Westmont Magazine Art in the Family
Growing up in a family that valued the arts encouraged Steve Shelton ’76 to develop his talent as a singer and songwriter. In May he released his second CD, “Do What You Do Best.” His distinctive style and voice (as a singer and as a poet) lend character and charm to songs described as “bluerockfolkjazz.” Wayne Peet ’77 co-produced the CD, recorded at Newzone Studios in Los Angeles. Guest artists include Peet, Roberto Mirando, Tom Lackner, Vinny Golia and Steve’s son, Josh.
“Art was my family’s common ground,” he explains. “We all considered ourselves artists. It wasn’t something we were going to become when we grew up; it was what we already were.”
Not only did his parents display his artwork on the walls, but they made him take piano lessons. “We listened to a wide variety of music at home,” Steve recalls. “My ears were trained.”
Steve’s family also shares a connection to Westmont. His father, Rath ’50, and two of his brothers, Ron ’67 and Dave ’70, graduated from the college. Both his parents worked here, and his brother Jeff ’80 attended for a year. Steve even met his wife, Ruby Jeanne ’79, at Westmont.
“I have important relationships I wouldn’t have without Westmont,” he notes. “Wayne Peet and John Rapson have been important people in my life, and Professors Art Lynip and Tom Soule both had a big impact on me. Wayne’s father and my father were also friends when they were Westmont students.
“While I have fond memories, there are painful ones, too,” Steve adds. “I majored in English and took a lot of art classes, but I really struggled to do art at Westmont. I hung out with Wayne and John and other musicians, but never played with them. I was a musician in the closet; I didn’t fit in musically.”
In retrospect, Steve appreciates the struggles of his college years. “Those experiences prepared me to do art,” he notes.
After graduating, Steve got a credential at UC Santa Barbara and became a teacher. While he wrote poetry and dabbled in the visual arts, he kept the music inside. After teaching high school and college English and working with at-risk teenagers, Steve became an English teacher at Santa Barbara Junior High. Meanwhile, he maintained a friendship with Peet, a keyboardist and composer based in Los Angeles, and a number of other L.A. musicians.
Gradually, the music inside began to seep out. Steve credits his development as a songwriter and performer to other artists’ recognition of his talent. He finally felt accepted as a musician. He recorded his first CD, “Jack Ball Suite 1997,” as a solo artist.
“During the last five years I finally paid attention to the music in my head. I can’t deny it anymore — I have to do it. Songs don’t write themselves. It takes discipline. Inspiration is over-rated; it happens every minute. The question is, how do you respond?”
At the moment, Steve is responding prolifically. He writes wherever he is: at home, at school, in the car.
“I feel confident in my songwriting — it strengthens every other part of me,” he says. “It helps me see myself as an artist in the classroom, and I think it makes me a better teacher as I can help students who struggle to express themselves.”
Steve and Ruby Jeanne try to provide a fertile environment for creativity at home. Three of their four sons play instruments, and Josh, a high school senior, is an accomplished musician. Their son Ben is a theater arts major who is acting in college and making films. Steve is pleased to leave them a legacy of his songs.
“My songs are something tangible to pass on,” he says. “The songs will stay.”