Steve Fisher was always interested in the arts, but deciding to pursue a career as a lawyer didn’t change his passion for music. Since his retirement, Fisher has been honing his musical skills; performing, traveling with bands and teaching acoustic guitar.

His interest in music began early on in his life through singing — often staring in school productions and participating in singing competitions.

These experiences were his only exposure to the musical world until high school, where a quick decision in band class ignited a lifelong passion.

“I took art [class] for two weeks and realized that wasn’t going to work for me. They gave me the chance to transfer to music. The teacher just told me to have a seat, and there was a case there on the floor in front of me …  it was a tenor saxophone.”He soon began taking lessons from a concertmaster, and at the same time, found himself playing in his first band at age 15.

“We would go play this restaurant called The Longhorn on Saturday nights … We wouldn’t get paid money, but we’d get paid hamburgers and coke.”

Shortly before entering university, Fisher bought an acoustic guitar and a chord book. He began teaching himself a few tunes. After enrolling in university in London, England, his new obsession not only took up his personal time, but his study time as well.

“He did lessons for a while, and then I sort of booted him out of the nest,” McLennen recalls. “Not because he wasn’t any good, but because he was good, and he didn’t need me. He just needed to play.” – says Jim McLennen.

“There was a fellow, who lived in London, who ran a record label that had a lot of fingerstyle guitar on it. I used to go and see him … and other artists that were on his label [play],” he recalls. “I started skipping classes quite often actually.”

Still, while playing in his dorm and attending shows were a regular occurrence in Fisher’s life, he didn’t think of himself as a musician. Music was merely a hobby; his career of choice was law.

After finishing his first degree, Fisher moved to Calgary where he began attending law school at the U of C. While his studies were demanding, he still continued to make time for music.

“I think it was 60 of us in that first year of U of C law school, and there were two or three musicians in that class … I latched on to those people,” he says. “So even in law school, as heavy as it was, I had this little music thing going on the side — probably more than I should have.”

Steve Fisher performing at the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival in Stoney Plain, Alta. in 2015. Photo courtesy of Brian Zaharodniuk used with permission of the Blueberry Bluegrass Festival.

During his schooling at U of C, Fisher decided that it was time for some professional guitar lessons. He remembered a specific ragtime record that he fell in love with while in England.    After tracking down one of the guitarists, Jim McLennen, Fisher began taking lessons from him — something he looked forward to weekly for roughly six-months.

“He did lessons for a while, and then I sort of booted him out of the nest,” McLennen recalls. “Not because he wasn’t any good, but because he was good, and he didn’t need me. He just needed to play.”

After graduating, music took a backseat to Fisher’s career, but was still extremely present in his life. He would often spend ten-hour days working at his firm and then, when his day work was done, he would use the building’s boardroom to teach guitar lessons.

Fisher also took part in jam-sessions with other musicians that he met throughout his law career.

“I started off in bands where people were regular folks,” he recalls. “They had jobs and wives and houses, and you know, responsibilities.”

Fisher began to progress and started playing in bands with professional musicians.  

“He picks up on all of these little things that you do, the little mistakes that you make that you think you’re doing well, he tells you. He fixes your hands without you even knowing.” – says Julie Idle. 

Retiring in 2004 gave Fisher the opportunity to focus solely on his music, and has since been involved with many different bands such as; Rocky Road, The Hot House Bluegrass Band, The Sheep River Rounders, Restless Lester and the Steve Fisher Group.

A former band mate, Al LaMonaca, who played in Hot House with Fisher describes working with him as not only an enjoyable experience, but one that helped him grow as a musician.

“He’s a very quality oriented person, so he doesn’t put up with second best,” he says. “If you ask him and press him, then he’ll tell you in quite clear terms what it is that’s missing or not being performed correctly or needs work … it’s helped my playing immensely.”

Fisher has performed at various bluegrass and folk festivals, including the Calgary Folk Festival, as well as others in British Columbia and the United States. He has worked on four albums, three with bandmates, and one solo album.

According to FOLK-DJ, an online discussion group, Fisher’s solo album, River, was the most commonly played Canadian folk album among folk DJ’s internationally for roughly three months.

Despite Fisher’s success with his own recording and performing, his passion for teaching that began in his law office years earlier is still prominent in his life.

“He picks up on all of these little things that you do,” says Julie Idle, a current student. “The little mistakes that you make that you think you’re doing well, he tells you. He fixes your hands without you even knowing.”

Fisher plans to continue playing with his current band, The Steve Fisher Group, at festivals and other gigs. He says he would consider making another record, but that it would be a simple production with just him and his guitar. Still, what he is most excited about is teaching, and that is something he will continue to do for the foreseeable future.

“I really enjoy it. It is hard work sometimes but mostly it’s raw, mostly it’s like a co-operative, working through a piece of music. And what students do for me is, they keep me learning.”

nvandervlis@cjournal.ca

Editor: Kendra Crighton | kcrighton@cjournal.ca