Aug 15, 2018–Musicians hate being pigeon holed. With the many talents of Steve Wariner, it’s impossible to do.
“My interests are all over the place,” admitted the country music star during an interview about his upcoming show at the Gillespie County Fair. “I do kind of slide off the radar through the years, because I don’t just do one thing.”
Musically, Wariner is a whiz on drums, bass, guitar, singing, and songwriting.
“I always looked at myself as a guitar player,” he said. “But I know I’m all over the map, and I think that hurts a career in a lot of ways. Some of the biggest artists are known for one thing. It’s been a curse, to be honest.”
Not that his career hasn’t been blessed from the minute he picked up a pair of drumsticks at age 10. That decision crystallized his talent, his passion, and his knack for being in the right place at the right time.
The story goes that one day the drummer disappeared from his dad’s local band. Not an unusual situation, as any musician can tell you. But 10-year-old Steve Wariner saw the opportunity.
“I remember it very well,” Wariner said. “I remember saying, Dad, I can play drums. I know all the songs that you do, because they practiced at my house. I was really paying attention.”
So Dad took him to the little music store in town and bought a cheap drum set, and “I was a drummer.”
Every step on his way to stardom held similar synchronicity. A few years later, he was playing bass in a club in Indiana, when Dottie West was in the audience.
“She needed a bass player,” Wariner recalled. “She said would you play bass with us? I said sure. She said, can you start immediately? I said, I don’t know, I’m still a senior in high school. I don’t think she knew I was 17.”
He did join her band, playing on her hit Country Sunshine. In Nashville, the magic continued. While working with Texan Bob Luman, Wariner would warm up the audience. He began working in his original songs, and Luman liked them. The country music legend asked if he could cut them for a new album that his neighbor was producing in Nashville. His neighbor happened to be Johnny Cash.
So on what he called his “lottery day,” 19-year-old Steve Wariner found himself in the House of Cash cutting his songs with a backup band that included guitar legend Paul Yandell and a guy named Waylon Jennings. During a break, Luman asked Wariner to play one of his songs for John Cash, who happened to be in the control room.
“John said I love it, let’s cut it,” Wariner recalled. “I was like, oh my god, I just got my first cut by Johnny Cash. He produced it; Waylon was playing on it. I was like a kid at Christmas.”
This would be enough excitement for any one musician’s lifetime. It wasn’t even enough for one day for Wariner. During a break, Paul Yandell pulled him aside. Yandell said, man, I like that song, why don’t you get together a tape of some other songs I can play for my friend. Yandell’s friend happened to be a guy named Chet Atkins.
That led to not only a recording contract with RCA Records, but a gig playing in Chet’s band.
Wariner went on to success, playing with the likes of Ricky Skaggs, Don Williams, Vince Gill, and Mark O’Conner. He earned a Grammy Award, wrote the hit song Longneck Bottle for a new singer named Garth Brooks, and had hits of his own including Lonely Women Make Good Lovers, Life’s Highway, You Can Dream of Me, Small Town Girl, and Lynda.
With all that, it is amazing to know that becoming “a star” was never his intent.
“I remember at age 12 I told my friends I was going to move to Nashville and make music,” he said. “I never said I want to be a star. Nowadays people all want to be stars. I just wanted to make music. I know the passion was always there for sure.”
Wariner is so passionate about the business he is now helping others who share that passion. He set up “SelecTone for Songwriters” (www.stevewariner.com/selectone) as a way to put aspiring writers in touch with music industry people.
But his best advice is “writing and writing and writing.”
“I never tell people to move to Nashville,” he said. “I tell people to network where they live. You need to be with other people. You may be strong at writing lyrics. If you are weaker in one area, find someone better at it than you are. Go out and study these writers. The first thing I tell them is that writing songs is like juggling–you throw ‘em up and watch ‘em hit the ground. That is going to be happening a lot. But just keep writing. The more you do it, the better you get.”
All the work is worth it.
“There is nothing like coming out of the studio after you’ve just cut a song,” he said. “You’re giddy, thinking it could be a hit, it’s that good. Or hearing Garth Brooks or Conway Twitty or Kenny Rogers sing your words. That’s a joy that’s hard to describe. There is nothing like that feeling. You always want to go back and do it again.”