Stephen Ashbrook
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Stephen Ashbrook

Band Americana Singer/Songwriter


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"Coming to terms with the power of the Über Crooner"

By Bob Mehr

It's a cold Thursday evening in early February, right in the heart of what's been an unremittingly bleak -- at least by Valley standards -- winter season. As the bark of a dog guarding a nearby scrap yard echoes faintly in the night, I find myself sitting in a car in the parking lot of Nita's Hideaway -- and I am crying. These are not the dignified, reluctant tears of a grown man, but rather the racking, breathless sobs of a child. If not for a two-day growth of beard and a rapidly receding hairline, you'd swear the noises coming out of my mouth were those of a little girl with a skinned knee.

What, or more accurately, who is responsible for this utter collapse? Stephen Ashbrook, that's who. Yes, Stephen Ashbrook -- leader of Valley rock group Satellite, white-bread pop tunesmith extraordinaire, Über Crooner par excellence and frequent target of scorn on these very pages. Yes, friends, that Stephen Ashbrook.

The real question here, I suppose, is why, or at the very least, how? How is it that Stephen Ashbrook has come to be responsible for my emotional Waterloo? To answer that we have to go back, well, forward actually, some six weeks.

It's another Thursday, but this time it's late March and the temperature in Tempe has broken. The balmy dusk is already weighed down by a cumbersome heat that signals a rapidly approaching summer.

All that is of little consequence to the folks packed into Long Wong's. It's happy hour, and the venerable Mill Avenue watering hole is teeming with bodies. The main attraction this evening -- the only real attraction on any Thursday -- is Stephen Ashbrook.

It's especially true tonight, as it marks one of the final installments of the singer-songwriter's popular acoustic sets. At the end of the month, Ashbrook will leave Arizona and relocate to Portland, Oregon, with his wife. He's promised to return periodically and perform, but for the people gathered here, there is a terrible sense of finality. You see, for the past five years, Ashbrook has held court here every week, and every week his acolytes have come to bask in his golden blond glow.

If you've never been to an Ashbrook gig at Long Wong's, it is a strange experience -- at once exhilarating and frightening. To watch him there is like seeing Wayne Newton in Las Vegas, a king in his court.

Ashbrook's fans -- perhaps flock is a better description -- come to his altar not just to listen to his songs, but to sing along with him, to laugh at his jokes, to buy him drinks -- in short, to pay tribute to a man they regard as both pied piper and patriarch of an extended barroom family. To the uninitiated, the two-hour sets (which generally run closer to three with multiple encores) may seem more like a revival meeting than a concert, Ashbrook punctuating every line with his signature, bowel-deep "aah, yeah" and "ooh, ooh" exhortations, the crowd hollering its approval in return.

Instead of a Bible, Ashbrook holds a guitar; in lieu of holy water, there is the ever-pervasive cocktail (or in Ashbrook-speak, "a caack-taail, ahhh"). This is his cult, for lack of a better term. And like every cult leader, Ashbrook is blessed with an ineffable brand of charm, the kind that makes women and men act like giddy schoolchildren in his presence. Fanaticism, even on this modest level, is truly something to behold.

To see the looks on the faces here is to view genuine worship. To them, Ashbrook is David Koresh without the messiah complex, Jim Jones without the Kool-Aid. You get the feeling, though, if he really wanted, Ashbrook could have most of the people in the room laid out on beds, clad in black Nikes with purple shrouds across their faces -- such is the intensity of their devotion. (It's frightening to think what kind of excesses might be indulged in were I the focus of the same kind of unyielding adulation. The words "deviant groupie sex" immediately spring to mind.)

Demographically speaking, the crowd is somewhat atypical for Long Wong's. It's comprised mostly of gleeful nine-to-fivers: secretaries, bank tellers, aging frat boys turned drunken businessmen in suits and the ever-present abundance of nubiles -- each of them, just working for the weekend. For a hopelessly hip and dingy dive like Wong's, it is a strange dichotomy; it's always seemed analogous to a legion of Jimmy Buffett's merry parrotheads invading a notorious shithole like CBGB's.

