“Singing high and playing low” was how Walter would describe Steve’s Contenders role in his stage introduction and his funky bass guitar lines together with his high tenor voice bore out that comment. Steve was captivated by music as a young child as he and his older brother would sneak into their teenage cousin’s bedroom when she wasn’t looking and play her 45’s of artists like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, The Coasters, Little Richard, Larry Williams and Bo Diddley.

When he and Tommy Goldsmith met in their early teens they immersed themselves in old-time, bluegrass, blues and gospel but the arrival in Raleigh of the British Invasion added the newer rock sounds to the mix and the two carried all these influences into their own nascent songwriting efforts. As soon as high school was dispensed with, Steve and Tommy took off for Nashville as the Pritchard Avenue Band and actually made some headway there but never achieved a real breakthrough. Steve did have a couple of songs cut, by Tommy Roe and Spanky & Our Gang, but both died on the vine. His writing continued to mature and by the time of the Contenders he was coming up with some of the best tunes he would produce.

Later termed “lovely and cryptic” by Tommy, many of Steve’s songs were intensely personal yet easy to relate to. His voice was called “unearthly” by one Nashville writer and could go from low to high or from gutteral to heartbreaking delicacy at will. Often floating around the top of the Contenders’ harmonic tree Steve had a knack for finding the unexpected notes that characterized their soulful and unique vocals.

Steve finally had a taste of songwriting success in 1983 when the Oak Ridge Boys got hold of his “Love Song”, originally a Contenders favorite, and turned it into a No. 1 single from their LP "American Made". After keeping a pretty low profile on the Nashville music scene for a long time, he had gotten the urge to make a recording of his own and was in that process when he fell ill with lung cancer in May, 2001. Only the temporary “scratch” vocals were recorded but the tracks are being finished and it is hoped that a CD will be available in the near future.

Steve Runkle
Dec. 2, 1951-August 9, 2001
poster art by Steve Runkle