Early in March, the West Virginia Daily News reported about Steve Mackey, the Greenbrier East High School alumnus recently nominated for an Academy of Country Music Award as “Bass Player of the Year.” Sunday, April 18, marks the 56th annual presentation of the ACM Awards, “honoring the biggest names and emerging talents in country music.”
Steve Mackey graduated from GEHS in 1984, and it was clear even then that his talent had already emerged. As there is only one other option, these would seem to solidify the fact that the Greenbrier County native is, in fact, one of the biggest names in country music.
“I was fortunate to have served as Band Director at GEHS during Steve’s time there as a member of the band program,” Greenbrier County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bryant said. “It became evident almost immediately during Steve’s ninth-grade year that he was blessed with extraordinary musical talents as a multi-instrument and vocal performer. Steve was a member of the drumline and played jazz bass for the jazz band, as well as upright bass for the symphonic concert band. Steve committed his life to music during his time at East.”
Bryant’s fond memories of Mackey’s time at Greenbrier East are echoed by Mackey, himself. And for as much as Bryant credit Mackey’s talent and dedication for his successful career in music, Mackey may credit Bryant’s influence a little bit more.
On Monday, April 12, the West Virginia Daily News had the opportunity to speak with Mackey by telephone from his home in Nashville.
“I’m gonna guess that he (Bryant) was probably about 25-years-old, “Mackey said. “Of course, I was 16. I think that Greenbrier East might have been his first job, so he really was still a kid. But he was the coolest…he was the coolest. I will always be indebted to him because he saw immediately that there was nothing else that I was gonna do. And he had just come from that world, you know? He’d been in the middle of Boston, and had known some guys that had gone on to having good gigs in the music business.”
Mackey further recounted how he became involved with the band programs at Greenbrier East.
“Basically, they needed a bass player, and I was known as the ‘acoustic guitar guy’. I’d walk around everywhere with my acoustic guitar. I was like the campfire guitar guy. And he said ‘we need a bass guitar’, and everybody said, ‘okay you’re the guitar guy, so you’re the bass player.’ And that’s how it was.”
Bryant told the Daily News that he “was continually introducing him (Mackey) to recordings of great bass players and other great jazz, pop and rock performers.” such as Weather Report and David Sanborn.
Both Mackey and Bryant are graduates of Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music.
“It became apparent during Steve’s tenure in high school that he was destined for a great musical career, and therefore needed to attend Berklee College of Music,” Bryant said.
“He (Bryant) basically said to my parents, ‘if there’s any way you can send him here (Berklee), this is where he needs to go,” Mackey said. “We had never heard of Berklee before, we didn’t know anything about it.”
Mackey went on to say, “But I love Jeff. He was really important to me and is really important to me now. And I just love giving him a little grief when I see him because he’s the boss now.”
Sadly, as Mackey confirmed, the 25-year-old “hell-bent for leather” version of Jeff Bryant did not have a ponytail.
In addition to Mackey, this year’s ACM nominees for “Bass Player of the Year” include Glenn Worf, J.T. Cure, Mark Hill and Tony Lucido. The 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast live from Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. on the CBS television network.