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My name is Steven Gregory.
Really — that’s my name.
I always wanted a romantic name like Robert Earle Keen, or Hank Snow. something less like a fake radio deejay name….
something with a bit of mystery, a bit of folklore to it. But nah, that’s me : Steven Gregory. Take it or leave it.
I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember. . . so how come you’ve never heard of me?
My first guitar, I swear, was made of cardboard. I don’t recall how it came into my life.
I think it might have been a store display.
But somehow I squeezed music out of it.
I grew up in a house dominated by a stepfather who’d escaped the Oklahoma Dust Bowl when he moved to California.
He was what we’d now call a “good ol’ boy” if we’re being polite.
He didn’t allow instruments in the house but he damn sure would play his favorite hillbillies on that little record player in the living room. He’d announce ‘em like he knew ‘em personally: “That’s ol’ Hank Williams!” “That there’s ol’ Ernest Tubb!”
We didn’t much get along, but I realize now, late in life, that I owe ol’ Leonard some kind of debt of gratitude. Hank. Lefty. Ernest. Patsy. These were the singers of the soundtrack of my life.
I didn’t stop to think who’d written the songs.
Sometime later — how old was I? Beats me — I got my first real guitar.
And the next thing I remember, if I’m being honest about it, I’m in a band.
It’s 1972. I’m a kid. I don’t know, looking back, whether I’m smarter or dumber than other kids in 1972, but while my highschool classmates are in the school gym getting diplomas, I’m stuffed into a Ford Econoline van with five other musicians, traveling north on CA interstate 5 —
“PJ Lee & Soul Satisfaction.” Yeah! For what it’s worth, I’m not PJ Lee, the vocalist. I’m just the white-boy guitar player and backup vocalist.
I can account for the next couple of years, sort of, and then again, I can’t — the next couple of years turned into a decade or so.
I don’t know if there were a thousand bands like us playing nightclubs back then but there were Ramada Inns, and there were motels with the air-conditioner falling out of the window too. Pulling into every new town was either exciting or something to sleep through, and wonder if this Stardust Lounge was going to be like that last one.
The Golden Knight, Kitty’s Steak Pit, the Wander Inn . . . and then the names we came up for them the longer we were there — the Snake Pit, the Wonder When We’ll Get Paid Inn, the CarRust Lounge — from LA to both sides of the Canadian border. And Boise — never forget Boise.
Did I learn anything? Well, yes, sort of…. somewhat, kind of. To get along with other musicians, a profound and mystic skill that surpasses all explanation. To learn songs by ear, on the bandstand, when someone in the club was waving a gun or a twenty dollar bill. Girls in bars can be trouble.
(No — girls in bars ARE trouble.) Never join a band with a Hammond B-3. Lessons learned.
More on the way.
Twelve years later, I was almost 30, and not much wiser than the lessons just mentioned.
I came back to the San Francisco Bay Area, a veteran of a war no one else had ever heard of, and began to write songs inspired by Michael: Michael Jackson, and Michael McDonald.
And like my Michael heroes, astonishingly Motown Records actually took notice.
I got signed. Something about white guys who could write songs and sing black.
The story, as you might guess, can end right there, sadly enough. I’ll spare you much of the pain.
I wrote, I recorded, I sang my heart out. I knew that the world would know . . . that Motown would know . . . hell, that both of the Michaels would know, and probably shake in their white socks, knowing just how deep and soulful and funky and hitbound all my songs were.
Ahem... Perhaps we should skip to the next chapter. Let’s skip a decade or two here, and jump forward.
A heart was broken, as it should be in any great Motown song; in this case, it was mine.
I did what you do when your heart is truly broken. I took a walk.
I spent the next two decades building a normal life. House. Wife. Dogs. The American Dream.
I succeeded. I won.
Music? I had taken my walk. In all those years, I never so much as touched a guitar.
And just as telling, I think I put my hands over my ears. I didn’t hear anything, and certainly nothing new.
When people who knew me would ask why I didn’t play . . . well, I would have an answer.
“I can’t do it just a little.” Which meant, I guess, I didn’t dare to do it at all.
Music? I had taken a walk.
One evening, in 2014, I found myself on Guitar Center’s website. It took a beer or two before I built up the courage, but I eventually pushed “purchase.” I bought a guitar.
For the first time in all those years, I owned a guitar.
It felt familiar. It was like an old girlfriend from high school, who had married and divorced and moved on, and maybe even put on a few pounds, but she still had the same name, lived in the same house she’d grown up in, the house where we’d once sat together on the porch as I romanced her. And played guitar together. There was a whole lot of that.
There was a whole lot of “well I’ll be damned!”
I hadn’t been listening, but something inside me had been listening all the while. Songs came out. They came out fast . . .
A whole lot of songs. Over just a year or two, I wrote and recorded dozens.
By this time you could record yourself and play all the parts, and you could even put a B-3 part on, without having to haul the damn thing up two flights of stairs and then back down and into the van when the gig was over.
These are those songs.
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