Without resorting to unreasonably broad generalizations, it's fair to say that the bulk of die-hard Ashbrook devotees aren't what you'd call ardent music fans. They're not the sort of people who read Mojo, they probably don't own more than a handful of CDs and really don't care if they've never heard the outtakes from Blonde on Blonde or the original mono mix of Revolver.

And yet, when it comes to Stephen Ashbrook, they are as fervent, dogmatic and haughty as the most virulent indie-rock snobs hanging out at Stinkweeds. Ashbrook is -- to quote Barry White - Phoenix New Times

"B sides, he's a terrific singer"

Imagine Bruce Springsteen moving to Branson, Mo. Phoenix music fans experienced a similar horror when singer Stephen Ashbrook left Arizona last spring and moved to Portland.

Phoenix's alternative newspaper compared Ashbrook's weekly performances in the Valley of the Sun to watching "Wayne Newton in Las Vegas, a king in his court." The city adored the golden-locked crooner so much that when President Clinton came to town for a fund-raiser in 2000, the Democratic Party asked Ashbrook to provide the entertainment.

"It was a great honor," Ashbrook says jokingly of the performance, "for him."

Despite his popularity, the 31-year-old Ashbrook and his wife, Kristi Ashbrook, decided to leave the desert behind to be closer to family in the Northwest.

Ashbrook started strumming his JF65 jumbo Guild guitar in Portland clubs last July and hooked up with such local musicians as Brent Williams (of Love and Ice), Al Toribio (from Kerosene Dream) and Jeff Anthony for performances at venues including the Green Room, Boon's Ferry and Buffalo Gap.

Will Timmins, bartender at the Green Room, says Ashbrook's Tuesday night shows pack in double the usual crowd.

Amiee Mayer frequents Ashbrook's shows and e-mails his tour schedule to her co-workers at Capitol Mortgage Banking Corp. Mayer cites Ashbrook's gregarious personality as much as his infectious midtempo acoustic pop and falsetto-highlighted bass profundo voice as the reason for her return visits to his shows.

Like Jimmy Buffet, Ashbrook shares a unique relationship with his fans, letting them dictate his set list and giving each show a call-and-response energy. He oscillates between drum-backed tracks from his latest CD, "American B Sides," and acoustic numbers from his previous full-length, "Navigator," at the suggestion of audience members. At a recent Green Room show, Ashbrook even pulled up a stool next to a handful of regulars and thanked them for their patronage with a tableside performance of a favorite song.

Despite his success with fans, Ashbrook still lacks a record deal, having produced "American B Sides" independently. He printed a few thousand copies, good-humoredly naming it after the reaction he received from major label executives.

"The demos for 'American B Sides' got me into a lot of door," he says, "but a lot of (execs) told me the same thing: that they didn't hear a crushing radio single on it. I walked away pretty discouraged from all of those meetings, but I thought, if all I have is B-sides, then B-sides are what I'm going to put out." - The Oregonian

"FolkWax Sittin' in With:"

