The basement of Rob Eldridge’s McDonald home provides a fascinating window into two very different worlds in which he excels.
At the center hangs a gigantic TV, perfect for playing video games and watching sports. Nearby there’s a weight bench and workout area. Go left or right, and you’ll see either Eldridge’s home recording studio or his collection of albums and vintage sound equipment, both impressive.
Real life or metaphorically speaking, sports and music are never terribly far apart for Eldridge.
“It’s important to have that balance in my life,” said Eldridge, who has been the South Fayette boys soccer coach since 2007 and a professional musician for much of his adult life. “I’m sort of a restless person. I need to be doing things.”
Among WPIAL coaches, Eldridge, 48, likely holds the distinction of also being the only one who has produced a collection of songs that you can purchase on iTunes.
Eldridge’s band, Steelesque, released “Toro Toro” on June 23. Eldridge not only wrote everything on the six-song EP, but he plays guitar, piano and banjo and sings.
The yin and yang of music and sports is downright essential for Eldridge, a Vermont native who’s as energetic as he is creative.
“Music, teaching and coaching are all important to me,” said Eldridge, who teaches health and physical education at South Fayette High School. “To have them work together is a good homeostasis spot for me; it levels me out.”
Eldridge was exposed to music early in life. His grandfather was an opera singer, and his grandmother would often accompany him on piano. Meanwhile, his father, Bob, was big into rock ‘n roll and got his son hooked on the Vietnam-era greats.
The younger Eldridge took trombone lessons in school, but it never stuck — too boring for a rambunctious, sports-obsessed young boy.
So Eldridge spent the bulk of his time playing sports and did so all the way through college, where he played soccer at Johnson State College in Vermont.
In his early 20s, Eldridge began writing songs and taught himself guitar as a way to extract the melodies from his head and put them to his words.
“They were trapped,” Eldridge said. “Teaching myself how to play guitar freed them.”
Eldridge spent time in a few bands but soured on the music scene. He eventually went back to school to get his master’s in education and started coaching at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
That’s where Rob met his wife of 20 years, Kim, who was hired to start the women’s lacrosse program at Duquesne University in 1996, bringing the Eldridges to Pittsburgh.
Do something ‘Steelesque’
Steelesque formed about three years ago through a group of Eldridge’s friends who are all creative — musicians, filmmakers and actors.
“When we get together, we talk about what we want to do in terms of what we create,” Eldridge said. “We said it would be nice to do something that was ‘Steelesque,’ meaning it came from our city.”
It’s essentially a talent-sharing service for the group.
“If a filmmaker needs music for his project, I can provide it,” Eldridge said. “If I want video representation of my music, they can provide it.”
This is the third different lineup of players for the group. As for Steelesque’s sound, it sits very much in Eldridge’s influential wheelhouse, with a serious twinge of the Rolling Stones.
Other bands that have helped Eldridge cultivate his style include The Verve, Radiohead, Oasis, Wilco, the Grateful Dead, Phish, Tom Petty, Levon Helm and the Band.
As fun as playing shows is — Steelesque played Cefalo’s in Carnegie for that CD release party in late June — Eldridge doesn’t have any visions of touring with big-time acts.
“I don’t wake up every day looking for a record deal,” Eldridge said.
Or fame and fortune, for that matter.
Enjoying what he’s doing remains Eldridge’s only goal.
“I really don’t need much besides my family and my instruments,” Eldridge said. “I really don’t need my instruments, either. I can always get other instruments.
“I want to make enough money to provide for my family, but I’m more apt to be driven by having good relationships with people.”
Keep it simple
As much as Eldridge loves playing music, he may enjoy writing more.
On a recent trip back home to visit his parents, Eldridge got caught up observing a hummingbird around a cedar tree and some sugar water and started working off the idea of “cedar and feeder,” scribbling lyrics to a song within minutes.
“I will say I’m blessed from the standpoint that I don’t have writer’s block,” Eldridge said. “If someone said you had 10 days you have to write 10 songs, I could do that. They might not all be masterpieces, but there will be songs written nonetheless.
“I don’t try to over-complicate things.”
Eldridge believes music and soccer are extremely similar.
As a coach, Eldridge is always looking to accentuate a certain player’s skill, the same way a band might lean on a strong musician to carry a certain section of a song.
You’re also zeroing in on specific responsibilities.
“If I find a kid who’s super-fast and has a great right foot, I can make him a right back or a right midfielder,” Eldridge said. “If you’re teaching someone how to play guitar, you’re not sending them home saying, ‘Go learn your piano scales.’ Keep it sport- and positional-specific.”
‘I’m not gifted’
When Eldridge was 8 or 9 years old, growing up in northern Vermont, that’s when he really started to notice his high energy level and strong work ethic.
He’d wake up at 5 or 6 every morning, walk outside and notice the milkman, the carrier for the Burlington Free Press and nobody else.
Eldridge worked out a deal to deliver part of the route for $0.50 a week, then later went full-time despite his crazy young age.
After getting home from school, Eldridge would have to fill the wood bin with firewood so the family’s house had heat.
“I’m not gifted. Everything that I do is based on work ethic,” he said. “I’ve worked my whole life to get to where I am. I don’t garner the success I’ve had as a coach without rolling up my sleeves and working my tail off to be good at it. Music’s the same thing. You have to make time for it and work at your craft.”
Rob and Kim have three sons: Ray, Gavin and Chad. Ray plays football and recently accepted a scholarship to Richmond. Gavin and Chad are soccer players.
None of the three are heavy into music like dad, but Chad, now 14, has been showing signs recently, hopping into the studio to analyze hip-hop beats.
“It’s neat because most of our conversations have been about doing well in school, working hard in the offseason and being a good teammate,” Rob Eldridge said. “Now we’re starting to talk about being creative.”
That yin-and-yang approach — it’s how Eldridge loves to describe his life — has worked out well so far, and there’s no signs of change ahead.
Eldridge, who also coaches a pair of Beadling club teams, said he has turned down several jobs in other cities because he loves Pittsburgh so much, specifically how well it marries arts and sports.
“I really enjoy watching people perform and going to art exhibits and seeing the creative part of the city,” Eldridge said. “I also love watching the Steelers, coaching the boys up and going to Friday night football games.
“It’s a great lifestyle. Plus, I know I have a good window of creativity left and a good window of coaching left.”
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