Steve Weisberg, John Denver Off the Record Story Teller, Biography




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I really can't remember not wanting to make music. Begged Mom & Dad for violin lessons in the 2nd grade. They 'suggested' another instrument. We settled for piano. We didn't own one, so they were safe. Third grade, I found my passion... slide trombone. Practicing in the... shower after school for that awesome echo. (My licks were going down the drain). Trying to cop Dixieland licks from trumpeter Al Hirt. Then the grand marches of John Phillips Sousa.

And then the whole world changed. Rock n' roll had arrived. Can you name ONE famous rock n' roll trombonist? It was time to slide onto...... guitar. Bands were still called 'combos'. THE KONTOURS in high school, playing British Invasion and 'Louie, Louie'. And then some older guys hired me. 'THE PREACHERS'.... . We wore clerical garb & long wigs while playing a James Brown revue to drunken fraternity crowds: 'The Preachers' Featuring "FORTY-FIVE MINUTES OF SOUL." We actually timed our set once. (27 minutes, but we had excellent management.) The lead singer always fainted at the end of 'Please, Please, Please'... just like James did. Half our contracts read "Band must wear clerical garb". The other half read "Band must not wear clerical garb". Only now do I pity my parents for what they must have thought as their middle son, student at a very expensive private school, left for weekend work wearing skinny black pants, shiny black boots, long wig, and a minister's collar! The Preachers were playing the same circuit as THE CHESSMEN (Jimmie Vaughan's & Doyle Bramhall's band), FELICITY (Don Henley's band) and such. We didn't know Jimmie had a little brother named Stevie. First time I heard Henley his band was playing a frat party. Linoleum tile floor w/2 beer kegs. No stage. But when he started to sing, you just knew he'd make a living.

I moved to Austin in the late 60's & hookah'd up with the local players; many would later become known. Some who never made it big were astounding, like Ernie Gammage. Most great singers would kill for his voice. I was one of a nice handful of good rock n' roll / R&B lead guitarists looking for a break into the real industry. Then Michael Murphey came to Austin, and set the town on its ear. Austin's music suddenly went from electric cover bands to acoustic singer/songwriters, their new lead players filling their songs with R&B licks, rock n' roll licks. I realized there was empty & necessary niche I could fill; playing subtle melodic licks, in subtle melodic songs. Warmth versus heat.

I was now playing to a listening audience, vs. the dancing one. Willie was still in Nashville with short hair, and Jerry Jeff was still in early retirement in Florida. (When they later hit Austin, the place exploded, and the whole 'Progressive Country' thing took root.) But there were no Outlaws yet, and I still think Murphey started it all. Lead guitarists were just scratching out a living, and I needed a gig with someone on the move. Murphey was the only guy in town with a record contract, but he was churning through lead players like M&M's. Jimmie Vaughan was playing tiny bars. Henley had gone to L.A. intent on doing serious business. I'd been touring as a duo with Willis Alan Ramsey, my first real singer/songwriter. When we played, no one spoke, and I was hooked.. ready to try out for the big league. But Austin was still a long way from the record business.

I'd heard that this guy John Denver, the guy with 'Country Roads' on the charts, didn't have a lead player (that was not the case, by the way... it was very fortunate misinformation). So I moved to Aspen, to let him discover me. I had his number immediately, but knew not to call. I ran into him at a store, but knew not to pitch myself. I somehow knew HE had to find ME. Misinformation can open a lot of doors.
The 70’s were an amazing time in Aspen. Buffett was about to move there, soon to break out of cult status. Steve Martin was sitting in Monday nights on banjo with our little bluegrass band. Jack Nicholson slouched on a couch at The Jerome Bar between movies, while Hunter Thompson held court at the corner table, talking so fast you had to work just to catch half of it. An unknown band called The Eagles was playing 6 nights a week at The Gallery in preparation for their first record & tour. I was playing 4 apres-ski gigs a week where nobody listened, and 4 coffeehouse gigs at night where nobody talked, just waiting for this guy Denver to walk in & discover me. (He never did.) But the rumor mill in Aspen treated me well, so one day John Denver calls... needs a new lead player.. asks if I'd be interested. (Oh yeah). I'd soon be Leavin' on a Private Jet Plane.

Spent 1973 thru 1977 doing all John's concerts, records, TV shows, and writing a handful of songs for him. I played lead guitar, dobro, pedal steel, and sang the low harmony. First record session was 'John Denver's Greatest Hits Volume I', then 'Back Home Again', 'An Evening with John Denver', 'Rocky Mountain Christmas', 'Windsong', 'Spirit', and 'John Denver's Greatest Hits Volume II'. Seven of his nine Platinum records, the other two having preceded me. Looking back, those were his golden years. I got to co-write, record, tour, or be featured guest with Michael Martin Murphey, Sammi Smith, Willis Alan Ramsey, B.W. Stevenson, Gary Morris, Jose Feliciano, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Billie Joe Shaver, Ray Wiley Hubbard, John McEuen, Steve Fromholz, Rusty Weir, Delbert McClinton, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and my very first musical mentor, Al Hirt (who said he'd never played with a guitarist before!)

A sucker for the fast lane, I was chicken fried by 30. Aspen had been a 7-year party, a killer for some. A friend later described us as 'The Terminally Hip'. We were, in feeble defense, absolutely the A-list to hang out with, but we were on a fast track going the wrong way. Moved back to Dallas over Christmas of 1977. I was fairly involved in what we now call globalization; supporting potato-growing countries who exported good vodka. But it's a twisting road for some of us, and my vices finally brought me to recovery, then to my knees, and then to the real source of all music.  (I'd always thought that music was magic, coming from inside me. Now I understand it is a magical gift from a higher source, coming through me).

Today I play all kinds of gigs & projects involving my original Steve Weisberg music and the classics; big shows like Red Rocks, little shows, symphony shows, and intimate living room events called ‘John Denver Off the Record’.  And since 1990, I prefer my potatoes baked. I'm so grateful to find an audience who still wants to listen, bless their hearts! ...John Denver Tribute shows, home concerts, sitting in with great players like John McEuen from the Dirt Band, Murphey, and playing solo gigs (my newest endeavor) which combine originals, unoriginals, some stories, and a lot of stupid humor, with a sometimes spiritual punchline. And I get session calls & producer calls. As a lead player, I found a niche long ago that's never failed to come through for me: I leave the 'hot licks' to others. But I play 'warm licks' with the very best of them, and it always feels good to create warmth. So I get well paid for feeling good. Things have now gone full circle, without the vices that chewed me apart in younger days. When I'm at home, I play Sunday mornings at The Red Oak Lone Star Cowboy Church, where the pastor calls God 'The Great Trail Boss'. Me ? There ? Now who'd 'a thunkit ? But I'm enjoying this life. And that's a good thing, because none of us is getting out of it alive.

Steve Weisberg Tour

If you enjoy John Denver and are looking to listen to his music live, hear the stories, share an experience, check out this Steve Weisberg tour. I'm honored to connect with my audience through these small settings, playing everything from the classics to my newer Steve Weisberg music. Check out the tour dates and let me know where you want me to play.