, which would be about 40-42% of SD revenue.From various sources, in 2006 MLB salaries were 2.4B, 49% of about 5B revenue. In 2007 they were 2.5B(41%) of 6B revenue. Owners hadnt realized the huge increase. But if the SD budget is $70M, then $23M must be allocated to those 5 positions.

  9. I saw the rumor between the Padres and Yankees for Peavy, which I don’t think can happen because we don’t match up well. But a three way trade could work.. How about this for a fun trade:

    Padres get:

    Grady Sizemore (CLE)
    Phil Hughes (NYY)
    Ross Ohlendorf (NYY)

    Yankees:

    Jake Peavy (SD)
    Victor Martinez (CLE)

    Cleveland:

    Joba Chamberlain (NYY)
    Brian Giles (SD)
    Melky Cabrera (NYY)

    This takes into accout management styles, and it fills holes and seems pretty fair for all. Yankees get their stars, Cleveland gets a rotation of Sabathia, Carmona, and Joba, plus help in that poor outfield with Giles.

    I’m not saying that I want Peavy to go at all, I’d much rather re-sign him. But since that will probably not happen, I’d like to get Phil Hughes and an all-star CF that is a good defender, inexpensive, and can fill the position for a long time. Plus, we ditch Giles contract, and can sign somebody like Fukudome to play RF, as corner OF’s are easier to find. What should the Padres target in a trade if they do trade him?

  10. $70MM is still $14MM more than last years opening day payroll.

  11. Peavy proved he is not about the money when he fired Boras a few years ago. Is re-signing him really that unrealistic?

  12. Re: 59 works for NY and SD but CLE would NEVER do that.

  13. Also im not sure if NY would give up 2 out of thier 3 young star ptichers.

  14. I would really love to see something work with the Yankees for Peavy. If we could come out of it with possibly any 3 of Hughes, Chaimberlin, Tabata, Cabrera, or Kennedy we could really set up our future nicely. Also I wonder if Tampa Bay would be interested in Peavy. As much as I would hate to see Jake go we could fill a lot of holes with long term replacements. Jake has always worried me in terms of durability as well. Looking at his delivery I fully expect him to have arm issues in the future.

  15. Yeah I realize this would never happen, but I was just thinking more along the lines of what could we get for Peavy if we did put him on the market this year when the best available pitcher in Free Agency is Silva from the twins. I’d look for a real good CF, a hot prospect pitcher, and a third throw in, either a RP or back of rotation guy.

    What do you think we should go after, if Peavy was indeed on the market?

  16. I think the best trade would be to send Peavey to boston for Buchholz and Ellsburry.

  17. As a Padre fan living in the Bay Area, allow me to say that if you were driven crazy watching Khalil Greene hit, that’s nothing compared to watching Pedro Feliz hit. And, while I think Feliz could be a decent short-term fill-in at SS, to expect to pencil him in for 150 games at SS and not suffer even greater offensive woes is nutso.

  18. 66.

    I would want Hughes and Tabata over Ellsbury and Bucholtz but either one I think more would have to be involved. Personally I think New York would really want something like Peavy & Headley/Kouz for whatever they would send over here. There are a number of teams that I think would be interested though. Seattle, Tampa Bay, Boston all might want to deal and could offer us really good prospects.

  19. 57: I think the FO has been waiting to see if Khalil could be healthy for a full season, and if so, how he would respond. I’d say that he put up a pretty damn good season in 2007, especially for a short-stop. 27 HR, 74 xBH, and 97 RBI isn’t exactly something to take for granted, ESPECIALLY from a short-stop.

    I’ve talked about this at length with Peter, and we were both under the impression that if Khalil could make it through 07 healthy, that we would expect some kind of extension. I’d love to see the Padres offer him something like 3 years/$12 million (he made $2.4 M this year). Maybe even make it 3 years/$10 million as a base, with incentives for plate appearances built in (His 07 contract had escalators at 550, 575, and 600 PAs).

  20. What about Peavy for Young/Kazmir from Tampa? Is that an equal-value trade?

  21. 69.

    I have serious doubts that the FO wants KG around any longer than they need him. Also if I was KG, I want the hell out of Petco. I wouldn’t be counting on that extension.

  22. Re: 70 I dont think the Rays would do that, I think they are trying to trade Kamir for more pitiching ie two porpects instead of one.

    Seattle would be intresting but what pitches would we get in return to fill Peavy’s spot in the rotation?

  23. Re: 71 KG is here for another 3 years might as well sign a guaranteed deal for it.

  24. re 69:

    Why would KG take 10M guaranteed when he is going to make at least 5M this season in arbitration and then at least 8M the year after that?

    Oh and he gets the benefit of giving up 1 year of FA for free when he could be making 12M+ in this market.

    It looks like the Padres could buy out a year or 2 of FA in exchange for the guaranteed money, but KG is starting to get expensive.

  25. 71, 73, 74: What do you think would be a fair deal for Khalil? Even though he’s got a lot of service time, I really can’t see him trying to get a ton of money out of the team. I could be completely wrong, but I really don’t see Khalil as the kind of person to be concerned about money.

