With determination as his calling card, Grafton’s Steve Vogt has become a

Music Man on a Mission

Steve Vogt overcame a debilitating medical condition that forced him to give up a desk job but eventually led him to take his passion for music to a new level. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Steve Vogt of Grafton made his living solving technical glitches that nobody else could figure out

Then he developed an issue of his own that had the medical community stumped and put a damper on his passion of performing music.

About 20 years ago, Vogt developed pain and weakness in his arms and he wasn’t able to handle his desk job as troubleshooting lines and networks at AT&T.

Vogt’s condition was a mystery for some time, making proper treatment hard to come by.

He tried to return to work, but couldn’t handle his daily routine. Friends had to type for him. He even had to wait to get into the building until someone else came along who could open the door for him.

It was finally decided that Vogt had posterior interosseous nerve (PIN) syndrome and thoracic outlet syndrome, each of which involves compressed nerves with symptoms of pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in arms, hands and fingers.

“It’s amazing how the nerves shut the muscles down,” Vogt said.

He was given exercises and stretching to do, which helped him get better little by little as time went on.

He also had a new career open up. Vogt became a trainer and adviser for AT&T before retiring after 39 years.

“I actually think it was meant to be,” Vogt said.

The conditions made an impact on his musical hobby as well.

For a while, Vogt couldn’t tune his guitar. But he slowly returned to that as well.

He has played for decades, becoming self-taught on guitar in 1968 after watching his neighbor play.

“I said, ‘I’ve got to do that,’” he said.

Vogt did that and more. He can play harmonica, Native American flute, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, dobro, bodhran, Cajun drum and autoharp. He is slowly teaching himself the fiddle.

When Vogt shows up for a gig, he can fill in for nearly any part.

“I learned all these instruments to fulfill a need,” he said.

Vogt plays with a host of musical groups, from the locally popular String Along String Band to a few duos and a band called Some Assembly Required, which plays light and classic rock, polkas, waltzes and folk music. It is made up of church members from Community United Methodist Church in Cedarburg.

He either plays solo or with his groups for a variety of audiences and has become a music mentor, teaching people to teach themselves how to play, as well as handling the business aspect of booking gigs.

Vogt said he doesn’t like to make music about himself.

“You don’t play for yourself. You play for your audience,” he said. “You might not be playing your favorite songs.”

He can see the power music has firsthand. Vogt said audience members who arrive in bad moods and sometimes arguing will be hugging by the end of a show.

Vogt sometimes plays original songs for hospice patients, usually his own relatives or those of friends, and he plays therapeutic music.

“One person said their pain went away,” he said.

He often plays guitar for those gigs, but he always brings a Native American flute.

“It brings such an ambiance to the room,” he said.

While playing at Harbor Campus senior living facility in Port Washington, Vogt asks for audience participation and will see people clap, talk, sing and sway in their wheelchairs.

Some of those residents, he was told, don’t talk otherwise.

He said a Harbor Campus employee told him, “Steve, you can’t stop doing this.”

Another of Vogt’s musical endeavors is Guitars for Vets, a national nonprofit organization started in Milwaukee in 2007 that teaches veterans guitar to ease symptoms of physical and mental conditions. Vogt retaught Dave McMahon, a World War II veteran in the memory care section of Newcastle Place senior living community in Mequon how to play guitar again. McMahon hadn’t played in decades.

After 10 lessons, Guitars for Vets got McMahon his own guitar, “and now he can play along with somebody and he’s so happy,” Vogt said.

Vogt played with McMahon a couple of times, including a benefit for Alzheimer’s patients and at Guitars for Vets’ 21 Guitar Salute last month at the Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee.

McMahon told Vogt he never played for so many people before.

“You can see how proud he is,” Vogt said.

Vogt let him use his already-tuned guitar, and “boy, did he take off on that,” he said.

The pair have two songs, “Make It Up As You Go,” and “Look Mom, No Hands.” During the latter song, McMahon strums with his right hand while leaving his left hand off the guitar.
Vogt plays along to “bring in some drama and soul.”

At some gigs, Vogt will ask the audience to pick a theme for a song. A sheet gets passed around and each person writes a line about the topic.

Vogt and his group then pick a chorus and key, and sing the new lyrics. He remembers one song was about Mountain Dew.

“Every time you sing somebody’s verse, they all light up,” he said.

At Belgium Gardens, Vogt had one resident strum along with the band on a pretuned guitar.

At Rosati’s Pizza in Grafton, Vogt said, the entire kitchen staff came out to see a boy about 7 years old move his hand back and forth to strum under Vogt’s guidance.

“The thing about being a musician is being approachable,” he said.

Vogt always carries a harmonica in his pocket and once played the “Star Spangled Banner” for a youth team at Helfaer Field next to Miller Park in Milwaukee.

“The kids got a big kick out of that. It really loosens them up,” he said.

Vogt has done gigs with C.C. Carmickle, from the River West radio show “Live: Welcome to Reality.” He plays original music while Carmickle adds lyrics.

As a music mentor, he teaches people how to play in front of an audience, set up instruments and technical equipment and the business aspect, including billing and tax forms.

“All of the music people I’ve been involved with have been amazing people. It’s not like that everywhere,” he said.

Now 65 and a grandfather of four, Vogt is learning to read music through a 6-year-old grandchild’s piano lessons.

Vogt said he has grown spiritually through his physical hardships and today is in the best shape of the last 20 years of his life.

“You take it day to day and realize it’s a gift,” he said.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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