Decades ago local musician Steve Eaton lived on a hill outside of Pocatello in a home he jokingly refers to as "the house that The Carpenters built." He would drive to gigs in a Mercedes 350SL.
The 64-year-old Idaho native is now a fixture for the wealthy blue-hair/business-suit set. Almost every Thursday night, you can find Eaton behind the piano, performing jazz and blues in the bar inside Chandlers Steakhouse. Eaton's lifestyle is far more modest than it was back in the '70s. But the royalties he receives from songs he has written, including "All You Get From Love Is A Love Song," which The Carpenters recorded in the late '70s, means that he can afford to "work" one or two nights per week. Those royalty checks, although smaller than in years past, are also reminders that Eaton has had--and continues to have--a fruitful career.
Staring into a cup of coffee as if it were a looking glass to his past, the tall, tan Eaton animatedly talked about the earliest days of performing with his Nashville, Tenn.-based friend Bill LaBounty, with whom he founded a band.
"In '68 or '69, [Bill and I] started this group called Fat Chance," Eaton said. "We got a job at this place called Large David's that used to be over by The Downtowner. One night, Phil Garonzik [a sax player] and Fred Sherman [a horn player] showed up looking for a job. They sat in with us, and it was incredible. It changed the whole group."
Within a few months, the members of Fat Chance took a chance. They packed up their horns, guitars, drums, keyboards and iconic '70s rock sound and moved to Los Angeles. It was 1972, and bands like Chicago, Transit Authority and Blood, Sweat and Tears were radio mainstays. Fat Chance's music was a perfect fit.
Shortly after arriving in L.A., Fat Chance secured a gig at The Troubadour. Luck was still on their side because that night, they were signed to RCA. Before the ink on the contracts could dry, they were touring the United States, opening for British prog-rock band Yes.
Fat Chance's rise to success was followed shortly by a fall. For Eaton, the story of the band's break-up is really no story at all.
"We broke up for stupid reasons," Eaton said enigmatically.
LaBounty moved back to Nashville and would forge an impressive career, not only performing but also writing songs for the likes of Patti LaBelle, Jimmy Buffett, Brooks and Dunn, The Judds and Tim McGraw.
Eaton went on to record solo, releasing 1974's Hey Mr. Dreamer and a self-titled follow-up on Capitol Records.
"I was kind of the Curtis Stigers of that time," Eaton said with a laugh.
In the years following, Eaton moved to Nashville and back to Pocatello. About 15 years ago he moved to Boise. He played with Paul Revere and The Raiders and The Fabulous Chancellors and continued to record. And, like LaBounty, he penned songs for famous singers like Ann Murray, Lee Greenwood, Glen Campbell, Art Garfunkel, The Fifth Dimension and more.
While those songs helped pay the bills, Eaton's success isn't measured only in dollars. He has a studio in his home, where he writes soundtracks and scores for television and film. Eaton has written for the Nature Conservancy, the National Wildlife Federation, and PBS, for which he received two Emmy nominations.
Eaton also writes jingles. If you have heard, "We bring quality home to you / at Michael's Furniture Showplace / uh huh," you have heard an Eaton jingle.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Eaton started the Idaho Songwriters' Group, a loose-knit group associated with The Cabin's Idaho Writers' Guild. ISG members get together about once a month to play and sing their songs for one another. It is because of ISG that Eaton plans to bring LaBounty out to Boise in October.
Regardless of the hit songs, jingles, soundtracks and songwriters organization, Eaton's legacy goes beyond his music.
Two of Eaton's four sons are becoming stars themselves. Marcus is an acclaimed singer/songwriter/guitarist who has caught the attention of music icon David Crosby.
"We bought Marcus a guitar when he was 9 years old, and he has never put it down since," Eaton said proudly.
And son A.J. is a filmmaker whose short The Mix-Up was welcomed into a number of film festivals, including the acclaimed Short Shorts Film Festival in Tokyo. A.J. remembers his dad's stories about Fat Chance.
"My dad would tell us about his band when we were kids. For us, they were like fairytales," A.J. said.
A.J. plans to take the textures of those fairytales and combine them with the facts of his father's career and film a fictionalized account of Eaton, LaBounty and Fat Chance.
A.J. also hopes that a reunion with LaBounty will prompt his father to begin performing more of his original music. Eaton isn't so sure.
"Back in the day, my songs by The Carpenters and Art Garfunkel were on the radio," Eaton said. "By the time I moved back to Boise, no one remembered me.
"I was embarrassed to say, 'This is a song I wrote for The Carpenters.' It made me feel like a geezer, so I reinvented myself and became a jazz piano player."
Eaton may not be living in a house on the hill or driving a Mercedes now, but he knows he has been successful--mainly because he only has to play one gig per week and only if he wants to. With his 65th birthday approaching, that is about all he wants.
"Staying up even until 11 p.m. is tough now," Eaton said with a laugh.