I'm Steve Suffet and I call myself an old fashioned folksinger. I was born in 1947, and I've been singing as far back as I can remember. My Mom was a jazz singer, a pretty good one, and she played the ukulele. She couldn't stand what she called "hillbilly music," so rebel that I was, when I was about five years old I used to insist on listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford sing "Sixteen Tons." Around the same time I got a harmonica as a gift and I used to go around tooting it just to annoy people. Eventually, I learned to play a few simple tunes, like "Oh, Susannah" and "When the Saints Go Marching In," and that drove everyone even crazier.
My Mom showed me a few chords on the ukulele, but I really never got into it. However, when I was in high school I spent $17 and bought a Harmony Stella guitar. For another $2 I bought a copy of Jerry Silverman's "Beginning the Folk Guitar," and from then on I was completely hooked. I started hanging out around the fountain in New York City's Washington Square Park on warm Sunday afternoons, and I tried to absorb everything I heard, including blues, bluegrass, ragtime, ballads, cowboy songs, hobo songs, union songs, topical-political songs, whatever. I took old Folkways records out of the library and then started buying my own. In a year or two I got my courage up to start performing at open stage nights -- hootenannies they were called then -- at various clubs and coffee house. My God, was I awful! But I certainly learned a lot, and I even met some fellow musicians whom I still know today.
Now the stuff I do I call folk music, but if you would rather call it roots music, or traditional music, or old time music, or even hillbilly music, that's OK with me. Essentially what I do is take any song I like, from whatever source, and sing it in a manner that suits me. Sometimes I change the tune a little bit, and sometimes I change the words. More and more I find that I'm making up my own songs. In fact, the well respected songwriter Jay Mankita once said, "Steve Suffet is one of the great songwriters of the decade." I certainly am not about to argue with Jay's assessment, but I'm still reluctant to think of myself as a songwriter. Old fashioned folksinger suits me just fine!