Steve Baughman

ALL ABOUT ME (Unauthorized Autobiography)

I was born in the Caribbean but I still need spell-check to get it right. One R, two B’s. Why so hard? Makes me feel like a dumb-ass. 

I am told that before I could walk I would rock back and forth on the couch to Harry Belafonte’s music.  All is Rhythm! 

My parents moved to Southeast Asia when I was about three.  I decided to go with them. My father was an executive with a multinational drug company, kind of a cartel, but legal. I took up guitar in Malaysia at age ten after North Carolina guitarist, Joe Lubus, passed thru and inspired the crap out of me.  Cotton Fields, Gotta Travel On, and stuff like that. A major rush for a little kid! 

My mother was my first guitar teacher, but she did not really play guitar. She will be pleased to see the first part of that last sentence. I had a big crush on Mrs. Ward, my fourth grade music teacher at the Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur.  Over it.  But I still smile when I picture her strumming Union Maid for us fourth-graders. She was English but had lived in Delaware. I thought that was odd. 

We moved to Djakarta, Indonesia when I was in tenth grade.  I met an American woman anthropologist one day at a softball game. The odds are pretty good that she was Obama’s mother. I remember her using the word “shit.” My father thought that was so uncouth. But, hey, her son went farther than his did.  So far anyway.   I went to the international school that Obama could not afford to attend. I love how John McCain, the four-star admiral’s son, and the four-star admiral’s grandson, painted Obama as an elitist. If you lie outrageous enough you can usually get away with it. 

Most ex-pats in Djakarta got smitten by terrible stomach flu. I got smitten by bluegrass banjo, big time. Over it. The McLain Family Band (a bluegrass band from Berea, KY) came to my high school around 1976 or so.  I worshiped Raymond McLain, Jr., the banjo player.  He was only a bit older than I was, but way better, and less shy, which wasn't saying much.  I felt crazy nervous talking to anyone, and especially banjo stars.  But he exuded grace and kindness.  After they returned to Kentucky I sent him a letter, probably just some annoying kid-fan thing. And he wrote me back! Detailed, handwritten (computers not yet invented), sagely and wise. A major rush for a star-struck kid! To this day when I get mail from annoying people and I feel tempted to be a dick about it, I ask myself “WWRMJr.D?” And then I respond with greater niceness than the real me would normally muster up.  A small act of kindness nearly 40 years ago still having little positive ripples.  Sometimes I still am a dick to annoying people.  But then I feel bad about it after I hit "send."

I moved to the United States in 1977 at age 18 for college.  Got saved. Over it. I felt out of place in America so I packed banjo and guitar and moved to Taiwan, for no particular reason. It was a dumb idea, but the guardian thingies were with me. On my first night there I met a Taiwanese family who took me in. Then I somehow managed to hound up a bunch of gigs. I now cringe at how presumptuous I was. “Hi, I’m from California. I play guitar and banjo. Can I play here?” But they always said yes. 

I spent two years studying Chinese by day and playing the pubs at night, sometimes seven nights a week for months in a row. I was the only white, Chinese-speaking banjo player on the island so I had my 15 minutes of fame; television, recording, autographs, etc. I played banjo on some big pop star’s single and it became a major hit. You may have heard of it. Tong Nian. They mixed the banjo way low. But if you hold your breath you can hear me between heartbeats.  

That fame stuff left, and never returned. So far anyway. 

I eventually returned to college in the U.S. and was unsure what to do with my life when I graduated. So I went to grad school. Then I was unsure what to do with my life after grad school, so (like most unsure folks with grad degrees) I went to law school. Then I was unsure what to do with my life after law school, so I became a lawyer. I have found law to be a noble profession (lawyer jokes are evil Right-Wing conspiracies) but music beckons louder. 

I am still unsure about what to do with my life, but music makes the uncertainty meaningful. I suppose I could say more.  But this will do. If you have specific questions, imagine the answers. You may get closer to truth than my answers would.

Some people will say that this is not the kind of music website bio that will advance my career.  I think they're right.  Maybe I will change it at some point.  Or not. Stay tuned.  


I was once asked to play on an album of guitar instrumentals.  I declined. The album then won a Grammy.  Sometimes I console myself by saying that if I had participated it would not have won.  That makes me feel a bit better. But then I realize that it should actually make me feel worse. And then it does. 

The truth is that I really think music awards are silly.  Like sausage, and meat in general, they are cool only if you don’t really know how they’re made.  Maybe I will change my mind if I ever win something. Until then, Bah! Humbug!


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"Once in a while an album comes along that can alter your thinking about guitar music - Steve Baughman's Farewell to Orkney is one of those....A must for all lovers of guitar and especially Celtic music." - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"A star of fingerstyle guitar: very deft, thoughtful, quietly adventurous, deeply lyrical and playful." - Radio National, Australia

"Steve's artistry and musicality are world-class, with dynamics, timing and interpretation that always bring out the emotional essence of the song." - Sing Out Magazine

". . . technical innovation, virtuosity, and intensity." - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"Incredible virtuosity ... showcases the quiet beauty of the open-tuned acoustic guitar." - Marin Independent Journal (Too bad it's not the Washington Post. But I'll take it.) 

Farewell to Orkney listed as one of the "Best Albums of 2013" by Acoustic Guitar Magazine.

Last and definitely least, I am on the Digital Dream Door list of the 100 best fingerstyle guitar players of all time, which includes dead ones. I used to put this in my press materials.  But then I figured it was just the lone opinion of some dude/gal somewhere in cyberspace.  Anyone can make a list. Besides, how many fingerstyle guitar players can there be anyway? It must be hard not to make the top 100.  I suspect the 81-100 slots are all made up names. As long as you did a guitar CD you’re top 80. I think I was 77. Maybe I’ll be deleted from the list now that I’ve said all this.  But I appreciate the passion of whomever compiled it. Thanks for including me, and it impressed my mother.  Maybe it won’t now.

CAMPS TAUGHT: (guitar, banjo and acapella singing)
Swannanoa Gathering, Asheville, N.C.  (10+ times.)
California Coast Music Camp, Gualala, CA  (8+ times)
Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, Gig Harbor, WA  (5+ times)
Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School, Santa Cruz, CA (8+ times)
Sierra Fiddle School, Nevada City, CA  (4+ times)
Acoustic Alaska Camp, Wasilla, AK (thrice)
Steve Kaufman's Guitar Kamp, Maryville, TN, (twice)
Sunshine Coast School of Celtic Music, Roberts Creek, B.C., Canada (twice)
The Woods Song and Dance Camp, Ontario, Canada (twice)
Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, Winter Park, CO (once)
Outer Banks Guitar Workshop, Outer Banks, N.C. (once)
World Voices, World Visions, Kingston, RI (once)
Roberto Dalla Vecchia Acoustic Guitar Workshop, Recoaro, Italy (once)