Steve Thomas and the Time Machine
by Susan Marquez
“I love being on the microphone, love being out front. I love the crowd and talking to people. Live music is the best part of what I do.” That about sums up Steve Thomas’s take on being a bluegrass musician. Growing up, his dad played music, and where he lived, all he had to do was drive down the road to see a local fiddler. “That area, Roanoke, Virginia, had great bluegrass music. I remember seeing performers like Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and others there.” Steve says he had an ear for bluegrass at an early age. “I loved the look and feel of the instruments. I loved how people felt when playing.”
Steve got some formal musical training in high school.
“When I was in the tenth grade, I changed schools, which I was not happy about. But it was actually a great thing for me. I was accepted into the school’s string program. I really liked my teacher, David Lipps, and I traded chores like cutting firewood in exchange for private fiddle lessons. He worked with me on the technical aspects of music like intonation and vibration. He helped me smooth things out. I still keep in touch with him.”
At the age of 19, Steve got a big break when he was asked to play with Del McCoury for a year. “There were some stellar bluegrass groups in the next town over that I played with, and I played in a few contests,” Steve recalls. “I was invited to go play with Jim and Jesse and the Virginia Boys, and I found myself on stage at the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 20! When I was young, I stood in the shadow of giants, and I was so intimidated by it all. Even in smaller shows, where I was sometimes out front, it was their show.” Steve has worked with a who’s who list of entertainers, including the Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse, The Whites, Aaron Tippin, Barbara Mandrell, Kenny Chesney, Brooks and Dunn, John Michael Montgomery, Lee Ann Womack, and Lorrie Morgan. Plus, he’s garnered nominations from the Country Music Association and GRAMMY®.
Steve married his wife, Janet, in 1983, and the couple moved to Nashville where he became
an important part of Nashville’s music scene as a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. His band, the Time Machine, is an homage to growing up in the 1970s and 80s.
“I loved bands with rhythm. I wanted a name for the band that connotates time. Bluegrass is based on old dance music. Bluegrass beat is a dance beat. In trying to find a name, we came up with Time Machine. Music always takes you to the place where you first heard it. We thought the name sounded new and fresh, and the guys in the band are happy with it, and that’s good since they have to wear that handle.”
The “guys in the band” include Steve’s good friends Ronnie Eldridge and Kenny Baker. The band put out an album earlier this year, called All of These Years, released on Bonfire Music Group. “We released a single in the early spring, and had a release party booked, but they shut us down. There was no way to really promote the record, yet we managed to make it to the Bluegrass Today charts.” Not one to sit idly by during a worldwide pandemic, Steve says that the album got a lot of support early on. “We did a pay-per-view live stream that did well, and we’ve done a few other smaller concerts on the internet. We have also done a couple of music videos that I’m real proud of.” One was for Daddy’s Twin I Beam, written by the band’s guitar player, Jason Owen. “It tells a story,” says Steve. “We built a car wreck scene into the video that is amazing. I had a friend who had an old I Beam truck that looked showroom new that we used in the video.”
Steve has two sons, ages 34 and 29. He loves being close to his family and spending time with his three grandchildren. He produces for other projects in his home studio outside of Nashville. “I’m working on a project for the Crowe Brothers right now, and I’m working on my own project. I’m just really happy about how my life has turned out. I am happy that my sons are close by and that I’m in this industry. Life has been good to me.”