Meet Steve Chantrey

I was born in Portland, Oregon. At an early age my mother made a unilateral and secretive decision to separate from my dad, and moved with my brother, my sister and me to Chillicothe, Ohio. Pregnant at the time with my younger brother, she suffered through a miserable trip from Oregon to Ohio. My dad found us after a few months, and my parents reconciled. We returned to Portland for a while.

One of my early memories about that time in Portland is the new bright green car (I'm sorry, I never actually knew the make of the car, only the color) our family came to own. A short time after that lovely car appeared in our family, my dad drove it to Southern California to look for work in the aerospace industry. When we followed him there I was devastated to find out that he had traded in our green car as the down payment on a little house in Redondo Beach. In its place in our driveway was an old turtleback from the 1940s. Oh well.

My grandparents had preceded us to California, and were living in Santa Monica. My dad and his parents all found work at Hughes Aircraft (and probably none of them knew any more about Howard Hughes than about the man in the moon). Grandma worked in the cafeteria, Grandpa worked in production, and my dad worked in the tool crib.

In only a matter of months my dad made a unilateral and secretive decision to separate from my mom. So on a given weekend he took us to visit his parents while my mom went to spend the weekend with her aunt in Burbank. Unbeknownst to her, my grandparents had, prior to that weekend visit, transported their trailer house to Northern California, and parked it in Weed.

When we headed over to see my grandparents, and kept going north on Highway 1, something seemed amiss to me, even at seven years old. "Where is momma?" I asked. Grandma curtly replied, "You're never going to see your mother again." Of course, that was more devastating than the disappearance of the green car. My older brother, my sister and I were inconsolable. My baby brother probably just wondered what the commotion was about.

We kept driving until we reached Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Grandma and Grandpa parked their trailer house at a trailer camp along the highway, where I-90 now runs. My dad moved to Yakima, Washington where he had found work as a district supervisor for a regional newspaper. The good news for me was that I did not have to finish the last few weeks of second grade, and the next year I started into third grade without missing a beat.

The trailer camp was surrounded by bull pines and terraced up the side of a hill. I would go up the hill and play with my friends and my brother. On one occasion I informed one of my buddies that my grandparents had kidnapped us. My brother, who overheard, reported the conversation back to my grandmother, who encouraged me to keep my mouth shut (I was lying, in her estimation) by pouring a liberal dose of cayenne pepper on my tongue and making me stand in the corner.

It was also up on that hill above the trailer terrace that I conceived my first melody and lyrics. The lyrics were truly inspired:

Cigars, cigars,
Someone stole my cigars,
So I called the cops
To get my cigars.
The cops finally came.
The darned thing happened again,
So I called the cops
To get my cigars.

I'm not sure where the inspiration came from, since no-one in my family ever smoked cigars. And I am not sure why I remember it after all these years, or why it seemed to have such significance to me. The words are nearly meaningless, and the melody is not exactly the theme for a symphony. Maybe my seven-year-old subconscious knew more about my future vocation than I even knew for many years as an adult.

Nowadays, when I write songs I do a bit of editing. The first words that offer themselves as partners for a given melody do not always make it to the final cut.