Steve Azar remembers when he got the call from Bob Seger. "He just said, 'I want to take you on the whole tour," Azar recalled. "'It's a perfect fit.'"
What began as only a few dates opening for Seger's Face the Promise tour in 2006, soon extended through 2007 and became what Azar refers to as "46 glorious nights" on the road opening for the seasoned performer.
"It was unreal because he bucked the whole system," Azar said of Seger. "I wasn't supposed to be out there with him." As well as a once in a lifetime opportunity, Azar found the inspiration needed for his new music. Slowly, he began piecing together what has become his current and fourth studio album, Slide On Over Here.
"I wasn't having as much fun as I should have been, Azar admitted of his music before the Seger tour. "And that's really what I learned. A great act like Bob, as great a songwriter as he is, he's pretty much the entire gamut of emotions and I felt like I was leaving some of them in the drawer. So, I pulled them out for this record."
He wrote or co-wrote each song from the new album, exposing his bluesy roots in "Sweet Delta Chains," remorse in "Beautiful Regret"and a blistered soul in "Let Go of the Rope." But it's with his self-reflective tunes like "I'll Find Me" and "Startin' Today" that he begins to shed his hard outer shell.
"I went through a lot of personal issues after the Bob Seger tour -- a lot of tough decisions to make in my career," he said. "As songwriters, we bare it all. There's nothing hidden in our world.
"I feel like I'm on the right path now and it's taken me a long time to translate and communicate where singing is really a conversation you're having. It took me a long time to learn to do that on a record. I feel a lot more comfortable now. It's a lot quicker, a lot easier."
Only now, Azar said, has he finally managed to weave his native Mississippi sound with the Nashville sound -- through something as simple as guitar hooks to even in the way he plays. His songwriting too, has also taken another turn.
"As a serious singer-songwriter, I love serious topics," he explained. But, "the deal is, sometimes, we can get too serious too much, and I had really fallen in that category. And as serious as a lot of the stuff is on my record, I'd like to believe that every once in a while you can go from the plan, turn the page."
Take for instance, the album's first single called "Moo La Moo," a lyrical ditty of wit that finds the humor in being broke. The song, that has even spawned its own dance, sports lyrics like, "There's just too much month at the end of the money" and "Not enough dough at the end of the day."
"It fits exactly what we're all going through but with a total smile," he says. "It offers a big silver lining, sort of pokes fun at it for a few minutes at a time, even though it's a serious subject."
And though Azar's no longer sharing the stage with Seger "on the ride of a lifetime" as he refers to it in the liner notes of his new album, he's enjoying touring the country performing his new music for not only his long-time fans but also his new followers.
"Bob's crowd, as you can imagine, was sort of a perfect mix of everybody," he said, "and it just really opened the doors [for me]. He shared his fans with me, open-armed and openhearted."