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FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 2007
‘Music is my first love,’ says action hero
MUSICIAN, movie-star, martial artist and Buddhist: these are the many guises of career chameleon Steven Seagal. The 54-year-old is currently embracing his love affair with the blues, during a worldwide tour which hits Northampton’s Derngate theatre on Tuesday. The singer-songwriter, who has played the guitar since the age of 12, is supported by his band Thunderbox on his UK visit. Seagal, best known for a string of action movies in the nineties, is showing his softer, spiritual side through his mixture of blues, reggae and jazz. His first album, Songs from the Crystal Cave, was released in 2004 and met with critical acclaim, sparking the interest of many legendary musicians. This success led to his second blues album, Mojo Priest, the following year, which featured contributions from Bo Diddley. Despite following many different paths in life, Seagal has been a lifelong fan of the blues. “Music is my first love and it will be my main love until I die. “My father loved the blues and I first got involved with music at the age of five. I started on the drums and got a guitar when I was 12 years old. “I was raised around a lot of great blues legends. I was mostly influenced by Albert King and people out of Texas.” In between movie making Seagal spends half of the year in Memphis where his band is based. “I have my own band working with me, they are my guys. I seek out the best. “I am doing another album, I am going to do about one a year. I am doing some work on it already.” He also has an impressive array of guitars in his American home. “I have a great collection of about 300 to 400 guitars, most of them belonged to great blues legends.” His eagerness to promote his music career above all else could not be more noticeable than through the three gentle warnings I was given from ‘his people’ telling me not to ask his about films or his personal life. Although it may seem somewhat ludicrous to be banned from asking Seagal about his two decades of film success it is just one part of a 40-year career which has always been underpinned by music. The son of a maths teacher and a medical technician, Seagal’s humble childhood was underscored by a fascination with the martial arts and the blues. He mastered aikido at an early age, eventually reaching a seventh dan, and was the first westerner to set up a dojo in Japan. During his time in Asia he learned to speak fluent Japanese and became a Buddhist. When asked at the beginning of the interview how he was, Seagal’s relaxed, noncommittal nature was immediately recognisable, “I’m alive,” he softly responded in his famous deep, husky voice. His spiritual nature has infused all parts of his life, particularly his early and impres-
Career chameleon Steven Seagal talks to Lily Canter about his latest direction
sive martial arts career. Seagal’s acting career was launched off the back of his martial arts in the eighties, when he taught moves from his Los Angeles dojo to stars including Sean Connery, James Coburn and the famed talent agent, Michael Ovitz. It was Mr Ovitz who paved the way for Seagal to co-write and star in his first, hugely successful, action film, Above the Law, in 1988. This launched him to the centre of the Hollywood action scene and he appeared in more than 20 movies which made $2 billion in box office receipts. His best known hits included Under Siege, Executive Decision and Exit Wounds. However his turn towards environmentally concious movies failed to impress cinema audiences in the last decade and he began to focus more heavily on his music and charitable work. He is currently working on a new movie, the Prince of Pistols, which is rumoured to have a budget of $25m and could launch him back onto the big screen. During his time in the limelight Seagal has acquired a curious reputation and courted controversy on many occasions. In 1997 he publicly announced that one of his Buddhist teachers, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, had accorded him as a tulku, the reincarnation of a Buddhist Lama, the founder of a 17th century Tibetan monastery. This initial announcement was met with some disbelief until Penor Rinpoche himself gave a confirmation statement on Seagal's new title. Seagal has also gained some notoriety for being a bigamist. When he left his first wife Miyako Fujitani to go back to America he married former Days of Our Lives actress Adrienne La Russa, despite his divorce to Fujitani not yet being finalised. During his marriage to La Russa he met actress Kelly LeBrock, and she eventually became pregnant with his child. When news of this emerged, Seagal's marriage to La Russa was annulled, and he married LeBrock in September 1987, and had three children with her. They divorced less than a decade later. But despite his coloured past Seagal is now happy to just sit back and sing the blues. “I am doing about 40 to 50 shows all over the world in the UK, Europe, Russia. The shows are mostly sold out. “The Derngate seems kind of small to me but it’s OK.”
And despite his aloofness he is still keen to promote his tour, appearing on Channel Four show The Friday Night Project tonight at 10pm. ■ To catch Steven Seagal and Thunderbox performing at the Derngate on Tuesday, call 01604 624811.