Sitting on a dock at Bone Lake, pianist Steven C peered out at the sun-splashed pontoons and speedboats gathered in front of him. On this picturesque afternoon near Luck, Wis., his fingers glided across his electric keyboard sending "Summer Breeze" and other lite-FM hits to his nautical audience.
The veteran Twin Cities musician knows so many of these 1970s and '80s favorites that he just released a 100-song collection called "Yacht Rock Piano." That's right: 100 tunes. Five hours and 25 minutes of music.
"While sitting on Bone Lake watching the sunset, my girlfriend put on the Pandora yacht-rock channel and something hit me, between the sunset, the lake, the water and this music," said the prolific pianist. "I got a vision of four 25-song playlists. For some reason, I couldn't let that go. It was an obsession."
So he offers Little River Band's "Reminiscing," the Beach Boys' "Kokomo" and, of course, Christopher Cross' "Sailing," interpreted as piano instrumentals (sorry, no vocals).
Steven C — Steve Anderson to his family — is a prince of piano instrumental music, a categorization he prefers over New Age or easy listening. He has sold more than 2 million albums and chalked up millions of streams under his nom de piano. He's produced hundreds more records, many of them nature CDs formerly sold at push-button kiosks at Target. His music has been heard on "Oprah," "The Today Show" and the Discovery Channel, among other places.
"Yacht Rock Piano" arrives from Time Life, home of those late-night infomercials for oldies collections of "Malt Shop Memories" and "Ultimate Soul Ballads."
Even though it's teeming with memories and trivia (name that tune sans lyrics), the new Steven C collection is something of an outlier for Time Life.
"The theme and the nostalgia aspect really work for us, but it doesn't fall into the nice little round hole that we typically do with our releases," said Tom Hemesath, vice president of sales at Time Life. "I wasn't familiar with the concept of yacht rock, but Steven sent me some of the songs and they were just gorgeous how he reimagined them."
These aren't rote, Muzak-y renditions of hits by Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers and the like. Anderson slows down the tempo on "Takin' It to the Streets" and adds orchestration to "Sailing."
"If it was done like the song on the radio, it would be kind of boring," he said. "Sometimes I'll actually slow it down at the chorus, which is the opposite of what pop music does. ... It's a curveball."
But not one that will fool his audience.
"People don't tune into my music to rock out," Anderson said. "I think sometimes when you slow it down, you can find a new voice to it, a new beauty."
He's caffeinated, music isn't
Twin Cities keyboardist Tommy Barbarella, who has known Anderson for more than 30 years, understands the Steven C style.
"He plays a lot of high notes. It's the tinkly thing," said Barbarella, who has gigged with Prince, the Steeles and Nick Jonas. "It's very melodic. It's not too far out there or too aggressive. It's beautiful and simple enough for the non-musician to enjoy. It's what he's always done."
The mellowness of Anderson's music contrasts with his highly caffeinated personality. At 55, he's an ambitious dynamo who has served up more successful pitches than the Twins bullpen.
"He's such a hustler, always working," said Barbarella.
Hemesath has known Anderson since the 1990s, when they worked on those nature recordings. "When you sit down on a call with Steven, he puts his business hat on. He's an incredible musician but very, very smart businessman with a lot of ideas. I love his ideas."
The fast-talking Anderson does love his coffee, but "when it's time to play the piano, I morph into a different zone — decaf."
"I'm trying to cut off coffee at, like, 1 p.m.," he added.
Left piano on Summit Ave.
Having recently moved to Bone Lake, Anderson left his main instrument — a 9-foot-6, Austrian-made Bösendorfer, the Lamborghini of pianos — on Summit Avenue in St. Paul.
Before getting divorced, he lived in two different mansions on the celebrated street. His piano, purchased in 1996, now resides in the back dining room of a stately home where he rents space. He typically visits it thrice weekly: "It's just a little bigger commute."
Some of Anderson's "Yacht Rock" tunes are solo piano, some have light accompaniment and some are more heavily orchestrated.
"He wanted 'Sailing' to be his signature song, so I put more into it than some of the others, " said Barbarella, who arranged a handful of selections for Anderson and also arranges for Minnesota Orchestra pops concerts. "He gave me free rein. I love all those songs, too; they're on my all-time playlist. I know how he plays. I'm not going to take it in a super-jazz direction. It's easy listening with a little different spin."
Big in Texas
Growing up in St. Louis Park, Anderson started piano lessons at age 7 and earned a degree in piano and pipe organ performance at Hamline University. He plays every Sunday at Church of St. Joseph in West St. Paul and at the occasional wedding, funeral or private party. For five of the last six years (not in COVID-canceled 2020), he has presented free Christmas concerts at the Cathedral in St. Paul.
Despite what his piano teachers may have told him, Anderson no longer practices. "Maybe I should," he said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "I perform and I play."
His biggest "hit song" is "Daybreak," with more than 16 million streams.
"I have a lot of different music on a lot of different streams," he said. "With 'Daybreak,' that might equate to maybe $250 a month, which is a lot of streams when you're talking a fraction of a penny [per stream]. A lot of my contemporary Christian stuff does good on the streams."
Anderson gets demographic data from Pandora.
"I'm big in Texas," he said. "I never would have thought of that."
Time Life isn't offering CDs of "Yacht Rock Piano." It's strictly streaming for the business that used to be perceived as sort of an upscale K-tel. No longer affiliated with the book publishing house (that ended in 2001), Time Life still releases compilations and collections (coming soon: a six-DVD Dolly Parton set), but it also works with individual artists on new material.
With its Saguaro Road imprint, Time Life grabbed Grammys with records by the Blind Boys of Alabama and Patty Loveless. The company has handled projects by Joan Osborne, Angie Stone and even the Original 7ven, the latter-day resurrection of Minneapolis Sound pioneers the Time.
And now it has Steven C.
He has already launched into his next project: "Classic Rock Piano," with 100 songs including "Stairway to Heaven" and "Free Bird," expected for release later this year.
Anderson once dreamed of becoming as big as Yanni. Now he just grabs his portable piano and plays dock concerts.
"I was trying to become a household name — a rich and famous musician," he said. "I let go of that a whole bunch of years ago. 'Yacht Rock Piano' could flop, but I take so much joy in just creating it."