Interview: Steve Poltz, Part 2

In the first part of our chat with singer/songwriter/Padre fan Steve Poltz (, we talked about his family’s trek from Nova Scotia to California, his job as nipple salesman, and some of his favorite songs to cover.

In the latest installment, Steve defends Celine Dion, riffs on some his favorite places to play music, and more…


Ducksnorts: As a Canadian, do you feel compelled to defend what Celine Dion did to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”?

Steve Poltz: [laughs] I’m up with Celine Dion. I watch her like I watch a bad car crash. I love people who aren’t afraid to be overly corny. When she does her monologues — like how Bruce Springsteen does them in the middle of his songs, when he goes, “So when I was a child…” — when she does hers, they’re so over the top that I cannot help but laugh. I love her for how sincere she is, so yes, I’ll defend her to the grave.

DS: Fair enough. Outside of San Diego and Nova Scotia, what are some of your favorite towns and/or venues to play?

SP: I love this place in Perth, Australia. I’m going there on Christmas Day, and it’s called the Fly By Night. I love anywhere I play, as long as people are there to listen. If they’re not — when I was in the Rugburns, we could rock a loud room so I didn’t mind, but what I’m doing now — I love to talk on stage and tell stories, and the stories always lead into a song, so it’s sort of a bit of theater. I’ve taken all the stuff Uncle Louie taught me and it’s come full circle now to just one person with a guitar.

I like to play in this little bar north of New York City, in Piermont, called the Turning Point. I love Club Congress in Tucson, Arizona — Tucson’s a great city. I love Portland; I like playing Mississippi Studios — and I’ve got to go see the Beavers.

I really like playing in Oklahoma City at this place called the Blue Door. [The owner] is friends with Jimmy Webb. I always sit and ask him for Jimmy Webb stories — he came from Oklahoma.

I like Austin, Texas. I’ve done my last two records there, and I have a lot of friends there. It’s like a second San Diego to me… Chicago. That’s too many cities. I really love being on the road. I get excited. I have this cult following wherever I go, and I’m rich beyond anyone’s imagination in the way of getting to do what I do — I don’t mean monetarily at all, I just mean… where I play, 60-100 people will show up [every night].

I was just in Indianapolis; [Tim] Flannery opened for me there, and I had his brother play “Close to You” on piano, the [Burt] Bacharach way, and I sang it like I was in the [Red Hot] Chili Peppers. I stripped all the way down to a sock on my d*** and I sang “Close to You.” There are pictures on the Internet. That doesn’t always happen, it just depends on my mood, but I like taking two things and juxtaposing them.

DS: As a listener, that’s the kind of stuff I appreciate.

SP: Somewhere along the way the covers quit being played and I started writing furiously. I found my voice as a writer, and it seemed like every week I was coming to the Rugburns with more and more stuff. I couldn’t help but write, it was like I had to do it. Next thing I know, there were no covers and we’d tipped [to original material].

I read an interview once with Huey Lewis — I love quoting really corny people; I think he’s great, a great singer — some people have said things I’ve never forgotten; he’s one of them. He said he used to play cover songs, and he wanted to do his own music. He said you have to infiltrate and then double cross. I learned that from him. He would call it “infiltrate” with a song everybody knew and “double cross” with one of your own; next thing you know, they’re going, “I like that song you just played; who wrote that?” and you’re, like, “I did.”

DS: Shifting gears, you’ve got two CDs coming out. What’s the deal with those?

SP: I went to Austin. I came to [producer Billy Harvey] with a bunch of songs — I think there were 80 songs — and I just sat and kept playing. He’s a guy I really like and he produced my last record.

I was playing these songs, and we whittled it down to 25, which we recorded. We finished 22 of them, and I’d only planned on doing 11 songs for the record. So I was going to put out a double record, but nobody buys records anymore. I really liked all the songs and I decided — it’s my own record label; I can do whatever I want — so [I made] two records: Traveling and Unraveling.

The CD comes with a 20-page booklet. I figure this is my swan song with CD booklets because everything is going [digital], which is sad because there was nothing sexier than going to a record store and buying vinyl when I was younger — Who’s that girl? What’s she listening to? Okay, she’s into Pink Floyd, The Wall; Elvis Costello… And you’d stare at the record forever.

I used to love James Taylor, and when I was young — ninth grade, I think it was — I switched from Catholic school to public school in Palm Springs, which we had moved to from Pasadena. The Angels spring training was there, and I’ve never liked the Angels — I don’t know why; the always to me represented mayonnaise, boring. People go, “Dude, they’re Southern California, you’ve got to root for them.” I always say, “No, I don’t.”

Anyway, we lived in Palm Springs and there was this girl; her dad was the chemistry teacher, and I went over to her house. I thought for sure I was going to get laid that night and lose my virginity — I brought over a bottle of [cheap alcohol]. We start making out and everything — we both had braces — and she got up to change the record because you had to do that; the record would only allow for a makeout session so long. Today kids have iPods — you have time to get the whole thing done; you don’t have to deal with what we had to deal with.

