Dave Steen

BIO

Dave Steen was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa, where he taught himself to play guitar. His first serious playing opportunity came as a student at Drake University, when he was asked to join ANTELON, a leading local funky soul-and-blues horn band. Steen says, “The band had some serious players in it, and I got my first experience in writing charts.  It was a valuable education, and we got very good; on most nights the band definitely achieved liftoff.”   One of the band’s favorite venues was So’s Your Mother, a college-town Des Moines club that regularly played host to blues legends such as Willie Dixon, Luther Allison, Fenton Robinson, Son Seals, and many others.

After a brief move to pre-Prince Minneapolis to check out the music scene there, a Fort Dodge, Iowa band beckoned and Steen made the move back to his home state.  The pop-rock band, which came to national attention as HAWKS, recorded two albums for Columbia Records in the early 1980’s, scoring a near-hit single with “Right Away” (BILLBOARD Hot 100, #63 in early 1981), which Steen wrote and on which he sang the lead vocal.  By April 25th of that year, another track from the first album, “It’s All Right, It’s OK” reached #32 on BILLBOARD magazine’s new “Top Tracks” chart. 

The band split after its two-album run with Columbia, and Steen signed a staff writer contract with Warner-Chappell music in New York.  His songs yielded recordings by, among others, pop legend B.J. Thomas and rockers Shrapnel, but, as Steen says, “Nothing was really happening, or so it seemed to me at the time.”

Things changed when Steen heard that Ringo Starr had recorded a version of his “I’ve Changed My Mind” (produced by Memphis legend Chips Moman and part of a still-unreleased album) and also learned that in 1986, THE BAMA BAND had released the same song as a single, making it to #70 on BILLBOARD’s  Hot Country Singles chart. 

“"I've Changed My Mind" was really just an R&B tune - sort of a tip of the hat to Fats Domino.  So when I decided to start writing again in earnest I focused on writing blues, soul, and old-school R&B”, says Steen.  “I wondered if maybe those were the types of music that came most naturally to me, and with which I could best express myself.  And I figured that if nothing else, I would have a trunkful of tapes I could listen to later for my own enjoyment, if nobody picked up on them."

As it turned out, Steen didn’t have to wait long, as Son Seals included his song “Last Four Nickels” on his “Living In The Danger Zone” CD soon afterward.  An outpouring of new material eventually resulted in recordings by James Cotton (four songs included on Cotton’s Grammy-nominated “Living The Blues” CD), Junior Wells, Big Daddy Kinsey, Maria Muldaur, Solomon Burke (on his “Make Do With What You Got” CD, also Grammy nominated; Burke performed the song “live” on the David Letterman show), and a wealth of other outstanding blues & roots artists including Terry Evans, Jo-El Sonnier, The Cate Brothers, Michael Burks,  Sherman Robertson, James Armstrong,  Larry McCray, and perhaps most notably Coco Montoya, a distinguished alumnus of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and a protégé of Albert Collins.  Steen begin a co-writing partnership with Montoya in 1997 which has resulted so far in over 20 released recordings; Montoya has also recorded numerous Dave-Steen-solo-penned songs.  Steen also played rhythm guitar on several cuts appearing on Montoya's 2000 Alligator Records release, "Suspicion".

During this time, and by then residing in Lincoln, Nebraska, Steen joined The Heartmurmurs as guitarist/vocalist.  The group served as the house band at the world-renowned Lincoln blues oasis The Zoo Bar.  As a member of The Heartmurmurs, Steen shared the stage countless times as a backing musician for fellow Lincoln resident Magic Slim when Slim was on a break from his international touring schedule.

The year 2015 saw the release of Eric Burdon’s most recent album of original material, “’Til Your River Runs Dry”.  Steen was contacted by Grammy-winning producer Tony Braunagel to collaborate with  Burdon (lead singer of ‘60’s superstars The Animals), and the two long-distance co-wrote “Water”, the opening track on the album. "It was also quite a  thrill seeing the song performed “live” by Burdon on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon", Steen added.

Recent years have seen the inclusion of Dave Steen songs in such multi-award-winning independent films such as “Blue Collar Boys” (Coco Montoya's recording of "Beyond The Blues")"and “40 Years In The Making: The Magic Music Movie” ("Jump", as performed by Chris Daniels & The Kings). 

As well, a solo project, “Town Full Of Secrets”, credited to “Dave Steen & Jailhouse Tattoo”, earned a 3 ½ star review from DOWNBEAT magazine.  The review, which appeared in the magazine’s Blues section, describes the all-Steen-penned songs as “… a cache of little gems.”    

In 2019, “Coming In Hot” – a song co-written with Coco Montoya and son Ryland Steen - was selected as the title cut of Montoya’s fifth album for Alligator Records, moving in and out of the #1 spot on Roots Music Reports’ “Contemporary Blues Singles” chart throughout the last few months of that year. 

Steen continues to perform in-person, in bands and as a solo artist.  In 2017, a reunion show by  HAWKS in Fort Dodge, Iowa saw the band performing for a crowd of 7,500 as the opening act for Huey Lewis & The News - a band, ironically, with which HAWKS had shared a taping of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” in 1982. 

To date, Dave Steen's songs have appeared on various BILLBOARD magazine charts either as singles or album cuts 16 times in a period spanning four decades, beginning in the 1980's.