Punk & Hardcore

Remembering Phoenix Punk Rock Royalty: Steve 'Stevie D' Davis Has Died at 64

Steve Davis performing with the U.S. Bombs, with bandmate Dave Barbee in the background.
Steve Davis performing with the U.S. Bombs, with bandmate Dave Barbee in the background. Jeremie 'bacpac' Franko

Steve “Stevie D” Davis, bass player, painter, and author, died on April 14, 2021, at the age of 64. Survived by his son, Aries, his mother, Judith, and countless family and friends, Davis leaves a legacy of devotion to the finer arts of kindness, caring, and steadfast friendship.

Since October 2018, when he was given three months to live due to his battle with liver cancer, Davis seemed to embrace living each day as if it were his last. He turned a fatal diagnosis that would have stopped many in their tracks into enough inspiration to double down on creating a legacy through his music, art, and writing.

After spending his early years in Illinois, Davis moved to Phoenix with his mother and his brother, Mark, settling in central Phoenix near what was then known as the Colonnade Mall (near 20th Street and Camelback Road).

He went to Camelback High School and often went to concerts like T.Rex, the Jam opening for BeBop Deluxe at Celebrity Theatre, or the Ramones opening for Black Sabbath. Davis loved to share stories of his early concertgoing days — not just because his first concerts were cooler than everyone else’s, but because Davis truly loved the music that shaped him as a musician.

In the early '80s, Davis played bass in a group called the Shivers, was the first of many bands he would play in. The Shivers had a less-than-stellar reputation around town due to its members' serious heroin addictions. Davis spoke of those days with an odd mixture of nostalgia and regret, but also hopefulness.

“[Bartenders and doormen] used to see us coming and run us off when we went to shows a lot of the time. They were worried we were going to steal something or nod off at the bar," Davis said in a 2020 interview. "When [Madison Square Gardens on Van Buren] came along in the early '80s, we would go see bands there and just sort of hang back or sit in the bleachers. The young kids thought we were freaks … and we were, but it was also good, for me, to see what they were doing. I loved the energy they had.”

Davis’ true punk rock legacy comes from his time in the band Glass Heroes, which started in the early 1990s. While the band’s activity has slowed down significantly, it played live as recently as the early 2020, just prior to the pandemic shutting down the music scene. The Heroes, as they are generally known here in Phoenix, were characterized by '70s punk swagger and sound. Davis’ Dee Dee Ramone-inspired bass playing, was an excellent complement to Steve Shelton and Keith Jackson’s '70s British punk-inspired guitars.

“I first met Stevie D at the Sun Club in 1991. I had gone to see Hell Fire play, and his long black hair, leather jacket, and beat up boots were iconic. [Davis] was sitting alone outside smoking. I asked him if he wanted to start a band and with that amazing, heartwarming smile, he said, ‘Sure,’ and thus began a close to 30-year relationship in the Glass Heroes. He was the kindest and truest heart I’ve ever known, and the world is so much smaller without him,” shares Jackson.

In addition to the Glass Heroes, Hell Fire, and Shivers, Davis also played in the Brand, the U.S. Bombs, and most recently in both Stevie and the Sleaze and a collaboration with local musician Robert Shipp under the moniker Stevie D and R. Shipp, which featured Davis on lead vocals/storytelling.

“It was kind of done mosaic-style, like puzzle pieces put together. He was always cool. I never saw Steve raise his voice, ever, in 40 years of friendship, unless he was saying, ‘Hey, ho’ about a Ramones thing. He was a peaceful guy and a sweet man and he was super-easy to create with,” says Shipp.

The last few years had been, as Shelton describes, the “true renaissance” of Davis’ life. He toured the country with U.S. Bombs just before and then after he was given three months to live in 2018. Davis also began to paint more prolifically and began the process of sharing his life through stories and haiku that detailed his years of being a musician, addict, lover, and friend.

He turned his battle with heroin addiction into a story of recovery and hope; his 2020 book, The Unexpectedly Long Life of Stevie D, features several stories that neither glorify nor disparage the path he had been on in his younger years.

He was working on a second book, a memoir that was close to completion, for R & R Press, which is run by Maggie Rawlings Smith and Brian Jabas Smith. All proceeds from both the memoir, which is now in editing, and The Unexpectedly Long Life of Stevie D will be given to Davis’ son, Aries, according to Rawlings Smith.

“He was pretty honest, and there was no reason to fake any of it or to exaggerate it or color it in hyperbole. It is so sad, though, but he was so graceful in the end, and so grateful. I’ve never known anybody who died with such acceptance. He knew about it for a long time, we all did, and that’s why it’s not so difficult. It’s such a cliché, but he’s better off even though it’s so sad when people leave the physical presence,” says Jabas Smith.

“His perspective of the world (was) so enlightened and (he had an) incredibly generous spirit. I always have treasured my interactions with him and always walked away feeling better,” says Rawlings Smith of R & R Press.

As the news of his death spread around the Phoenix scene, the words of his bandmates poured in.

“My fondest memory of Stevie will be seeing him up there on stage with his beat-up Fender bass, low slung down around his knees, and that punk pout on his kisser. I will always remember being at a [Stevie and the] Sleaze rehearsal, our shoulders pushing back against each other, with our mouths pressed against a single mic, looking straight into each other’s eyes in ecstatic, electric, punk rock oblivion,” says Jeremie "bacpac" Franko.

Brandon Meunier, who played with Davis in the U.S. Bombs, says, “He will forever be remembered and cherished as one of the sweetest and most understanding people in my life. He never failed to impress with me with how he handled life. We talked a lot while out on the road and were often the first people up, jonesing for coffee (until he switched to tea), and him telling me stories over the music coming from our phones.”

In speaking with many of his friends, the overarching message that came through was Davis was the genuine article. He was punk rock royalty in Phoenix, but more importantly than that, he was a prince of a man with a genuine curiosity about the world around him and how to make it more beautiful.

“I was stoked for him when he started painting and writing and trying to diversify his artistic expression,” says Jaime Paul Lamb, Davis’ bandmate in Stevie and the Sleaze. “Stevie definitely carried the punk rocker ethos into other pursuits, and that sometimes means putting some underdeveloped material out there. Stevie never learned how to play the bass, or paint, or write, or anything – he was just a punk rocker who actually believed he could do whatever he wanted and trusted that it would be cool because he fucking emanated coolness.”

That he did. Rest in power, Stevie D. We will miss you.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon