Filmmaker Clint Burkett has produced Painting the World With Music, a documentary about San Diego-based musician Steve White. White was a singer and songwriter who, until his untimely death in 2011 due to throat cancer, thrilled audiences with his high-energy one-man-band performances.
To experience a Steve White performance was to witness one of the most intensely talented people to take a stage or perform to a small crowd in a coffeehouse. White never used a pick. With his right hand he flailed and plucked the strings of his steel string guitar, producing counter-punctual riffs and lines. He sang and played a mean harmonica. All this would go on while his feet tapped out rhythms on a board built to White’s specifications.
Using archival footage, some of which came all the way from southeast Asia, as well as new film of interviews with musicians, friends, and White’s family, Burkett sketches White’s life story, from his youth in Laos and Thailand when his father was in Vietnam producing films for the U.S. government, to the last 20 years of White’s life spent in Leucadia, the beach town north of San Diego where the singer/songwriter developed his unique performing style.
Like White’s rapid-fire approach to making music, Burkett’s film zips from an interview to a video of White performing in a cafe, then on to another brief clip of an interview. A large number of persons are interviewed in this film, including some prominent names on the music world. Tommy Emanuel, Lee Oskar, Jack Tempchin, and John Sebastian of the Loving Spoonful all give their impression of Steve White and sometimes describe what it was like to work with him.
Burkett commenced work on this film soon after he met White, but only a matter of months before White passed away. As such, there is an obvious sense of loss that pervades the movie. As the film unfolds, particularly by the time Burkett narrates about his own father passing away and what it was like to have White at the funeral, we can sense how personal this film is the filmmaker. This is the documentary’s best quality. Through Burkett’s crafting of this film we get a sense of how deeply Steve White could profoundly affect those who heard his music and those of us who got to know him. Painting the World With Music is sad and sweet, and I don’t know of a better summation of Steve White.