  26. 70.

    I don’t think the Rays would part with Kazmir for Peavy. I can Young or Upton and maybe 2 of Jeff Neiman, Wade Townsend, Reid Bignac. Seattle has Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentin, Jeff Clement and Brandon Morrow. Boston obviously has Bucholtz and Ellsbury. I think Atlanta might be interested and they have Lillibrige and a kid named Schaffer that apparently is going to be a total stud.

    Who knows what will happen but there are most likely going to be plenty of teams.

  27. Not sure if anyone has seen this link, it doesn’t really offer much that hasn’t been said elsewhere. I do think it’s interesting that Towers has said the OF is the biggest priority this off-season. I’m not saying I disagree with such a philosophy, but I know that pitching is also incredibly important (of course, I don’t think KT should advertise that he wants pitchers. Other GMs have got to seriously cringe whenever KT wants a pitcher or is willing to trade one).

    http://sandiego.padres.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20071106&content_id=2293997&vkey=news_sd&fext=.jsp&c_id=sd

  28. http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/

    Has a comment saying Jason Jennings is leaning towards signing here.

  29. 78: I’m down with that.

  30. If we could get the Yankees to give up Cano and one of Hughes/Chamberlain for Peavy, I think that would be a good deal for us. For the Rays, BJ Upton and a pitching prospect (Wade Davis or Jake McGee, probably) would be a good fit for us, too, but the Rays likely aren’t interested in a pitcher they could only control for two years.

  31. 60. $70M equals 2006 SD payroll. There has to be $35-40M more in revenue 2008v2006. But let’s just say that goes to profit and $70M is payroll, is this about what were looking at– 2b-$2M for min wage and backup like Blum, $11M for #4 SP and min wage #5, $.5M for min wage LF, remainder $9.5M for CF? ($57M accounted for above)

  32. Re 59: CLE gets screwed in that deal…

    80: If the Yankees offered Hughes, Cano, and Tabata/Cabrera, I think that the Padres would listen on Peavy. They’ve got to give up more than a prospect and a CF who’s just a tad above avg for 2 years of an ace pitcher.
    It’s tough to talk about trading the best player that your franchise has developed in quite some time…I wish that we were talking about signing him to a 4 or 5 year extension.

    Ellsbury, Bucholtz, and a minor prospect would likely get things done as well, but there’s no way that either of those two is leaving Boston.

    I agree with 80 that the Rays aren’t interested in renting Peavy for two years.

    78: I’d also love to see Jennings in SD on a 1-year deal. It works out great for him if he performs here (got to think he’d have great numbers if healthy) and then he moves on to the big payday that he expected to get this offseason.

  33. I don’t want Chamberlain in any NY deals…Hughes definitely.

  34. I saw that Garza was mentioned earlier in the thread. I’d be pretty open to a Headley/Garza trade, even if we had to add a bit to even things. Garza solves the 4th starter (or 5th if we get Jennings as well) at a really inexpensive price and allows us to pay big bucks (the $11 M we weer dedicating to a 4) to a real CF or LF.

  35. Maybe it’s just me, but wouldn’t a Garza (or Slowey) for Headley deal be great for the Padres?

  36. 85: We’re obviously thinking along the same lines :)
    I’d much prefer Garza to Slowey. I don’t think that Slowey is probably worth Headley, but Garza is probably worth a bit more than Chase is.

  37. 82, 80 & the other Peavy stuff: I think it all depends on what direction they want to take. If they’re going to blow it up and rebuild then trade Jake now, this is his peak value. If they will add to the club and tryto contend, then you must old on to him. He is too valuable in this rotation. I wrote a little more on this over on 322 Feet; check it out if you wish.

  38. 85 – definitely sounds good to me!

  39. Having played at the Casbah and waiting for months for the Turf Club to open (1997?) and run up a large tab watching the Bulls vs. Jazz, I respect the quality Steve Poltz bring to whatever he does. The Turf Club is a fine eating establishment and the Casbah……well it’s THE best place to play in all SD. Of course my sorry ass band played on Mondays and once on a Tuesday. Always treated us with respect with the best sound system and board operator. The good old days of 3 Mile Pilot and now Black Heart…….Anyway, looking forward to part 2.

  40. I had no idea the turf club was that popular. I used to live right across the street and I moved just a block down from it a couple of months ago. That was my wife and I’s favorite hang out (pre having a baby). Now every day I drive home from work and smell the grill it freaking kills me. I remember sitting at the bar all night when Chris Young almost threw that no hitter against the Pirates. Everyone in the bar was going out of their mind until Joe F-ing Randa hit a homer. I have never seen so many people simultaneously stand up walk out side and light up cigarettes in my life.

  41. Sweeet!! Looking forward to the rest of this series. Hey Lynchmob — I would suggest Chinese Vacation and Taking the World by Donkey as the two must haves to get started with.

  42. RE: 89 Man I cant agree more, I love playing the Casbah, everyone there is awesome and its just an all around great venue to both play and go to shows at.

  43. 91 … Thanks, Dana, I’ll give it a look-see!

    GY … ask him if he’s got a long-version of the song he did for the Jeep commercial?