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~ quick selfie bio ~

I grew up in the golden era of rock and pop. Like Firesign Theatre said, you got to start young if you're gonna stick it out - and I did. At age 5, I wore out Chuck Berry's aging vinyl 45 of "Johnny B. Goode". 15 years later I was his bass player on the concert stage - as were many others. (I was the northeast U.S. and Big Apple guy.) A brief moment in time, just like (a few years earlier) catching a ride to some outdoor concert in White Lake NY called Woodstock. I’ve been involved with various forms of art all my life, but music has been the overriding passion. The Stewards Eclectric band came together to express this and to have some fun, and the characters of this musicians' consortium play in a sandbox of varied styles while good-naturedly thumbing our collective noses at today's bigbox genre-specific music purveyors. ~SHS

 ~ a (brief!) PROFESSIONAL Accounting:

by Crow "Birdland" McCaw © 

The Steward 'his-story' : began singing publicly at church in "The Cherub Choir" and wrote his first song at age 5, an entirely self taught musician, never had a music lesson, taught himself to play left-handed on an upside-down guitar, began performing professionally at age 15. The veteran bass player, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist still lives music - writing, singing, playing lots of crazy instruments, and 6-string guitar in that weirdo lefty-but-strung-righty style. (It's not ergonomic!)

Although a relative unknown, The Steward is a bona fide original. Why his compositions have not yet been extensively mined is as inexplicable as the ongoing alien presence cover-up. All the years as a working musician, then arranger and composer and eventually independent producer plus ecology-conscious organic farmer have led him to be out standing in his field.

"I came off the road, but never quit playing. The farmhouse recording studio is in constant use. Onward."    ~SHS        [NOTE: The studio does not accept work for hire. All inquiries are declined. ]

During his tenure with Bobby Comstock's Ithaca NY-based band, Steve played concerts in the northeast U.S., backing early rock and R&B hitmakers from before he was born: Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Coasters, The Drifters, Ronnie and the Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Shangri-Las, The Angels, Chubby Checker, Gene (The Duke of Earl) Chandler, Gary U.S. Bonds, as well as Shirley and Lee, Little Anthony and the Imperials, The Five Satins, The Crystals, Lou Christy, Freddie (Boom Boom) Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, Leslie Gore, The Moonglows, The Orioles, The Harptones, The Cleftones, The Deaf-tones? – possibly every surviving Do-Wop group with a name ending in “-tones," and many others. He was a hired-gun in-concert bassist for numerous Hall of Famers, the so-called 'Architects of Rock and Roll'.

                               *   *   *   *   *     

and now, some (not-so-brief!) recollections:

Crow 'Birdland' McCaw: "Got a favorite memory from playing with the Grandfather of Rock and Roll?"

Steward: Yeah, a few, and some aren't for general consumption, but for the sake of this interview: Chuck Berry hated it if the bassist tried to play along with his well-known and often-imitated guitar lick. This was not an ego thing, it was a musical thing. All the older guys in the band had warned me about this beforehand. But at one point onstage during my very first Oldies Show (in Erie PA, 1973), I accidently reverted to my Comstock-gig bass phrasing and treaded on Mr. Berry’s sacred ground. Oops. Seeing as how I was the new kid, and Chuck didn’t know me, he stopped singing, turned around and, pushing the red Gibson mouse ears at me in a painfully obvious manner, played a thumpy quarter-note thing on his low E string. This was Chuck’s subtle way, onstage and in front of everybody, of telling me what he wanted the bass to do – or not to do. I quickly nodded to him and complied. But there was no way I was gonna play THAT piddly shit all night. So as we played out the concert to a big finish and one encore, I tried a few different things on bass but stayed off his riff, making sure I always played around it. Uh... you wanna hear more?

Crow: "The recorder is rolling, so, yes, please - continue!"

Really? Amazing. OK. So it was Professor Berry's intent to tell me what to play and that's understandable. He’s the star, the headliner, and you’d expect that would've been the end of it. But with me and my bass, it was a musical thing and an ego thing. There was a better bass line than clunky quarter notes for this Chuck Berry music, but it needed to be just as simple – decidedly not anti-grav science. I just had to find it without pissing off ol' CB. (He don’t know me very well, do he?” – BUGS BUNNY )  

