Hit songwriter Jeffrey Steele performs signature hits like “My Wish” and “What Hurts the Most” and talks about his songwriting process and inspiration during this September 27, 2008, program, part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s songwriting-focused Poets and Prophets series.
Steele opens with an acoustic performance of “Something to Be Proud Of”—a song he wrote with Chris Wallin that became a 2005 #1 for Montgomery Gentry—and tells host Michael Gray a funny anecdote about the title’s origins.
Describing his childhood, Steele notes that he absorbed a variety of musical styles as the youngest of five children. Born Jeffrey LeVasseur, he adopted his stage name in memory of his father, who started his own machine shop after serving as a paratrooper in World War II. He recalls that his father purchased studio time at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles so his sons could make a cassette tape of their band.
Although he didn’t finish high school, Steele received a musical education by finding gigs playing “every country song imaginable because I found out I could make fifty dollars a day doing it.” He remembers advice he received from Country Music Hall of Fame member Kris Kristofferson after a show at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles, and how it turned out to be a full-circle moment years later at the BMI Awards. In addition to playing bars on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, Steele also performed regularly in a house band for regional stars from the Bakersfield scene.
Steele describes his time performing with the 1990s country band Boy Howdy (known for the 1994 hit “She’d Give Anything”) and his family’s move to Nashville from Los Angeles. He points out his wife and children, then speaks about his late son, Alex LeVasseur, who died in 2007 at age thirteen in an ATV accident. Steele also praises fellow songwriters such as Big Al Anderson and explains how Anderson created the word “gottahaveable” to fit into Diamond Rio’s 1998 hit “Unbelievable.” He also speaks about his friendship with Craig Wiseman, his co-writer on Tim McGraw’s “The Cowboy in Me.”
Later in the program, Steele gives insight into a condition he developed that might’ve led to the loss of his singing voice. A good doctor helped him overcome it, Steele says, but that experience coincided with his decision to focus more on songwriting than being a recording artist, giving him a second chance at music.
Steele elaborates on the inspiration behind two of Rascal Flatts’s biggest hits, “My Wish” and “What Hurts the Most,” then sings both, and ends the program performing “Friends.”
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