Steve Scorfina is a classic guitar picker in a couple of ways: A ‘picker’—like the ones on the reality show, American Pickers—is someone who combs through old barns, estate sales, antique shows, etc., looking for vintage collectibles to buy and sell. Scorfina and his girlfriend, Kathleen Sullivan, have spent the past 20 years or so looking for ‘picks’ from one end of the country to the other. Antique guitars and English china are two of their specialties. Scorfina also is a ‘guitar picker,’ as in guitar player. Actually, that’s a huge understatement: Scorfina was once the lead guitarist for legendary rock band REO Speedwagon, and later, the iconic ‘70s St. Louis band, Pavlov’s Dog.
Regular readers of this column know that I grew up in Ferguson—so did Scorfina. His family lived in the same neighborhood as mine, in a classic, white Victorian home with a wraparound porch at Adams Street and Catherine Avenue. Behind their home was a large carriage house that just happened to be the perfect place for a band to practice. On hot summer nights of my misspent youth, I would hear a band jamming from that old carriage house, and there would also be a party happening inside and out. I would ride my Schwinn Stingray (then later, my ’72 Vega wagon) to cruise down Scorfina’s street to the muffled sounds of screeching guitars and bass drums.
The parties were epic, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that the sounds I heard coming from the carriage house were actually slices of rock ‘n’ roll history. It was REO and Pavlov’s Dog and Steve Scorfina becoming part of local music folklore. “I never threw the parties. It was always my sisters, but I got the blame!” Scorfina says with a laugh.
He and I are reminiscing at a bar table inside Rockers on Main Street in St. Charles, where he still performs and loves to tell stories about those early days in Ferguson. “In 1969, REO was booked to play at the Music Palace on the Rock Road, so we had a few days in-between. We practiced in the carriage house, but there were always a lot of other people like Bill Bruford of Yes and Mike McDonald, who jammed there—absolutely.” That’s Michael McDonald of Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers and a multi-platinum recording artist in his own right, who also happens to be a Ferguson boy and lived right down the street from Scorfina. “We started a band called The Majestics in 1963. Mike was 11, I was 13—that was our first band.”
The Majestics landed gigs playing Kingsmen songs and tunes like Won’t you Come Home Bill Bailey. Scorfina then started The Good Feelin’ in 1965, and played at the Castaways Teen Club alongside acts like Muddy Waters and Kenny Rogers. In 1969, Scorfina got a call from now-mega-promoter Irving Azoff, who was looking for a lead guitarist for REO, which at the time was an unknown group from Champaign, Ill.
Scorfina played with REO for two years and wrote the band’s first original song, Gypsy Woman’s Passion. He says he left REO because—among other things—he wanted to focus on making music to help end the Vietnam War, while Azoff was focused on creating a rock empire. As the war was ending in 1974, it was back to his parents’ carriage house, where he teamed up with three musicians from Ladue (David Surkamp, Rick Stockton and David Hamilton) and three more from U. City (Mike Safron, Richard Nadler and Doug Rayburn) as Pavlov’s Dog. The band’s manager, Ron Powell, signed the group to $650,000 contracts with both CBS and ABC records. But according to Scorfina, the band’s money went missing, and Powell later went to prison for tax evasion.
“It’s a long, complicated story,” says Scorfina as he shakes his head and admits that a lot of the stories about his career are “long and complicated.” Scorfina is now 63 years old now and still a rocker with a new band, Soul Steel.
Scorfina and girlfriend Kathleen still are antiquing, looking for ‘picks,’ but with more time for music. On May 30, The Pageant will host the premiere of the HEC-TV documentary on the history of rock music in St. Louis titled Something in the Water. Following the screening, Scorfina and a St. Louis all-star band will take the stage. So if you catch that show (or Soul Steel) with Scorfina’s guitar rockin’ just like the carriage-house days, then consider yourself lucky, you just made a pretty good pick.