Steve Raiken | Stages

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CANADA - Ontario

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Folk: Folk-Rock Blues: Slide Guitar Blues Moods: Type: Acoustic
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by Steve Raiken

Recognized for his acoustic slide guitar playing and heartfelt lyrics, Steve Raiken has created a powerful CD, Stages, that embraces the best of folk and blues styles.
Genre: Folk: Folk-Rock
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. A Father's Song
3:34 $0.99
2. Muskoka Morning
2:44 $0.99
3. The Way
3:18 $0.99
4. Larry's Blues
3:14 $0.99
5. Free Spirit
2:58 $0.99
6. Stages
3:29 $0.99
7. Autumn Walk
2:06 $0.99
8. Amazing Grace
2:51 $0.99
9. By the Lake
1:42 $0.99
10. Don't Back Down
2:09 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
It seems almost impossible that Steve Raiken has been playing guitar for over 40 years. It’s not that his prowess isn’t immediately apparent on his latest release, Stages, it is; but for Raiken, when he picks up the same instrument he’s been playing since 1971, not a day seems to have passed since he first discovered his love for folk music and guitar.

Steve Raiken’s folk awakening was like a bolt of lightning and he remembers it to this day. It was suburban Buffalo in 1967; he was in high school and studying in his room one night while listening to Jefferson Kaye’s regular folk show on WKBW-AM. On this particular evening Kaye played Tom Rush’s brand new version of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going” and Raiken was mesmerized.

“I dropped my pencil and for the first time I heard what people were talking about with rock n’ roll and folk, the whole popular music genre, really. I played classical violin, not exactly popular; I was paying attention to the Beatles, but I didn’t quite get it until I heard this beautiful song.”

Soon off to the University of Buffalo, Raiken immersed himself in the burgeoning folk music scene that had sprung up in its midst. And although he wouldn’t forget that his primary purpose for being there was to earn a degree (which he did), his immediate priority was getting a guitar.

Six months after laying hands on his first six-string Raiken was performing publicly, holding his own alongside those who had been playing guitar for years. In between his studies, protesting the Vietnam War and “doing lots of other things you did in the late 60s,” Raiken became friends and started performing with fellow student and singer/songwriter Marc Cashman. The duo, known as Cashman & Raiken (Cashman wrote and sang the songs; Raiken played lead guitar), began picking up gigs and building a buzz in local bars and coffee houses.

Following graduation in 1971 Cashman & Raiken hit the road. Determined to make it in the folk scene, they lit out for the closest hotspot – Toronto, Canada – to soak up the atmosphere and get themselves noticed. Arriving well after the Yorkville scene’s heyday, they instead kicked around playing local shows for a few months before heading off to Philadelphia in April 1972. With its plethora of colleges and universities, the northeastern U.S. provided an ample supply of performance opportunities, as well as easy access to the music industry’s epicentre in New York. Along the way Cashman & Raiken performed as headliners and as the opening act for Tom Rush, Hall & Oates and George Carlin.

A year later it all imploded. Creative differences split the duo up and Raiken returned to Toronto, where he would marry a girl he’d met when he’d first arrived two years before (nearly 40 years and two sons later, she still remains his biggest daily inspiration). A challenging job in a psychiatric hospital followed, along with a Masters degree in Social Work, and Raiken eventually spent the next 30 years in management consulting and the public service.

Raiken admits his guitar got a little lonely while he was raising his family. “I didn’t play a lot when the boys were young,” he says, “We were too busy. I did get it out every once in a while, but I spent a lot more time being a husband and a dad, which I also loved doing.”

In 1999, with his kids now older and while holding down one of the most senior and demanding positions of his career, Raiken started to realize how much he’d missed playing and being on stage. Guitar rescued from the closet, he began venturing out to coffee houses and open stages in Toronto as he rediscovered his craft. He also became a bit of a curiosity around the office.

Upon returning to performing Raiken once again found immediately receptive audiences; open stage nights led to Tuesday bookings, then Saturday nights and bigger clubs. He was invited to play at Winterfolk and City Roots Fest, and was asked to pay tribute to Tom Rush as part of a Riverboat Revival night that saluted the storied Toronto coffee house.

In 2004 he recorded Waterfall, his first stab at an album. “I had reconnected with Marc Cashman, who was out in California by this time, and he had access to some studio time so I went in and recorded 15 songs in three hours with him. I didn’t know that wasn’t the way you were supposed to do it,” he laughs. “But it was ok as a first recording.”

On Stages, Steve Raiken did everything right. Working with veteran producer Andrew Hermant (Hagood Hardy, Moe Koffman, Rubberneck) he’s assembled a collection of material that showcases his strengths as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist. Together with a hand-picked group of support players Hermant helped Raiken capture the six instrumentals and four vocal tracks the way he’d always known they were meant to sound.

When he sings, Raiken tells relatable tales of life. From the parental advice and guidance given on the Bruce Cockburn-esque “A Father’s Song”, which he opened Stages with intentionally, to the satisfied reflection on life and love found on the album’s title track, Raiken’s personal observations strike a universal chord.

Raiken shares more than just a vocal style with Bruce Cockburn; the two are also extremely skilled guitarists. He credits Cockburn and James Taylor as influences but Raiken has developed his own style over the years, which incorporates finger and flat picking but is highlighted by his deftness with acoustic slide guitar. “I’m able to get a sound out of that old Guild that people really connect with,” he notes, and his slide take on “Amazing Grace”, included as an instrumental on Stages although often performed live with a vocalist, brings the house down every time.

The cinematic feel of the instrumental “Muskoka Morning” highlights another of Raiken’s strengths as a guitarist and composer – painting musical pictures that don’t require lyrics. Employing an unusual flat-picking style, he uses the guitar to conjure up images of sitting lakeside and quiet walks in the woods. Although written on guitar Raiken had always imagined classical instrumentation behind “Muskoka Morning”; with Hermant’s addition of strings and French horns during recording Raiken was able to realize his original vision for the song on Stages.

Instrumental embellishment aside, Steve Raiken takes a traditionalist slant on crafting music and performing live. He cites his continuing admiration for Tom Rush’s ability to entertain a crowd with only his guitar as an important part of the approach he’s taken, and recognizes the contributions to his songwriting that listening to the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Gordon Lightfoot have made.

By far, though, it’s been everyday life that has afforded the greatest inspiration for Raiken’s musical reawakening. His 2008 retirement provided the time and impetus necessary to get serious about a return to his folk roots; his sincerity in that pursuit has resulted in Stages, a rich and rewarding folk offering that appeals to acoustic guitar aficionados and roots music fans alike.

Like the chorus of the title track notes, life is a series of stages: whether through words or his guitar, for Raiken, who has conquered the learning and earning phases, it’s now his time to sing.



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