There was a time when the only thing journalists wanted to talk to Steve Poltz about was a song made famous by someone else.
Though it often annoyed him, Poltz understood. Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me," which he co-wrote, spent a record-breaking 65 weeks on Billboard's Top 100 chart.
These days, interviewers are more likely to ask the Canadian-born, California-raised singer-songwriter to tell them about the song where Johnny Cash shoots a transvestite.
"Trash" came about through an idea of a friend of Poltz's, who suggested he write a tune from the point of view of the victim in Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues."
"When I was a kid, that line used to scare me: 'I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die,'" Poltz explained. "It was a really scary line for a kid, and it used to freak me out. I remember saying to my dad, 'Why did Johnny Cash do that?' and my dad said, 'He didn't really do it - you can lie in songs.' That opened up my mind."
Later on, Poltz came to the conclusion that if Cash could tell elaborate fibs, he wouldn't mind a tall tale being written about him.
"I met this guy who makes guitars in Santa Monica and his name is Danny Ferrington. He only makes one-of-a-kind guitars, and he made this guitar for Johnny Cash," Poltz said. "One day he got a call from Johnny Cash and I got to listen in on the other line. Johnny goes, 'Yeah, Danny, that guitar you made me. I was on my houseboat in Tennessee and a plane came by and dropped off a package, and in that package was drugs. I was a witness and it was mob-related and these mobsters came back and burned down my houseboat because I was going to have to testify in court. On that houseboat was the guitar you made me.'"
Ferrington made a replacement guitar for Cash, Poltz said, and a year later bumped into Waylon Jennings at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Jennings was holding the original guitar, and said Cash had given it to him for his birthday.
"Danny was like, 'Oh my God, what an elaborate lie Johnny Cash made up,'" Poltz said. "He called him back and Johnny Cash didn't even bat an eye. He said, 'Danny, the divers went down and they found the guitar. I didn't know what to do, so I gave it to Waylon.'"
Though Poltz has a definite California way about him - he's 52 but has a laid-back life philosophy, and has kept a voice, attention span and energy of a 20-year-old - he's got East Coast Canadian sensibilities.
He's stayed close to his Nova Scotia family and friends over the years, which includes relatively new pal Joel Plaskett, who produced Poltz's 2010 record, "Dreamhouse."
In addition to releasing three albums with indie-punk/folk group The Rugburns, Poltz has released nine solo records, including "Noineen Noiny Noin," in support of which he's currently touring.
Recorded in Perth, Australia, the title of the record is made to be said in an Australian accent.
"I asked a promoter there when the first time I came to Australia was, and he said, 'Oh, I reckon it was 1999,'" Poltz explained. "I liked his accent so I took the piss out of it and spelled it the way it sounded."
It's not the only inspiration Poltz has pulled from travelling.
Other songs on "Noineen Noiny Noin" reflect time spent in the former Republic of Yugoslavia, sitting on grassy knolls, with a castle in the distance.
Delicately produced, the album is instantly recognizable as a Poltz original, running from simple, melodic, acoustic ballads to rollicking, spirited anthems.
Poltz is a poet, his lyrics mesmerizing by virtue of either their quirkiness, wistfulness or plain beauty.
"I have ADD, so I like to keep it interesting," Poltz said. "I get bored fast. I really like making up songs - it's like playtime to me, when I can be a little kid and just play. There are no rules, I don't have anyone to answer to, and I can just do what I want."
It's a similar approach Poltz takes to his live shows. Never, ever using a setlist, Poltz's gigs are peppered with ballads and finger-picking, lots of satire, storytelling, laughter, and the occasional spoken-word rant.
Audience members can expect all of the above Sunday night, when Poltz performs at The Ship in St. John's.
It's his fourth visit to this province, and he's hoping to stick around for a few nights.
He's got a goal of one day driving across the island and playing in a few spots along the way.
Poltz admits he's inherited the salmon-like East Coast homing intuition.
"This is probably going to sound like new-agey bullshit, but I think when we're born, wherever we're born, we have a weird homing device. It's like we have our own GPS chip," he said. "Whenever I get back there, it's like everything's right. I go, these are my people. They're nicer up here."
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