Buy Now


Steve Eckels Is Like Fred Astaire With A Guitar
Montana Senior News June/July 2017
If you had to choose a quality to describe guitarist Steve Eckels, patient would certainly fit. So would gifted and inventive. However, anyone trying to pigeon-hole Steve with a handful of adjectives would have almost as much difficulty as a tenor trying to sing bass.

This recording artist, teacher, and composer is also a performer and poet. And don’t forget weightlifter and Zumba dancer. He feels as passionately about ballet and the verses of Ralph Waldo Emerson as he does about gospel and mariachi tunes. And he can sum up his music style in five words: “Fred Astaire with a guitar.”

When you hear Steve’s foot-tappin’ interpretation of the folk song “Keep Your Hand On The Plough” you understand the reference. His jazzy inflections practically dare you to sit still. Likewise, his version of “Shady Grove” engages every fiber of the listener. Steve’s elegant playing is deceptive. Initially it seems simple, the melody is so purely rendered. Yet, closer listening reveals an unexpected sophistication in his take on the Appalachian classic. You can detect Segovia-esque expression along with the sound of guitar wood adding a percussion dimension.

“I play the strings. The strings play the wood. The wood plays the air. The air plays the listener. And the listener receives the music with his whole body,” says Steve, who attributes his success to his wife Barbara’s behind-the-scenes support and to his tenacity.

“Fortunately, I can pick a project and see it through. Not everyone can fixate on something long enough to master it,” says the classically trained musician. Testament to that are the seven books for guitar instructors and ten books for teaching yourself guitar that he has written along with the 11 CD’s he has recorded. For one of those CD’s alone, Romantic Arias, he devoted three years. The compilation includes 26 favorite operatic arias that he arranged for guitar.

Steve spent almost as long, two and a half years, producing Cowboy Classics. As far as he knows, it is the only full album of cowboy tunes for solo guitar instrumentals that exists. While teaching guitar at New Mexico State University, he chose the playlist, found a key for each song, arranged melodies, created sets of variations, revised, polished, and finally tested the results with audiences.

From his teen years in local bands when he was growing up in Virginia to his college years at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music, Steve has steadily honed his skills and expanded his repertoire. And the quest continues to this day. As he says, “I’m a lifelong learner.”

Ever since he began playing guitar at the age of 10, he has had eyes for no other instrument. According to him, nothing else holds the same promise.

“It’s the only chordal instrument that can mimic the nuance of a singer. It also has many of the harmonic opportunities of piano plus the melodic possibilities of the violin,” Steve explains. “You can’t slide or change tone on the piano; you just have volume and harmony. With violin, you can slide and have the subtlety of the strings but without the use of chords. Guitar combines both.”

Undoubtedly, Steve credits Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia as having the biggest influence on his style. “He is the master of classical music and expression on a solo guitar,” says Steve. “Segovia brought Bach and other classical composers to the instrument and toured worldwide.”

From studying Segovia’s recordings, Steve identified playing techniques that he could adapt and teach others. Whether he is writing new arrangements or scores, these contrasting elements of volume, tempo, and tone have effectively communicated his sense of guitar poetry and dance.

For the past 16 years, Steve has used his expertise and accreditation as a music instructor to teach guitar to Kalispell high school students. He enjoys the job for a host of reasons beyond the fact that it keeps him youthful to be around teens and observe their culture. For one thing, it gives him the chance to empower students to quickly produce music.

“Learning notes on a guitar can be laborious and time consuming. So I invented a less painful system that simplifies music reading. Students can make music right away and learn the details later. You can play guitar without being able to read music,” Steve adds. “But you have to like simple songs and be able to sing.”

Given the popularity of his classes, Steve’s method has proven itself. It also has helped students develop exceptional manual dexterity, a skill they can transfer to other careers. And it has encouraged teens to think for themselves.

“Because of the complexity of learning to read music and play with a group, we’re in the brain-growing business,” he explains. “I see studying music as an antidote to over-dependence on digital devices. Thankfully my students are having second thoughts about how much time to spend with the screens of their smart phones. They are at a great learning age and are open to new ideas.”

The History of Rock and Roll is the newest class Steve teaches. To his delight, he has found that students at both Flathead and Glacier High Schools are as intrigued by the material as he is.
“These kids love history. They love getting a different insight into the lives of their grandparents,” observes Steve. “Many of them are already familiar with much of the music from watching it performed on YouTube.”

What fascinates his students most is how quickly music fads segued from the Elvis-Buddy Holly era to folk, rhythm and blues, and the Beatles. “The followers of early rock got older and wanted something more sophisticated,” says Steve. “They also were interested in authenticity, which morphed into the rock of the 1960’s.”

In April 2016, Montana PBS’s music show 11th and Grant featured Steve as a guest artist in recognition of his contributions to guitar playing in Big Sky Country and beyond. He counts his appearance on this Emmy-winning performance series among the greatest honors he has received. If you missed it, be sure to catch the replay at
For more information, visit: