Louisiana funkiness abounds from the keyboard of Steve Kerin - Cascade Blues Association

Lafayette man enjoys homecoming from Oregon

* Special to The Advocate
* Published: Dec 7, 2009

LAFAYETTE — You know, typical musical-prodigy story: Dad dabbles at the family piano. Boy listens and watches. Boy plays said piano — by ear and sight. The boy is 3 years old.

That boy, Steve Kerin, is now 36.

"When I was 3, my parents had a piano and my dad played a little bit," Kerin said during the recent holidays before he jammed with friends at the Blue Moon Saloon while on a hometown trip for a friend's wedding.

"And my parents tell me that one morning I just started playing a song on the piano," he said. "It was probably just one melody, but my mom was like, 'I didn't know he could play,' and my dad said, 'I didn't, either.'"

Kerin paused and chuckled. He's told the childhood tale a hundred times.

"I know, I know. It's a cute story," he said.

He also said he has no idea what song he played that mid-1970s morning in the Kerin household.

The often-bearded, usually long-locked pianist-guitarist-vocalist said he attended Our Lady of Fatima and graduated from Lafayette High School.

He earned a bachelor's degree in classical piano performance in 1996 from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. By coincidence, he accomplished this while on a scholarship named after his old piano teacher, whom he affectionately calls "Miss Ballard."

He then earned a master's degree in theory.

On occasion, the busy Kerin pops in to his Lafayette hometown — maybe once or twice a year. He comes in from Portland, Ore., where he and his wife, Jane, live and work while he earns a living playing music.

Back in 2005, he made his third-coast-to-left-coast move, taking his club-based "piano man" reputation with them.

In the early- to mid-2000s, you could find him, solo, taking requests for R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming" at Lion's Tavern near the old Poets or Elton John's "Ticking" at the Sidebar along Jefferson Street.

Or maybe you'd see him melting ears with his guitar or bass at the now-defunct Renaissance with alt-rockers Mod Amish, or at 307 Club.

His keyboard skills range from a New Orleans-based, Professor Longhair motif to James Booker runs to Keith Emerson-prog-rock, which he imparts with his two-keyboards-at-the-same-time piano fills.

But while Kerin swears by Bach and Debussey, he also favors modern rockers such as the Pixies, Pavement and Ween. He especially loves old-schoolers Neil Young, the Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, the Faces and the Band.

And yet, for all that wide musical palate, he's most known for his deep-throated, piano-vocal-only rendition of "(What a) Wonderful World," made famous by Louis Armstrong.

For Kerin, that tear-jerker tune started as a beautiful memory, then a joke-turned-musical stage staple.

"That's my wedding song, actually," Kerin said. "We danced to it at our wedding in 1998. Jane and I both love that song and we think the message is really nice.

"But it's funny, because when I started singing that song, you don't really hear yourself in your head like other people hear you, and I felt like it was a joke, like it was an Oscar the Grouch voice. But then people were like, 'That sounds exactly like him!'

"So, the truth is," he said, "I didn't realize it was good until somebody told me."

Kerin once "got out of rock music altogether" when he attended then-USL in the 1990s. He merged into a "classical music phase." He started his rock-blues career again with the popular Megatron Jones.

These days, he tours the Washington-Oregon-California circuit when he can, when he's not teaching piano lessons.

Piano is first in his life, as it was when he was a child, but Kerin likes to talk about his other passion, the guitar. Both have provided a good transition from Lafayette wunderkind to West Coast musical stalwart.

"When I was little, and I was taking piano lessons in the third grade, I listened to what my parents listened to, like Air Supply," he said. "And then I started getting into pop and rock stuff around 1984 when I picked up the guitar, and I did Van Halen and that kind of music. I really started in bands playing guitar.

"And I like them both," Kerin said of his instruments of choice.

"One of the things I like about guitar is that you can haul it around with you. You can play guitar by the campfire, you know? But I think my technical capabilities are stronger on piano than guitar."