Santa Rosa blues guitarist, Pomo scholar Paul Steward releases first solo album
Guitarist Paul Steward has been performing around the North Bay for almost two decades. Now, at 37, he’s trying something new.
Last month, he released his first solo album, “World Champion.” Along with the powerful blues guitar playing he’s known for, the album features traditional Native American material, including “Myanik Xe (Beautiful Music),” notable for its melodic chant.
“I am Pomo, a member of the Elem Indian Colony,” Steward said. He grew up on the reservation near Clearlake Oaks and moved to Santa Rosa in 1997.
Raised on the reservation, Steward learned his tribal culture from his father and paternal grandparents. He has been a lecturer in Native American studies at Sonoma State University since 2016. He also teaches courses in American Indian studies at San Francisco State University.
Since 2003, Steward and his father, Richard Steward, 71, have performed as the band Twice as Good, also known as 2XG, primarily at Indian casinos.
The current core lineup of Twice as Good includes Paul on guitar, his father on rhythm guitar and DJ Julius Johnston of Oakland on drums.
Since the opening in 2013 of the Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, Twice as Good has performed in its G Bar on Sundays and Mondays.
“They interviewed us, and we were lucky enough to get a regular standing gig there,” Paul said.
Paul has played the blues for most of his career. He traces his love for the blues to a B.B. King record, brought home by an uncle when Paul was a boy. His father taught him how to play, and Paul stepped up front as lead guitarist from the start.
“Twice as Good is basically my dad and me,” Paul said. “It’s a traditional blues act. As Paul Steward, and on my album, I am more pop-oriented.”
For his new album, Paul stayed with the blues but also incorporated musical influences from his tribal upbringing, with the assent of tribal leaders.
“We always played traditional music in a traditional way. I thought it would be fun to combine these two kinds of music,” he explained. “Dad and I recorded some rhythm and blues and shared it with our community and elders. I was very pleased to get acceptance from tribal members.”
Paul wrote three original songs for the album, which he recorded at his home studio in Santa Rosa on his 2XG label. The album is available on CD, and soon on vinyl, from his Paul2XG website, as well as on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Amazon and other major outlets.
“It’s a new era for me as I develop,” he said. “I have heard this tribal music around me since I was a kid. It was very normal for me to hear traditional Pomo music at ceremonies or public tribal gatherings.”
Next up is an international tour, starting with Scotland and England, in January.
“I just played Japan in September,” he added.
Steward credits two people, besides his father, for supporting his music and his career.
One is “Auntie” Elvida Gomes, a distant relative. “She was one of my first fans,” he said.
The other is author Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria distinguished chair emeritus of Sonoma State University.
Beyond that, there is a community of modern Pomo musicians, Paul said, including many in his family.
“There have been some Pomo musicians who have mixed Pomo music with contemporary music, such as Auntie Elvida’s son Lenny Gomes, who did an album with a group called Koljademo, ‘Destined Love Traveler,’” he said, “as well as my cousins Matonth Brown, who performs as the artist Rollin’ Fox, and his brother Btaka Brown, and my other cousin who performs as Stewie G.”