Steve Stevens - March 2017

Steve Steven’s journey as a guitarist began when he is 7 years old. His dad brought home an acoustic guitar bought for the princely sum of $17. Whilst the guitar was intended for himself, before too long it made its way into Steve’s room. Recognising the passion Steve had for the instrument, his parents arranged for him to have guitar lessons, and it was the sister of 60s protest singer Phil Ochs who would fill this role. Conveniently located in the same neighbourhood in New York, Sonia ‘Sonny’ Ochs would teach Steve acoustic guitar for many years. It wasn't until he was 13 that he received his first electric guitar and this would coincide with his discovery of a whole new world in the form of a radio programme on his local radio station WNEW-FM. Things From England aired every Friday night and the show would prove to have a profound musical impact on Steve. The station played tracks from 70s prog rock bands such as King Crimson and Yes, and more broadly introduced Steve to jazz, psychedelic and wider styles that deviated from traditional blues rock roots. It's therefore no surprise that Steve cites Steve Howe as a huge early influence. Of course, Steve would go on to enjoy an incredible career in rock, his achievements as an artist being those which most people can only dream of. Perhaps best known for his 35 year partnership with Billy Idol, this Grammy award winner has worked with some of the very best in the business: Michael Jackson, Vince Neil, Sebastian Bach and Robert Palmer to name just a few. As well as collaborating with others, it's important to Steve to also shine as a solo artist. In April, Steve undertakes his own tour of the UK and Europe, a rare and very exciting opportunity for his fans to see him perform music from across his career. This is something very special indeed and it is with huge excitement and pride that we sit down with Steve to hear all about how the idea to undertake a solo tour came about and what his fans can expect. Catching up with Steve at his home in Los Angeles, the way he describes the view outside his window isn't quite the picture postcard image of the City Of Angels we had expected. Torrential rainstorms have been battering the city for 3 days knocking out the internet, TV and telephone services. However, refusing to let the weather dampen his spirits, it’s a very excited and upbeat Steve that we meet today, his forthcoming solo tour clearly representing the blue sky on the horizon…

You’re heading out on a 10 date UK and European tour which starts in London on 5th April, a tour which is sandwiched between 2 residencies at the House Of Blues in Las Vegas with Billy Idol. How did the idea to undertake a solo tour come about, especially when you have such a full and hectic schedule?

I’ve done solo shows but usually they are one-off appearances and I try and intersperse them or coordinate them with some aspect of flamenco which I am a massive fan of - I've done a flamenco based record (Flamenco a Go Go). Recently I've started working with Ben Woods who's an American flamenco guitar player who interprets a lot of metal stuff. So the idea came that ‘wow, I could do my back catalogue but actually do some flamenco stuff’ so I started making phone calls to musicians I know and Franky Perez, a good buddy of mine who’s the singer from Apocalyptica, and it just sort of came together. I said that if I wait it will be another year and this and that, and between my wife and I – my wife (Josie Sevens) manages me – we said let’s do it. Let's try and squeeze it in. So there we go!

What opportunities both personally and artistically do your solo shows afford you that are perhaps different to your wider collaborations?

Well, you know, now I've a 35 year career of stuff that I've played and a lot of the tunes that I'll be playing many people won't get the opportunity to hear them, say my Top Gun anthem or Dirty Diana with Michael Jackson. So I think this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear some of these things. Of course I'll play some Billy Idol things and even play some Atomic Playboy things because there's a fair amount of interest amongst my fans to hear this stuff and also to hear some of my flamenco things as well.

You’ve said yourself that it's a 35 year career, both as a solo artist and as part of collaborations with some of the biggest stars in the world. How do you decide a set list for a Steve Stevens show?

What I did was make a play list in iTunes of all the records I've played on and I go through them and go ‘Ooh, I like that one and that one would work’ and I just kind of go through them and figure out what are my favourite tracks from those records. So it was pretty easy to narrow it down actually!

You're touring with Franky Perez, an incredible artist from band Finnish band Apocalyptica. This isn't the first time you've worked together.

No, I've known a Franky well over 10 years now. We worked together a lot in the 2 all-star bands that I've play with: Royal Machines which was the band with Billy Morrison who’s Billy Idol’s rhythm guitar player and Dave Navarro and Chris Chaney. I also worked with him on Kings Of Chaos which has an incredible cast of characters. We always had Franky with us and I am a huge fan of his and he's the guy who I would say "If I'm gonna do something on my own you’ve got to be the guy who fronts it!" and here we are.

It must be pretty special having Franky out of your with you.

