Josh Steely was 10 when punk rock shook his world.
“A lot of people say the Beatles got them into music, but for me it was bands like the Circle Jerks, Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies,” he says. “It was incredibly empowering to suddenly realize that I could play those same three or four chords and make up songs about what happened at school that day. In that instant, music was my obsession.”
It was also in his blood. Steely’s mother sang and his father played guitar and toured with superstars like Bob Seger and Jimmy Buffet. His parents also performed together as a successful nightclub duo. “I grew up on the road until we settled in San Diego when it was time for me to go to school,” he says. “They were both music lovers who listened to everything from Ravi Shankar and Alice Coltrane to yacht rock like Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. There was always something different on the turntable at my house.”
Determined to carry on his family’s musical tradition, Steely spent most of high school holed up in the garage, practicing guitar. After graduation, he joined a band and toured for several years. “It made me realize that I really needed to start my own band,” he says with a laugh. “So I quit and spent the next 15 years fronting my own three piece, touring, writing songs and making records.”
When his second son was born in 2002, Steely says his fatherly responsibilities took precedence over his musical ambitions. “I never gave up on making it on my own terms, but I had a family to think about,” he says. “You do whatever it takes to make it work. For me, that meant splitting time between a straight job and music.”
After several years walking the straight and narrow, Steely received a call from a friend who was organizing auditions for Chris Daughtry’s band. He invited Steely to L.A. to audition for the lead guitar spot. “I’m one of the only guys in the band who watched Chris on American Idol; I was blown away,” he says. “My boss and I would watch on our lunch hour. It’s funny, because I remember telling him that I wished I could find a singer like Chris for my band.”
In L.A., Steely’s friend recruited him to stand in for Daughtry during the auditions, playing rhythm and singing. “I had a leg up on everyone when it came time for me to audition, because I’d seen what everyone else was doing,” he says.
“He looked like a surf bum who’d wandered in off the street until he picked up a guitar and blew me away,” Daughtry recalls. “So many of the guitarists who auditioned came in, put their boot up on the monitor and started shredding from the first note to the last. Josh was different. He respected the song. He only played what he needed to. He was the perfect fit.”