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Nashville All Stars to play veterans benefit

After years of struggling to mesh his Mississippi Delta roots and country voice, Steve Azar has finally struck the right chord.

The acclaimed country singer and songwriter, rejuvenated after touring with Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band in 2007, released a gold mine of infectious tunes on his fourth album, "Slide on Over Here."

The album is likely to enthrall a wide audience with its romantic "Sunshine," playful "Moo La Moo," wistful "Beautiful Regret" and uplifting "Hard Road."

While no promises have been made, Azar says he and his band will perform selections from the album at the Southern Oregon Veterans Benefit concert, to be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 28, at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater in Central Point.

"I'm a singer and songwriter, so I'll take you back to the Mississippi Delta, and then I'll take you back home," says Azar of the show.

Besides Azar, the concert, titled Nashville All Stars, also will feature country music star Darryl Worley and Grammy-nominated songwriter James House, and his band..

House co-wrote with Azar five songs on "Slide on Over Here," including "Hard Road," "Back to Memphis," "Apart at the Seams," "Let Go of the Rope" and "Take Your Time."

"As songwriters, we gel really well," says Azar. "He (House) plays everything. He's even played the couch on my record with drum sticks."

Azar's percussionist of 15 years, Jason Young, also co-wrote several songs with Azar, including his breakout single "I Don't Have to Be Me ('Til Monday)," featured on his 2001 album "Waiting on Joe" and played more than 3 million times on radio stations nationwide.

As successful as his co-written songs have been, Azar says "some songs you have to share only with yourself." Such songs include "Beautiful Regret" and "Waitin' On Joe."

"A lot of times, they (songwriters) are not writing about a particular subject or inspiration, but they're writing about a particular emotion ... and that's the good stuff," says Azar. "Those are the keepers, the gifts, the blessings."

Azar grew up in Greenville, Miss., where he was entranced by local blues musicians. By the time he graduated from Delta State University, the Steve Azar Band was playing about 200 gigs a year. After moving to Nashville in 1993, Azar was offered a recording contract with Mercury Records and produced what he calls his first real album — "Waitin' on Joe."

Azar recruited fellow Mississippi native Morgan Freeman to star in his chart-topping music video, "Waitin' on Joe."

When the music industry "machine" was expecting compromises, Azar broke away and formed his own independent label and again hit the charts with "You Don't Know a Thing," which later appeared on his 2008 album, "Indianola." In the past three years, Azar has reorganized his label, Ride Records, and produced "Slide on Over Here," a timeless album, exhibiting the Mississippi flavor he had expressed in "Indianola."

"I want to build a record label that is geared toward a singer/songwriter and their unique talents," says Azar.

Although unintended, each of Azar's albums features one love song — "Sunshine" ("Slide on Over Here"), "You're My Life" ("Indianola") and "Lay Your Heart Next to Mine" ("Waiting on Joe").

"Others deal with struggles but have a silver lining," says Azar. "I feel that's my Delta roots."

Tickets to hear all three Nashville All Stars are $35 for reserved seating and $25 for lawn seating. To purchase tickets, call 541-778-3171 or see www.sovb.org. Parking is $4 per car. For more information, see www.jcfairgrounds.com or www.steveazarlive.com.

The Southern Oregon Veterans Benefit organization presents Steve Azar along with Darryl Worley and James House as the Nashville All Stars, playing Saturday at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater in Central Point. - Photo by Pamela Springsteen