Edwardsville musician ‘Schpaybo’ as driven as ever with latest studio record
Steve “Schpaybo” Spirko’s love for making music has driven him to various points of accomplishment throughout his multi-decade career, and if he has it his way, his best days are still ahead of him.
Most recently, the Edwardsville musician, who’s been practicing and performing since 1968, ranked first in votes, listens and comments with his song “Special Time” in a contest held by indabamusic.com, an international network of recording artists. His latest album, “Let’s Rock,” is nearly finished and singles have earned airplay from local radio hosts Mike Naydock on WRKC and Alan K. Stout on 105 The River.
“To win all three categories — the site has 1.2 million members — gave me such a great sense of pride and satisfaction that people like my music,” Spirko said, noting the network’s global reach.
Spirko’s brand of hard, guitar-forward rock alludes to the heavier music born of the 1970s and ‘80s, but his career has blossomed out of his “forte” as a live drummer.
“I always liked the upbeat, hard-edged sound,” Spirko said. “I loved Jimmy Hendrix and The Who and Led Zeppelin. I also loved the blues of Johnny Winter and Howlin’ Wolf. … I liked everything except slow, depressing stuff.”
A Stroudsburg native, Spirko has performed with accomplished Stroudsburg bluesman Chris London, and he spent nearly eight years playing with the late tone master Cesar Diaz — through his relationship with Diaz, Spirko even performed with former “Saturday Night Live” bandleader GE Smith.
But through his years holding down the rhythm section, Spirko always had an affinity for the guitar.
“I got a guitar, and I would hang out with the lead guitar players and say, ‘Show me how to do this; show me how to do that.’ And I’d have to sit there for an hour and do it over and over and over again,” Spirko said.
Once he became familiar with the instrument, Spirko began writing guitar-rock infused with his particular rhythmic style, beginning with his debut album, “Schpaybo,” in 1997 and following up in 1999 with “Long Way Back.”
While his records have earned positive reviews from multiple publications, Spirko’s career is also decorated with individual accolades.
In 1995, he won ABC radio’s Z-Rock Greatest Drummer in the United States Competition. In ‘97, he became a semi-finalist in Musician Magazine’s Best Unsigned Band in America contest. He even got a nod from industry institution Billboard in 2003, when his song, “Crows Ate My Brain,” was named among the top 1500 songs worldwide in the magazine’s World Songwriting Contest.
“(It) wasn’t first place, but it was still an accomplishment for me,” Spirko said. “It’s every musician’s dream to get on a Billboard chart. I received a handwritten note from one of the judges on how much they liked my song.”
But as honored as Spirko is to have such recognition, he’s more interested in looking forward to the music he’s making now and will make in the future.
For “Let’s Rock,” he’s solicited the talents of London and fellow seasoned players Lenny Mecca, Christopher Condel, Tony Vergnetti, Joseph Wegleski and Tom Borthwick.
Spirko returned to recording in February 2016 after a long period of teaching and customizing guitars stalled his writing.
“I went back to SI Studios (in Old Forge) to record one song; now I’m up to 15,” Spirko said. “I love working with Joseph Wegleski and Tom Borthwick at the studio, who have been featured on my songs.”
For Spirko, the gratification in creating music comes from seeing people smile and dance when he performs.
“If I can take their mind off their problems for three of four minutes while they listen to my songs, I’ve done my job, and it makes me feel good,” he said.
But he always holds out hope that his next song will be his first true hit.
“I still haven’t made a dime yet, but I am not going to stop,” Spirko said. “It’s my mission. I’ll either make it or die trying. That’s the attitude you have to have. People who don’t think they’re going to get anywhere, don’t.”
For more information on Schpaybo and his music, visit schpaybo.com.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.