Steve Soto lived the last night of his life exactly the way he wanted. Having just ended another tour with the Adolescents, he came home to do what he loved most, spend time with family and friends and record some music. The latter was a passion that consumed not only his adolescence, but his entire adult life.
Of course he did a lot more than just recording with his buddies Greg Antista of Joyride and producer Jim Monroe during that Tuesday night session on June 26, they also did plenty of talking. They talked about how happy Soto was to have someone he loved in his life, looking forward to recording more music, doing more tour dates with CJ Ramone, being excited to continue on with Manic Hispanic and that The Adolescents were releasing a new record [titled Cropduster] and that Trump wasn’t gonna like it. On that night in particular recording some new tunes with his buddies, Soto was up to his usual antics in the vocal booth, goofing off on vocal duties, doing singing impressions of Robert Smith, James Cagney and yes, even Mike Ness.
“The main thing I want to tell you was that Steve Soto was happy,” Antista said, addressing a packed congregation doing their best to smile through the tears at Soto’s funeral service last Saturday. As a long time friend and bandmate of Soto’s, he never thought he’d have the unfortunate distinction of being the last person to see his friend alive before dropping him off at his house just as he had many times before. That night, the man whose huge heart and husky frame had made an undeniable impact on OC punk fell asleep and didn’t wake up. He was 54.
In the days since his departure from this world, news and tributes to Soto have spanned the world over in just about every major music and media publication of note, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork…even Fox News of all places. Making his mark on the world as a founding member of bands as far ranging as revered Fullerton band The Adolescents to ‘80s cover band Flock of Goo Goo (not to mention Agent Orange, Manic Hispanic, Joyride, Black Diamond Riders, a solo artist and the Punk Rock Karaoke supergroup), Soto’s loss has been almost too much for the punk community to bear. Considering we’re all still catching our breath from the loss of Cadillac Tramps frontman Mike “Gabby” Gaborno, an inseparable brother of Soto’s bound by love (if not by DNA), this felt like too much to take.
But even in sorrow this past weekend, the punk community found the strength to celebrate Soto’s memory, first in the pews of Richfield Community Church in Yorba Linda and the next day in much louder, drunker surroundings at Alex’s Bar in Long Beach. Both times, Soto’s spirit was greeted with a packed house.
A large crowd met at Soto’s home church, where he attended weekly services with his girlfriend Stephanie Hough. Family and friends–which included many of punk’s most notable names (Greg Hetson of Epitaph Records and Bad Religion, Efrem Schulz of Death By Stereo and Kevin Seconds on 7 Seconds to name a few)–all helped with the services along with Antista who coordinated with Soto’s immediate family. Also present were former friends and band members Warren Renfrow of The Cadillac Tramps and Tony Reflex, the lead singer of the Adolescents who gave loving, spoken tributes to Soto.
“I have lived through all of his pictures this week and if there’s anything my uncle did well, it was friendship, his face always reads genuine happiness when he’s with his closest friends and I know him enough to know how he valued those friendships,” said Emily Soto, one of Steve’s several nieces who got up to contribute to the Eulogy.
“It was obvious that his friendship was valued in return because I’ve never seen so many friends rally together so quickly for one person.”
Articles around the world gave Soto the title of “Nicest Guy in Punk,” a distinction he earned for his jovial demeanor and endless desire to help those who were close to him. Of course it wasn’t quite the way anyone who remembers him actually knew him. He was still a punk, goddamnit.
Antista, who met him when he was 15 during his first year at Troy High school in drafting class remembers approaching The Adolescents bassist, who sported a leather jacket and spray painted Orange Vans, wanting to hang out with him. “[Steve] turns to me and goes…you know what? I think you new punkers are lame,” Antista said as the church crowd roared with laughter. “Steve Soto: the nicest guy in punk rock.”
The congregation soaked up a glimpse of Soto’s life in pictures during a video montage, tracing back decades of touring around the world and holding down local performances at home and creating what would go on to become the Orange County punk sound alongside fellow Adolescents Rikk and Frank Agnew and Tony Reflex. Though the hurt sometimes felt insurmountable, the people who knew him best felt it was important to keep things positive, as Soto would’ve wanted them.
“I don’t believe we need Steve’s physical presence to know he’s alive and well, I’ve felt it, I’ve experienced it and I’ll tell you Steve is alive and well,” Reflex said to the crowd headed by Soto’s parents and family in the front row. “We may not have the ability to reach out and touch him, but that doesn’t imply that there’s a void there. It’s not empty space, there’s something there.”
Soto’s presence was definitely felt the next day during a packed memorial event at Alex’s Bar, where laughter and old punk tales of Steve’s talent, raucous antics and virtuosic songwriting swirled through the crowd as the body heat rose to the ceiling. Outside, a freshly painted tribute to Soto, a heart-shaped tribute to The Adolescents’ iconic 1981 Blue Album, adorns the wall of the venue.
Friends took turns singing songs written by Steve, including acoustic duets from Linh Le and Myra Gallarza of Badcop/Badcop, Antista and Frank Agnew, wrapped up by longtime friend and tour buddy CJ Ramone.
“I know I’m not the guy to sing Steve Soto songs,” Antista said to the sweaty crowd. “I need your help, please don’t leave me up here alone.” As he strummed Soto originals like “Forever,” “Five Star Girl” and “I’ll Be Around,” Soto’s ability as a songwriter showed through, a craft influenced by a lifetime of melding harmonies and memorable riffs with punk rock nihilism and troubadour storytelling that still got the crowd singing along, even in his absence.
“The thing is, we loved music–we both grew up on the Beatles and we never sat there and acted like we hated any other kinds of music, it wasn’t like that,” Frank Agnew said. “If you listen to the Adolescent Blue Album stuff there’s harmonies, there’s dynamics, if you listen to [Soto’s] bass stuff he’d play stuff that sounded McCartney-esque.”
The impact of Soto’s presence in the OC punk scene, his ability to overcome struggle as a man and a musician, cultivate a career that forced him to move with the ability and speed of someone a quarter of his size and twice as young, all while keeping a smile on his face is something we’ll never forget about the man who did what he loved until the day he died.
After Antista drove Soto to his parent’s house for the last time, Soto said he had fun and promised to call Antista tomorrow. “But before he slammed the door he poked his head back in and the last thing he said to me was ‘I hope you got what you needed,’ Antista said during his friends memorial. “And I know he was talking about the recording and it’s way too sentimental for me but yeah Steve, thanks for everything. I think we all got what we needed.’”
Nate Jackson is the gatekeeper to your dreams of local dive bar stardom. If he writes about you, expect your band to be offered at least one more drink ticket than the rest of the bands on the bill. Get his attention with some groovy tunes and he might just do it. Then, boy will you feel special.