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Action-movie star gets serious about music

| Thursday, June 15, 2006

Steven Seagal doesn't joke around. No, the man, his movies and now his music -- serious as a heart attack.

In the realm of bad '80s action flicks, Seagal was the baddest -- a big, black-clad, bona-fide martial-arts master who looked like he could break Arnold Schwarzenegger over his knee if he wanted to. In movies like "Under Siege" and "Above the Law," it wasn't enough to merely beat up the bad guys -- he had to turn their attacks back on them, break their bones, gouge out their eyes. He did it all with a cool -- even cold-blooded -- detached demeanor, snapping necks with less care than Emeril snaps open oysters.

Now, he's back -- channeling some unknown past life as a hard-bitten, hard-luck bluesman. He performs Tuesday night at the Rex Theatre on the South Side.

"It's been my first love. It's what I've always done," Seagal says. "I'm just doing more of it now.

"I was just raised in a neighborhood where there were all these old black Delta musicians sitting on the porch. All of the South came into Detroit, to get out of the cotton fields and the coal mines. I'd see them play, me and kids from the block. I just wanted to learn, y'know?"

His previous career doesn't seem to be detracting from his new gig.

"At the risk of sounding rude, I've never had that problem," Seagal says. "People hear me play, they take it serious."

Seagal is a hard guy to nail down. He's a devout Buddhist, vegetarian and animal rights activist, characteristics that seem to be at odds with his red-meat, tough-guy public persona and difficult private life. Musician is another role that doesn't seem to fit.

"It's all me. I mean, I'm not a tough guy, but I suppose I could try to be if I have to," he says. "I'm not here trying to see who's tougher. That's not something I have time for."

Seagal can play guitar all right, and his first blues album, "Mojo Priest," features legends like Bo Diddley, Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton backing him up. With characteristic megalomania, he sings, plays lead and rhythm guitars and produces the entire album. It's a very slick, modern, over-produced affair, which likely bears little resemblance to his live club show.

Seagal's voice, a chilly, clenched-teeth monotone in the movies, warms into a deep, whispery croon on the album. It does sound like he's done this before.

Then again, he is a professional actor. His commitment to his music seems genuine, though. His next film, "Prince of Pistols," is his first film to make this clear.

"I am making a movie about the blues, in July with Sony in Lousiana," Seagal says. "Hubert Sumlin is playing my father. A lot of the last living blues legends are in the movie. It's a true story about something that happened in Louisiana. It's a dramatic movie."

Drama, sure -- but it's a mistake to ask if he throws any clobbering into his stage show to keep it fresh.

"How could I kick (expletive) at a concert• Really• Is that a serious question?" Seagal replies.

Finding out it was a question asked in fun, Seagal says: "Forgive me, I just wasn't quick enough for your 'humor.'"

So don't joke around with Steven Seagal. Additional Information:

Steven Seagal & Thunderbox

When: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday

Admission: $25

Where: Rex Theatre, South Side

Details: 412-381-6811

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