My Life Of Music And Service31 August 2015 Written by By Steve Hanson
Published in September 2015 Articles
I ’ve been interested in music since early childhood and am self-taught on all the instruments commonly used in band performance.
I’ve never mastered any of them, but can play at an acceptable level almost any kind of music on any of those instruments. I did get some formal training, however. Both of my parents are musical, and we always had a piano, so I started taking lessons when I was eight. I took lessons only for a few years but continued to play both the piano and keyboard. My musical training, for the most part, was acquired “on the job.” I always enjoyed performance and was part of a great musical program at Fremont’s Mission San Jose High School where I performed in a number of school musical theater productions. I then studied Music Management and trained as a classical vocalist at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. I traveled the world on memorable choir tours in the tenor section of the school’s acclaimed Nordic Choir. The choir director at that time, Dr. Weston Noble, was a true master. We won acclaim and recognition as one of the world’s elite college choirs.
GETTING DOWN TO WORK AND PERFORMANCE
I’ve been a deejay since I was 15 years old and earned some cash playing gigs with a variety of pick-up bands. I realized, however, that even though music was going to be my life, I would need to make a living, so in college I earned a Business degree with an emphasis in Music Management. Even though music remained my passion, high tech eventually became my profession. My first job was in our family business. My dad owned and managed a flying club, FBO, and charter service out of Concord’s Buchanan Field, which at the time was the 15th busiest county airport in the country, and we accounted for 45 percent of the airport’s total business.
It was a great job, but when I got an offer to tour the West Coast with a contemporary Christian artist, named Joel Weldon, the siren song of musical performance lured me away. We performed at youth camps, festivals, and at local churches. I was having a great time, but was brought back to earth one day when my girlfriend pointed out that being Joel Weldon’s side-man and roadie would never support our combined vision for the future. So in 1993 I took a position in Field Marketing with a technology company and have worked in the industry ever since. I’m currently program manager for the product-marketing department in a large software development company.
Music continues to be my passion. I can’t imagine going through a single day without being able to use music as a creative outlet — a release that serves to keep me centered. I’m not at all unique in this; a large number of musicians in the area have day jobs, but regard music as a central-life passion. I’m associated in one way or another with many musical performers and none of us are in it to make a living.
For each of us, musical performance provides an important avenue of self-expression. For another thing, the act of performing with other musicians creates a virtual community or family as the music draws us together in a way that is difficult to describe.
I’m currently working with several small musical groups playing wine stores, parties, and other smaller venues. My younger sister, Jewels Hanson, and I sometimes perform together. Jewels is lead singer for the house band at Fremont’s Saddle Rack, called Diablo Road, which has the tagline, “We’re Country But Sometimes We Like To Rock!” Jewels was one of the finalists on Season 4 “Nashville Star” and twice a Colgate Country Showdown National finalist.
I also serve as guest worship leader in a number of area churches and am worship leader at Impact Christian Church, which meets at West Country Club drive (across from Willy’s on Balfour).
My main musical outlet is a six-piece dance band called The Playthings. We perform at festivals and do gigs for corporate clients, private parties, and public events. We sometimes play in Becky Bloomfield’s CoCo County Winebar.
The Playthings covers Funk, Rock, R&B, Soul, and Top40. Uptown Funk is a must-do for current audiences. We keep on top of current hits, which we balance against the classics. Our playlists can be tailored to the tastes of almost any audience. We are more than the typical cover band, because I bring three decades of deejay experience to bear on meeting the challenge of exactly meeting the musical tastes of any audience. We know a couple hundred danceable hits and can “read” an audience, so we know what will work and what won’t work. We apply our professional-level musicianship to creating the variety audiences require. The Playthings musicians are all seasoned veterans, and together we are able to craft a suitable playlist for anybody — from a simple wedding to a large festival audience — so we end up playing exactly what they want to hear.
I jokingly say that Playthings is Northern California’s grown-up version of the Glee Club television program because the variety of personal styles represented by the six of us include an athlete, a geek, a longhaired rocker with tattoos, a schoolteacher, and a Goth.
The diversity of personal styles translates into our widely assorted mix of music styles. One of our signature styles is to create mash-ups of two songs — something that experienced deejays will do with their equipment but that we do live. We might perform a current hit over a classic Motown standard to create a fresh experience — giving the old a current musical setting while providing a familiar context for a current hit. For example, one of our singers will sing Usher’s “Yeah,” which some people might not be familiar with, over the top of the band’s performance of Michael Jackson’s, “Billy Jean,” which everyone has heard.
Mixing musical genres like this creates a dynamic and enjoyable experience for everyone — musicians and audience members alike. Audiences respond enthusiastically. It is gratifying to find two pieces that can be easily mixed and matched — written in the same key, playable at the same tempo, and sharing a common set of chord progressions.
Managing people is a challenge in any circumstance and managing a group of professional musicians involves a particular set of “herding cats” challenges. Musicians generally have “A-type” personalities, and finding a balance between the business side and the creative side is often a challenge.
The Playthings band members are a diverse group of veteran musicians. Larry Berman, our drummer, is a long-standing Northern California musician, who has played with a lot of groups. Dan Salas, Jr., our bass, is also musical director and bandleader of a band called Midnight Hour. Eric Prosch, our sax player and percussionist, is a Jazz and Funk veteran. Chris Scoville is a Bay Area rock legend with the Niles Band, plus plays guitar. Rebecca Kay, our lead singer, is the baby of the group. Rebecca has a powerhouse voice that is a mix of Janice Joplin, Joan Jett, and Aretha Franklin. We love working with her, and for some reason she loves working with us. She likes to tell people, “I have five husbands” — more like her older brothers, actually.
BEHIND THE SCENES
I met Stacey Atkinson when I was four and have been in love with her throughout the years since. She and I have been married for more than two decades, and Stacey has been a rock through the ups and downs of our life. We have three children — Skyler just graduated from Heritage High and is heading for California Baptist University in Riverside this fall to study Engineering. Shaylee is entering her sophomore year at Heritage.
Shayne is a special needs kid, in seventh grade at Edna Hill. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” they say, and all three of the kids appreciate music. Skyler is a blossoming deejay in his own right. He and I do the Bristow eighth grade dance every year. Now he books his own projects and does his own deejay business. Shaylee played trumpet with Mark Morello at Bristow. Shayne loves music and has his own collection of guitars.
For the past couple decades, Stacey has been teaching PE at Loma Vista and Marsh Creek schools. As a result, in support of Stacey, I’ve performed as deejay at innumerable school parades and ice cream socials. I recently deejayed the amazing Team Hulken fundraiser, the Brentwood Union School District fundraiser, plus Crab Feeds for the Liberty Band and Deer Valley Boosters. On September 5, the Playthings will be performing from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Downtown Businessman’s Association Concert.
The fact is, I dearly love Brentwood and enjoy supporting the community in any way I can. I am a person of faith, serving God, family, and the community as acts of devotion.