Local dads' double lives as musicians have positives for family

Steve O'Neil and his son Lyles share a love of music.
photo Randy Steele and the Slim Pickens Band
The life of a touring musician can be intense. The long drives; the crowded clubs; the screaming girls - who are not just in the audience.

Having a 12-year-old daughter at home makes for some dramatic moments for Chattanooga banjo player Randy Steele.

Last winter, Steele's bluegrass band Slim Pickins booked a show in New York City.

"My daughter really, really wanted to go. She was so mad when she didn't get to. She's held a grudge," Steele says. Then, this spring, Steele was named a finalist in Asheville, North Carolina's LEAF Festival singer-songwriter competition - another event that his daughter could not attend. "She has school! She has soccer!" Steele says.

If being a touring musician is difficult, then being a father and a musician is downright exhausting. But for all the complexity offspring add, these local band dads agree: Their children give their passion more meaning.

photo Kristy, Randy, Charlie and Annie Steele

Adventures in Parenting

It is a very interesting dynamic," Steele says in regards to his daughter's relationship with his music. "She's all about taking the fun trips - but not so much about sitting around with old guys learning bluegrass music."

At 40 years old, Steele has been playing music since long before he and his wife Kristy Wood Steele had their two children, Annie, 12, and Charlie, 8.

"It was a pastime, a side deal [before kids]," Steele says.

In 2008, when Annie was around 3, Steele joined Slim Pickins, a three-piece bluegrass band that had formed the year before, and began to play local gigs. In 2009, Slim Pickins was voted Best Live Band at Chattanooga's FYI Music Awards.

"That led to us getting opening shows with a ton of really great bands over the last decade," Steele says.

Last year, Steele spent a total of eight weeks on the road, traveling from Tennessee to Montana for both Slim Pickins gigs and solo shows.

"I've done tours both ways, with the family and with just dudes. The family tour is way better. We're more motivated to find cool places and explore new cities. When you're just with dudes, it's nose to the grindstone - hotel, venue, hotel, venue," Steele says, though it's difficult to always take his young children along.

Steele's family is used to his periodic absence. For the past 18 years, he has been a full-time firefighter for the Chattanooga Fire Department.

"To them it's always been, 'OK, well Daddy's gone for 24 hours, then he's home for a couple days,'" Steele says.

And while Annie may have not yet embraced her father's passion for bluegrass music, she has his sense of adventure, as does Charlie.

"That's my primary focus," Steele says. "I want the musical experience to inspire an adventurous spirit in my kids. Music opened up the world for me. I want that for my kids."

photo Kashi Shigekawa and his father Matt pose for a photo at their Hixson home. Matt Shigekawa plays guitar for Ashley and the X's. While his father enjoys music, Kashi is into video games.

Like Father, Like Son

While Steele struggles to balance time with his family and time on the road, Matt Shigekawa, father of four and guitar player for local rock-blues band Ashley and the X's, has the opposite problem.

His three oldest, Tyler, 21, Levi, 20, and Alexis, 18, live outside of his home. But his youngest son, Kashi, 10, lives full time with him.

"He goes everywhere with me - recording studio, green room, radio station. He likes being in the recording studio, seeing the equipment, sitting in the chair and calling himself a producer," Shigekawa says.

Since 2009, Ashley and the X's has played regularly at local venues like JJ's Bohemia, and is currently finishing its second album.

"Right now, every penny we make goes back into the band. Hopefully one day our investments will pay off. Our goal in the near future is to have no day job; to just write, record and tour. Before I even knew how to play music, all I've ever wanted to do is be a professional musician," says 39-year-old Shigekawa, who owns a dog grooming business.

Still, he says he has never seen his children as obstacles in his music career.

"They drove me to pursue it even harder," he says. "I felt like if they could watch me live out my dreams, they would learn to live out theirs."

And Kashi is there every step of the way. In 2016, Shigekawa played guitar in a music video for local indie group Ryan Oyer Band.

photo Ashley and the X's
"We borrowed an old VW van for the video and had all of us driving down the road. The whole time Kashi was hiding in the back. Every shot of that video Kashi is behind the scenes," says Shigekawa, who rewarded his son's patience that day with ice cream. "He is as much a part of the band as any one of us. My band mates know that.

"I do hope that one day he'll pick an instrument, but really, I just want to see him do what he loves. He's there every step of the way, watching me do all these things that I love with nothing stopping me. I hope I can be there for all his steps, too."

photo Steve O'Neil and his son Lyles share a love of music.

A Grand Finale

Like Shigekawa, Steve O'Neil, guitar player for local acoustic jam band Solar Moonshine, wanted to be there every step of the way for his three sons, Lyles, 17, Ned, 22, and Parker, 28. That meant putting his music career on the back burner for a number of years.

"Playing gigs, coming home at 3 a.m. - even when your kids aren't babies, you still need to get up in the morning and participate," O'Neil says. "As my kids got older, I got into playing out again more. I'm at a stage of the game now where I have no expectations of being in a known rock band. Now when I play out, it's purely for enjoyment."

In the mid-1980s, 10 years before O'Neil met his wife Michelle and started a family, he lived in New York City and played in a rock band based in Boston, Massachusetts, called Three If By Air. One of the guitar players in his group also played with Brad Delp, best known as lead vocalist for the rock band Boston - which helped get Three If By Air some attention.

"We thought we were going to be professional musicians, but it just didn't pan out. We started focusing on different things. I wanted to make more money," says O'Neil, now managing partner at Consensus Energy consulting firm.

While he deferred his dreams of making it big, instead moving to Chattanooga and starting a family, he continued to play music.

photo Steve O'Neil formed Solar Moonshine when his kids got closer to being teenagers.
"I'd steal time to go play in the basement. I did a lot of writing at that time, and I got a lot better playing guitar because I was solo practicing," he says, though admitting that he missed the social collaboration of being in a band.

When his sons approached their teens, O'Neil decided to form a group, again: Solar Moonshine, which he describes as adaptable.

"We are generally an easy listening group. We have a bass player and drummer; sometimes we have a singer or flutists; we sometimes play as a duet," he says.

Solar Moonshine plays local festivals, parties or clubs only about six times a year. But O'Neil still frequently plays at home - especially when his three sons are there, all of whom have become music-lovers, too. Lyles plays guitar, Ned is studying sound design at SCAD, and Parker, who now lives in New York City, plays guitar, too.

"When all my boys are together, we play music. We just choose easy songs. One might play bass or drums; one might bring an electronic setup and put sound effects into it. We'll play four or five songs, then they scatter and run off to their friends. But I love it more than they know. Those are my nirvana moments."