He's a real cowboy with deep Texas roots, but Tommy Shane Steiner is just as comfortable in Hollywood hanging out on the famed Sunset Strip as he is at home in Austin working cattle with the rest of the family.
"After seeing me it always surprises people when they hear me sing," he laughs. "They always say, 'Wow. That's really country.'"
It's country sounding indeed but with a self-described "dry vocal" and plenty of steel guitars with a little bit of banjo in the mix. Steiner's eclectic influences, however, range from George Jones to Elton John and Alabama to Aerosmith and, oh yeah, Limp Bizkit and Michael Jackson. Nevertheless, his debut release, Then Came the Night, for RCA Records is by all accounts a country album not unlike those by other young country crooners with a wide range of influences.
Despite his so-called newcomer status, Steiner was able to recruit some of country's biggest names and Hollywood's prettiest faces into taking part in the project. Randy Travis lent his voice to "I Don't Need Another Reason," crooner Vince Gill sang on "What If She's an Angel," Lonestar's Richie McDonald wrote and sang with Steiner on the up-tempo "Have a Good Time" and actress Bridgette Wilson recorded the spoken word portion of "What Are We Gonna Do About It."
Steiner's first single, "What If She's an Angel," hit "breaker" status on R&R's country airplay chart on the single's initial impact date, debuted at No. 40 on the country singles chart before quickly moving to No. 27 within two weeks and eventually became his first Top 5 hit.
"I like songs that you can picture in your mind as a little movie," he says. "When I listen to a song, I like to close my eyes and see what it looks like."
One such picturesque tune Steiner recorded was "John J. Blanchard." "That's my great-grandfather in a way," he says. While it's by no means autobiographical, it is a song about an elderly man nearing the end of his life after suffering a stroke. "Everyone seems to like him, but they're all wondering what he's thinking."
Steiner's own great-grandfather -- T. C. "Buck" Steiner -- passed away at the age of 101. Having known everyone from Gene Autry to Al Capone, young Steiner often wondered what his great-grandfather was thinking.
"I remember asking him about Al Capone. He said, 'Ah, Al was a great guy. I don't like how he's always made out to be such a mean guy on the television. He'd give you the shirt off his back.'"A tightly knit family that looks out for one another, the Steiners have a long and rich tradition on the rodeo circuit. In fact, Buck -- a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame -- rode with all the old legends, including Pancho Villa, Wild Bill Elliott and Annie Oakley.
Even his grandfather, the late Tommy Steiner, is a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame and the Rodeo Hall of Fame and is widely credited with having helped to turn the sport into the all-encompassing entertainment experience it is today. While it is no surprise Tommy grew up to be an entertainer, especially considering he grew up traveling the country with his 1973 World Champion bull riding father -- Bobby -- and barrel racing mother -- Joleen -- it's a wonder he didn't end up on the rodeo circuit like his younger brother Sid.
"When you're on the road like that, you think everybody's a rodeo cowboy," he says, "and you just assume you're going to be a bull rider, but, to be honest, my dad didn't want me or my brother to join the rodeo. At this point, I'm glad he talked me out of it."
Like three generations of Steiners before him, brother Sid did follow suit and became a steer wrestler. With his blond hair braided in cornrows, Versace jeans and fur-trimmed tiger print shirts, he has quickly earned himself a reputation as a master showman. His antics have even earned him the nickname "Sid Rock," a reference to the outlandish rap-rock star Kid Rock.
Since their childhood, both the Steiner brothers have been close, sharing in each other's successes and failures. It wasn't until February 1998, however, that Tommy understood just how much his brother looked up to him. Having just won the steer wrestling competition at the Houston Rodeo in front of a sold-out crowd of 60,000 people, Sid's post-win interview was being broadcast on the big screen inside the Houston Astrodome.
"Sid's not real technical when it comes to talking about what he does," he explains. "He just says, 'Well, I jumped off that horse and tried to wrestle down that steer as fast as I could.' When they asked him if winning here was a dream of his, he said, 'My dream will come true when I come here to see my brother perform.' It was his time in the spotlight and he used it to talk about me. That was the first time I ever really knew what he thought about me being a singer. You know, that he approved of this. Sometimes you love your brother, because he's your brother and sometimes you love him because you like him. I'm real happy he's found something he likes to do."
Truthfully speaking, Steiner's found his true calling as well. But, singing on stage hasn't always gone quite the way he's expected it to. In fact, after six years of developing his own stage presence and style, he's the first to point out that singing for an audience is a "whole different ballgame" compared to practicing at home in the shower.
Even so, after traveling the Texas club circuit covering every country song played on the radio, Steiner began to develop his own style and delivery. It was a little advice from his father, however, that set the young singer on his way. Considering Bobby had recorded an album of his own in 1974 on an independent label, the younger Steiner listened.
"At a time when everybody was saying, 'Oh, Tommy that was great,'" he remembers, "my dad gave it to me straight. He said, 'You need to move around more. You're a little pitchy.' He wants us to kick everyone's ass no matter what we do."
Although he may have been 22 years old the first time he sang in public the extroverted Steiner has always been looking for a crowd of people. "Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to entertain people," he admits.