Steven Ray Merola, 71, passed away unexpectedly on March 6, 2022 in Evanston, IL. Steve was born and raised in Staten Island, NY, the second child of the late Carmine and Norma Merola. He began drumming professionally as a teenager on the local rock ‘n roll scene with Mack Truck – a legendary young band playing for throngs of underage fans. Steve studied drumming with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie and went on to play with bands including Tracks, Simpson, Jimmie Mack and The Jumpers, MetroLogic and Cat Daddy Jones. He also performed in the bands of the musicals “It’s a Hard Job Being God” on Broadway and in an early road production of “Hair.” Steve did session work with artists including Bonnie Raitt, Roy Bitton, DL Byron, Ric Ocasek, Earl Slick, Eddie Kramer, Richie Zito, Hank Devito, Michael Kamen, David Sanborn, Ernie Savage, Frankie LaRocka and Vinnie Zumo, among others. An accomplished blues harmonica player, he later studied classical harmonica with one of the masters of the genre and went on to write and record original compositions. Over the course of his career Steve recorded, co-wrote and co-produced albums released on RCA, Columbia, Capital, Paramount, Powerdrive and Fountainblue Records.
He met his future wife and soulmate Janet Weiss while playing drums with Nonnie and The Onnies when she was an NYU film student and her crew was hired to shoot the band’s music video. Thus began a passionate, decades-long love affair, enduring partnership and deep spiritual bond. Within six months, the couple moved in together in Staten Island to be closer to Steve’s young son Rory, from his first marriage. No matter how late into the night or early morning that Steve gigged on weekends, Sundays were devoted to father and son activities; playing ball, GI Joes, electric football and later on Madden NFL in hotly contested hours-long matches. Music was a shared language and passion between father and son and Rory grew up to be a talented musician in his own right.
A member of the American Society of Composer, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) since 1981, Steve co-wrote with Grammy-award winning recording engineer Jan Fairchild, as well as songwriters Christopher Ward, Michael “Flasher” Abate and Luke McMaster. Steve worked in a variety of musical genres and was extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of the industry. In the 1990’s he started managing and producing other artists, co-founded and led indie label Phantom Power Records, and provided guidance and promotional support to a number of artists and other labels. He later founded and was President of Area Music, an early adopter of digital music distribution. Steve also became a pioneering, vocal and ongoing advocate in the ensuing fight for musicians’ royalties as streaming services took over the business.
After moving to Los Angeles in 2007 for his wife’s career, Steve continued to collaborate on projects with his creative circle in NYC and reconnected with old friends and former bandmates who had relocated to the West Coast. He also befriended a group of film composers and lyricists and began writing with Oscar and Emmy-nominated lyricist Arthur Hamilton. This was Steve’s second stint in LA, having lived there briefly in the 1970’s as a struggling young musician. Those earlier escapades, along with his love of LA-based novels by Elmore Leonard and Walter Mosely, inspired him to revisit a decades old project involving the character Billy Lightcap. This scoundrel and veteran bluesman stars in an original series of songs, stories and podcasts. The Lightcap saga provided Steve with an opportunity to expand his writing talent beyond songwriting and flex his mostly underused vocal prowess from him as the growling, tongue-in-cheek performer.
In late 2014, Steve and Janet moved to the Chicago area to help out her elderly parents. He continued to compose, create, record and publish in a variety of mediums, played drums at Chicago Blues Fest and performed on harmonica at Buddy Guy’s, even as he was privately and valiantly waging a six year battle with cancer. Steve was a voracious reader, adept at computer chess, scrabble and the New Yorker crossword puzzle. A skilled carpenter, lover of fine food and wine (forced to give the latter up after his diagnosis), a dedicated meditator and an astute observer of life. He never stopped learning, growing or laughing at life’s absurdities or himself. He was resilient, determined and always hopeful. When asked how he remained so positive, he always gave the same response, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.” For those of us who knew and loved him, we know that we were the lucky ones.
In addition to his devoted and heartbroken wife and beloved son, Steve is survived by his rescue cat Baby, who showed up on the front porch shortly after his cancer diagnosis and never left; siblings Gene (Marnie), Janice and John (Lyn); mother-in-law Judy “Mamala” Weiss and sister-in-law Betsy Van Die (Jeff). He is deeply missed by an extended family of aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and numerous friends and former bandmates. A celebration of life will be held in NYC at a future date.
Published by Legacy Remembers on Jul. 31, 2022.