So she gets up to change the record and puts on this other record, and I remember hearing this voice — I’d never heard it. She puts it on and we’re kissing. I started hearing this voice [sings]:

Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the Holy Land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?

It was James Taylor, “Walking Man.” I remember getting up and going, “Whoa, what’s that?” And she goes, “That’s James Taylor.” Just the name sounded cool. Back in the ’70s, James Taylor was freakin’ hip. He was, like, this recovering heroin addict with a story and mental illness. I remember just staring at that record and reading over and over: Produced by Peter Asher, Danny Kortchmar on guitar, Russell Kunkel, Leland Sklar on bass. [Ed note: This is the lineup that played on Taylor's previous album, 1972's One Man Dog. We'll forgive Steve for being a little distracted at the time.] I remember reading all this stuff and memorizing it; I never even slept with her. I ended up staying a virgin till I was in 11th or 12th grade.

Years later Billboard did a piece on James Taylor and artists that were influenced by him. At the time, I was on Mercury Records. They did an interview, and [someone] said, “This guy named Steve Poltz fingerpicks and plays guitar; let’s interview him.” So I relayed that story to [the late] Timothy White, who was the editor of Billboard. He was laughing so hard, and he said, “I’m going to call James up right now” — because he knew him — “and tell him that story.” So he did, and I go, “What’d he say? What’d he say?”

He goes, “James said to tell you he hopes you’ve gotten laid since.” And I was, like, that rocks! That was the closest I’ve ever come to talking to James Taylor.


In Part 3, Steve talks about the connections between music and baseball, his work with Jewel, and an unforgettable gig in Cleveland opening for the Ramones…

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45 Responses »

  1. See comment #56 on yesterday’s post…

    “Padres CEO Sandy Alderson and Peavy’s agent said the sides have explored terms for a multiyear extension and plan to revisit talks. The deal would run through 2011 and perhaps longer.”


    “Peavy has said he wants to spend his entire career with the franchise that brought him to the majors…”

  2. I really enjoyed this interview, Geoff. I miss the Rugburns.

  3. The Rugburns still play locally once or twice a year. (Or did he say they’re through?)

  4. Thanks, Debbie; glad you liked it. With all due respect to everyone else I’ve interviewed, this is the most fun I’ve ever had interviewing someone.

  5. Great Job G.Y.

    Im surprised no one has started to bark about the Jim Edmonds rumors, or the padres talks about extending Peavy.

  6. Hey G.Y. I think my last post got caught in the spam filter, is it set to catch UT links now?

  7. #6: Got it. Geez, I hope not.

    We’ve had an inordinate amount of spam recently (hey, we must be getting more popular!) and I’m a little behind in weeding out the false positives. If you notice something missing, drop me a line and I’ll get on it.

    As for Edmonds, I mind the declining power less than I do the durability concerns. Also, it sounds like the Nationals have a clear grasp of Ryan Church’s value. Too bad…

  8. Putting Jim Edmonds in CF is like putting Castilla at 3B, it kind of makes me feel like they are giving up.

  9. I had a UT linked post blocked yesterday, but didn’t say anything.

  10. 4: If the Padres can extend Peavy, I will be ecstatic. I think this will be a huge morale boost for the club and a great sign of good faith to other guys (like Khalil).

    I’m also suprised and kind of “meh” about Edmonds. Lookin forward to celebrate Peavy’s CY later today.

  11. #9: Oh, crap; there are a bunch of ‘em in there. Looks like we’ve found a pattern. The filter is adaptive, so it should learn if I tell it what not to do. Sorry for the trouble!

  12. #8 Bringing in Edmonds would NOT be the same as bringing in Vinnie Castilla. I would be excited (albeit tempered) about Jimmy Edmonds coming to SD –he just may have one more good year left in the tank.

  13. I’m not really bummed on the Edmonds thing. I mean if it happens it would be for one year and probably wouldn’t cost much. It seems like he would provide some upside and I guess compared to Hairston he is a better option for sure. Then again no way in hell do I belive FO see Mr. Hairston an option in center.

    The Peavy thing scares me a little. I am really against tying up $15-18 million a year in 1 pitcher. I love Jake but with looking at his delivery I just wouldn’t do it. Especially knowing what I could get in return for him. With that said I won’t be pissed at all if we can get him signed. I just see a lot of risk.

  14. Re: 12 thats what people said about Castilla.

    You think Edmonds power has declined, wait and see if he plays 81 games in Petco and 19 more in Dodger Stadium and Phone Co Park.

  15. Looks like Ambres had a decent year last year in AAA New Orleans.


    Not sure about about his K’s though. He strikes out a little over twice as often as he walks.

    I don’t know anything about him defensively but the UT says he is good in all 3 OF positions. Could this guy be our LF or maybe even CF option?

  16. Just had another UT link blocked

  17. #14: I don’t mind the power. If Edmonds can still play a good center field, then he’s probably no worse an option than Crisp, assuming the price is right. Just stick him in the #7 hole and be done with it. Comps between Edmonds and Castilla are silly. Castilla never once had an OPS+ higher than 97 when he wasn’t playing for the Rox.

