Torrington musician 'finally had the chance' to finish album after 30 years during pandemic

It’s never too late to make your musical dreams come true. Ask Steve McGrath.

The Torrington-based singer-guitarist decided to use the downtime from his live performing schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to complete a project 30 years in the making — his debut album.

“It’s been one of those years where you have to kind of create some projects for yourself to make up for the lack of stage time,” said McGrath during a recent interview.

“I’m primarily a live performer, so I managed to stay busy when the weather was nice. Now, the gigs are all drying up with the cold weather. So I thought it was a good time to wrap this project up that I’ve had on my mind for years, and I finally had a chance to do that.”

McGrath’s album, titled “A Cast of Characters,” features a dozen original tunes, some new and others that had their beginnings decades ago.

As the songwriter explained, the genesis of the project coincided with the opening of a recording studio in Middletown, where most of the songs, both new and old, were made.

“I had made friends with Michael Arafeh when he first opened his recording studio in Middletown called The Coffeehouse. That’s when I started laying down ideas for original songs, back in 1991.

“He had a 12-track analog studio in those days. Of course, now he’s completely state of the art, unlimited amount of tracks, fully digital. So he’s really grown with the business.”

Those early tracks remained in the “vaults” in various stages of completion for years, until McGrath met up with Arafeh again more than two decades later.

“I ran into Michael about five years ago — I think it was at one of my gigs — and I said, ‘What do you say if we go through the vaults and see what we’ve got in there, and see if we can get this stuff out and sounding good?’ And from there, it grew into ‘Well, let’s add some new songs to this as well.’

“For the past five years, it’s been a process of digging out these old tapes, bringing them back to life, transferring them to all the new equipment, adding overdubs, calling people in to make recordings, and then making brand-new songs and brand-new recordings to add to the project.”

Half the album features new material, while the other half features McGrath’s original analog recording sessions, and the recent revival process of the old tracks led to some interesting musical combinations.

“In some cases, you have a bass player in 2020 playing along to a drummer who put down the tracks in 1991,” he said. “It’s kind of been a cool project in that regard.”

McGrath is a Connecticut native, originally from Cromwell. He began performing on stage at Cromwell High School in variety shows and talent shows, and then got his first professional gigs when he was 18. He started playing in bars and clubs and has been doing it ever since.

He grew up influenced by the Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin and others, and his original music reflects an eclectic blend of acoustic and electric songs.

He’s been in bands for most of his performing career, including a ’60s tribute band called The Happening. For the past 10 years he’s played as a soloist and with the band Mixed Signals.

Although music has always been a big part of his life, he still considers himself a part-time musician, and he hasn’t quit his day job. He is a foreman at Horton Brasses, a specialty metal shop in Cromwell, where he’s worked for the past 27 years.

“I’ve never been a full-time musician, as much as I dreamed about being one. I just never had the opportunity to really go down that road fully. I went from high school to the working world,” said the 54-year-old musician.

“But I have been staying busy performing music for many, many years. In a normal year of pre-COVID, I’d play three, four nights a week. It’s kept me busy. “

McGrath’s disc was released earlier this month on iTunes. CDs are available through his Facebook music page and at

The disc turned into a family affair, too. McGrath’s daughter, Lainey, sings vocals on one track, and his cousin Todd McGrath plays keyboard on the same song. Todd and his wife, Katina, a local artist and photographer, designed the album’s cover and CD art.

The musician’s next project is already in the works.

“I’m still writing songs,” he said. “Matter of fact, I have another 12 songs, all written and ready to start recording for the next project, which will go much quicker this time.

“I’m hoping to have another album out by the end of 2021, so we’ll see how that goes.”

Mike Horyczun is a freelance writer.