Remembering Keep it Easy Stevie
Photos courtesy of friends of Steve
Contributors: Fiona Seager, guitar and vocals; Aeron Mack, drums and vocals; Harley Rosenbaum, guitar and vocals; Elizabeth Lawrence, vocals
In June this year, a beloved local musician, Steve Hagedorn, passed away from cancer.
My husband Jan and I have known Steve since the early ’90s, when Jan hired him and singer Elizabeth Lawrence to play in the pub at Fiddler’s Green, a restaurant that used to be in The Plains where Girasole is now. Elizabeth approached me about writing an article in memory of Steve, and I knew I had to share his story with our readers because he was such a special, unique, talented individual who was huge in the local music scene. No doubt this will be a blast from the past for those who were regular patrons of the pub at that time.
I interviewed musician friends and partners of Steve’s for this article, but it wasn’t a typical interview. Elizabeth, Harley, Aeron, and Fiona were there with Jan and me. We met at Faang in Warrenton and had drinks and dinner. I just put my voice recorder in the middle of the table, and we toasted Steve and shared memories. It was more like a party than an interview. Steve would have approved heartily.
Non-typical interviews do not lend themselves to typical articles. Everyone was so eloquent and everything was so heartfelt that I didn’t want to squash their voices by paraphrasing their words. And it was such a fun evening that I thought — however unconventional it turned out to be — I should just present the conversation as it developed. I really couldn’t think of a better way.
So, please enjoy these memories of Steve, and perhaps have a beer to toast him as you read.
Jan: The last time I saw him play he just sat in a corner and played a lot of old school classics.
Fiona: Yeah, that was his jam.
Pam: I know it’s hard to narrow it down, but how would you describe his music?
Everyone: Blues, Rock ’n Roll, Folk, Grateful Dead. He played Classic Rock, which could be anywhere from ’60s hippie folk rock to ’90s tunes. Then he’d always throw in a couple wild cards at the end of a performance.
Fiona: The longer he played into the evening the more varied he got. Sometimes he’d play something that we’d never heard before, and he’d say, just follow along.
Elizabeth: At the celebration of Steve’s life everybody was talking about how he was always in a mentor role, to a lot of different people. He was to all of us. He brought our musical game much further along than it was when we met him.
Harley: I met Steve when he used to host open mic night when my parents owned the Blue Moon Cafe in Sperryville. My folks opened that in 1997 or 98. It’s long gone now. But the first time I ever played with Steve I actually played with Elizabeth too. I was practically a baby, in high school. I played the guitar and sang at open mic. He was always very encouraging and pushed you a little beyond where you were.
Aeron: When I met Steve, I had zero musical knowledge, never played an instrument. Nothing. Eighteen years ago when I lived in Middleburg I would go listen to him and Elizabeth at Magpie’s. And I quickly realized that this team was amazing for a local band. So whenever they were in Middleburg I would walk up and visit, and one night, Elizabeth got a call that her daughter was not feeling well. So about halfway through their set, she went home. But the place was sort of crowded so Steve stayed. He was at the bar having a beer and he looked over to me and said, “You don’t know any songs, do you?” And I said, “I know the words to two songs.” And he asked, “What are they?” One was “White Rabbit”, and the other was like an Eagles song. And he said, “Come on.” I went and sat in her chair, and sang this song, and I’d never sung before. I just had a desire to do it. They made it look like fun.
Fiona: We call him Easy Stevie
Elizabeth: Keep it Easy Stevie.
Aeron: Then I just started to come to the open mic nights he was hosting here Warrenton at Molly’s. And I’d go sing those two songs. And he’d say, “Come back next week,” and I’d sing the two songs. And then he started giving me homework, a couple songs to learn. Then the next thing you know we’ve got a full set list and we’re playing gigs at private functions.
Elizabeth: That’s how it unfolded for a lot of people he played gigs with. A lot of people had the same origins they’d come and sing at open mic night and it just grew and grew.
Fiona: He did that with a lot of people and a lot of them went on to have professional careers. It was amazing. He was such an inspiration to so many musicians. He built a little community of musicians. He was like the Godfather.
