By Kelly Baughman
Steve Wilkerson dazzles crowds with his soulful voice and fingers that fly feverishly over the keys alongside some of the most notable acts along the Gulf Coast. Originally from Meridian, Mississippi, Wilkerson’s sound is steeped deep in the blues that originated in the delta region. His southern drawl and warm personality draws crowds in while his music is packed with soul from influences like Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Lyle Lovett and many more.
Wilkerson came from a musical family, having been raised singing in church by parents who both played piano and dabbled in various forms of music. “I took piano lessons as a kid, but it didn’t stick. It wasn’t until I went to college that I gave it another shot. I went to my dad for some pointers, and it was then that I realized just how talented he really was,” he said.
Wilkerson said that once he learned the basics from his dad, he played the old upright piano he had so much that the keys literally fell off. “I got so into it, that it was all I wanted to do,” he said.
Once Wilkerson began playing music seriously, he joined bands that he said hit the “SEC circuit” and ran in the same circle as many of the legendary honky tonkers we know and love like Wayne Mills.
Once he moved to the Gulf Coast, Wilkerson found that his next door neighbor was local favorite and The Voice alumni, Shawna P. “I knew this place was a hub for great music, but I didn’t know a whole lot of people or how to get gigs. Shawna P became a good friend and helped me break into the scene,” he said. “She’s probably the best female vocalist I’ve ever worked with.”
Wilkerson said that like his friend Jack Robertson, oddly enough he began his career on the Gulf Coast playing the Flora-Bama with the band Jezebels Chillin’. “Donna Slater saw me on stage one night with Shawna P, and asked me to join the band. I did, and that kind of introduced me to the music scene here. I’m very thankful to Donna and Cathy Pace for that opportunity,” he said.
Now, Wilkerson hangs his keys with talent like Jack Robertson, Mark Laborde, Preston Stanfill, and many more. “These guys are incredible musicians. It didn’t happen overnight for any of them. They worked hard for it, and it shows. Being able to play with that level of talent has definitely made me a better musician,” he said of his comrades.
Wilkerson will be on stage three weekends a month on Friday and Saturday night with Big Earl from 5:30 to 9:30 pm. On Thursdays, you’ll find Wilkerson on the Dome stage at the Flora-Bama for the Dueling Pianos show from 5:30 to 9:30 pm.
A high-energy, request-driven, rock ’n’ roll sing-along experience is what you get when you watch Wilkerson work his magic on stage at his Dueling Pianos show, along with partners Frankie Golden and Joe Agerton. The trio is known for their craftsmanship, deep repertoires and unique personalities. All you need do is sit back, sing along and enjoy.
While Wilkerson also plays guitar and plans to incorporate more of that into his shows, piano is the ultimate instrument in terms of skill and demand. Two hands have to play together simultaneously while navigating 88 keys playing up to 10 notes at a time. To manage all those options, pianists have to develop a totally unique brain capacity. But Wilkerson said as challenging as it is, he loves the piano, unique subculture of Dueling Pianos, and the people that love it.
Wilkerson writes his own music and has recorded an album that he calls “a genre-less display” that included jazz, blues, rock, and country, with a tinge of gospel. “I think it does help being versatile in your style of music because you appeal to a large variety of people. The Flora-Bama is a unique piece of Americana where no matter who you are outside these doors, when you walk in here, you’re the same as everyone else. I am truly proud to be able to be a part of a special place like that,” he said.
As for what’s next for Wilkerson, he said he plans to record more of his material in the near future and plans to continue playing his shows at the Flora-Bama and beyond. And while he has a teenage son and daughter that he said, “much like me at that age, they have no interest in music right now”, he hopes that one day they might look to him for musical guidance like he did to his dad. “Whether they ever want to pursue music or not, I just hope they find whatever it is that makes them happy because that’s what I’ve been able to do.”
For more information on Steve Wilkerson, look for him on Facebook or check Perdido Key Live’s music schedule for upcoming show information.