  18. 14: Dodger Stadium really isn’t as unfriendly as people think.

  19. The thing that kills me about trade for Edmonds is that he is not going to be the missing peace that really help put the Pads get back into 1st in the NL west next year and he is not going to help them in the future, so whats the point of having him? I could see maybe if they were using him as a stop gap for a year if they had someone in A+ or AA who was not ready yet, but they don’t and after next season they will be stuck in the same spot they are in this year, with a huge hole in CF (not to mention RF as well).

    The Pads are kind of at a turning point this year, either load up and try and make one last run with Peavy, Giles, Maddux and Hoffy or start going young to catch up with the rest of the NL west.

  20. Re: 14 I’m not saying that Edmonds will be as horrible at the plate as Castilla was my point was that they are using a washed up player to be a stop gap at a position where they have no plans for the following year.

  21. Re: 21 I kind of thought they were past that point.

  22. #19, 21: Here’s the thing. Absent viable long-term solutions, I’d rather go cheap with a stopgap than panic and overpay for something that might appear to be a long-term solution (e.g., Crisp). What you’re really doing is betting that next year’s market will be more favorable than this year’s.

    I also don’t agree that the Padres are at a turning point, but I’m more of a “rebuild on the fly” kind of guy.

  23. My last post was blocked but it talked about the Ambres guy we just to a minor league contract. His numbers in NO look pretty good last year:


    He strikes out about twice as often as he walks. I don’t know anything about his defense though. The UT reported that he is capable in all 3 OF positions.

    Sounds like he could be an option in LF or CF next year.

  24. #3. Well I’m not local so that doesn’t help, unfortunately. I wish they’d do another album, the one solo Poltz album I bought was just way too slow for my taste.

    And in other celebrity news, I just met Chuck Norris at Whole Foods in Dallas! He was very nice. I’m afraid I acted like an idiot.

  25. Ah, I just found out he is 28 years old. Sill he is cheap.

  26. Re: 23 I agree that the Pads should not try to get a long term CF via FA but its early in the off season cant they try to work with KC and TB to see if they can come up with a deal to get Dejesus or Baldelli? I think trading for Edmonds at this point in the off season is panicking, see what else is out there before you comit $8M to a #7 hitter who will not be there in 09.

  27. Re 24:

    For 2006 his numbers were not so good at Omaha. Perhaps he was injured?


    He did have some MiLB success as a PCL player of the week in 07 and a INT mid-season all star in 05.

  28. Re 25: I hope you didn’t take his picture with your cell phone and plan on putting it on a website to ridicule him. That, I’ve heard, can be dangerous.

  29. Ha you have to love Boston fans sometimes, From the Klaw chat at

    Dan (Boston): Would Crisp and Masterson be enough to land Peavy? That would give Boston a wicked rotation next year.

    Keith Law: (1:26 PM ET ) No, I don’t think that’s anywhere near enough.

  30. #27: They may be talking to KC and TB, we don’t know. Edmonds is an option, but certainly not the only one or anywhere close to the best.

    Talking about possibly trading for Edmonds and actually doing it are two very different things.

  31. 29. Not to worry. We just talked to him. I’m not a celebrity stalker.

    Please no Jim Edmonds. Please.

  32. 30: I think adding someone like Buchholz could make that somewhat reasonable. Then again, that’s quite the addition.

    Anyway, I’m certainly starting to get a feeling that Peavy is going to resign for a relatively fair deal. Hopefully ….

  33. 33: Actually I was referring to the commercial (Mountain Dew I think) on TV where two guys did that and Chuck Norris tracked them down and put their picture on the web doing the same thing to them. It is quite hilarious.

  34. Anybody know what time the NL CY award is announced. I know we all know who is getting it, I am just curious if it is unanimous.

  35. Re: 34 I dont see Peavy signing a 2 year extension. Why sign a 2 year deal when he could probably get a 7 year deal for more money/year it just doesn’t make sense I think the Padres are doing it for PR reasons.

  36. 35. Oh yeah! Sorry, I gotcha now.

    36. I’m dying to see it in writing too.

    37. I don’t want to, but I’m afraid I agree with you. Though the quotes from his agent about players staying with one club are promising…

  37. #36: 11 a.m. PT. Assuming all goes according to plan, I’ll have a new post up shortly thereafter…

  38. I would imagine the Pad’s are not looking at a 2 year extension, but a whole new contract. That would maybe be a 3-4 year deal for say 10-12 mil per year with both club and player options. Just guessing.

  39. Are you going to post in this discussion, or a whole new front page entry?

  40. #41: Whole new entry. It’s not every day a Padre wins the Cy Young. ;-)

  41. Its clear from the UT article that Peavy’s agent values certain things a little differently than Scott Boras…namely, loyalty:

    “’My record would probably reflect that a great percentage of my clients have chosen to stay put,’ Axelrod said. ‘I was very, very proud of that in the cases of Biggio and Bagwell. I love players staying in the same place.”

    The article also reports Axelrod acknowledging the SD discount. This definitely paints a hopeful picture for keeping Peavy…we’ll see what happens.