Steve Almaas onstage with the Raybeats. (Photo courtesy of Fran Blanche. Used with permission.)
Although not an “official” Raybeat, Steve Almaas has a musical history as rich and varied as that of Pat Irwin, Don Christensen or Jody Harris. And, also like the Raybeats, he hails from the Midwest.
Almaas was welcomed into the world in Minneapolis in 1956. Eight years later, his world found lifelong meaning when he saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. He tried his hand at piano, violin and guitar before picking up a bass, his first electric instrument. After playing “in various versions of the same basement band throughout junior high and high school,” he joined Chris Osgood (guitar, vocals) and Dave Ahl (drums, vocals) to form the Suicide Commandos, hailed as the first punk rock group from the Twin Cities area. They have been credited with starting a scene that brought forth the likes of Husker Du, Soul Asylum and the Replacements, among many others.
Following the dissolution of the Commandos, Almaas pieced together a new band called the Crackers and relocated to New York. The year was 1979, and the New Wave and No Wave scenes were in full swing. He became good friends with Mitch Easter and the members of the dB’s (Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby and Gene Holder), and he crossed paths with several other bands, 8-Eyed Spy and the Raybeats among them. He saw the Raybeats perform several times, and the Crackers even opened for them at Hurrah’s.
After the Crackers broke up, Almaas formed Beat Rodeo, a band that skirted on the fringes of the Big Time. They released two albums on I.R.S. Records (the same label that had the Go-Go’s), and toured the U.S. and Europe. Despite critical success, major stardom eluded them, and the band fizzled out by 1988. Almaas found himself back in New York, undertaking a variety of musical ventures, including the Gornack Brothers (a duo with George Usher) and The Kool Kings (with Justice Hahn and Alex Chilton). He released his first solo album, East River Blues, in 1993; a second, Bridge Songs, followed two years later.
In 1996, the Suicide Commandos reunited for a show in Minneapolis. Ten thousand people showed up for the gig, and the fanfare prompted Mercury/Polygram Records to reissue Make A Record, the Commandos’ lone studio album, on CD. Almaas continued making solo albums, and he teamed up with then girlfriend Ali Smith to make a pair of country-pop albums in 2002 and 2006, respectively.
Since making music doesn’t always keep food on the table, Almaas works as a primary education teacher. Fortunately, this leaves his summers free for musical endeavors. And, this past summer, one came his way.
“I saw [one of the shows] where the Raybeats backed Adele [in August 2010],” he recalled. “I thought they were fantastic that night, as was Adele. I mentioned to Pat that if they ever needed a bass player, I’d love to do it.”
Don Christensen, Steve Almaas and Jody Harris perform at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey, for the benefit of former Raybeat Danny Amis. (Photo courtesy of Fran Blanche. Used with permission.)
The opportunity came his way approximately ten months later. After Danny Amis was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (cancer of the bone marrow) in May 2010, he was faced with a mountain of medical expenses. Several members of the musical community banded together to host a series of concerts around the country (and in Mexico) to help raise funds for Amis’s plight. Almaas’s connection to Amis went all the way back to his Twin Cities days.
“Danny went to high school with my younger sister,” Almaas said, “but I didn’t know him then. I met him when he started coming to Commando shows. He was an enthusiastic young man. He didn’t start his group [the Overtones] until after I had left town, but I heard about them right away. I was impressed.”
Almaas became better acquainted with Amis when the youth moved to New York to take over bass duties for the Raybeats following George Scott’s death in 1980. And, years later, Amis worked as the driver and sound man for Beat Rodeo during the mid-1980s. When the benefit concerts were being organized, Peter Moser, who beat the skins with Beat Rodeo, threw his hat in the ring and started putting a show together at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, a famous stomping ground for a lot of the bands and performers Amis has known over the years.
“Peter Moser wrote to me about the benefit, asking if I knew how to get in touch with any of the Raybeats,” Almaas said. “I put them together and Pat came back and asked me to play.”
It proved to be a good grouping. Almaas blended in well with the original Raybeats.
- Pat Irwin, Steve Almaas and Jody Harris perform at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, New Jersey, on June 29, 2011. The Raybeats reunited to play a benefit show to help former member Danny Amis cover medical expenses. (Photo courtesy of Fran Blanche. Used with permission.)
“Playing with Don, Jody and Pat brought me back to that musical place,” Almaas stated. “Everything about the rehearsals was fun. Learning their songs, going over them first with Pat and then with the whole band. I’ve gotten back together with old compadres before and it was interesting to watch them interact. A window into how it must’ve worked in the past. The benefit at Maxwell’s was like stepping back into that time. So many of the old guard came out. The gig was everything I hoped it would be. I felt like everyone rose to the occasion. They were a pleasure to play with.”
The gig went well, and the Raybeats were particularly well-received. Jody Harris even commented that it was “the best gig we ever did, and the most fun I’ve had with my pants on in years.”
Could this open up the door for more Raybeats’ gigs in the future?
“You’ll have to ask those guys,” Almaas said. “I’m game.”