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Boxcars roll: RIP John Train Bass Player Steve Demarest 1953-2013

October 7, 2013

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I inform you that John Train Bass Player Steve Demarest passed away yesterday (October 5th, 2013). Steve lost consciousness between John Train sets at Fergie's on Friday night. He was rushed by ambulance to Jefferson Hospital. He went down and never came back up. "Aortic dissection" led to various complications that could not be reversed. There was no sign, no nothing. It just suddenly occurred. Steve's exit was fast, painless, and peaceful. The last thing he did was the thing he enjoyed most: playing music. The last song we played together was Butch Hancock's "Boxcars."

Steve Demarest was born on May 1, 1953 in Camden, New Jersey. He was the first son and first born of William and Louise Demarest. He was raised in Kresson, New Jersey and graduated from Eastern High School. He attended Rutgers University where he earned a degree in Psychology. Steve is survived by his brother William David Demarest and his sister Cynthia Louise Kershaw as well as nephews Dakota and Bryce Kershaw and nieces Samantha Sumner, Avery Kershaw, and Charlotte Demarest.

Steve worked various jobs during his life, mostly in sales and insurance.

Steve's true passion, however, was playing music.

His sister, Cindy, told me that their late mother Louise Demarest recalled Steve and his teenage cohorts blowing the roof off their junior high school auditorium with a performance of Roger Miller's "King of the Road."

In 1979, Steve formed the Hens with Dave White and other South Jersey musicians. They built up a following and played legendary clubs such as the Evergreen, the Galaxy, and JC Dobbs. They also performed twice at CBGBs before disbanding in 1983.

In 1993, Steve musically resurfaced with Philadelphia's Leisure Kings with whom he played until 2000. On a personal note, the Leisure Kings are how I got to know Steve. My friend Chris Payne and I saw them open for Go To Blazes in the early 90s at Silk City. We were blown away by front man Louis Gribaudo's songwriting, guitar playing, and singing. Steve and drummer Greg DiSabatino were a great rhythm section: almost a combination of Bill Wyman and Keith Moon. Steve never over did it; Greg always did.But, somehow, they made a tremendous and coherent sound. A great under-acknowledged band!

From 1994 to 2000, Steve played bass with Burn Witch Burn. BWB was fronted by Philly punk rock legend Rodney Anonymous who founded and continues to make brilliant music with the Dead Milkmen (who were on hiatus during the Witch years but have since returned to the fold). The Witch also included mandolin/bouzouki player extraordinaire Bill Fergusson (who was Steve's closest friend and next door neighbor), Vienna Linderman and Todd Yoder. The Witch recorded one album but were best known for their riotous live performances blending Celtic music with punk rock energy. I will never forget Rodney standing on a table during a gig at Fergie's and drinking an entire bottle of ketchup. I remember Steve chuckling when I asked him about it years later.

In 1999, Steve joined Slo-Mo featuring Mic Wrecka and, of course, Mike "Slo-Mo" Brenner. With Slo-Mo, Steve recorded four cds including 'XPN favorite, "My Buzz Comes Back." In addition to building up a strong local following, Steve enjoyed Slo-Mo's annual summer performances before enormous and appreciative crowds at the Great Blue Heron Festival in upstate New York. He also played gigs with Slo-Mo supporting national acts such as India Arie and Robert Randolph. In addition to Mike, Steve, and the Wreck, Slo-Mo included Stargazer Lily alumni Steph Hayes and Susan Rosetti, Mark Schreiber, Hoagy Wing, and Darryl Hirsch.

Over the years, Steve also held down the bass chair for Kevin Monko, Kenn Kweder, Chet Delcampo, and, most recently, Bunny Savage.

Steve's longest musical association was with my band, John Train. Mike Brenner and I started playing as a duo around Philly in 1995. In early 1996, we opened a show for Burn Witch Burn. Bill, Steve, Mike and I got to talking after the gig and decided to join forces. One of my best and earliest memories of John Train is the four of us rehearsing at Bill's place on Brown Street with Bill's dogs sleeping on the floor next to us (or acting like tough guys on occasion!). If you go to the "photo gallery" page of trainarmy.com, you can find many wonderful pictures of Steve including ones of our early rehearsals at Bill's house (click on "Miscellaneous 1995-2002") and, please, disregard my moustache!

John Train's lineup was filled out in due time with Low Road alum Mark Schreiber on drums and Rolling Hayseed alum Mark Tucker on Steel and Electric Guitar. We've played hundreds of gigs together over the years. Mostly around Philly but also as far as Holland and on the stage of New York City's late great Bottom Line (I know that meant a ton to Steve). We played many support gigs as well for artists as diverse as Robert Earl Keen and Buckwheat Zydeco. Of course, our favorite gigs were at Fergie's, our "home club" where we played every Friday from 6-8 PM. Two sets. Steve was warmly regarded by Fergie, Niall Murphy, and the entire Fergie's staff.

Steve recorded six critically acclaimed cds with John Train which received airplay nationally and internationally. Steve was a gifted photographer whose work is featured on several of our cds, including this year's "A Wig and A Wonder." Take a look at the "Haircut" picture on the "Wig and a Wonder" disc itself. Steve shot that on Cottman Avenue in the Northeast. He was always looking for a good shot.

Bass players are a funny lot. The best ones remain in the shadows. Their presence is not seen in any flashy way but rather profoundly and DEEPLY felt and heard. A real bass player -- and Steve Demarest was a real bass player -- adds the "roll" to the music. Otherwise, it's just rock and it doesn't roll and that's no good, right?

Steve was a soulful and tasteful player with as warm a tone as any I've heard. As a songwriter and singer, I appreciated the fact that Steve never overplayed. He supported me and my songs for 18 years. That is a gift and an honor that I will never forget.

John Train's remaining Fall gigs (i.e. the rest of October) are CANCELLED. However, there will be a memorial/celebration of Steve's life for family, musicians, friends, and fans on Friday, October 18th at Fergie's (1214Sansom Street in Philly) 6-8PM. More information on this later.

--Jon

 

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