Axtell Expressions Webpage Axtell Expressions banner image
Axtell Products Menu Image Axtell Puppets and Magic

Of Magic & Music
...The Arthur Stead Story

Arthur Stead was born in South Africa in 1951. He was blessed with a musical gift and studied classical piano and composition for many years. He also had the added advantage of learning African instruments and percussive rhythms from indigenous musicians.

When he was six years old, Arthur’s family moved to Holland, where he saw a professional magician at a birthday party. And that was that! His life-long interest in magic was sparked. “I remember running around the room afterwards, trying to impress the other kids with a rope trick I had just invented,” says Arthur. By the time his family returned to South Africa three years later, Arthur was building his own magic props and puppets, and performing shows for friends and family.

"Steve Axtell’s creations are fantastic. They are such lovable, animated characters that they seem to come to life on their own. And they really help us get our educational messages across to the kids."
Arthur Stead puts some teeth into his music with his Axtell Shark!

But Arthur’s music career took over and in the mid-1960’s he started playing in local bands. Eventually he became one of the top studio musicians in Johannesburg. In the early 70’s he toured professionally, wrote hit songs for various recording artists and was Musical Director for the South African production of Godspell. Arthur remembers: “Because of my talent as a pianist, my father once insured my hands through Lloyds of London. Little did we realize I would one day be using those same fingers and palms for sleight of hand!”

Despite his successful career and achievements, Arthur felt the need to further his musical education. He wanted to understand the psychology and orchestral technique of writing music for the movies, as well as the Duke Ellington philosophy of composing and arranging for big band. So in 1974 he headed for the USA, the only place where he could learn the true American music form: jazz.

He enrolled in a four-year course at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, to study Film Scoring, Jazz Arranging, Harmony and Composition. In the mid-70’s his interest in magic was sparked again when he discovered Hank Lee’s Magic Factory in Boston. He started visiting the shop frequently, and reading books by Dai Vernon, Frank Garcia, Paul Harris and others. “Around this time I started practicing sleight of hand pretty seriously,” says Arthur.

In 1978 Arthur graduated magna cum laude from Berklee and then, at the request of his professors, spent two years teaching at the College. But in 1980 Arthur decided to resume his professional music career. He joined mega-star Peter Frampton’s band and toured around the world, performing on keyboards, guitar and vocals. Arthur recalls: “I went from teaching classes of about 30 students, to rocking out in huge stadiums for over 100,000 fans!”

For the next decade, Arthur toured internationally with many big acts, including The Mamas and the Papas, Public Image Limited, John Waite and Ace Frehley. During this time, Arthur wrote hit songs for top recording artist Cyndi Lauper, Starship, Peter Frampton and Brenda K. Starr. He recorded with Michael Bolton, Van Halen, Cher, Aerosmith, Hall and Oates and many others.

In addition, Arthur composed original music for TV and movie scores, including The Muppets, America’s Most Wanted, The Guiding Light, several award-winning PBS documentaries, and Steven Spielberg’s feature film The Goonies.

By the late 1980’s, Arthur settled down in New York City to focus his attention on writing music for TV commercials. He met his wife, Leslie, in 1992 when she was a music producer for one of the top jingle houses in New York City. Prior to that, she had over a decade of experience in the fast-paced creative advertising field, working on famous name brand accounts for global ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather, McCaffrey McCall, and Celanese Corporation. Leslie is also an accomplished pianist and the composer of many irresistibly catchy melodies.

“The way we met is quite unusual and charming,” says Arthur, “If you ever see me at a lecture or convention, ask me to tell you the story” Throughout the 90’s Arthur and Leslie wrote and produced original music for countless radio and TV commercials, including Burger King, Coca Cola, Gillette, Visa, Palmolive, Kodak, Cannon, Budweiser and AT&T.

But after the Screen Actors Guild strike in 2000 and the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, the music business took a serious nose-dive. Huge advertising agency budget cuts and layoffs made it virtually impossible for Arthur and Leslie to survive in The Big Apple. And at about the same time, illegal downloading of copyrighted music was starting to rob composers of their hard-earned royalty payments. So the Steads had to find a way to reinvent themselves. Their solution was to merge Arthur’s life-long love of magic with their combined years of musical knowledge, experience, and talent.

Arthur and Leslie developed several magic shows, specializing in educational programs for schools. Naturally they wrote their own music for every show. Other performers noticed how effectively the Steads used music, and started commissioning them to write original music for their acts. And eventually, as a service to the magic community, Arthur and Leslie composed and recorded their Magic it Magic series of royalty-free music CDs. Their professionally produced music tracks are used by magicians and clowns all over the world. Arthur explains: “We write music that inspires entertainers (from the smallest living room performer to the largest stage act) to create theatrical moods, involve the audience magically, and affect people emotionally.”

The Steads also market several Interactive Routines, each one featuring its own original musical score. Duane Laflin has said: “Only someone who knows both music and magic could create songs that are so perfectly suited to the routines we perform. Arthur and Leslie Stead’s music has helped lift our shows to a whole new level. They are one of the best things to come along in the magic world for a long time.”

But Arthur does not ignore his musical performance roots completely. In recent years he recorded two best-selling CDs with top country star Shania Twain, earning him several multi-platinum record awards. He recorded and contributed songs for an Ace Frehley retrospective CD. In 2005 and 2006 he again performed with Peter Frampton, traveling all over Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Canada and the USA. And in 2007 Arthur won a Grammy Award for his contribution to Frampton’s latest CD.

In his magic shows Arthur uses an Axtell Magic Drawing Board (both large and small versions), and he is extremely fond of his Axtell Shark puppet. “Salty the Shark steals the show!” says Arthur, adding: “Steve Axtell’s creations are fantastic. They are such lovable, animated characters that they seem to come to life on their own. And they really help us get our educational messages across to the kids.”

Future plans for Arthur and Leslie? They will keep writing and performing motivational magic shows. Plus composing and producing music for other entertainers and artists. And Arthur also plans to do a lot more lecturing in 2008. “It’s hard to describe the benefits of using music on paper,” he says. “But when magicians and clowns see me actually demonstrating how music can captivate an audience and involve them emotionally, they understand clearly what a dramatic and necessary impact music has.”

Convention organizers and magic clubs are encouraged to contact Arthur and Leslie at 978-281-0431.

And check out their website at www.arthurstead.com.

Arthur with the one and only Peter Frampton
Magic Performance CD
Make it Magic Vol 1 for entertainers
Make it Magic CD for Christmas Image
Make it Magic Vol 2 for Magicians
Make it Gospel CD for magicians JPG
Arthur rocking with Peter Frampton on guitar and keys both!
It's always so great to learn more about our customers and see what amazing talents they have. Arthur invited me to some of his live concerts with Peter Frampton and they inspired me to get back into playing again too!

Steve Axtell.

Arthur Stead, Peter Frampton, Steve Axtell, Steve Stiles
Michael Davenport, George Barna
Photos provided by Arthur Stead, used by permission.
Quality Puppets and Magic by Axtell Expressions