Happy birthday to an A-list musician who’s name somehow isn’t even B-list famous. Steve Nathan turns 71 today. The Buffalo keyboardist may be close to anonymous but the music he’s helped make is far from it, especially to country fans.
He left snowy Buffalo for the South in the mid-’70s, briefly working with LeBlanc & Carr (the one hit wonder known for their song “Falling.”) The duo both had ties to the famous Muscle Shoals “swampers”, so he followed them to Alabama. In 1977, he signed on to be a session musician at the Fame Studios there, run by Rick Hall. Hall was apparently so impressed the first time he heard Nathan he made him the top on-call keyboardist for their studios for the next 14 years. His ability and proficiency on instruments ranging from traditional piano through synthesizers made him very popular, as I would guess his seemingly low-key personality did. Nathan never made the records about him…but he sure did add to them, working on records by the likes of Dobie Gray, Bertie Higgins (including the hit “Key Largo”), Hank Williams Jr., Percy Sledge, Glenn Frey and Steve Earle (Guitar Town) there. In 1991, he moved a dash north, to Nashville and joined their famous “A Team” … the country music equivalent to L.A.’s Wrecking Crew. There over the next 20-odd years, he worked on albums by pretty much the who’s-who of country music artists – Vince Gill, George Strait, Lee Ann Rimes, the Dixie Chicks (playing on their diamond-selling Fly record), Reba McEntire as well as other stars like Olivia Newton John, Bon Jovi, Hootie and the Blowfish, Mark Knopfler and even the Atlanta Rhythm Section…a group who started out as a collection of studio musicians themselves. In 1995 alone, he had credits on 20 different albums recorded there. So respected was he that he’s been inducted into the Nashville Music Hall of Fame and was named Music Row magazine’s “Keyboardist of the Year” an unprecedented 13 times running.
Despite all that, there’s little to tell about Nathan from this end, because there’s surprisingly little info about him or his outside life posted anywhere, it would seem. He hasn’t been doing much session work in the past four years but his website does say he’s available to work as a producer. It’s one of the amazing quirks of music that millions remember the names of one-hit wonders like Tommy Tutone (Nathan worked on their hit album too) , yet there are people like Steve, Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye around who’ve played on literally dozens of hit records that are mere anonymous faces in the crowd to most fans.