Fresh off the stage, out into the cold and just off a plane from New York City to Des Moines, Iowa, West Coast musician Stephen Ashbrook sat down to talk music, life and the balance on becoming something and someone in this business. This stop on Ashbrook's tour is one of many. It's necessary to him. On this particular stop, the bar may only hold about 200 people but it's no different to Ashbrook. Mickey's Bar in Des Moines, Iowa, is just a holding ground for Ashbrook, one where he can learn and grow as a musician and as a man. Thirty-year-old Ashbrook has been playing music for the better than half of his life, he is picking up fans and he is picking up attention. Long, grueling half-yearlong tours, hours of recording and re-recording sessions and tons of life's little experiences have landed Ashbrook a voice in this business. It will now be a matter of holding on as Ashbrook's music is just waiting to take off. FolkWax Contributing Editor Joe Sampson sat down with Stephen Ashbrook:Joe Sampson for FolkWax: Talk to us about the start, the history, how did you get to where you are today?Stephen Ashbrook: When I was nineteen I got hired on to do this six-month tour with this traveling Gospel band.FW: You're kidding?SA: I know, but it was actually a really good experience because we hit about every major city in the country, and it was pretty much like six months straight, so it really got me, at a young age, accustomed to what life is like out on the road. That was a good trip, I discovered a lot of things: One, I discovered photography, which is one of the loves of my life; Two I really saw a different side of religion, one that I really didn't care for, it was just very eye opening considering my childhood.FW: Did you grow up religious?SA: I grew up very religious, my father is a Lutheran preacher and I grew up that way. That six-month trip was more or less the beginning of the fall for me. I just started asking questions and there were a lot of things that I didn't understand and was sort of blindly believing without questioning.FW: Critics always say you have to have an experience or an epiphany in order to write good songs, was this a trip that you sort of found yourself, or found yourself as a songwriter?SA: You know I started writing as soon as I realized I was a really shitty guitar player in my first band in Utah. The very first live show I played it was fairly apparent. I got up there, I set my guitar up in front of me on the stage, so people could hear it. Well, we started playing and all of a sudden I realized, "Wait I can't hear it." Everyone in the audience was kind of looking at me going "what the hell." I was playing in the wrong key, the wrong chords; I just wanted to bury myself in my hands. FW: In press kits that I've read it said that you started out playing in a band as a backup and then one show the lead singer didn't want to sing anymore and you were sort of thrust into the spotlight, any truth to this?SA: Sort of, the first time I tried singing was a sad experience, but I figured I was doing so much writing that rather than trying to explain how the song goes, I just thought I would sing it myself. It really wasn't till I got into a band down in Arizona where I realized that, "Hey I can sing!"FW: What type of places were you playing back then?SA: I played a lot of acoustic stuff back then, as well as playing in the band. I mainly played in Tempe at a bar called Longhorns, I didn't realize it at the time but the place I was playing was where musicians went to when they just wanted to drink and be left alone. It wasn't a trendy place at all, if anything it was more of old man bar where people went to be left alone. FW: When did you start to realize that people were listening to your stuff and you weren't just playing at a bar where people went to get away from the scene?SA: Well, at the time I think was around 20, I wasn't even old enough to be in there yet, sort of the new kid starting to catch some waves. One by one I just started meeting people and there was a band that had just broken up in town with a great rhythm section and they asked me to play and that's when we formed Satellite. We did some regional touring and found some local success.FW: What kind of local success are we talking about here?SA: It was weird, we were playing five nights a week and we filled up every place we played. We filled 700-1,000-seat venues and things really started to kind of take off. I think we played so much and so often that we all had to just take some steps back.FW: During the Satellite years were you still pursuing the solo stuff or did you put a hold on it for the band?SA: It was really sort of a weird start for my solo stuff, I started doing this every-Thursday happy hour and the whole thing just started. It started with a group at the bar really taking a liking to me, then about half the bar started singing with me, then the whole bar started in and the next thing I knew there was line outsid - Folkwax

"Guitar hero"

As a teenager learning to strum his first guitar, Stephen Ashbrook wanted nothing more than to be a "guitar hero." (A spot in the guitar hierarchy only slightly less savory than "guitar god".)