It really is. The amazing thing is that I've done shows with Franky where the others singers on stage are really well known. I'm talking Steven Tyler, Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol, and the guy that people walk away from the shows talking about is Franky. He delivers on every front. I think people are not only going to come away from the shows talking about the guitar players – we have Gus G on the show, it’s definitely a guitar orientated show – but I think people are going to be really knocked out with Franky.

I think one of the great things about Franky is that not only is he a great vocalist, he is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Will we see Franky dueting on guitar too?

He's on percussion too but you know, Franky’s kind of the intuitive guy. If he wants to pick up a guitar and play, I'm not going to say no!

I mentioned earlier the fact that your tour takes place between 2 residencies at the House Of Blues in Vegas. Do you prefer performing shows at a single venue or is the opportunity to travel and visit new places something you very much welcome?

They both have their advantages and disadvantages. Doing a show as a residency in 1 place, the fatigue of touring is easier. It's much easier on our crew because they don't need to set up. I mean those guys work so fucking hard, you know, with little sleep and sometimes with no room or lodging. So it's really nice to have a happy crew that you're not breaking the backs of. And the other thing is that you can really hone in your show lighting-wise because you have the same environment every night. Also, with Billy Idol there's such a long history of tunes that you know people will come to multiple shows so we really get to pick some of the more obscure B sides and deep cuts with a residency.

Many people will of course know you through your work for over 30 years with Billy Idol. In his book Dancing With Myself, Billy recalls the time when he first met you in Bill Aucoin’s office in 1981. History would prove that to be quite a profound moment. What are your memories of that first meeting?

Well, he was certainly the most charismatic person I'd ever met and the most driven and determined. He had game plan. He had picked up and moved to a new country and really wanted to prove himself and to bring something to America that we really didn't have. It's hard to believe now but radio programmers wouldn't play his first single Mony Mony in the States with his picture on it because he had spiky hair! They were only used to playing Journey, Rick Springfield and this kind of thing so he was determined to bring a new style of music that incorporated punk and R&B, and also his producer Keith Forsey was from a dance background so we were using lots of electronic keyboards and things of that nature. So it was a chance for me to kind of define a guitar style. It seemed to me at that point that every guitar player in America wanted to be Eddie Van Halen and we had Eddie Van Halen. Why be a bad clone of him? So here was a guy with direction that wanted the right break so was putting together a band and seemed to really want a strong musical partner. It seemed like this was exactly what I was looking for. 

You won't be surprised to hear that many of our readers are guitarists. What does a typical day’s practice involve? 

I can't say I really practice because I don't sit down and play scales and things of that nature – I probably should! (Laughs) But I'm always trying to write good tunes. There’s always an outlook for writing songs. I write with Billy and I write with other artists - I've recently collaborated with Ozzy Osbourne - so I'm always trying to compile good tunes. So that's usually what I try and do when I pick up the guitar.

Are there any specific tips or advice you would give our guitarist readers? 

Well obviously when you're first starting you’re going to be playing all the things from guitarists that you emulate – and that's great and I did that as well – but at some point it's important to find your own voice. I find that what's really helpful is to listen to music outside of the genre that you're making, which in our case is probably rock ‘n’ roll or something of that nature. So find influences in other things and other instruments as well. One of my favourite guitarists growing up was Alan Holdsworth and I couldn't understand how he found and discovered his style until I realised ‘Oh, he’s emulating country!’ or ‘He’s emulating horn players!’ and things like that. So I think it's really important to listen to classical and understand about arrangement from classical music. Understand where rock guitar came from which is American R&B and the blues, and understand where the inspiration came from. Listen to things outside of what you're playing.

What else can we expect this year and does this include new music?

I hope so. Obviously doing a solo show with Franky, I hope that we can take this experience and transform it into some form of recording or something. We certainly talk about it and we've written tunes together. They're stunning the demos that I have. There's got to be a reason to do it and I want to make sure that if we do some recordings that people get to hear it and not just with some label that's not really excited about it or a label that's only excited about it because of my association with Billy Idol or something.

Back to the tour, you have the incredible Gus G opening the shows. What does it mean to have Gus G out with you on tour?

Well, he's the new breed of fiery guitar players and I love the fact that he's Ozzy’s guitar player. I know Ozzy and I've actually played shows with him. Gus G feels like family and I'm really proud to have him. He's a shit-hot guitar player so at the end of the show, we've already planned that he will come and join my band and we’ll play some tunes together I imagine. It won't be G3, it will be G2! 

As our conversation draws to a close we are reminded what a truly exciting, unique and captivating guitarist Steve Stevens is. His proficiency in so many diverse styles all coming together so gorgeously to provide the most powerful and emotive live performances.

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In the meantime, enjoy the live video below, an excellent example of what a truly talented artist Steve Stevens really is.