Let’s be honest. Almost everyone who has ever picked up a guitar and hacked away at a few chords has most likely had the dream, even if only fleeting, of how cool it would be to quit their day job and be able to make a living with just that hunk of wood and those six strings.
Most of those dreams involve gold records, world tours, Lamborghini’s and girls in bikinis and… well you know that dream. That is also why that dream evaporates pretty quickly, it’s a bit like winning the lottery. However, there may be other less likely roads to the dream of quitting your job and making a living with your guitar.
Enter Anthony Stauffer. Anthony was a regular guy. Although he had played in bands in college when he graduated with his Bachelors in Electrical Engineering, he took a job with a small software company to do tech support. In his words, “Basically, I became a nerd. The company encouraged me to hone my programming skills on the job. I was soon working 100% on programming, and it stayed this way for about 5 years. I started learning graphic and web design skills along the way, and by 2005 I was doing all of their graphic design and maintaining their website.”
Although he had no real teaching experience, and didn’t really feel he had the personality for private lessons, he had a dream. “I had a deep understanding of ‘how’ I understood what I could play, and I dreamed about creating an instructional series of DVDs almost as soon as I began learning guitar.”
Anthony launched this dream in 2007 with the introduction of his website “StevieSnacks.” In just two years his income from lesson sales surpassed what he earned at his tech job and he had a decision to make. “I began with free lessons, but soon was authoring full courses. My free time (as a new father) was disappearing. Most of 2009 was quite stressful, trying to balance my responsibilities as an employee, father, and owner of a rapidly growing business. I knew the business would not continue growing if I didn’t have time to create new lessons.”
But that is how dreams work. Once they are knocking at your door…you better answer. So answer he did. Actually Anthony puts a very unique spin on it; ”People talk about chasing your dream, finding your passion…but in my case, the dream took off almost by accident and I had to leave my job to keep up.”
StevieSnacks featured Stevie Ray Vaughan licks. But why SRV licks? What was it about Stevie that appealed to Anthony enough to make him devote his entire business to teaching one guys licks? “Stevie’s playing sounded like what I was feeling. That didn’t happen with anyone else. Nobody had ever talked to me about depression, so as a college student struggling with it, Stevie’s playing was a voice for things I couldn’t express any other way. Cynical people mock young players who copy Stevie, and I understand why. But back then it was the only way I knew how to deal with what I was feeling. Also, his playing made sense to me in a very logical and mathematical way. In my engineering classes we were learning about systems and subsystems. In my spare time, I was discovering patterns and sub-patterns in Stevie’s playing. It felt very much like doing math. That was beautiful to me, and very intellectually stimulating.”
Go with what you know. Many times as musicians we are chasing a style, or a player’s technique, or the latest trend. But Anthony just went with what his heart told him. No wonder the dream paid off.
I remember the first time I heard Anthony teaching a lesson, I admit, I was one of those “cynics” that he talks about. I had heard a million guys copying SRV licks, trying to nail his tone. But, Anthony’s lesson was different. He DID nail the tone, he seemed to actually get what Stevie was trying to say instead of just learning the shape and repeating it. After hearing him play, I knew his teaching style which he describes as “low-key, approachable, and engineering-minded” would be perfect for our TrueFire students, and contacted him to share his talent with us.
He has an authentic sound, which he attributes to his focus. “When I play, it sounds like someone who has spent a great deal of time living in that genre — not someone who dabbles in that style from time to time. My lack of versatility was actually attractive to guys who really only cared about the blues.” It is exactly that style and sound that resonates so well with TrueFire students.
Anthony has since re-engineered StevieSnacks into his new website Texas Blues Alley which was a “culmination of nearly a year of dreaming, planning, and late night coding. Where StevieSnacks was an accidental success (and named with very little thought), Texas Blues Alley was deliberate. TXBA is the business I wanted StevieSnacks to be.”
For parting advice Anthony offers this. “The blues was not a part of my history at all. I grew up singing 4-part harmony in the Mennonite church, worked on a pig farm for 3 summers, and listened to techno music in high school before being rescued by classic rock. What I want people to know is that they’re free to play whatever music they want no matter what background they have. You don’t have to justify the music you want to play to anyone.”
Here at TrueFire we are mostly a bunch of dreamers, so we are proud to have Anthony in our family and to support his continuing dream. Going from nerdy-Mennonite-pig farming-techno dude to an amazingly authentic successful Texas blues guitarist…yep…just another normal rock and roll dream fulfilled.