But there wasn't much music in the family's restrictive Salt Lake City home other than Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar."Fortuitously, Ashbrook had an older brother, and not just any older
brother: His
brother had a taste for 1970s-vintage arena- and hard-rock. Those were very good years for such music, and said brother turned the impressionable Ashbrook on to Black Sabbath, Foreigner and AC/DC, among others.Later, Ashbrook found his way to The Police's "Synchronicity," as well as the songcraft of U2, Prince and Bruce Springsteen. As a teenager, his high school band covered those and other acts of the era including REM, The Cure and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.To wit: The adult Ashbrook pretty much got his guitar-hero wish.
Along the way,
he also earned a clever pop sensibility that can be heard in original songs such as "Scotch and a Handgun," "Summer of '76," and "Rock-n-Roll." To sample his work, visit There, you you'll hear a clean, classic sound that is neither dated nor derivative of his influences.Today, the 34-year-old Portland musician boasts several albums.
There's a new,
Pete Droge-produced studio effort on the way, and Ashbrook's frequent touring will land him in Bend Wednesday at McMenamins Old St. Francis School (see "If You Go").His most recent release was last year's "Double Live @ Long Wong's,"
recorded at
a Tempe, Ariz., venue where Ashbrook played weekly before moving to Portland in 2001. Among his other accomplishments in Arizona: modifying, and modernizing, the Phoenix Suns' theme music.By phone Tuesday from his Portland home, Ashbrook discussed the impact of moving closer to his and his wife's families, but far from Tempe, where he spent 14 years etching out a career. "I sometimes question whether it was the right move, but I'd hit kind of a glass ceiling there."Ashbrook said going to Portland was a major move. He still plays Tempe a few times a year, which has helped him break through there, his audiences going from a few hundred before the move to upward of a thousand after.Tempe has a healthy live music scene that proves to be both a blessing and a curse to its local musicians, Ashbrook said."When I was down there, for years ... you could play four or five nights a week and draw (crowds) on all those shows. It was neat."A lot of local bands were making a living just playing Tempe.
enough, not a lot of bands toured outside of Tempe, unless they'd gotten picked up by a record label. It's like, 'Well, we can just play here.'"But "getting comfy" in that scene wasn't the proper goal of a guy who once aspired to being a guitar hero."I just had to get out of that," he said, "and push myself a little bit more."Re-establishing himself in Portland has done that. He's formed a trio with Matt Brown and Derek Brown (no relation save for Ashbrook's playful references to them as The Brown Brothers). He also hears some changes in his songwriting, moving away in recent years from a "bar band" sound to something perhaps more experimental, reflecting the climate of Portland's independent-minded music community."You can take that being a little experimental and still plug in the style of writing that I do, which is more of a pop-guitar/jangle," Ashbrook said. "And it comes out kind of cool."David Jasper can be reached at 541-383-0349 or - Bend Bulletin

"Song remains same"

Song remains same
Tempe folk-rock musician returns to launch new CD
By Georgia Geis The Arizona Republic
March 08, 2002

If the Tempe music scene had a hall of fame, Stephen Ashbrook surely would have been inducted.

Over the past decade, Ashbrook, 31, has built up a large following. Any given Thursday night, Long Wong's on Mill might be filled to capacity with loud, devoted fans belting out the lyrics of Ashbrook's tunes.

That is until last summer when Ashbrook and his wife answered the call of the Cascade Mountains and moved to Portland, Ore.

But Ashbrook will be back in the East Valley tonight for a CD release party at 8 at Bash on Ash in Tempe.

Ashbrook's new release, American B Sides, is the product of a year's work, 11 tracks of what Ashbrook describes as "rock and roll with folk sensibilities."

With a voice that has been on many occasions compared to the lead singer of Crash Test Dummies, Brad Roberts, Ashbrook's songs are an interesting mix of vulnerability, cockiness, and down to earth storytelling.

American B Sides is acoustic guitar-driven and features many local musicians Ashbrook has played with over the years. Curtis Grippe, Freddy Gildersleeve, Tim Rovnak, PC Cardone, Mike Butler and Steve Esterling all contributed to the project.

Ashbrook came up with the title after taking his demos to different music executives and repeatedly being told that "These are more B sides."

Some of his woes with the music industry are reflected in the first track, Rock and Roll, when he sings, "I don't need to be discovered man, because I was never lost."

"I, like most people, would love a music deal, if it was a good deal," Ashbrook said.

Instead of waiting for that good deal, he got some financial backing and set up a recording studio here in the Valley and made his own recording.

"This is the most important thing I have done to date. It combines what I did with a full band and what I am as an acoustic artist. It is not over-polished, it sounds like me," Ashbrook said.

