For five decades, singer, songwriter and musician Steve Wariner has had a long and successful career in the world of country music. His combination of talent and drive has earned him four Grammy Awards, over 50 Billboard singles and 14 number one songs. But before establishing himself as a major recording artist and award-winning songwriter, he learned the ropes of a few Grand Ole Opry icons.
Growing up in a musical household, Wariner’s passion for performing was evident from an early age.
“My dad played in a band as a side gig growing up and they practiced with us,” Wariner said. “He was also one of 11 children and most of his siblings were inclined to music. In fact, I grew up thinking that everyone’s households had guitars lying around.
Inspired by his father’s band, Wariner began playing bass guitar at the age of nine.
“My dad would show me a few chords and teach me a bit here and there, he was a really patient guy,” he said with a laugh. “One night he got stuck without one of his band members and I said ‘I know everything, just give me a chance. I can fill in and do this. And so he let me do it and I never looked back.
By the age of 10, Wariner was performing periodically with his father’s band and continued to do so throughout his teenage years in addition to performing with bands from his hometown of Noblesville Indiana. At 15, he branched out and went to Indianapolis to start playing with different musicians. It was there later that he met a legendary country singer who took him under her wing.
“A few years after I started playing in Indianapolis, I was playing at a club the same night Dottie West was scheduled to perform,” he said. “I ended up meeting her and she heard me play and offered me a job. She wanted me to drop everything and go on tour with her right away.
At the time, Wariner was 17 and in high school. Choosing to try his luck, he took extra credit to graduate earlier and flew to Nashville to join West on tour.
“I lived with Dottie for a few months before I got my own place,” he said. “I went to what I like to call the ‘Dottie West School of Music’. I worked with her in the studio and sang a few songs on the album she was working on at the time. I have also met some very talented songwriters and musicians. I learned more from working with her than I think I could ever learn in any music school.
After playing with West for three years, Wariner decided to change course and focus more on songwriting. He joined the group of Grand Ole Opry star Bob Luman and began collaborating with Luman on an album. According to Wariner, he recorded the first song he ever wrote in the studio for neighbor and Luman producer Johnny Cash.
“I actually played my first track on Johnny Cash’s guitar for Johnny Cash,” he said. “I walked into the studio and Bob asked me to sing my demo for Johnny. So I grabbed Johnny’s guitar and did it. He loved it and cut four of my songs and these are the first cuts I ever had on an album, so that was my “now I’m a songwriter” moment.
It wasn’t the only mind-blowing moment Wariner had that day.
“Paul Yandell, who was a fantastic session guitarist and a good friend of guitarist Chet Atkins, was in the studio and asked me for a reel of some of my songs to play for Chet. Chet listened to them, met me and signed me to RCA Records shortly thereafter.
After his stint with RCA Records, Wariner worked with several other major record labels and continued to follow his passion for songwriting. He’s written songs for Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Clint Black, Alabama, Conway Twitty and even Peter Tork of the Monkees. His new Christmas album “Feels like Christmas Time” was released on vinyl on October 15th and is a mix of original content and Christmas classics.
Wariner, who hasn’t performed in Savannah since the ’90s, will return for a performance presented by the Georgia Southern College of Arts and Humanities and the Fred and Dinah Gretsch School of Music.
“I have a special bond with the people of Gretsch,” he said. “I haven’t been to Savannah in 20 years either, so this performance is a double whammy for me. I have my own model of Gretsch guitar and plan to bring it with me as well.
Steve Wariner will perform live on Friday, October 22 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fine Arts Auditorium at the Armstrong Savannah Campus at Georgia Southern University. Tickets cost $ 30 and can be purchased by visiting georgiasouthern.edu/armstrongtickets