Steven Neal Wagner was born in Brooklyn, New York but was raised in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. "My mother had me take guitar lessons when I was about eight years old but I didn't know why. A couple of Tuesday afternoons in a row some fella who looked like Mac Davis showed up in the living room and me and my brother would pass my Mom's too-big-for-an-eight-year-old guitar back and forth, trying to do what 'Mac' showed us. I was clueless."
About four years later, Wagner made his own decision to take guitar lessons. "One day at school, the teacher passed out these little catalogs of after school programs. Among them was a guitar class. For some reason, with no forethought, I really wanted to learn to play. I went for eight weeks and I was on my way. I started writing songs almost before I could change chords properly." Wagner spent most of his after school hours playing and practicing, listening to records and learning to play songs by ear.
From his school days through the next decade he played in local bands, sometimes as leader, sometimes as sideman (on guitar, bass or drums). "Lots and lots of sound checks, gigs and load-outs; frat parties, backyard parties and many of the local clubs of the day. I gained a lot of stage time in those years. I must have been in a dozen or more bands, including a Blondie-ish band in which I played a pink bass guitar they lent me. I wish I had a photo of that."
Despite all the activity however, he was "...going nowhere at dangerously high speeds. Lots of gigs and lots of recording but very little vision or direction. Playing in a band has the potential reward of the 'high' you experience in exchanging energy with the other players and audience but that is a very small part of the band experience. There's personalities and drama and other complications I'd grown weary of after ten years."
It was not long after that he decided to "go solo," stepping up to the mic with nothing but a guitar, his songs and little else, getting his feet wet playing open mics from Canoga Park to Santa Monica several nights a week for months, then started doing regular solo shows at venues like (the long gone) Mama Pajama, Cobalt Cafe, Genghis Cantina, the Cock and Bull, Grafitti, Common Ground "and places whose names I don't even recall anymore."
"I liked the idea of direct communication from me to the listener�just voice, guitar, melody and lyric�no "attitude," bashing drummers or tasteless lead guitar players." A former bandmate introduced Wagner to Harriet Schock (writer of the platinum hit "That Ain't No Way to Treat A Lady," among others). "I discovered there was a lot to learn about songwriting and I took right to it. Those were some of the most inspiring days of my life. The two later co-wrote "The Quietest Part of the Day," which is on Wagner's new CD. Schock in turn introduced him to legendary (according to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll) producer Nik Venet (Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, Fred Neil, Bobby Darin) who acted as a mentor for a few years.
Wagner was a member of the "Campfire Conspiracy" (a performing songwriter workshop-collective comprised of Venet students and proteg�s), which held a six-month stand (of Sunday nights) at the renowned Genghis Cantina in Los Angeles. He was also among select Conspiracy of Venet's National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences-sponsored "Songwriters in the Schools" program, which presented a program of literate songcraft to high schoolers from Palmdale to Redondo Beach.
Wagner's lyrics are quoted by Schock in her book, Becoming Remarkable.
Wagner was a member of the trio Shady Trees, who released one CD in 2000.
His songs "Driveways" and "Traveling in an Old Car" have been featured or in regular rotation on the internet radio stations WJFN 99.7 (Long Island, New York), MVYradio's Local MusiCafe and Songwriter's Network.
His "One of the Two" was selected as a Top 10 Finalist in Mike Pinder's "Song Wars" songwriting contest in early 2009.
In October 2009 his song "Driveways" received Honorable Mention in the American Songwriter lyric contest.
Between club gigs and showcases, Wagner keeps his chops up by busking (playing on the street for tips) in various spots in L.A. (as chronicled in Wagner's video blog, "Diary of a Music Man.")
Steven Neal Wagner - guitar, vocals and occasional drumbox on stage.
New CD, "Steven Neal Wagner" available at http://www.kunaki.com/Sales.asp?PID=PX00ZRJDB9
Shady Trees, "Shady Trees" EP on CantoVeritas (independent release), 1999
Safest, Softest Place
One of the Two
Flyin' with the Windows Down
When I Still Had You
In Memory of Esmin Green
I Love Summer
Four-star CD review
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Steven Neal Wagner Steven Neal Wagner (self-released) **** (four stars) Brooklyn-born but S...Steven Neal Wagner
Steven Neal Wagner (self-released)
**** (four stars)
Brooklyn-born but San Fernando-raised Wagner has worked aimlessly in and around the music business for a good few years in garage bands, cover bands and now as a solo singer-songwriter. This four-track release is his debut, and you wonder why such a talented guy should wait so long before finally releasing a record. A literate writer with a smooth, caring voice, he connects emotionally from the very first notes of the opening "Traveling in an Old Car," a reflective songs that should reverberate with all those who hear it. He makes universal connections with thoughtful lyrics blended with memorable melodies that revolve around the head hours after the CD has finished playing. These four impressive songs have a total playing time of twenty minutes--and that's much too short. I look forward with great anticipation to a full-length album.
CD press release
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Steven Neal Wagner's self-titled first release is full of stories about people you know and moment...
Steven Neal Wagner's self-titled first release is full of stories about people you know and moments you've lived.
LOS ANGELES -- Steven Neal Wagner is classic singer-songwriter stuff (think Paul Simon or Jackson Browne): literate, melodic, down-to-earth. The kind of disc you would play to relax, reflect and even rock a little. But beware...
"I have had women with runny mascara come up to me in clubs where I played, having had their love life nailed to the wall. I recall one girl telling me bitterly that the song made her feel like throwing up. So, I decided to stop playing it for awhile," chuckles Wagner about "One of the Two," which is one of the songs on the new CD. With a melody reminiscent of "Eleanor Rigby" and interwoven with cello and violin, Wagner tersely tells the tale of one half of a couple that is more in love than the other. "That song was written about my conduct with a former girlfriend, who unfortunately happened to be in the audience the first time I played the song in public. It got a huge, satisfying ovation from all but one audience member...who ran out of the room crying."
Far from being an utter cad, Wagner is a commemorator of the small but important moments in life: "I try not to be autobiographical because I don't think my life has been all that interesting so no matter how 'deep' I might get about something that happened in my life, it still has to be interesting to the listener because at the bottom of it all it has to be entertaining." Wagner realizes that such a pronouncement could be misinterpreted by some, adding, "Entertainment is anything that captivates your attention in an appealing way. For some,'appealing' means vampire movies and for others, it's love stories--and for yet others, maybe vampire love stories. So for me as a songwriter, sometimes I have to dress up the truth in clothes that are more interesting." The song "Driveways," also on the new CD, is a case in point. It is not important to this writer if every word of this Eagles-ish song is factual to Wagner's life. What matters is that everyone (old or young) I have played the song for has responded to it. Some even sang along. Amazingly, at seven-plus minutes, not one person I played it for was bored. "The set-up of the song--two guys, friends-of-a-friend, after everyone else has left town for college or after college...you're sort of in a holding pattern with what you'll do with your life--that much is true but that's about all I am gonna say about it except that the character 'Danny' in the song is an actual person named Danny. And we're still friends, too."
On "Traveling in an Old Car," Wagner takes us back down the road 10, 20, 30 or more years (depending on how long you've been around) to our carefree younger days when our pockets were "full of time to spend" and lamenting into the rear-view mirror that his new car will never be fast enough to take him back to those days. It's quite a ride and features some nice, smooth-highway finger-style acoustic guitar.
The final cut on the disc, "The Quietest Part of the Day," was co-written by Wagner and award-winning songwriter-recording artist Harriet Schock (whose "That Ain't No Way To Treat A Lady" was a gold and platinum record for Helen Reddy). Over a chord progression reminiscent of Pachelbel's Canon, Wagner softly salutes a moment that most of world rarely experiences: "I was walking around with that idea or that title for a number of years before I actually sat down and wrote anything. It came from a time in my late-20s, a day when I had been up 24 hours straight. I was unemployed, coasting through life, writing songs...I had to catch a Greyhound early the next morning to go cross country and pick up a car and my brother was going to take me down to the bus terminal in L.A. I had been partying with friends and it got to be 2am. I figured, "Why go home and sleep? I gotta be back here in a few hours anyway." So I just stayed up, drove around for a while, got to his house about two hours early and just milled around his neighborhood. Simple as it sounds, I was very affected by the stillness of the city and the almost purple-grey atmosphere at that wee hour."
Though it clocks in at less than 20 minutes, Steven Neal Wagner is nonetheless musically and lyrically substantial. He'll take you places. He'll bring you back. What more can you ask for from a singer-songwriter?
Moody blue review
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"I like your refrain hook 'when only one of the two is in love.' Really nice melody! Good storytel...
"I like your refrain hook 'when only one of the two is in love.' Really nice melody! Good storytelling with well-crafted lyrics. Very creative and memorable composition!" [regarding my song "One of the Two"]
From WWOZ, New Orleans
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"His lyrics are direct and never obvious. A real gem among today's songwriters." -- Bill Berry,..."His lyrics are direct and never obvious. A real gem among today's songwriters."
-- Bill Berry, WWOZ-FM New Orleans
Fan CD reviews
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"I listened to it three times in a row! It is evident to me that your poet's heart is meeting it's...
"I listened to it three times in a row! It is evident to me that your poet's heart is meeting it's true potential. All four of these songs touched me on a very different level, "One of the Two", especially, but I thought that they were all very cleverly crafted lyrically, enhanced by the music and were given an open honesty by your voice talents." -- S.C., Saugus, CA
Wowee wow wow! I ADORE your album, Steve! I listened all the way to Wilmington (6 hours) today. I have only heard The Shady Trees [folk trio I was in, released one CD in '99 -- SNW] for so many years- and while I love that album, it's great to have a new version of you in my car with me." -- S.K.W., Asheville, NC
"I listened to it over and over and over. Pure delight." -- C.A., N. Hollywood, CA
"Got your new CD. LOVED IT!" -- A.E., N. Hollywood, CA
"I listened to it yesterday and I LOVED IT !!!!!!!" -- V.G., Tujunga, CA
"I've listened to your CD about 4 times now. That is not nothing, as I have stacks of CD's...that are in piles, still in the plastic. REALLY impressed with your simple, but perfect production Steve. All four songs do what great songs are supposed to do. They take me into the story, effortlessly. No seams or cracks. I go there without trying to. It's my new favorite CD." -- D.L., Tujunga, CA
I can handle two 45 minute sets of original material. I also regularly busk (play on the street for tips), playing covers: Beatles, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Kinks, stuff you can sing along to, lots of surprises.
There are no upcoming dates at this time.