Silvercrush vocalist-guitarist Steele Croswhite is all smiles on the two-years-plus-a-day anniversary of his father’s death. In fact, he’s positively beaming between sips of an anonymous menu item at the corporate coffeehouse he’s selected for our interview. It’s a damned sight different setting than the kitchen of the Croswhites’ spacious Sandy residence, where I first interviewed him three years ago. But then, a lot of things are different now.
Roll back to a few days before the kitchen conversation. A bold, cheerful voice is on the other end of the phone, doing its managerial duty: Choice of Reign, said Bill Croswhite, was a local band on the fame escalator. How about an interview?
When the slick black press kit and CD arrived, it was already a manifold improvement on the paper-clipped promo packs most Salt Lake bands offer. If nothing else, they were serious. But as it happened, they were also good. Maybe not as good as Croswhite implied, but there was talent evident in the acoustic-electric tunes penned and sung by Croswhite’s son, Steele, and three best friends (drummer Jim Stauffer, bassist Dave Christensen and percussionist James “Jammer” Stauber).
They got their interview, during which I learned the senior Croswhite wasn’t just Choice of Reign’s manager, he was father, friend, overseer and svengali. “He’s not Mr. Niceguy all the time,” Steele said at the time. “He’s my dad and I love him and we’re best friends, but he’ll put on his manager hat and run downstairs and say, ‘OK, that sucks. Your guitar is so far out of tune you shouldn’t even be playing right now.’”
The reason for the Col. Tom Parker-ism is Bill knew his stuff: He’d been a roadie and musician in the ’60s, playing with The Kinks, The Kingsmen, Elvis (OK, they were on a kiddie variety show together in Ohio) and the Rolling Stones. He demanded a certain level of commitment for his mentoring and the band cooperated.
In the coming year, Choice of Reign watched its CD jump off merch tables to the tune of 6,000 sold and crowds at local and regional venues swelled. Still, although the grapevine would occasionally thrum with label gossip, nothing seemed to happen. Choice of Reign, like so many promising local bands before them, appeared to have peaked and plateaued. But for the efforts of Bill Croswhite, that would have been true.
In late Spring 2000, the manager called with an invitation to accompany the band to Las Vegas, where they’d play a showcase at the annual EAT’M (Emerging Artists & Technology) convention. He was especially confident this would result in a record deal and he was correct. Sadly, the night before the band was to take the stage at The Joint, an aortic aneurysm claimed his life.
“It was terrible,” says Steele, the light shortly vacating his countenance as he glances out the window. “But it was like his work was done.”
After little deliberation, the band chose to play the show as a tribute their mentor’s efforts. “When we took the stage, I told the audience, which was full of booking agents, management and label people, “This is not for any of you. This is for my dad.” I told them what had happened and we just played our set, went backstage, cried and hugged, and the rest of it’s hazy.”
Hazy, perhaps, not only because of the circumstances, but the speed at which things began to unfurl. Of course, it wasn’t exactly a smooth transition as Steele, by his own admission, went on an extended bender, drinking and cursing God. Eventually, though, the vortex ceased to spin and the world began to right itself. It was truly as if Bill Croswhite had done everything he needed to do, and was kicking back on a cloud watching.
Steele soon commenced writing and playing again. Labels, some of which had witnessed the EAT’M showcase, initiated conversation. In December 2001, Choice of Reign signed with Best Buy-owned Redline Entertainment (Prince, Pete Townsend, the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson). The label shipped the band to Indiana to record Stand with John Mellencamp guitarist Mike Wanchic at the boards. Steele, perky again, says working with a producer helped the band shed its jammy tendencies for a pop-rock sound akin to Train and Matchbox Twenty, with more crunch—and passion, a hallmark of the band’s sound from day one—per ounce.
The shift induced the name change and the departure, for now, of Jammer, who will pursue acting and study with a top L.A. percussionist. To replace him, the band added keyboardist Mike Flynn (Old Pike) and guitarist Carl Broemel (Old Pike, Lifehouse, Transmatic).
Redline regards Silvercrush as its first new act and backs them vigorously, helping them land a coveted opening slot on the Jeep World Outside Festival, featuring Sheryl Crow, Train, Oar and Ziggy Marley, to coincide with the release of Stand. As Steele contemplates his situation, he beams contentedly. “We were chosen out of 40 other bands because [Redline] is excited about us and really worked hard to get us on the tour. For the band’s part, he utters a philosophy redolent of his father’s influence: “We wanna work.”