The next concert occurred weeks later, and was at a much larger venue, the Spectrum in Philadelphia PA. Mr. Berry came on, we got in the playing groove, and before the night was over he would give my 11-minute instrumental “Drivin’ Johnny B.” its title. After my 'Erie Experience', I was determined to come up with a bass figure that was OK with Chuck but still kicked the electric band up another notch. (This ain’t no doghouse I’m playin’, just ask Leo Fender!) So I began to use a dotted quarter note on the downbeat of 1 and 3 – but would precede each with an eighth note pickup: booDOW, booDOW, booDOW, booDOW. I’d throw in a rest, a hold or a little turnaround phrase at the transitions, and it was a thing of beauty; also, it didn’t need much adjustment if C.B. went off the beam, just a simple, repetitive bass groove that generated a lot of power, especially when used in the bottom end of his songs, played live and LOUD. It was the absolute height of musical simplicity. I had gotten fairly confident with it – Chuck wasn’t complaining – and so I started using it a lot. Wow, the whole joint, thousands of people, started jumpin’ up and down every time I got on this hypnotic figure, which (rhythmically) is just two notes of the Chuck Berry riff with all the other notes removed. And because of that, it laid right in there. Chuck could hear and see that it was working LARGE with the audience. What a perceptive man. Near the end, of course, he does his biggie Johnny B. Goode. He sang a few verses and then nodded to our guitar player to take a lead. While we continued to roll through the chord progression, he walks over to me, leans in real close and says, “Man, I love the way you play that bass!” I’ve played with a lot of people and don’t get starstruck - but I was pretty damn surprised and nearly speechless. This wasn’t some late night jam at Ithaca's Salty Dog – we were onstage playing a concert in the City of Independence. He’s a rock music legend, and I’m the hired-gun bassist du joir.

 That’s a drivin’ thing!” he exclaimed, his eyes flashing like two big campfires. “You drive me, man, you drive me!” Then he wheeled around, did the sidestep slide up to the mic, and hit the vocal for the next verse el perfecto. What a guy. Hence, my instrumental song title, (written years later): “Drivin’ Johnny B.”

 This was rock-and-roll school, the real deal. I had studied, and was already a well prepared student. Bob Comstock was the day-to-day instructor, but to get a passing grade from the respected old professor, you had to watch and listen closely. You were wingin’ it from measure to measure; any physical move Chuck made was a potential cue – and let’s face it, the guy had some moves, ya know? We had to be ready to adjust for something unexpected. Even when he dropped beats or whole measures (which he did sometimes), we’d cover it. (How can Chuck Berry be wrong playing a Chuck Berry song?) The audience never heard anything that sounded like a goof-up. Actually, we got so good at it that he started playing a game with us some nights, trying to lose us or screw us up by switching songs or throwing out crazy unannounced key changes and the like. It was great! Hey, the young hired gun was too quick on the draw, but he sure did try! Now THAT, Mr. Birdland, was fun !

McCaw: "Whoops. Hmm... Sorry. The power pack must have died. So...uh, could you tell that again?"

No, Crow. Time to fly.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

[personal Interview, excerpt] STEVE:
"With Bobby Comstock's band, I was just a young hired-gun bass player who suddenly had the opportunity to play for these legendary artists - many with big hits I had grown up singing along with, like Johnny B. Goode. As a little kid, I was spinning their vinyl 45s even before I could read. I could always tell whose record it was by the color of the label. So the homework came first, and then I went to school. You learned fast - or you were gone. But whether it was with Strange Brew, Headwind, or Comstock, I always thought of myself as a singer-songwriter-bass player - not necessarily in that order. When the live music venues faded, bands split up and musicians went their own way. I needed a new, custom-made band, if for no other reason than I wanted that format to play bass and sing my own compositions. STEWARDS ECLECTRIC became that, and has since grown and blossomed. Sometimes, it's good to be the boss."
(©  Reprinted with the very kind permission of the publishers of Wasting Time magazine.)

SHS and Chuck Berry

Did you see a lefty bassist with either a sunburst or blond Fender Precision perform with vintage rock acts at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, The Beacon Theatre, The Boston Garden, Pittsburgh Civic Arena, The Spectrum, in Toronto, in Montreal, (or at any number of theatres, clubs, war memorials, colleges and universities in eastern U.S. and Canada)?

Got any photos of Stephen engaged in bassius flagrante? We’d love to see ‘em! Here's two, (used with permission, of course), one from the War Memorial in Rochester with Mr. Berry, another while recording a live backyard set at The Doll House in Dryden NY (thanks to Pete and Elaine!) Complimentary 18x24" poster and other silly old-school goodies to anyone who sends us an original shot of SHS playing with Strange Brew, Headwind, The Bobby Comstock Band or any other band he was in. If we use it, we’ll offer a name credit, and a grande mucho appreciado. Same offer made to anyone writing a review even though nobody reads them anymore. What a DEAL!

Steve Live at the Doll House


Strange Brew (1968-1970, Berwick PA), founder, lead vocals, bass, and driver of the Strange Brew station wagon, a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, 6-cyl. 3 on the tree. PERSONNEL: SHS, Darryl Gunther (lead and rhythm guitar, vocals), Mike Plevyak (drums), Mike Bath (rhythm guitar), Mark Leach (Vox organ, vocals, percussion). Earliest version of the band also included Jack Bower (trumpet). A previous 'combo' attempt was called The Colour of Tyme. (!) 