Ashbrook first began playing guitar at age 13 and started his own band when he was a sophomore in a Salt Lake City high school.

He moved to Arizona in summer 1988 before his senior year. He started playing in Tempe clubs in the early '90s.

One of his first shows was at the nightclub, Edcell's Attic, on Mill where the Ziggy's sports bar is now.

"I banged my head on this railing and knocked myself out cold and that was the only time the audience applauded that night," Ashbrook recalls.

Ashbrook now works full time as a musician. He plays an average of three nights a week with two regular weekly gigs in Portland. He will be touring Germany and the United States starting in April.

Pistoleros will open the show at 8 tonight at 230 W. Fifth St. The cover for this show, which is for 21 and older patrons only, is $7. - Arizona Republic

"Acoustic rocker Ashbrook comes back to Bash"

Musician Stephen Ashbrook has seen the Valley's music scene go through its highs and lows. The prominent rock and roller helped ignite the "Tempe Sound" movement with his band Satellite, along with fellow acts, Gin Blossoms, The Refreshments and The Pistoleros.

Ashbrook, who will return to his musical home this Friday at the Bash on Ash in Tempe, began his career 10 years ago when he performed acoustic gigs at the former Mill Landing. He stepped into the spotlight after he met up with other Valley musicians.

"(Mill Landing) wasn't one of Tempe's popular music clubs, so it's odd when I look back and realize that I met a lot of Tempe music moguls there," he said. "I later learned that it used to be a favorite musician watering hole, if you wanted to get away from music fans and have a good stiff drink. One of my first introductions to the scene came when Doug Hopkins (of Gin Blossoms fame) would sit in every week or so and play leads on a few songs. On my break we'd snag a back booth and shoot the shit a bit. Those were post-Gin Blossom days for him.

"Brent Babb of Dead Hot Workshop sat in and played a few tunes once or twice and later talked PC Cardone and Mike Kellems into giving my band a try. I later formed Satellite with them. Another break came when I met Chery Magil at one of those same shows. She and her husband own Long Wong's on Mill. She asked me to come down and play a regular happy hour show at Wong's."

For those unfamiliar with Ashbrook's music, he describes his sound as "just rock and roll with a little bit of twang and bolt sensibility."

"My acoustic shows are a little different than the full band shows," he said. "It's rock and roll with a lot of that acoustic blend."

In June 2000, Ashbrook had the rare opportunity to perform for then-President Bill Clinton. Ashbrook attributes this chance to a Long Wong's performance.

"I met some fans at one of my Thursday Happy Hours at Long Wong's," he said. "They worked for the Democratic Party and were running some local campaigns. One of them, a guy by the name of Lon Johnson, later became Al Gore's chief campaign finance manager. He did such a good job for Gore that the Democratic Party asked him to work with President Clinton on his fundraisers for the Party. So when Clinton came to town, Lon called me."

When asked what it was like to perform for the notorious former president, Ashbrook lamented, "playing for the president was a great honor. I was able meet and speak with him briefly after the event. He was a very charismatic person, very presidential."

After establishing himself in Arizona as a credible musician, Ashbrook traded in Arizona's warm weather last year for Oregon's colder climates, but he still returns to the Valley for frequent performances.

"My wife and I have family (in Portland) and I was just ready for a change," he explained. "I was starting to tour a lot more so I wasn't as dependent on my local scene…I'm a real avid mountaineer so it's nice out here (in Oregon), but I do miss a lot of my friends and the people out there."

Ashbrook, who started performing in Portland in July, says there's a good music scene where he is.

"There's a lot of clubs to play," he said. "There's a lot of comfortable places. It's a really big indie rock town."

And the response thus far?

"It's been good," he said. "As of yet, it's not like the response I get in Phoenix, but it's been good."

Ashbrook makes his return to the Valley this week, performing alongside The Pistoleros, to promote his new album, American B-Sides.

"I think American B-Sides is my most important record to date because I've finally blended what I've been doing as a solo acoustic artist and a full band artist," he said. "This record finally sounds like me. It's not too perfect. It's not too raw. It sounds real to me."

