At Home In Hyattsville: Beyond ‘Skin Deep’ with drummer Steve Larrance
By Reva G. Harris
Steve Larrance gifted me with a drum key, the perfect icebreaker to begin our conversation about his career as a professional drummer and teacher of percussion instruments. He informed me, “Percussion means any instrument you strike or stroke. A lot of people don’t realize the piano is a percussion instrument, too.”
Born in the District, Steve discovered drums at age 13. His father was an audiophile who built speakers. “One night, I heard drumming through the heat vent,” Steve said. “I ran downstairs and asked my dad who was playing. It was a solo, ‘Skin Deep,’ by jazz drummer Louie Bellson. That was the moment that changed my life. I started banging on my father’s speaker cutouts with toy sticks. The next year, I started drum lessons and got a real drum set.”
When Steve was 15, his drum teacher told him that Bellson was coming to the shop to conduct a drum clinic and asked if Bellson could borrow Steve’s drums. “I was introduced to the great Louie Bellson,” Steve exclaimed. “And he autographed my drumhead with, ‘Nice to meet you. Thank you for letting me use your drums.’”
Steve majored in music at Montgomery College, and then attended and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland. While in school, he played with Lawrence and the Arabians, led by Lawrence Kidwell, a Hyattsville native. “When I graduated Maryland, I worked two gigs and was playing jingles for TV and radio. A friend said, ‘Look how well you are doing. Imagine if you were in New York or some other major market.’” Steve decided to move to California.
His first job in Hollywood was playing the rimshot for comedian Wayland Flowers and Madame. In 1973, Steve joined the Social Security Band. The band played a festival hosted by Wolfman Jack that featured Ike and Tina Turner. After the show, Steve decided he’d ask Ike Turner for a job. The next day, Turner’s trumpet player, Claude Williams, asked Steve to come to the studio. “I was shuffled into Studio B when Tina Turner walked in. She said, ‘I understand you feel like playing some music today. How about “Honky Tonk Women”?’ When we finished the song, Tina Turner said ‘Thank you. That was fun. I have to go feed my three kids.’” Claude welcomed Steve to the band that day, and Steve recorded with Ike and Tina at the studio for six months.
Steve’s next job was with Albert Hammond, a singer and songwriter who wrote the popular tune “It Never Rains in Southern California.” Steve toured with Hammond’s band in the U.S., Europe and South Africa.
In 1980, the 167-day strike by the American Federation of Musicians began. “It basically closed down the music industry,” Steve said. He decided to return home to help his aging parents. By 1985, Steve was back in D.C., freelancing at black-tie events. During a 15-minute break at an event, he went to buy a drink. The bartender was Greta Mosher. Steve and Greta married in 1992 and moved to Hyattsville in 1995.
“Before moving to Hyattsville, we were living in Wheaton. One morning my wife cried out, ‘I’ll never have my own garden.’ Ironically, that same night, my bandmate Ginny asked me if I wanted to buy her house.” The next day Greta and Steve went to see Ginny’s house on Oliver Street. “It was something that we could afford,” he said. “But my wife did not like the galley kitchen.”
“Greta found our house on Crittenden. It was a run-down Victorian, but she saw the potential,” Steve said. “It’s been featured on the Hyattsville Preservation Association’s [HPA] home tour two or three times. It was Gloria Felix-Thompson [HPA president] who urged me to start my jazz band [Friends Trio]. We play at HPA’s annual picnic and at festivals around town.”
“Hyattsville has come a long way since 1995,” he noted. Route 1 [ in the Arts District] was ratty, and Magruder Park was muddy. They fixed up the park in 2000, and I am glad it’s getting a new name [David C. Driskell Community Park].”
Steve typically worked a 16-hour day, performing gigs, giving private lessons and teaching percussion full-time at Montgomery College for more than 25 years. “Now, I’m slowing down,” he said. “I teach classes on Zoom with a few students. And I have my beautiful wife and my band.”