Ekman ~ Guitar, Vocals
Gary Nichols ~ Guitar, Vocals
In Memory of
Steve and I just went as Steve and Gary. We played the Portland, Oregon area in the 70's. Our favorite place to play was The Rock Creek Tavern. Steve's sister, Kim, and I wrote a lot of songs together back then. Steve's favorite was entitled "Oh Momma Momma"
Gary Nichols, 8 March 2003
Ekman's new song: 5 years of survival
For Steve and Margaret Ekman, the memories missed most from his music career have nothing to do with sound. Steve misses playing guitar, and Margaret would like to see her husband leading church groups onstage again.
"I have videos of him leading worship," she said. "He would jump up and down. It was his life. ... It's been a real adjustment."
For the past five years, Steve Ekman's strength has been sapped ---- the result of the removal of both kidneys. The former guitarist with the 1960s psychadelic band New Tweedy Brothers discovered Christianity, but his faith has since been tested by renal cell carcinoma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the kidneys, leaving him "a step above bedridden."
His career has provided a variety of audiences ---- from sold-out concerts as an opening act for The Grateful Dead to congregations in Southern California in the 1980s. Now, the most the Ekmans get from Steve's playing is in their home studio in Canyon Lake, transferring already recorded songs to compact disc.
Friends try to make light of his lifestyle ---- which includes four-hour sessions of dialysis three times a week. They call Ekman, 53, "the man with no kidneys."
"I have good days where I'm awake most of the day," Ekman said. "I'll be alert. I could do things with friends. Some days, I'm not functioning at all.
"It's been a real test of my faith. This is just a greater test than most people get."
The dexterity to trace fingers across the frets of a guitar isn't the only thing the cancer took from Ekman. Margaret says the dialysis treatments have wiped out their savings.
Steve Ekman said he's had to face issues head on a lot in the last decade. He lost his first kidney in 1991 to the cancer, and life expectancy for renal cell carcinoma patients is typically one year.
"You just can't do this passive," he said. "You have to be aggressive or you're not going to last. I would have been gone years ago if I hadn't. Right now, I think God's saying 'Hang on. I might have a miracle for you.'"
Ekman didn't think much about miracles in his younger years. The New Tweedy Brothers originated in Portland, Ore., and gravitated to San Francisco. The quartet created a self-titled album in 1968 that was praised for its vocal harmonies.
By the mid-1970s, though, Ekman was a single parent of two who was disgusted with show business.
"I didn't like music at all," he said. "I had given my heart and soul to music and got nothing in return."
The turning point in his life was during a theological debate with his sister.
"She had just become a Christian," he said. "We had argued about religion and I said 'Just a minute. Let me get my Bible.'
"I can't remember what page it was, but it just jumped out at me ---- just jumped. I had a spiritual conversion. I fell to my knees and told God from that day I would offer my life to him."
The conversion wasn't complete at that moment as much as it was a first step, Ekman said. A major step was learning to enjoy music again. Ekman reconnected to music one day while watching a choir. It was strangely reminiscent of his former life.
"What really inspired me was watching people raise their hands and lose themselves to God through music," he said. "It was very similar to the hippie music. It was very simple. There is a relationship there. ... I knew I was called right away. ...
"Once music's in your lifestyle, it's very difficult to leave you."
More time would pass before Ekman was comfortable with his new stage presence.
"I was called to use my guitar to minister, to lead people to the Lord, but that was years later," he said. "I had to go through cleansing. That was very difficult to do.
"I was used to being up onstage to get applause. That was a performer attitude ---- there's nothing good or bad about it ---- but to be a worshipper you have to lead people to God.
"I miss that. I also miss that connection to God you get onstage. It's a rush."
Ekman directed church music groups in Brea, Fontana and Yorba Linda. Now, even attending church is out of the question for the couple.
"The mornings are just too hard," Margaret said.
Still, the Ekmans have hope. Margaret revels in watching new doctors' faces when they find out a renal cell carcinoma patient has lived for five years without kidneys. Steve Eckman is visited by friends from church, some of whom created a foundation for donors to help defray medical bills. And there is talk of a vaccine being developed in Arizona ---- a blend of the tumor and generic blood to develop cells that can kill the cancer.
Meanwhile, the recordings Steve Ekman helps.
"I get some joy remembering those things," he said.
STEPHEN EKMAN FOUNDATION
C/O Marie Reichelt
2853 Palmetto Lane
Corona, CA 92881