By October 4, 2018 Read More →

Interview MAMA Lifetime

By Chris Murphy

Steve Ashman
MAMA Award winner and Community Advocate
It is so great when people that excel in one field and then use their talents, fame and skills to do great works in their community. One local organization is so very fortunate to have one such person, Steve Ashman. Steve is the executive director of CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, a local branch of a national nonprofit that advocates for abused and neglected children in the court system. Steve brings to this role, a background that includes founding one of the Bay Area’s most popular bands, Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra in the 1980s and 90s with an amazing global reputation that still plays today. Steve blends his love of music and his passion for advocating for children with excellent results here in Modesto. He gives so much back to the local non-profits and the Modesto Area Music scene and that is why he is the 2018 MAMA Lifetime Award winner. Let’s meet Steve.

MV: Where did you grow up?
SA: Los Angeles, CA

MV: Who inspired you growing up?
SA: My grandfather, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King

MV: What did you want to be when you were in school?
SA: LMAO! Had NO idea!

MV: Why the upside down bass?
SA: A friend of mine needed a bass player and was desperate. I told him I would play (notice: not COULD). I was predictably awful but something made me go and buy a bass the next day. I based my purchase on – of course – what it looked like. So I bought a right handed, fretless bass. The only thing was I play left-handed.

MV: How did ZaSu Pitts Memorial Orchestra get created?
SA: I had been sick for some time and a friend of mine (Philip Lithman, AKA Snakefinger from a SF band, the Residents) asked me to put a band together to open for a project of his. I called a bunch of friends (all of whom were in other bands) and told them I wanted to do a set of 60’s R+B (nobody was doing anything close to it at the time) and the Pitts were born. February 13, 1983 was our first gig at (a now defunct club) the I-Beam in San Francisco.

MV: What was a Hall of Fame memory of ZaSu?
SA: My god there are a ton! I guess for me it’s the relationships I have with my band mates. We really are like a family. I am a Godfather to 3 of the kids born to members of the band. I count many of the members of the band as my favorite people. They are all incredibly talented, but even better humans. I feel lucky to be playing music with them. They are all a gift.

MV: How did CASA find you?
SA: They needed someone who could be a pain in the ass, was driven and wasn’t afraid to risk. I guess I fit the bill. When I began at CASA we were serving 13 kids. Last year we served 231. It’s an extraordinary number – but we still have anywhere from 300-400 kids on our waiting list at any given time.

MV: What is so important about their mission?
SA: We serve many of the most vulnerable children and youth in our community, kids in foster care who have been abused and neglected. We make a positive difference in their lives and try to model the positive possibilities that exist for each and every one of them, regardless of the situation they are in.

MV: How does this help the most vulnerable?
SA: Kids often do not have a ‘voice’ – especially in a complex system like the Court system. Although they have an attorney and a social worker, their attorney often has 120-150 other cases and their social worker can change at the drop of a hat. We hope to provide a consistent, caring adult in their lives that really get to know the child or youth … and not just on paper. If we can connect on a deeper, more personal level with these kids we can advocate for THEIR needs in a world that is often based on an adult’s needs or desires.

MV: What is something people may not know about CASA?
SA: We are small but we are mighty! Our volunteer advocates are amazing and committed – and we need a lot more of them to meet the never ending need.

MV: Are your former band mates supportive of your musical fundraising?
SA: Absolutely. All I have to do is let them know what it is for and they are all in. Every one of them is committed to making the world a better place; again, they are an amazing group of individuals.

MV: How do you see your passion and your profession mixing in the future?
SA: My passion is my profession. I am lucky that I can (and do) lead two very distinctive lives and get to commit to both.

MV: Describe your ideal day in Modesto ?
SA: Aside from hanging out with my family, waking up in the morning and going to court and having all of the kids we serve adopted or in long term positive living arrangements followed by lunch (BBQ preferred) and then a gig with my band and the friends I have made here in Modesto sitting in at the State Theatre with no curfew!

MV: Who would you most like to share the stage with?
SA: Eric Clapton, Bruce Hornsby, Aimee Mann, John Jorgensen, Steve Winwood, Paul McCartney, Jim Gordon

MV: And our traditional question: Beatles or Stones?
SA: Beatles. Although I would like a blood transfusion from Keith Richards.

For more info on CASA and how to volunteer:
To vote for Modesto Area Music Nominees:

About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.