Leonard Kasza said he taught himself how to play music. Born and raised on the southeastern front range of Colorado, he played mandolin, dobro and pedal steel guitar. In 1998, Kasza decided to stick to the steel guitar. He wanted to “get back to basics.” And now, at 80, Kasza plans to retire from a full career that has been much more than “basic.”
On Saturday (Dec. 30), The Swing Dusters will perform a special night of music, including several steel guitar classics highlighting Kasza’s unmatched contribution to the local country music scene. The show is from 8-11 p.m. at the Sagebrush Inn Cantina, 1508 Paseo del Pueblo Sur. There is no cover charge.
As a young performer, Kasza played with the Arkansas Valley Wranglers in Lamar, Colorado. He became their steel guitar player and played regularly on a radio show for a few years and at venues around the region.
Kasza’s wife Katharine said, “We’ve been married for 56 years. When we first got married, he played at drive-in theaters, movie theaters and in some of the biggest dives. Walking around the house, I’ve listened to him play in his room for all these years.”
Originating in the Hawaiian Islands, the steel guitar is positioned horizontally and played with a bar or slide known as a “steel.” The pedal steel guitar is a variation that has pedals to change the pitch of the instrument.
Kasza also played at the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This historic venue has hosted country music royalty such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings, just to name a few.
From 1955-58, Kasza served in the Army, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky, according to a 2015 Tempo article by Ariana Kramer. He worked a short time for the Air Force, but spent the majority of his career working for the Veteran’s Administration in data processing, settling in Austin, Texas. Kasza moved to Taos in 1995.
Since 1998, Kasza has exclusively played his steel guitar. “I prefer the steel guitar and wanted to get back to basics,” he explained.
After playing in Austin, Kasza said he spent years woodshedding and playing on occasion with local duo, Vito y Alan (Vito Trujillo and Alan Vigil). He has been involved with several recording projects, and in 2010, Kasza recorded his own CD, titled “Thistledown.”
Around 2005, he said he started playing with Kim Treiber’s country band, Kim and the Caballeros, until it disbanded. Even though he’s retiring, Kasza hopes to sit in with Treiber. “Kim has been like a daughter to him,” said his wife.
Recently, Kasza has been playing with The Swing Dusters since the group’s inception as Lonesome Town. His final performance on Saturday will be a tribute to the gentleman musician who plays a distinct twangy sound. His wife said, “Leonard used to say: ‘I can make people happy.’ “
When Tempo asked what he would like to say to the people of Taos, Kasza said, “Thank you for coming out to hear me play and all the support you’ve given.”