November 14, 1949–May 22, 2014
John Denver fans from all over the world, affectionately known by many as the “John Denver Family” grieve today the passing Thursday evening of John’s lead guitarist from the 1970s, Steve Weisberg. Steve was diagnosed in March 2013 with a lymphatic cancer he thought he’d beat.
For eighteen months, Steve rode the oscillating wave of cancer treatment, even while traveling to play in concerts across the country, most recently in Florida, Milwaukee, and Texas. He had another concert scheduled just ahead, in early June. Steve, lovingly known as “Pokey” to his friends in the music industry (for having shown up late one time to a recording session), was otherwise generous of time and spirit, a passionate man with a tender heart. You might say he died as he lived, playing his famed guitar and expressing to the untimely end both love and gratitude for his friends, his life and talent, and all his many blessings.
Steve Weisberg, a boy with big dreams in the experimental decade of the musical ’70s, was a man who, in the end, seemed to have his head screwed on straight. He not only didn’t take himself too seriously, he found humor in most situations and he laughed readily and heartily. His laughter was so infectious that whenever he laughed, you laughed, whether or not it was as funny as Steve seemed to find it. Never oblivious to the ironic or to the facetious, his trademark saying–also attached in his email signature–was Steven Covey’s, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
A liberal arts major in college and an accomplished songwriter in his own right, Pokey loved a good story, and he created them regularly, both out of ordinary experience and out of the extraordinary. He was in every way a lively and natural communicator, never hesitant to pick up the phone and call friends to share an idea or just connect. Like his famed boss and band mate John Denver, Pokey was truly a people person, “invested in the human race.” He made himself accessible to everyone he met and cared for–and if he met you, he generally cared for you. So friendly was he that he even included a direct telephone number on his website. In his way, he was a regular sort of guy, and in including the telephone number he likely figured, “How else are they going to find me?” He frequently helped up-and-coming musicians by encouraging them, and even by playing with them in gigs and informal jams wherever life brought him. It was in this way that he came to know personally many John Denver enthusiasts, who now remain “family” 17 years after Denver’s fatal plane crash in Monterey Bay, California.
About his condition, in a public Facebook post in May 2013, Weisberg wrote:
When I was referred to the oncologist 2 months ago I was ready for the worst. But what he told me was too good to be true: That my type is now so utterly and completely curable, I have a 98% chance of it being gone forever by July. This is not remission, which expects a return visit. This is…’gone forever after round one of chemo’. I’m now halfway through a very easy, uneventful treatment program. He said my optimism would let me handle this little ordeal much better than another person might. The optimism came from being 24 years in recovery, which led me to God. And getting to know God led me to the actual belief that everything (everything) will always, somehow, be okay.
They say we’re only as sick as our deepest secret, and I do believe this. This illness has brought me closer to God than anything I could have imagined. But trying to hide such a big secret has distanced me…from God, and from those who would help me celebrate the fact that I was spared the expected rigors and outcome of other forms of lymphoma. Mine is called Diffuse Large B-Cell lymphoma. It’s a laydown pussycat for today’s sophisticated chemos, unless it’s spread to the brain, or detected too late. Medical science has deduced that I do have a brain; that it is cancer-free; and that we detected this in time. The new look I’m sporting, as many of you guessed…was not optional.
Those of us in any type of 12 Step program know our illness became our greatest asset….once we had a little recovery under our belts. Life is sweeter than before that problem existed.
Recovery from cancer is an even bigger cause, for me, of celebration. I wish all others with the disease could be so lucky. Bizarre as it sounds, I have never had a more joyous experience being alive…..than right now.
Photos and tributes to Steve are being shared in abundance today on social media, as fellow musicians, friends and family express their shock at his passing and their gratitude for his many contributions. In a correspondence with Shawn Garvey, Weisberg’s friend and a minister by trade, who recently performed in concert with Steve in February, he muses, “Pokey and I had a special friendship based upon things that ran very deep within us, and I’m profoundly blessed that was where our friendship resided.”
In his Facebook tribute, Pastor Garvey goes on to say:
By virtue of the kind of chemistry we had, and my vocation (I’m an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ), our friendship very quickly developed around matters of profound depth. Steve was a man on a journey, and he felt comfortable enough with me to share a very personal, spiritual side of himself that led us down all sorts of conversational pathways. I met him at a point in his life when he was re-discovering his love and spiritual connection with music–especially John’s; and he’s the first to admit that at the time it was all happening with John, he was too young to truly appreciate what that music was doing for people. In the time that I was blessed to know him, he got it.
He not only got it, he was profoundly appreciative for the genuine and miraculous gift that it was; to the millions it reached and to himself. He began to find more avenues and opportunities to share in his gift, and by the last few years he’d been able to do what we talked about at length for such a long time: go back to playing music full time as his vocation. I was so incredibly happy for him that he’d achieved that after such a long and complicated road since his days with John.
I think what I’d share for those of you who primarily connected with Steve through the music was that he’d come to a very deep understanding of how the music touched all of you, and how there was great power, healing, joy and transformation inherent in that. John’s music and John’s personality continues to do that for people, and Steve came to a very special understanding not only of that reality, but that he played a part in it and continued to do so these last few years. This was something he regarded as a magnificent blessing.
He’d want all of you to know that – and that it meant the world to him.
In the video that follows below (linked “Sunshine on My Shoulders”), we find the two friends sharing in synch a song written by the beloved John Denver, whose music brought them together five years ago when Garvey reached out to Weisberg in a fashion similar to that which, many years before, Weisberg reached out to Denver. In both instances, Denver received Weisberg’s enthusiasm and talent as Weisberg received Garvey’s…and (to echo another famous John Denver song) this reception opened doors for both musicians.
Filmed in 2011 at Stanley Congregational Church in Chatham, NJ, it is also apparent in this video clip that Weisberg himself was inherently touched by the music he made (see link below). In this example of one of Steve’s many musical encounters, this time with a fan who became his friend and spiritual confidant, we see clearly that Weisberg himself exuded the musical element. With Garvey on vocals and Weisberg on lead, we see Weisberg “in the groove” he often referenced. As he plays, we observe the guitar riff resonating in his body–so much so, that his fingerpicking becomes not just an accompaniment to the song, but seemingly a dance his body cannot contain. A beautiful dance of joy, a celebration. We witness firsthand the music that lived gloriously in the man we now grieve.
All rights reserved, © Debra Valentino.