During most of their weekdays, a Chapman couple runs a small music store. On some of their weekends, though, the husband takes the stage or lays down the tracks with notable musicians in Miami, Canada and Las Vegas.
He has also performed on a month-long tour in Australia, at an outdoor concert in Mexico and at Donald Trump’s estate in Mara Lago, Florida.
Steve Fansler grew up in Chapman and moved to Los Angeles at age 26 to work in the music and entertainment industry. After his father, Fred got sick, Steve and his wife, Shelly, moved back to Kansas, where it all began.
At summer band camp while attending Chapman High School, Steve met talented musicians from McPherson, Sterling, Ness City and other Kansas towns. After band camp, Steve and his new friends formed a band of their own and drove to McPherson for their practices. Their primary gig: school dances.
“Back then, high school dances didn’t have DJ’s, they had bands, so we were extremely busy, traveling all around the state playing high school dances,” Steve said. “By the time I was in college, we had already done 200-something.”
Steve and his band-mates convened at Hutchinson Community College, where they all studied musical education and continued to perform at every gig they could.
“We would travel to Wichita and we would actually play seven nights a week and make it back for class the next morning,” Steve said. “Had it not been for jazz band at 9 a.m., we probably wouldn’t have made our first class but since it was a musical class, we did get up for it.”
After graduation, some of the band-mates dispersed, but Steve and band-mate Alan Wellman from Sterling, Kan., stayed on. As the new band, they performed opening shows for Huey Lewis and the News and other well-known groups of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Steve said his highest honor with The Shapes was getting to open for U2.
“They were the hottest group at the time and of course it was jam-packed,” Steve said. “It was the night after their well-known concert at Red Rock in Colorado and the band, I think the band was called The Alarm, was opening for U2 and the lead singer got very ill. All of a sudden, within one day’s notice, we were on stage with U2. So that was the first time any of us were put in that kind of an environment.”
For Steve, it was only the beginning. Shortly thereafter, he quit the band and moved to L.A. for bigger and brighter things.
In Los Angeles, Steve played guitar with a band that was signed to Warner Bros. at the time, but he said most of his experience came through mixing and mastering music at recording studios.
His first project in Los Angeles was for Donna Douglas, who played Elly May Clampett in the CBS television show, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” before starting her musical career as a Christian artist.
Steve also composed and recorded a theme song for a game show with Merve Griffin that was under development. Though she game show never got past development, Steve relished the opportunity to record in the home studio of award-winning jazz musician Herbie Hancock.
During this season, Steve met and married Shelly, who grew up in Arcadia, Calif. He was cruising the road of Hollywood success. Then, a tragedy hit and caused him to change direction.
“We were in California and everything was just going fantastic,” Steve said. “My career was going really, really well. And then my dad had a sudden heart attack.”
Steve said his dad had two major heart attacks in the past, and this time, doctors said if he had another one, it could be the last one.
“Since I had graduated high school from Chapman and left to go to college and pursue my dreams, I thought, this is the only opportunity I’m going to get to spend any time with him,” Steve said. “So we just stopped everything, just put a halt to the career, just gave it up, came back here and took over the farming.”
Steve’s father lived on for two years. During that time, Steve and Shelly lived with Fred and then moved to Manhattan, where Steve edited and produced videos and television episodes for K-State.
Five years after his dad’s death, Steve and Shelly packed up again and headed to Branson, MO.
In Branson, Steve coordinated with Yakov Smirnoff Theatre and played his own dinner show at the Yellow Ribbon Theatre. Within a year, Steve found himself playing guitar for Wayne Newton.
“I was his guitarist and music director and we traveled all over the world,” Steve said. “I did 2,000 shows with him. It was everything that you imagine it would be. It was great.”
After spending four years in Branson, Newton signed a contract with the Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, so the 14-member band and their families moved to Las Vegas in 1999. About a year and a half after moving, Steve resigned from the band to pursue other projects.
“I’d kind of done that and time to move on and do other things,” he said. “There were so many opportunities in Las Vegas, it’s hard to commit to one thing and still explore the potential beyond that.”
After resigning from Newton’s band, Steve started working with other bands that made stops in the city. The Fanslers still have a home in Las Vegas and continue to work there regularly.
“I played the Frank Sinatra tribute television special with Quincy Jones,” Steve said. “That was the highlight of my career.”
Now, the Fanslers lead a simple life.
“We live on the family farm that’s been in the family since the 1800s,” Steve said. “We’re not active in the farming – we rent the ground – but we enjoy living there. We have five miniature horses and it’s just a huge playground. We love hunting and we love nature as well, so it’s a great atmosphere. It’s kind of the opposite of Las Vegas, the lights and the glamour, but it’s a nice balance. If you get a little bored in one place, you can go to the other and fill up on whatever you’re missing.”
During one interview with the Reflector-Chronicle, Shelly spoke over the phone from a garage in Las Vegas. Steve was preparing to play a show the following night at the Henderson Pavilion, where he and longtime collaborator Jeanette Jurado of the ‘80s musical group Exposé opened for 10-time Grammy Award-winner Babyface.
Though the flashier parts of Steve’s musical career take place outside Chapman, Steve said he uses his musical talent, education and experience to give back to the Chapman community.
“We were trying to decide what to do here rather than just hang out and play around. We wanted to do something that we would enjoy but also something that would benefit the community,” Steve said. “When we saw that this building (401 Marshall Avenue) was for sale, we inquired and we said, ‘Well, if we bought it, what would we do with it?’ It’s never been a plan to open a music store but we said, ‘The only kind of business we have any business being in is the music business.’”
More than 150 students have taken lessons from Fansler Family Music. Steve teaches most of the lessons and records students’ CD’s, while Shelly runs the administrative side and teaches beginning guitar lessons and vocal lessons. When the Fanslers are out of town, volunteers manage the store. Fansler Family Music will celebrate its fourth anniversary this Thanksgiving.
“We are planning on putting a studio upstairs so that would be something we are hoping to do in the future,” Steve said. “(We also want to) do more recording in Chapman. There’s so many people that are talented and don’t have a way to get their music recorded without it being crazy-expensive, so that’s something we plan on doing.”