After his Tempe show, Ashbrook plans to hold a CD release party in Portland on March 23.

"We have high hopes for this next one," Ashbrook said.

His last few releases sold over 10,000 copies combined — not bad for someone going the independent route. As for joining a larger label, "I have some label interest," he said.

"Some big, some small. I've met with VPs from most major labels. I get e-mails wanting to know what I'm doing, but no takers. I think I'm like most artists. I'd love a record deal if it's a good one. I've spent the last several years fighting a bad deal with a terrible indie label. I'm finally on my own, and I'd like to keep it that way for a while."
- State Press Magazine (Arizona State University)


American B Sides - 2002
Navigator - 1998
Drive - 1998
Satellite - 1995
About Last Night - 1993
Radio Singles:
Rock -n- Roll (American B Sides) 2002
Scotch & A Handgun (American B Sides) 2002
My Blue Christmas (single release) 1999



"If the Tempe music scene had a hall of fame, Stephen Ashbrook surely would have been inducted.”
–The Arizona Republic

Ashbrook's voice - a rolling bass profundo punctuated by a chilling falsetto- delivers tales of quiet strength and authenticity. A deeply centered stage persona coupled with remarkable song writing make this Southwest roots purveyor a talent to not to miss!

Stephen Ashbrook career was launched out of Tempe , AZ where he won the Phoenix Tribune's Best Acoustic Performer 1998 & 2000. The talent of this artist became so widely recognized, that in the summer of 2000, Ashbrook delivered a command performance for President Bill Clinton, at the request of the White House.

In Arizona , Stephen recorded American B-Sides with friends from Gin Blossoms, The Pistoleros and Dead Hot Workshop. After relocating to Oregon , Stephen Ashbrook launched his promotional campaign for American B Sides from his new home town of Portland . The incredible response to this Southwestern Singer/Songwriter was swift as press and music industry watched a national cult following for Ashbrook come alive. Within weeks, the first single “Rock –n- Roll” was added to regular rotation in both Southern California and Arizona markets, and earned a First Place prize in the international “” songwriters contest. The Phoenix, Arizona New Times dubbed him "Pop tunesmith-extraordinaire," and credited “Rock –n- Roll” as a “bona fide classic!” With the 2004 release of the long anticipated live two disc set, Double Live @ Long Wong’s, the magic of Ashbrook’s live performance is evident. Stephen continues to tour across the nation and in Europe acquiring a broad fan base across markets.

Stephen Ashbrook recently completed 10 new tracks with the respected Seattle musician and producer Pete Droge, who has experienced global fame, both as a solo artist and with The Thorns. “I knew right away after listening to his demo I wanted to work with him,” claimed Droge in a recent article. As producer and co-writer on a few songs, Pete Droge pushed Ashbrook’s music to bold new levels.

What people are saying:

"The Best Acoustic Performer of 1998/2000".
-Phoenix Tribune's "Get Out Magazine"

"Ashbrook's songs create scenes, glimpses into his life. His music, cured in the Tempe rock scene, is guitar-based led by his ever smooth voice."

" Stephen Ashbrook 's stand out song writing, has captured the attention of many new fans."
-Synthesis, Chico California

"Ashbrook's voice - a rolling bass profundo punctuated by a chilling falsetto - delivers tales of quiet strength and authenticity. A deeply centered stage persona coupled with remarkable song writing make this Southwest roots purveyor a talent to watch."
-The Bite Festival, Portland OR

"Singer Stephen Ashbrook glides effortlessly between a deepness and a fine falsetto."
-The Willamette Week's pick of the week. Willamette Week, Portland Oregon

"Pop tunesmith extraordinaire"
-New Times, Phoenix Arizona

"A King in his Court!"
-The Oregonian, Portland Oregon

"I've found myself unable to remove his CD from my player. The man gets under your skin people!"
-Glen Starkey, New Times, San Luis Obispo , Ca