Even though it states that “Romeo’s Tune” is “dedicated to the memory of Florence Ballard” on the sleeve of the album Jackrabbit Slim (1979), the song is not really about the Supremes singer who died in 1976. The song was actually written about a girl from his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, but was dedicated to Ballard because, as Forbert explains, “That seemed like such bad news to me and such sad news. She wasn’t really taken care of by the music business, which is not a new story.”
Critics hailed him at the time as “The new Bob Dylan” because of a similar vocal timbre and thoughtful songwriting. The front cover of his second album, Jackrabbit Slim, encourages such comparisons with its simplicity: a black and white photo of Forbert playing a well-worn Martin acoustic guitar with a capo on it, his shirt tinted green. The record was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee and produced by John Simon, who had worked with The Band. Forbert has a cameo appearance in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video, playing her boyfriend.
He had a disagreement with his record company (Nemperor) in 1984 and did not record for a number of years afterwards. The record company apparently did not want to release a 1984 recording that he had made, and it was shelved.
Growing up in Meridian, Steve Forbert first picked up the guitar at age 10 and spent his high school years playing in a variety of local bands. Frustrated with his later job as a truck driver, the restless singer/songwriter moved at 21 to New York City, where he performed for spare change in Grand Central Station before working his way up through the Manhattan club circuit. Performing at Folk City and eventually opening for artists like Talking Heads and John Cale at CBGB, Forbert became something of a local sensation and signed his first record deal with the CBS-distributed label Nemperor.
Released at the height of the new wave explosion, his 1978 debut Alive On Arrival offered a first look at his colorful mix of spare acoustic introspection and scrappy rock ‘n’ roll to become one of the year’s most acclaimed albums. While critics tagged him—like Bruce Springsteen, John Prine and Elliot Murphy before him—“the next Dylan,” Forbert never put too much stock in the comparison and forged his own path, expanding his audience substantially with 1979’s commercial breakthrough Jackrabbit Slim and his era defining hit single, “Romeo’s Tune.”
After releasing Little Stevie Orbit (1980) and Steve Forbert (1982), the singer encountered the harsh reality of record-company politics, resulting in a long and frustrating legal battle that kept him from releasing new music for the better part of six years.
He remains as one the most critically acclaimed talents that never really tasted commercial success.
He tours over 100 dates per year and still captivates audiences wherever he plays.
This song just was re-recorded by Keith Urban and released on his greatest hits CD.