● By Style
Photo by Dante Fontana, © Style Media Group.
What do you call a guy who hangs out with a bunch of musicians? A drummer.
Funny joke, but it’s not accurate. Have you ever really watched a drummer? Juggling chopsticks in a hurricane seems easier. Sure, drummers may not be a lot of things – mellow, sedate, entirely rational – but talented, they are.
Take Roseville’s Steve Brown for example. We met at a coffee shop recently and it was obvious why he didn’t order anything – coffee would just slow him down. Quick with a smile and a staccato laugh like a happy machine gun, the 40-year-old is one of those people who seems to have a power source just a little bit different than the rest of us. Nuclear, perhaps.
But that’s expected, since he’s been busy playing drums for some of Sacramento’s biggest bands for the past decade or so. Oleander. Tesla. He also toured with rock legend Ronnie Montrose the past several years, until the Bay Area musician’s untimely death this past March.
Raised in Meadow Vista, Brown played trumpet until he was 15. But a trip to San Francisco in the late ‘80s to see his older brother, Mick, changed all that. “Wild” Mick Brown happens to be the drummer and founding member of the hard rock band Dokken. That night they were playing at the Cow Palace. Dokken was big and the crowd was crazy. Brown said it was life changing. “Yeah, I pretty much decided at that moment that I wasn’t ever going to play at the Cow Palace in front of 23,000 people with a trumpet.” He laughs. He put away the horn and picked up the sticks.
Brown was a quick learner and by his late teens was making the long drive from Meadow Vista to Sacramento regularly to play with, well, pretty much everyone on the city’s rich musical scene. “Someone told me when I first started that if you do this long enough, you’ll eventually play with everybody in Sacramento, and that’s been so true.” Eventually, needing something steadier, he landed a gig backing San Francisco burlesque legend Carol Doda. “Most nights it wasn’t too embarrassing,” he chuckles. From there, he found regular work as a Bay Area studio musician while continuing to play in and around Sacramento, which is how he fell in with Oleander. He was already friends with the local post-grunge band when their album, February Son, hit big in 1999. One night in 2003, they called from the road. “They said, ‘Hey can you catch a plane tonight and learn the whole first record?’” They’d had issues with their original drummer. Brown has been with them ever since.
Brown also sits in occasionally with another Sacramento band, Tesla, but it’s touring with Montrose that gets him the most animated. His love for the legendary guitar slinger is obvious, and he’s still deeply saddened by his death, which was ruled a suicide. It caught Brown and the rest of the band off-guard. After all, they’d already booked a world tour. Looking back, Brown says there were signs, but at the time, they went unnoticed. “He was a quirky guy, you know?” He sighs. “Hindsight’s always 20-20.”
These days, Brown splits his time between Roseville, where this past spring he could be found watching his 12-year-old son play ball for Roseville West Little League, and Pasadena, where he and Oleander are working on new music. The sessions have already produced one single, the hard rockin’ “Fight,” which was picked up by the WWE as their official theme song.
Occasionally Brown has needed “real jobs” to get by. He helped create a startup in the Bay area and worked as a radio sales executive, but rock ‘n’ roll is and will always be his first love. “It’s like anything else,” he explains, “you have to be all in. Sometimes it’s feast or famine, and that’s the rough end of it. But look at what you get to do.” His big grin comes back. “Where else could I get to play in front of thousands and spray beer on people and everyone says, ‘nice job!’” He’s laughing again and it fills the room, punctuating his point like a perfectly placed drum riff.