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Seasick Steve

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Steven Gene Wold (born 1941), commonly known as Seasick Steve, is an American musician. He plays mostly personalized guitars, and sings, usually about his early life doing casual work.

Wold was born in Oakland, California. When he was four years old, his parents split up. His father played boogie-woogie piano and Wold tried to learn when he was five or six, but could not. At the age of eight, he learned to play the guitar from K. C. Douglas, who worked at his grandfather’s garage, later realizing that he had been taught the blues. Douglas wrote the song “Mercury Blues” and had played with Tommy Johnson in the early 1940s. Wold left home at 13 to avoid abuse at the hands of his stepfather, and lived rough and on the road in Tennessee, Mississippi and elsewhere, until 1973. He would travel long distances by hopping freight trains, looking for work as a farm labourer or in other seasonal jobs, often living as a hobo. At various times, Wold worked as a carnie, a cowboy and a migrant worker. Paraphrasing H. L. Mencken, Wold described this time of his life by saying “Hobos are people who move around looking for work, tramps are people who move around but don’t look for work, and bums are people who don’t move and don’t work. I’ve been all three.”

When asked about his nickname, Wold has said: “because it’s just true: I always get seasick”. When he was ill on a ferry from Norway to Copenhagen, later in his life, a friend began playfully using the name and, despite Wold not rising to it for a while, it stuck.

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