The life of a working musician means being a talented chameleon. On stage staring out at a half a dozen different crowds every week probably means you’re booking gigs for more than one band and playing more than one style on any given day. But if you’re Steve Maggiora that’s really only the beginning. At one point the keyboardist and singer-songwriter known best for his whiskey soaked antics and fiery licks in Robert Jon and the Wreck had 12 other different musical projects going at once. And finding even the most ordinary gigs, from dive bar cover bands to playing piano for a troupe of dancers in ballet class means there’s always a chance to slide in some practice and mess around with your music.
“Sometimes [for the ballet class] I just like throwing in pop tunes and fucking with them,” Maggiora says, sipping an iced tea outside a Coffee Bean during a sunny afternoon off in Huntington Beach. “You’re playing and singing and then all of the sudden you starting playing a Creed song as a waltz.”
Ironically being a full-time musician doesn’t always allow much time to play your own music. But for the last year or so Maggiora’s taken center stage with his own solo material, a smooth blend of ‘70s and ‘80s R&B inspired pop with shades of Ed Sheeran, Billy Joel and, yes, even some Michael McDonald for good measure. Maggiora kicked off his solo stint last year with his debut album When I Get You Alone, weaving together songs that might feel at home on VH1 Classic and adding his own raw sense of ladies man humor and bravado to the mix.
“I stopped trying to write songs where I was trying to actually say something with music and I just try to make people dance and groove it out,” Maggiora says. “I do covers in that style and writing more in that style and I think it’s a good thing we got going now.”
Spending time on the keys covering the world’s greatest writers in a multitude of OC bars and clubs obviously has an affect on Maggiora’s own songwriting. For an example, look no further than his latest track “What’s Love Got to Do With You,” released on Valentine’s Day (natch). Veering past the obvious homage to Ms. Tina Turner, this track’s rich slather of comfortable keyboard grooves and strutting pop drum beat and tasty saxophone and guitar leads melds well with Maggiora’s old-school vocals. You can almost hear the disco strobes flashing and drunk bar patrons hugging up, locking lips and shaking hips and cheering the end of the track with a slightly winded and resounding “Woooo!”
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“The first time we played it was it was the first song after Auld Lang Syne at Marine Room so it was our first song of the new year,” Maggiora says. “You never know when you write a new song, usually the first time out is the best judge of whether it’s gonna work out and people were dancing and singing along by the second chorus and shit.”
The fact that his music is being well received alongside his cover song material is a good sign for Maggiora, who says no matter where his original music takes him, he’s always going to be a fan of giving tightly produced classics a chance to loosen up whenever he plays them.
“I change some of the lyrics and make ‘em dirty,” Maggiora says. “We do ‘Say Something’ by Great Big World and I changed it instead of the lyric being ‘saw something, I’m giving up on you’ I say ‘say something, I’m going down on you’ and it just gets really ambiguously gay and it’s fun and everyone’s having a good time.”
Steve Maggiora performs at Hennessey’s, 31761 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 441-4777, hennesseystavern.com/san_juan_capistrano.html. Thursday, Feb. 16. Free. Follow him on Instagram at @stevethewreck.