STEVE ECKELS - August 18, 1955-April 3, 2023 - Guitarist and Educator
STEVE ECKELS Biography
Steven Zdenek Eckels was born in northern New Mexico. His Czech grandfather, Zdenek Ginsburg, was an amateur violin player, and his Swedish grandmother, Alice Jevert, was a music teacher. His father, Robert Eckels, bought Steve his first guitar in 1965 at the age of ten. In 1966 the family moved to Danville, Virginia where Steve began to play folk songs on his Epiphone Cortez purchased at a garage sale. After fingerpicking the traditional gospel tune "This Train" in the fifth grade talent show, he was asked to play an encore for which he chose "This Land is Your Land". After Steve learned to play "Puff the Magic Dragon" using Travis style picking he became even more enthusiastic about guitar playing, and formed several "kid bands" (The Sensational Souls and The Royal Tramps) with his brother Jeff playing bass. They were influenced by other kid bands such as The Osmonds, The Partridge Family and The Jackson Five. In 1967 at the age of 12 he began taking his first guitar lessons from Johnny Westbrook, who was a veteran of the Nashville music scene. Shortly thereafter, based on his teacher's recommendation he was invited to join a professional dance band, The Tommy Dameron Swing Orchestra which performed almost every weekend throughout southern Virginia. (Steve performed using a Gretch Viking guitar). He continued to play folk and classical music throughout high school and received his first classical guitar lessons at the North Carolina School of the Arts with a student of Jesus Silva.
In 1973 Steve Eckels moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he performed as an acoustic duo with his brother. The Eckels Brothers also had a dance band which performed at ski resorts in New England as well as on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. During this same time he studied music formally and received a Bachelor's degree from Berklee College of Music, and a Master's degree from New England Conservatory. During the summers he worked with his father as a potter in Northern Wisconsin. For several years beyond college he continued to perform and record contemporary acoustic jazz with his brother, traveling to England, Venezuela and throughout the Eastern USA. The summit of the Eckels Brothers' career was recording the album Fresh Powder in England with liner notes written by Charlie Byrd. (Steve performed on a Takamini E-9 classic/electric guitar.)
Partly influenced by his love of nature, and partly to be closer to his family, in 1981 Steve Eckels moved to northern Wisconsin where he could make pottery with his father on a year-round basis. During the period that followed he became an author for MEL BAY publications for whom he has written eleven books. They include: Cowboy Classics*, American Love Songs and Ballads, Blues Classics, The Music of Stephen Foster, Gospel Classics, The Music of the North American Indians*, Fingerstyle Blues Method, Christmas Encyclopedia, Mariachi Classics*, Gregorian Chant for Acoustic Guitar*, and A Young Beginner's Guide to the Blues.
*These book and recordings are historically the first of their kind in the literature for guitar
Also during this period he teamed up with Ojibway Indian musician Frank Montano to record an internationally acclaimed CD entitled Woodland Winds, fusing classical guitar and Native American Music. For his Chequamegon Music recording label, Steve also recorded several other CDs of original music inspired by nature and spirituality, wrote a string quartet and concerto, and received his certification to teach choral and instrumental music from Northland College.
In 1996 Steve Eckels and his wife Barbara moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico where he served as the guitar instructor for New Mexico State University. That same year he became a regular columnist for Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine. In 1997 he wrote Mastering Fingerstyle Guitar for Alfred Publications and began to incorporate alternate tunings, two hand tapping and other contemporary effects into his style. His musical activities in New Mexico included the research and arranging of traditional cowboy songs for his eighth MEL BAY book/recording Cowboy Classics. He also recorded a greatest hits CD featuring selections from his books entitled American Sampler. (These were recorded on a Ramirez 1A Traditional guitar.)
In 1999 Steve and Barbara moved to Kalispell, Montana where he received the appointment as guitar instructor for Flathead High School. (Steve studied with Will Schmid and Nancy Marsters, both leaders in the field of classroom guitar education.) In the summers of 2001-2003 he participated in Christopher Parkening's guitar master-classes in Bozeman, Montana. Inspired by the master-classes, student interest and the artistic environment of Northwest Montana, in 2003 he recorded his first CD of all classical music entitled Sparks from the 7 Worlds - Classical Guitar Masterpieces. The recording is a collection of many of guitar history's most significant pieces, and contains a historical booklet written with the assistance of Graham Wade, one of the world's foremost authorities of guitar history.
Steve Eckels received National Certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards in 2009. That same year, he wrote the textbook Teaching Classroom Guitar for the Music Educator’s National Conference. He continued performing and teaching guitar at Flathead and Glacier High Schools in Kalispell until 2022. Steven Zdenek Eckels died at his home in Kalispell, Montana on April 3, 2023, at the age of 67.