Ezra (1970, Cornell University), bass, vocals, tenor guitar. One of the three founding members of this popular unplugged (but short-lived) freshman vocal harmony trio at Cornell University. Did a lot of walkin’. PERSONNEL: SHS, Jeff Plissner (guitar, vocals), Aaron Meza (guitar, vocals). Morphed into the electric band:

Headwind (1970 - 1972, Cornell University), bass, vocals, 12-string guitar, slide trombone, and driver of the occasional U-Haul. PERSONNEL: SHS, Jeff Plissner (Farfisa organ/keyboards, guitar, vocals), Aaron Meza (guitar, vocals), William “Copy” Schnaitter - initially (guitar, vocals), Keith Friedman (drums, vocals), Larry Weinstein (booking manager). A later version was with Bob Shlien (guitar, vocals). We had great harmony vocals.

Orion (1972, Cornell - Ithaca NY), bass, vocals, and pilot of a 305 Honda Super Hawk (that was not always great for gigs!) Briefly. PERSONNEL: SHS, Jeff Plissner (organ/keyboard, guitar, vocals), Bob Shlien (lead and rhythm guitar, vocals), Mitch Doll (drums, percussion, vocals).

King Henry Soul Review (1972, Washington DC), bassist and driver of King’s old Ford van, and occasionally even the Caddie limo. (“You traded it for a microphone? OK, I can see that.” – Jake Blues) Very briefly. PERSONNEL: King Henry/Henry Mont (front vocal), SHS, Wayne Hammerly (Hammond B3 organ), Joey? (drums).

Avalon Ballroom Band (1973, Dryden NY), bass, vocals, and mostly rode shotgun. Briefly. PERSONNEL: SHS, Bob Shlien (guitar, vocals), Wayne Hammerly (Hammond B3 organ, vocals), Mitch Doll (drums, vocals). What an idiotic name for a rock band. (I had lived for awhile in Avalon, MISS.) On our 'big tour' down south, fancy ladies were always showing up at the gigs in ballroom gowns, expecting violins, bubbles and champagne music, but getting Rolling Stoned instead. Come to think of it, we probably were - which explains the name.

The Bobby Comstock Band - earlier a.k.a. Bobby Comstock and the Counts (1973-1980 full time, and in various permutations 1982-1983, Ithaca NY). Also:  The Comstock-Miles Band (1980-1981)

For the years listed, I played fretted and fretless Fender basses, lead and harmony vocals, and was "driver of the Winnebago". Kidding, it was a ’68 Dodge 4x6 cab-over. (“We’ll talk to Bab…”Elwood Blues) Main Comstock Band PERSONNEL configurations during my tenure: Initially, Bobby Comstock (front vocal, rhythm and lead guitar), SHS, Larry Crowder (lead and rhythm guitar, vocals), Allen Vanderberg (drums, vocal on Blueberry Hill!). After a year or so, Auburn NY's Anne Serafin was added, doing female front lead songs plus adding that higher harmony voice. (After this, there was a VERY short-lived country version with Donnie Harding on guitar and vocals replacing Crowder; this was possibly the briefest Comstock band ever.)

Then the band shifted - again: add Skaneatles NY's own 'skinny atlas' Joe Whiting, front man from Jukin' Bone, to co-work the front along with Bobby. During this run, Vanderberg left and was replaced by Al Hartland on drums. This hand eventually played out, and soon the Comstock-Miles Band was created, adding Raw Meat's singer and guitarist from Cortland NY. PERSONNEL: Bobby Comstock, Brian Miles (rhythm guitar, lead and harmony vocals), Sara Magladery (lead and harmony vocals), Rick Pallatto (lead guitar), Al Heartland (drums), and SHS, and this band continued later without Sara.

By the early-mid '80s, there was no set band any more; Bob and I would put something together to fit the upcoming gig(s), and he continued to do this for some time after I moved on. Notable additions in this vein were keyboard players JonJon McDuffy, and later Chip Smith (mostly for the big venue old R&R concerts), and Duke Shanahan, guitarist, (mostly for the bar and club scene). Also, Bobby Comstock Jr. tried his hand at playing bass in dad's band for a few gigs after I left.

Guitar TopSteve

Bob Fitzgerald Band (1981-1982, Binghamton NY), bass, vocals, and driver of the red Dodge Power Wagon. PERSONNEL: Bob Fitzgerald (front vocal), SHS, Paul Johnson (guitars, pedal steel guitar, vocals), Billy Kelley (keyboards, guitar, vocals), and a young drummer, (name?), later replaced by Dan Gill (drums, vocals). The house band at “Chenanigans” in Binghamton on the Susquehanna. Eee-hah! I loved how Fitzie would wedge his guitar cord plug in between two PA cabinets, so (supposedly) everybody would think he was actually playing. Not!

The Farmhouse Garage Band (1987-2010, Farmer NY), director and songwriter, bass, vocals, guitars, horns and etc., driver of the orange Dodge Adventurer pickup (“Sunrise”), and the Lil’ Red Express truck heard on Track 2 and – oh, never mind… PERSONNEL: See CD insert liner notes.

Stewards Eclectric (2014-present, Covert Masonic Temple Ruins), writer, director, head musician.

Do your best to "Have Some FUN!"