A Discussion with Dave (Steffen)

After 30 years of touring, guitarist Dave Steffen was ready to return to his home state of Wisconsin. But that doesn’t mean he was ready to stop making music. Instead, he brought together two other musicians – bassist/vocalist Craig Neuser and drummer Spencer Panosh – to form the Dave Steffen Band, which now brings its seasoned blues-rock sound to venues around the state.

We caught up with Steffen before the band’s post-Thanksgiving show at Stone Harbor Resort. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

Sam Watson (SW): What got you interested in music?

Dave Steffen (DS): Well, I’m an old guy. My sisters would come home from school – they were older than me by five, six, seven years – and they’d listen to American Bandstand [a music-performance television show] with Dick Clark. So I’d be coming home from school too, in first grade, and see people dancing to these different bands. I always wanted to play guitar. I had a toy guitar when I was about 6, and by the time I was 10, my parents got me lessons.

SW: I know you’ve spent a lot of time on the road – can you tell me about that?

DS: Well, I used to live in California, until ‘95. I would come home to Wisconsin in summer to tour here, then return to California in the fall. A lot of the songs I wrote were inspired by the road between here and San Francisco. 

Now, I go as far away as Illinois or Michigan, on rare occasions.

SW: What made you decide to stick closer to Wisconsin?

DS: It was a couple of things. Back in the day, you could drive to California and it wouldn’t cost too much, but when gas prices spiked, I started thinking, “I don’t know if this is going to be worth it anymore.” 

Then, when I lived in Northern California, I started going to Hawaii, and we had a following for many years in Maui. But because of the pandemic and the fires and everything in the last few years, we haven’t been there in a while.

But I’m happy with staying around here [Wisconsin] as long as the audiences are still here and they appreciate the music. I love playing for people, and one of my spots I like to play is Door County. It’s a couple-hour drive up the road from me. 

SW: How long have you been playing in Door County?

DS: Quite a while now, maybe 15, 20 years. One place we used to play was C & C’s [a former supper club, now home to LOFT and The Barrel Room] in Fish Creek. Now we’ve been playing at Stone Harbor for many years.

SW: How did the Dave Steffen Band come together?

DS: When I moved to Wisconsin, I discovered my bassist at an open-mic night. He was a good bass player, but he could also really sing. He and Spencer used to be in a band together as teenagers, and Spencer’s a great drummer. 

SW: How would you describe your style?

DS: It’s based on blues, then it branches off from there. I’m not solely a blues player, but a lot of my biggest influences were blues guitarists. They had a lot of feeling.

But I like anything with a good melody. I like all genres – I mean, I liked the Beach Boys when they came out.

SW: Has that style changed through the years?

DS: It hasn’t changed a whole lot. I grew up and started writing blues songs, and that’s what I do. I am what I am. 

SW: How do you keep up the energy onstage when you’ve been doing this for so long?

DS: If the band is clicking – and we usually are, because we’ve been together for so many years – and we have an audience and there are no problems with the PA, I just love playing. That’s about it. I really never get tired of it.

I do get tired of setting up and tearing down; we do a lot of our own roadie work. But now I have the younger guys [his bandmates] to help with that. 

The Dave Steffen Band will play Nov. 24, 6:30 – 10 pm, at Stone Harbor Resort, 107 N. 1st Ave. in Sturgeon Bay. He’ll return to the venue on Dec. 29, 6:30 – 10 pm.