Lincoln’s Homegrown Bluegrass Musician
From an early age Steve Hanson was instilled with a love of music. He would fall asleep to the sounds of his mother playing classical piano at their home in Lincoln, Nebraska. He also remembers sneaking down the stairs to listen to his father’s jam sessions. Trained as a journalist, his father was also a self-taught jazz musician who played piano, clarinet, and saxophone.
So it was natural for Steve at the age of 13 to start playing music. He picked up his brother’s guitar and almost immediately began performing in folk bands. He also began to research the roots of the folk music he was playing. This led him to the music of the British Isles, old-time Appalachian sounds, the Stanley Brothers, and Earl Scruggs, the pioneer of Bluegrass banjo. Hanson immersed himself in learning this style of banjo. He played in various bands throughout his high school years, including jug bands and Bluegrass bands, and he even landed a job playing lead electric guitar in a 9-piece touring Soul band.
While in college, he continued to refine his playing skills. In 1971 he formed the Bluegrass Crusade, which quickly gained much notoriety in the Midwest. The Crusade opened for such notables as Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and Ralph Stanley. They also won the band contests at the Brownville Fiddle Festival and the Rocky Mountain Bluegrass Festival.
Hanson’s playing skills were also beginning to be recognized. He began entering and winning many banjo and guitar competitions in various Midwest festivals. His father’s influence also began to surface at this time. Hanson started to play jazz and swing music and began listening to the recordings of legendary jazz guitarists such as Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He formed the Steve Hanson Trio in order to have an outlet to play this type of music and appeared periodically with legendary jazz violinist, Claude Williams.
During this period, Hanson began doing more extensive studio work. He recorded and toured with C. W. McCall, playing on three of his albums and doing all the banjo work in the hit movie, Convoy. He released his own critically acclaimed solo album, Pick And Choose. And in 1979 Steve was the subject of a PBS documentary entitled, Homegrown Bluegrass.
In the 1980’s, Hanson continued to be in demand as a studio player in the Midwest. He composed scores for numerous PBS documentaries including Plowing Up A Storm, Keith County Journal, and Back At The Ranch. He also produced a formative CD by singer-songwriter, Brad Colerick, a Nebraska native now living in Los Angeles. His association with Colerick led to a couple of high-profile “jingles” he wrote and recorded for Sears and International House of Pancakes.
In 1992, Hanson and two friends decided to go to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as fans. On the way, Steve was talked into coming out of contest retirement. He entered the banjo competition, and took first place. He also entered the guitar and madolin competitions and took second place in each. And to cap it off, he and his two friends entered the band contest and brought home second place in that event. This band continues to play as The Toasted Ponies.
Steven O. Hanson was inducted into the Nebraska Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2006, Steve was awarded the City of Lincoln’s prestigious Mayor’s Arts Award for performance. He lives in Lincoln with his wife, Judge Laureen Van Norman, and stepson Jake. And when he’s not at home or playing in one of several band configurations, Steve can be found teaching in his upstairs studio on North 48th Street in Lincoln where he shares with students some of what he’s learned on his rich musical journey.