Like so many musicians, Steve Wilson’s family taught him to love music at an early age. He initially tried out the instrument he would later know so well—the banjo—at age 12, but, like many a young player, didn’t stick with it. The difference for Steve was that his first brief banjo experience became only the first step on a long and winding road to mastering not only banjo playing but also creating the instruments themselves.
As an adult, he developed his luthier side first, taking his skills in fine woodcrafting to Nashville for a job at Gibson, and quickly working his way into the Custom Art Shop, where he designed and built custom art pieces. Many of these were special orders for what became a long, distinguished list of players. He learned from the best builders, and this experience would leave a permanent imprint on him.
Later, Steve honed his craft in bluegrass music. Back in Nashville in the late 1990s, after serving in the military and becoming a family man, he rediscovered the banjo and began really building his skills as a musician. In this interview he recounts the humorous story of how he got motivated to take his playing to the next level.
After experiencing many of Nashville’s legendary bluegrass jam sessions, he says, “I was blown away…So I took my banjo and tried to jump into some of these jams. And people were kinda looking at me funny and I was like,, ‘What’s goin’ on here—how come they won’t let me play?’ And they were like ‘Oh, it’s because you don’t know how to play yet.'”
Not discouraged but inspired, Steve was determined to become a good enough banjo player to join the jams. He did that and much more, studying with many well-respected teachers, playing countless hours with local bands, and doing session work.
After moving back to Upstate NY to raise his children closer to their extended family, Steve joined a couple of bands, enjoyed the festival seasons, and did instrument repairs for folks here and there while building custom guitars and banjos along the way.
It was during this time that Steve also discovered his love for recording music. He engineered and produced his first bluegrass project for a band he was in during the winter of 2012. He’s been hooked ever since.
With the kids grown, Steve and his wife, Melanie, have settled in South Carolina. Steve has gotten back to pickin’ the banjo and building instruments on a more than casual level again. He has recorded some major names in the bluegrass and roots music community, along with a little country, gospel and Americana. These days Steve is happily playing banjo for Deeper Shade of Blue.
He has enjoyed playing bluegrass music and cutting albums with several bands over the years including most recently, Wilson Banjo Co. and Dale Ann Bradley. He has begun to build quite a name for himself as a recording engineer, capturing hit records for Dale Ann Bradley, Flashback, The King James Boys, Gena Britt, Shawn Lane & Richard Bennett and his own band, Wilson Banjo Co.
Steve is looking forward to the release of an album featuring some of his original songs and involving a large number of the musicians he has worked with over the years. Look for “Six Degrees of Separation” in June 2021. You can check out the single “Midnight on the Highway” at Steve’s website.
By Dan Walsh