Fiona: He could bring out the inner musician in people like me, a lot of people who were too shy to try it on their own or who hadn’t really found an instrument, he’d coax it out of you. He could tell if you had the desire. He found it really funny when I told him I found getting up and singing more scary than doing eye surgery, which is my profession. He would say, “You’re kidding.” But he was very subtle with his instruction.
Aeron: When Fiona first started hanging out with us we’d go to places like McMahon’s. We’d be playing outside and there’d be only about two people. And she wouldn’t sing. Then, fast forward about a year, and there she is, singing and playing in front of a big crowd like she’s been doing it her whole life. In one year, with Steve’s gentle encouragement.
Fiona: He was selfish and unselfish, casual and not casual. He had his standards. He just wanted to play music and he didn’t want to do all the singing. So he had all of us little birds following him along to do that part.
Aeron: Once he found your strength he would pull it out of you. He had a sense for that. He never once hurt my feelings while I was learning to play not once. He was so patient. He never made you feel like you sucked, or that you weren’t good enough to be out there.
Fiona: He was able to pull people up on stage with him, without knowing what they knew, and he’d start pulling songs out, and eventually everybody would get on the same page. He could carry the whole song by himself. He didn’t need us, he’d just use us to our best potential, whatever we were capable of offering.
Fiona: He didn’t sing at the beginning of his career, he didn’t think he was a good singer. He made himself become a good singer. He had a lovely rich deep baritone.
Fiona: Steve was really a feminist at heart. He was really nice, he really appreciated the contributions of women in so many ways. Like in a band. He was never the one to not let women in the band. He’d say, “Get on up here.” I don’t know many guys in music that are that easy for women to get up and play with. I don’t think it’s typical. It’s usually kind of an old boys club. He was so good about inviting people to participate, at open mic nights ….the more the merrier. Some musicians are a little territorial, and he would always say, “Come on everybody, let’s play. Bring whatever you have, it doesn’t matter what.”
Fiona: He considered himself like a painter with songs. Other musicians laid the canvas, and he would paint on top of it. That was the big thing about the rhythm guitar, the bass. To lay out the canvas for him and then he could go wild, but if he didn’t have those other musicians with him, he’d have to do it himself. He wanted someone to play straight rhythm guitar to support the song, and he could play lead guitar which he excelled at. That’s when he would really blow you away. He would build the sound up. His solos could go on for 15 minutes. Once he was in the zone it was a whole other level. When we were playing with him, we just sat back and watched him. We’d be so wrapped up in watching his solo that we forgot when it was over that we had to sing.
Harley: Steve was a very unique guitar player. He had a really unique style with slide guitar, which is very unusual. Steve played his guitar with high action. Typically if you play the slide you have another slide that’s tuned, so when it’s time for a slide song, you’d pick up that guitar and play. Steve played in major G tuning, but he played slide guitar. The same guitar for everything. To be able to do that with the high action and not have to stop to retune the slide that’s like totally unheard of. That was another of Steve’s superpowers. He had many.
Fiona: He had huge big hands, which was kind of tough for a guitar player. He always thought his big hands were a challenge because he couldn’t play individual strings very easily. But he could play two strings with one finger, and he still managed to be amazing.
Elizabeth: He had this pedalboard. When other musicians saw him for the first time they’d want to take pictures. It had bumper stickers on it, and ashes and cigarette butts around it. The corners were all chewed by mice.
Aeron: Many many years I played with him, we never had a drum kit, we never had a percussion. it was just him and his tambourine.
Elizabeth: He played the tambourine with his foot. He was his own rhythm section. That was another one of his superpowers. And his foot was huge.
Fiona: He had all different ways of doing it, he could play it with his toe, with his heel, and the whole foot if he was really into it. And he always wore Chuck Taylors.
Jan: I remember he had this Ford Bronco back then, the back window was gone and had a piece of plywood instead. And he’d be out there and the cigarette smoke would be billowing out of it. His gig bag was an old cooler and the guitar and the wires would stick out. It was literally a fishing cooler. And that’s how he went to all his gigs.
Elizabeth: And he always had this signature bandana, but it was never for him ever any sort of vanity. It wasn’t like, “I’m trying to market myself” at all. It was just that his comfortable, chill vibe included that bandanna. Always. It was like his hippie thing.
Jan: It reminded me of Keith Richards every time I saw him.
