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Steve Stevens - Still on Fire

Issue #16

When it comes to gear, Stevens obviously has a collection of equipment featuring everything you could want.
Levi Clay

One of the hottest guitarists to emerge during the 1980s, Steve Stevens speaks to Stuart Bull about his career so far. Levi Clay offers a profile.

Born in Brooklyn New York in 1959, Steve Stevens (born Steven Schneider) first picked up a guitar aged seven with an instructional package his Dad bought for “like 15 bucks or something”. Not born into a musical family, Steve was initially influenced by Folk music though it wasn't long before he found British Prog bands like Yes, King Crimson and Genesis along with heavy Rock bands like The Who and Black Sabbath, who really captured the young Stevens' imagination.

He worked really hard at what he did, mainly taking what you might call lessons from kids on his street for a long time before finding a real teacher who helped prepare him for all the skills he would need to make a go at music. From there Steve was lucky enough to be offered a place at the prestigious La Guardia High School For The Performing Arts (which was the basis for Fame).

It was during this period that Steve really started working on his sound and skills and found himself playing in a lot of bands and cover groups around the Manhattan area, it was then he would meet the ex-Generation X singer, Billy Idol. This was huge for Steve, playing on three of Billy's hit albums, Billy Idol, Rebel Yell and Whiplash Smile, penning great tunes like White Wedding and Rebel Yell.

When Billy moved over to LA, Stevens stayed behind in New York to work on his solo material and develop what was becoming a strong studio career. Some high profile ones which you may be familiar with, include his Grammy winning performance on the Top Gun theme in 1986 and the part he played on Dirty Diana from the 1987 Michael Jackson album Bad (which also won a Grammy).

In 1989 Steve released Atomic Playboys, which was his first solo outing. The album featured some full-on hair metal moments like Atomic Playboys, but tracks like Power Of Suggestion also showed a more diverse side to Steve, which you'd expect to pick up when out on the session scene. Though the album did make it into the billboard 200 (reaching 119) the album wasn't picked up like it should have been, though it's hard to go out and promote an album when you're in demand for the studio.

The next big thing for Stevens was a stint with Vince Neil of Motley Crue. This was a particularly good outing because Vince told him that he could just play as much as he wanted - a nice showcase of just what he was capable of. During the promotion of this album he was on the road with his friends, opening for Van Halen and there were many times where reviews for the show said that he was the unexpected guitar start of the night. That must have felt good!

You wouldn't call Stevens' next outing an obvious move - though remember what we said about those early influences from Prog Rock? That next venture was the progressive rock supergroup Bozzio Levin Stevens, featuring Steve alongside two of Prog's greatest legends Tony Levin on bass (ex-King Crimson) and Terry Bozzio on drums (sometime of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention). This album is something of a neglected masterpiece and it sees Steve fully embrace the acoustic guitar for a Genesis-like sound.

By this point, you might be able to tell that Stevens had become disillusioned with Rock and Metal, instead opting to release Flamenco a Go-Go in 2000. In Steve's own words: “I kind of reached an end to playing real loud, aggressive stuff. With the shred guitar thing, it always seems like I was playing to guys who were standing there with score cards or something. We weren’t creating an emotional event - it was a gymnastic event.” But while the reviews for the album were mostly positive it wasn't long before Steve was off to LA to get back to work with Billy Idol.

When it comes to gear, Stevens obviously has a collection of equipment featuring everything you could want. In fact if the lists on the web are to be believed he has an astonishing collection of seriously classy guitars, though he's often seen with a Les Paul and in recent years he's been using a Suhr modern. In reality, if you want to get close you're going to want any modern guitar fitted with two humbuckers. Steve has a signature twin channel Friedman amp which, live, he uses through a pair of Matrix power amps and three cabs, but any high quality modern overdriven amp will get you in the ballpark here. When it comes to effects, Steve has more than you could count or list but his latest love is Fractal's Audio's superb Axe-FXII.

In recent years Stevens has recorded one more album with Billy Idol and he's still a mainstay of Billy's live band cementing a relationship that now stretches back a remarkable 30 years. In 2008 Steve released his instrumental masterpiece in the form of Memory Crash. This album features everything that's great about Steve, strong melody and rocking guitars and should be checked out right away.




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