Steamboat Springs was a kick-ass electric bluegrass band and if you were around Myrtle Beach from 1974 to 1978, chances are you were one of the thousands who flocked to the Pickin’ Parlor to revel in the music, the camaraderie, the friendships and the life. One of the band’s fastest friends and biggest fans was the late, great Jeff Roberts – former director of South By Southeast and proprietor of the very independent record store Sounds Familiar, as well as its successor, Sounds Better. Myrtle Beach was robbed of this gentle giant in January, when he died very unexpectedly, sending a far-reaching community of music lovers into an emotional black hole that left us angry and hurting and finally grateful that he was part of our lives.
The Steamboat Springs Band is coming back for a reunion concert at Myrtle Beach’s 2001 Nightclub on June 12.
According the Becky Warren, a regular at the Pickin’ Parlor back in the day and now an office manager in Myrtle Beach, who volunteered to coordinate reunion details on this end, “This is the only group of musicians who can bring back all these people. And Jeff knew that. He’s making it happen. I know he is. That’s what this is about. They’re doing this out of love, grief for Jeff. One hundred percent of proceeds are going to South By Southeast and the Hunter Roberts Fund [Jeff’s teenage son]. Big Jeff was their unofficial manager when the band was at the beach. He appreciated their music and who they were as people.”
The band is made up of nine players and all will be coming for the reunion concert. Here’s the lineup: Bill Pruitt is the band’s original drummer. He left in 1977 and was replaced by Steve Wheeler. Les Burnett is the group’s bass player. Joel Ferguson, who played later in L.A. with the very popular Midnight Riders, is on pedal steel and banjo. On fiddle is Willie Royal, now half of world music duo Willie & Lobo. Guitarist Gary Davis is coming from Arkansas. Bob Wharton (piano) and his wife Donna Nash Wharton (vocals) who were later additions to the band will be part of the reunion, too. Roadies Steve Brown and J.T. “Cos” Lewis are expected to be on hand for the show as well. Sadly, original drummer Paul Seagraves passed away in 2005.
Sound man Bucky Ferguson is Joel’s brother. Once plans for a reunion were underway, it was Bucky who listened to all the band’s old tapes, cassettes, and eight-tracks and converted it to digital format.
In a blog post (steamboatspringsband.blogspot.com), he wrote, “For two solid weeks after work and the entire weekend, I listened to Steamboat songs … very old acoustic stuff with the original lead singer Paul Seagraves to the 1980 reunion. Listening to all the old music while converting it to digital has helped me deal with Jeff’s passing. His hand is definitely in this 2010 reunion.”
Bill Pruitt added some history to that same blog, “We played six nights a week at the beach to many thousands of people over the summer and we got so tight as a band we could tell when Gary’s guitar lead or Joel’s pedal steel riff or Willy’s wild leap and frantic fiddle lick would take us down through a six minute jam …. or bring us to end the song in a quick 30 seconds. Sometimes it only took a certain look from one musician to the other and off we went into musical hyperdrive.
“From that first walk across the new concrete floors and pine-bark split boards that decorated the Pickin’ Parlor - through the many miles, concerts, hotels rooms, fast-food dinners, and barrooms – we entertained thousands with a distinct sound and distinct attitude about life and music.”
Bucky adds, “After the ‘Summer of 74’ in Myrtle Beach, Steamboat travelled throughout the southeast opening for acts like Linda Ronstadt, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Wet Willie, Sea Level, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Seger and played most of the big clubs and many of the dives in the southeast. We were always one listener away from “hitting it big!” Playing rockin’ country and bluegrass music in the 70s, before country music was popular, required we have a generous supply of one or more of the following types of people who were either: 1. Drunk, 2. Stoned, or 3. Persons of discriminating tastes but, willing to open the mind to anything that makes you feel that damn good! I remember a guy in Spartanburg, S.C. saying or rather slurring “I don’t even like country music, but you guys are f – - – - – - great!” I don’t remember any country bands other than Steamboat that could open for bands like Bob Seger or Leslie West at Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta but, I also remember playing a converted milking barn in North, South Carolina on Thanksgiving night. Yippee!”
Myrtle Beach first fell in love with Steamboat Springs band during the summer of ‘74. But it was way more than just a summer fling. This is your chance to get yourself some of that love.
Doors open at 5:45 p.m. (time approximate). The show starts at 6 o’clock and runs through 10 p.m. Minimum donation is $20. Jeff’s mom, Miss Montie and his son, Hunter, will be in the house. There will be some touching moments, including a new song written especially for Big Jeff. But this is a celebration. For the music and the man.
This is also being published in Coast magazine and Alternatives NewsMagazine, the alternative independent papers in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
I won’t say that music in Myrtle Beach died along with Jeff Roberts. But it took a hit and the whole community is feeling the pain.
Co-founder and director for Myrtle Beach’s nonprofit South By Southeast, Jeff has been working his butt off for years – keeping music in our schools, supporting our local musicians and bringing topnotch national and regional talents to perform at the monthly SxSE Music Feasts at the city’s historic Train Depot.
On a personal note, Jeff was simply one of my favorite people. The perfect day for me would include a stop at his wonderfully independent Sounds Better record store, where I could just hang with Jeff for a while. Our Minister of Music was always up to the challenge: “Find me something I’ll love that I’ve never heard before.” And he’d rustle through a stack of CDs or flip through a bin of LPs until he came up with just the right recording.
That’s how I learned about the incredible blues mandolin player Yank Rachell. It was Jeff Roberts who introduced me to Mike Farris – both the music and the man – whose gospel vocals are nothing short of life-changing. Without Jeff Roberts I wouldn’t know the green-eyed soul of Lari White. Or the rockin’ good humor of Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack. Or the quirky blues of Harry Manx.
Jeff Roberts was my mentor, my teacher, my friend. So Jeff, if you’re reading this – and I know you are – thank you for everything. I am so much the better for knowing you.
But where is that Verlon Thompson CD you’ve been promising me?