Elizabeth: YES! He was a big Keith Richards fan.
Fiona: In high school, he was a basketball star. He was 6’5”. When he got to Virginia Tech he just wanted to play music. He majored in English. His favorite literature was Shakespeare and Chaucer. He got really into Canterbury Tales. I can’t imagine reading Canterbury Tales for pleasure. When he would talk about it, he would say, “They don’t portray women in a very good light.” Like a little disclaimer first, then he’d tell me the story.
Elizabeth: Every year he’d read Edgar Allen Poe on Halloween, just strumming a little music. Because it was so eerie. I always thought that was so cool. He was a well read, very educated individual.
Fiona: He tried careers in sales and construction after college, but pretty early on he realized that wasn’t really for him, so he went on to become a full time musician not long after graduating.
Elizabeth: He loved his family, his mother, father, and sister very much. And his boys. He adored his boys.
Fiona: His father was a big role model, he was ex military.
Elizabeth: He lived in Fauquier County since the ’90s maybe. He lived on Beverlys Mill Road in this little cabin with his cat Lucy. He was a total cat person. He didn’t like dogs. He liked how aloof cats were.
Pam: What was his musical education like?
Fiona: It was mostly natural talent. His parents bought him lessons in classical guitar when he was younger and he got some rigorous training, and after that, he just played with friends. He was just inspired to do it.
Elizabeth: I did a few weddings with him when my full band was playing the reception, and he’d get hired to do the time between the wedding and the reception. I’d ask him, “Please stay and play some lead at the reception,” and those were some of the best shows I’ve ever played in my life because two lead guitars can bring so much sound.
Aeron: We had several band practices at my house because I had a garage that was easy to back the truck into, and he would set up exactly the same every single time, the way he set up at gigs, like a ritual. Same Oriental rug, same amp. Same pedalboard. We’d have the garage door open and all the neighbors would bring chairs and sit and listen.
Elizabeth: He always had fun while he was playing. Everybody always had fun when he was playing.
Harley: I remember thinking, obviously he had years more experience than I did but when I would introduce a song to him and say “Can we try this?” and I was certain he’d say no….
Fiona: If you were going to sing it, he’d be more likely to do it because that was his thing. He’d say, “If you want to do that song, you sing it. I’ll do some lead for you.” He memorized lyrics, and he had to like the lyrics. If he didn’t like the lyrics, he wouldn’t bother.
Elizabeth: That’s another thing about being his friend and musical partner for so long so many years. Zero drama ever.
Pam: Is the absence of drama unique in the music world?
Elizabeth: If you’re that good, you can have some drama. But he was never that guy.
Fiona: He was a gentle giant.
Pam: What was his favorite song?
Elizabeth: Nobody played Mark Knopfler’s “Romeo and Juliet” like he did.
Fiona: Yes, Dire Straits. “Tunnel of Love” was his one song, that’s a tough song and his solo was so beautiful. He had it. He never got to take it public, but that was one of his favorites. But his “Romeo and Juliet” was gorgeous. Kind of his signature. That was the thing about Steve, he played stuff better than the originals.
Elizabeth: Every show since I met him he’d want to open with “Angel from Montgomery” and I would say, “Steve we have to mix it up,” and he’d say, “Nope, everybody loves it.”
Aeron: We used to sing “Fire”. That’s one of the songs I realized that he could harmonize. He didn’t want to sing lead but he could harmonize like crazy.
Fiona: Even on the fly, his harmony was amazing. I would start singing “Hopelessly Hoping” — which is four parts by the way — and he’d just start singing one of them, and he just naturally did the harmony perfectly.
Elizabeth: One time, this was so long ago, he said, “I think we can do “Suite Judy Blue Eyes”,” and I said, “No we can’t.” He said, “Yes, we can,” and we did it. That’s a five part song. And we did it. And I was looking at him the whole time and he was looking at me the whole time….
Fiona: Those harmonies were the killers.
Elizabeth: I told him, “I’m going to be jumping from part to part to part,” and he said, “Fine. Figure it out.”
Fiona: That was his Holy Grail.
Elizabeth: That’s everyone’s Holy Grail. It’s wicked difficult.
Pam: Did he have other bands?
