In 1979 I met a local unlike anyone I had known in suburban Rochester, Michigan. This lanky guitar-toting character shared my passion for vintage American music immediately interested me—a high school senior eager to play music and experience the world beyond the classroom. Steve had been known around town as “The Coffee Cup Philosopher,” a moniker cited in the local newspaper’s article about its hitch-hiking native son. My worldly elder, Steve told of his hoboing across the country in Jack London tradition. Together we played music around the Detroit area, until one day he asked if I’d be interested in moving to Santa Cruz, California, a place to which many of our friends had moved, and a coastal city I had never seen, and would never see, until we arrived there by car in the fall of 1983.
While my stay on the West Coast lasted nearly a year, Steve made it his home, finally moving from Santa Cruz to Seattle where this experienced sound man, singer/guitarist, and drummer found rife opportunities to establish new performance venues. By 1988 he and his wife, Tia Matthies, established the OK Hotel, a coffee house in a large brick building in Pioneer Square. In this historic structure along the waterfront--a former meeting spot of the Industrial Workers of the World--a major performance venue came into its own during Seattle’s 1980s “Grunge” scene. Apart from folk and jazz musicians soon-to-be famous rockers played the OK’s stage--Nirvana, Mother Love Bone, and the Presidents. Rolling Stone Magazine took note of the club’s popularity, and the OK flourished until the 2001 “Ash Wednesday” earthquake damaged the building and forced its closing. That spring The Seattle Times, under the headline “Din Fades: It’s Last Call for a Cultural Landmark,” lamented, “Losing the OK Hotel means the collapse of large chamber in Seattle’s cultural heart.”
Today Steve and Tia own the Rendezvous Jewel Box Theatre 2320 Second Avenue, in Seattle’s Belltown district. Connected to the Rendezvous nightclub, the Jewel Box was once a prominent screening room for Seattle-based Hollywood movie moguls and investors. During the venue’s subsequent history it was a speakeasy, a porn theater, and finally a haven for junkies and down-and-out drunks. Steve and Tia redecorated this popular drinking/eating/performance space with elements from the Seattle Opera House and the Capital Hill Mortuary, while keeping many of original elements that make this a unique part of Belltown.
In the following, recorded during my recent visit to Seattle, Steve tells of his twenty years of involvement within the city’s music scene.
Click here to listen to the interview