COLUMBIA — Steve Easterling, 62, just can't stop playing music.
"I never put my guitar in the closet," Easterling said.
Easterling arrived in Columbia on July 1 to spend time with his family. He has since been playing at hotels, wineries, retirement centers and private parties, and he has played twice as a guest soloist at Unity Church in Columbia.
Easterling said he continues to play because he knows it is what he was divinely designed to do.
"His music is his ministry," longtime friend Michael Speakman said. "It's never been a financial success, but he's never given up on it."
Easterling used to live in Phoenix, where he made a living as a voice talent in television and radio commercials and did singing telegrams. He balanced those jobs while raising his son after he and his wife divorced.
In 1994, after his son graduated from high school, Easterling left Arizona and rode around the country on his motorcycle.
"I did the great American dream: sold everything I owned, crafted a rack to carry my guitar on the side of my motorcycle, loaded it up and rode out of Arizona on my motorcycle to play music," he said.
A year later, Easterling arrived in the San Francisco area.
"What I really wanted to do was advance further into music," he said.
He started going to open mic nights in California and learned how to be a performing musician. To get a gig, he needed a wide repertoire of musical styles such as classic, country and jazz. Many of his gigs included playing at wineries, weddings and patio restaurants.
In his best year in music, he made $10,000.
From 1994 to 2011, in addition to performing, Easterling worked in real estate and property management.
When the real estate bubble burst, he lost everything: his house, car and credit. For three months in 2006, he slept on a camping mat in the real estate office where he worked.
To keep his spirits up, Easterling wrote songs and played guitar at night.
One of the songs he is most proud of, "Rise Up," was written in the back room of that real estate office.
"Steve has had ups and downs, the challenge of trying to have regular income and had heartaches," Speakman said. "He hasn't had an easy road, but he refuses to give up on his dream."
Though all of the hard times, Easterling never considered stepping away from his music, he said.
"You don't have a choice to stop playing music," Easterling said.
He said he plans to stay in Columbia through New Year's and return to California in January, when he will continue recording and producing his music in the San Francisco Bay area.
"When I'm playing my guitar, delivering a moving and healing message to people, and see a moving impact on people, I realize I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be," Easterling said.