Everyone: Laughing Man, the House Cats, RPMs, Claire and the Picnic Bears. Then he played with Elizabeth.
Fiona: His dream was to get all his girls together, his muses he called us.
Elizabeth: I made him learn a Police song called “Walking in your Footsteps”. That was so far out of his wheelhouse and he crushed it. Another one was “Round and Round” by Prince. That was probably my favorite song we ever did together.
Fiona: He was a huge David Bowie and Mark Ronson fan.
Jan: I do remember having trouble keeping up with his beer consumption.
Aeron: He was a big guy, he could drink a lot of beer.
Aeron: But even as much beer as he drank by the end of the night he was never sloppy.
Elizabeth: I never saw him sloppy, and I never saw him angry.
Fiona: He didn’t want to be that guy. He was himself. He didn’t care what other people thought. He’d go to gigs and we’d often tease him about the socks and sandals and sweatpants. He would dress up for some gigs, but if it was casual, he didn’t care, he’d be wearing one of his sons’ tee shirts.
Pam: Did he do any original stuff?
Fiona: With Laughing Man he did.
Elizabeth: One was called “Walking to the Liquor Store”, and also, “I’m Hoping to be Marrying Mary, but I’m Dying to be Loving Hope”. It was a reggae song. He wrote incredible music. “Fire and Gasoline”, that was a great one. I sang that with him.
Pam: Do you know how impossible it is to find something about him online? He doesn’t have a website or social media account or anything. There’s nothing except people talking about him. There is literally no one on this earth who has done what he has and doesn’t have an online presence. Right?
Elizabeth: I feel like that’s like legend status, when people are talking about you online, but you’re never online.
Aeron: It was word of mouth. He wasn’t a social media kind of person, or a cell phone person.
Elizabeth: He only had a landline with a message machine. I don’t think he ever sent an email, a text. I don’t think he ever got online ever.
Fiona: Steve was always pretty short on the phone. He didn’t like to chat. The only way he’d talk a lot was if you got him on politics. Then it was a 15 minute monologue.
Elizabeth: I can still hear him saying “Heeeey, whatcha up to?” when he answered the phone. He had that on his voicemail, so you’d think you were talking to him, then the leave a message part would come on, and you’d be thinking, darn it.
Elizabeth: He had a great smile. So handsome. It should be prominent in the article that he was hilarious and kind and crazy, crazy talented.
Fiona: And humble.
Aeron: You’d never know to look at him or to talk to him what that man was capable of. He was amazing.
Elizabeth: I kept thinking that the last time we played together was at the Orlean Market, I thought, of course he’s going to survive this.
Fiona: He died in June, during COVID-19. He didn’t have Covid, but Covid really messed up his last few years. That took a lot of joy away from him when everything was closed and he couldn’t get out and play.
Elizabeth: We obviously loved him a lot.
Pam: What are you going to do without Steve?
Elizabeth: Good question. We have to step up to the plate.
Aeron: I had a total breakdown. I thought, who else am I going to find to play with who does what Steve did?
Fiona: That’s why we’re trying to keep the community going.
Elizabeth: I’m super proud of my Tunes and Tie Dye event. It was a fundraiser at McMahon’s for Steve when he first got sick, to help him with the mounting medical bills. That event was amazing. I’m going to start crying thinking about it. There were seven bands, and a silent auction, and it was packed. We had to tell Red Hot and Blue, “We need your parking lot.” I’m very proud of that event. Every person who came to that event knew Steve. So many people came.
Fiona: I got so emotional seeing how many people were there in the snow, pulling into the parking lot.
Jan: I was sick, I had just had surgery the day before. But there was no way I was going to miss it.
Elizabeth: The day we had lunch and I gave him the proceeds of the fundraiser was one of the best days of my life. He couldn’t believe people were so generous. I gave McMahon’s some money, but everyone else donated their time. That silent auction was amazing. One of the best I’ve ever seen.
Elizabeth: My band played first, in the morning, so I could work the event. It was an all day event. My guitar player, Joe Cody, squatted on the bar for the next five hours, running the sound for all the other bands. And I said, “You look so uncomfortable!” And he replied, “This is the joy of my life. Running sound for all these musicians who are playing for Steve and playing their asses off. This is one of the best days of my life.”