[Photo: Steve Coughlin performs (Submitted Photo)]
By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Singer-songwriter and musician Steve Coughlin has led an interesting life to say the least: he’s traveled the world while serving in the Navy and worked as a police detective, and now he and his band are headlining music concerts all across the South.
Coughlin will be coming home to Hoke County this November for the first time in years, and he’s bringing his band with him for a concert he hopes will reunite many old friends for a night of all-original Americana music.
“If you like the Eagles, if you like Bob Seger, you’ll like what we do,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin’s parents, who worked in the military and government service, moved the family to Raeford when he was in the seventh grade. The family took up residence in the Covington House, a local historic property that they fixed up.
Coughlin enjoyed growing up in the county and was interested in music from a young age.
“Growing up in the early 60s – Motown, the Beatles, I guess that’s where it came from,” he said. He’s never trained professionally as a singer, but today has two albums out with his band, a third album in the works and six songs getting air time on radio.
Back in the day, though, talent alone wasn’t enough to get him past longtime music teacher Mary Archie McNeill’s eighth grade chorus tryouts.
It’s a story Coughlin likes to tell because of the lesson it taught him early in life. Last year, he even got to share it with the venerable music teacher herself.
“I was doing a show last year sometime. I think I was in Memphis, maybe Nashville, and Mary Archie McNeill was getting up with a lot of students on Facebook,” Coughlin said.
He sent her a message telling her that he remembered those tryouts and why he didn’t make the cut.
“I just wasn’t prepared. She wanted me to sing scales and I didn’t know what scales were,” he said.
Years later, he was able to let McNeill know what he learned from the experience.
“You never taught me music, but you taught me something that day that I will remember the rest of my life. And that was, be prepared for anything that you do, no matter what it is,” Coughlin said. “I want to thank you for not teaching me music, but teaching me something more valuable.”
When he got to high school, Coughlin started making music with other youth in their spare time. He was even in a band at one point with News-Journal Publisher Ken MacDonald and several of their peers, including Bill Hood, Benny Nash and Robert Averette.
Coughlin graduated from Hoke High with the Class of 1976. Afterwards, he went into the Navy. He served for eight years and traveled all over the world before his discharge.
As it turned out, the timing was just right for him to land a job back home in Raeford. A convenient opening came up at the Raeford Police Department. Coughlin ended up becoming a police officer with the town, working alongside Dick McNeill and Kemp Crumpler.
After working there for a few years, he moved to the coast where he went back to school to become a detective and death investigator. Then, he moved to Georgia and struck out on his own.
That’s when he “really got started in music,” Coughlin said.
“I had to teach myself to play the guitar. I played piano a little bit. Moved to Nashville and started writing for other folks, been going strong ever since,” he said.
Through different meetings and a lot of hard work, Coughlin was able to partner with well-known producers with connections to highly successful artists. One notable producer happened to have been Waylon Jennings’ guitar player for 44 years.
“He was my first producer,” Coughlin recalled.
Coughlin gave the producer some of his songs, and the man liked what he heard. Coughlin kept working on songwriting, both for himself and other artists, as he launched his career.
“I was blessed. Nashville, people don’t believe this, but I believe it’s about 60 percent how good you are and 40 of who you know,” Coughlin said.
Eventually he ended up with his own band. Their music is classic Americana style, and the band’s performance is all original work.
“I don’t do covers at all. We do shows but we’re not a cover band,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin was able to hand pick his band members, who collaborate with him to bring the songs he writes to life.
“They put a lot of work into it and my band are really, really great at what they do,” he said.
There’s a story behind the name, Steve Coughlin with Probable Cause.
When Coughlin and the band were recording his second album, they would often be in the studio late at night – anywhere from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. It’s a good time to book a studio to get the job done, he said, and it worked out well for them.
After a session Coughlin would drive home through a small town. Twice, the same police officer in that town stopped his car. The second time it happened, Coughlin questioned him about it.
“Well, do you have probable cause to stop me?” he asked. “He said, what are you, a lawyer? I said, I’m a retired police officer.”
Coughlin and the officer ended up talking and getting to know each other. Later, while telling his band about it, one of the musicians joked about needing “probable cause.” The name stuck, and they’ve been Steve Coughlin with Probable Cause ever since.
“Without them I couldn’t do what I do,” Coughlin said.
The music has taken off. The song “City Man” from Coughlin’s first album, “Out of the Cold,” went worldwide on the internet, and songs from the second album have been getting air time.
That led to a surprise, Coughlin said. One night he got a Facebook message from a former Navy buddy living in Texas, whose wife had heard one of Coughlin’s songs on the radio. His friend from 40 years ago recognized his name and got in touch.
The music industry has also taken notice. Coughlin and his band were nominated for multiple honors this year in the International Singer Songwriters Association’s 2022 awards: male rising star of the year, album of the year for the second album “Winds of Home,” band of the year and song of the year with “Have You Ever Been In Love Before.”
“We were just so surprised, that’s worldwide and there were only 100 something out of the United States that were nominated,” Coughlin said. “Just being nominated was the big thing.”
He’s got his eye on even bigger goals, namely, the Grammys. But first he’s bringing his band back to where it all started for him.
Coughlin said he’s wanted for a long time to return to Raeford to put on a concert. He came back a few years ago to play with local musicians for a cancer fundraiser, but this will be his first time performing here with his band. Now seemed like the perfect time to do it, with the second album doing well and a third album called “Just Whisper” in the works.
The concert is set for November 5 in the Turlington auditorium. Tickets for the concert will sell for $20 per person and $30 per couple. Another band will open the night with about 45 minutes of music before Steve Coughlin with Probable Cause hit the stage for a two-hour show. They plan to perform music from both albums and the upcoming new album.
“We’re really hoping we get a good turnout to see everybody. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the show, we’re going to put on a good show,” Coughlin said. “…I want to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in 47 years.” Coughlin is a BMI Recording Artist. To listen to Steve Coughlin with Probable Cause, check out their music on streaming platforms. For more, visit https://www.facebook.com/SteveCoughlinMusic or https://stevecoughlinmusic.com