At age eleven, Steve began a songwriting relationship with his friend and neighbor George Bunnell, forming such bands over the years as PSSST!, Waterfyrd Traene and The Plastic Bubble. In 1967, when George joined Strawberry Alarm Clock on bass, and many of the early Batrtek/Bunnell collaborations surfaced on the Strawberry Alarm Clock debut LP “Incense and Peppermints” and subsequent albums. Steve was unable to join the band full time, as he was still in school, but he performed flute on the recordings. He was credited for his contributions and as a songwriter. Steve continued his schooling and studied music composition at UCLA from 1969 to 1974. During this time, Steve and George formed a new band under the name Buffington Rhodes. Though the band had some recognition playing with such bands as Chicago and Ten Years After, recording troubles and unforeseen member difficulties would eventually force the band to split just when they were on the verge of success... Many bands and projects would follow in the years to come, including Little Billy and the Astros, Don Randi and the Quest (the Baked Potato house band), Turbulence, Calamity, Fejj, Little Red Rocket and the Majestic Dance Orchestra; even a stage play about P.T. Barnum.
In 1976, Steve joined the odd musical performance troupe The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. The group had some success providing musical numbers for Richard Elfman’s cult film “Forbidden Zone” (the result of a zany, two-week writing and recording frenzy) and recorded a single for Pelican Records (the “Patty Hearst” 7") and an impressive demo in 1978. They earned many good reviews and press for their odd theatrical stage show, but after years of stage antics the troupe lost momentum and inspiration for their theatrical side and became disenchanted with re-creating the early Jazz era sound. Their original music compositions were evolving and becoming their main focus, but record labels wouldn’t take them seriously as a musical group. The troupe slimmed down their ensemble and focused on a more rock-oriented direction, re-emerging in 1979 simply as Oingo Boingo. They released a self-financed 10" vinyl demo, which caught the attention of IRS Records. IRS then issued a four song “Oingo Boingo EP,” which gained them support from local radio station KROQ. Combined with their track “I’m Afraid” on “L.A. In” and their appearance in the musical documentary “Urg! A Music War,” they generated a lot of local buzz for themselves and finally landed a deal with A&M Records in 1980. At the same time, Steve collaborated with George Bunnell in a band called Speed Bumps, who amassed a large collection of material and likewise interest from A&M... But given the commitments each band would require, Steve would have to choose between the two promising bands. Steve chose to move forward with Oingo Boingo.
Oingo Boingo released their debut album “Only A Lad” in 1981 to mixed critic reviews. But “Only A Lad” was a new and original sound, and coupled with their energetic stage show, the album gained the band a rabid local following and continued support from local radio station KROQ. Their fan base grew stronger with “Nothing to Fear” (1982) and “Good For Your Soul” (1983), but it was “Dead Man’s Party” (1985) that launched them into gold sales ranks and mainstream hits. Oingo Boingo was carving a permanent notch in the musical sound of the decade, finding their way on numerous soundtracks (Weird Science, Bachelor Party, Fast Times At Ridgemont High) that furthered their mainstream appeal and popularity. In 1985, Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman was commissioned into scoring feature films by Tim Burton; and knowing Steve’s training in music composition, Danny enlisted Steve as orchestrator and music arranger for their first film score, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
“BOI-NGO” (1987) saw Oingo Boingo return with a polished energetic edge, and the tracks “We Close Our Eyes” and “Not My Slave” were instant hits. The band released a double live album “Boingo Alive” (1988), a live-in-the-studio collection of favorite hits from the band’s back catalog. The next studio album “Dark at the End of the Tunnel” (1990) was a bold and mature offering, both haunting (“Skin”) and optimistic (“Try to Believe”).
After the release of “Dark at the End of the Tunnel”, Oingo Boingo took a hiatus. Danny and Steve would spend the next couple years concentrating on their score and television works, while other band members found other projects. The downtime was time well spent, as Steve landed his first composing job with “Guilty as Charged” (1991). In 1993, Oingo Boingo once again returned to the forefront, rejuvenated as Boingo with a self-titled album (“Boingo” 1994) on Giant Records. The new material was a change in direction, seeing the band in a more guitar-driven and varied mode. They had once again reinvented themselves. But as the years rolled by and score work became more frequent, an inevitable close was drawing near. Rather than simply fade away, the band announced a final farewell in 1995 and summoning their fans to final sold-out shows of Boingo mayhem. The final moments were released as a double live album and video aptly titled “Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheater” (1996). After years of trying to make a video release, their their final stab was nominated for a Grammy for Best Long Form Live Video (1996).
Since the closing of the Oingo Boingo circus, Steve and Danny have remained at the top of the Hollywood scoring game with such scores as Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow and Big Fish. Steve has helped shape and orchestrate the scores to blockbuster hits year in and year out, and he shows no signs of slowing with his own film and television works. “It’s a complete hoot. I knock on wood; I consider myself very lucky. I’ve done the two major things I wanted to do as a kid: I’ve played in a rock and roll band in front of a lot of people, and I’ve been able to write and work on music for films. Up to this point, life is a charm!” (Steve Bartek, Filmscore Monthly, December 1995).