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Steve Stevens

Billy Idol

"The guitar is one of those instruments that's just endless. There's always more that you can do on it." Steve Stevens reminisces about playing solos with Billy Idol in this episode of String Theory.

Transcript

Steve Stevens:
The guitar playing just happens to be the instrument that I express myself on. It could have been drums or any other instrument. Guitar is a way to convey emotion and not a way to impress other guitar players. You want to play something that's to benefit the song and benefit what the words are saying and the story you're trying to tell.

Steve Stevens:
The neighborhood that I grew up in Rockaway beach, when I was seven and a half, eight. My dad brought home a guitar, one of those cheap, $14 guitars and it came with a little music book and stuff. And, this was just around the time of real singer songwriter boom. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and from the time I was seven and a half till I was 13 I only played acoustic guitar and didn't get an electric guitar until I was 13 so that whole formative time was all playing folk music.

Steve Stevens:
Well, obviously when I got an electric guitar it all opened up for me. Led Zeppelin was, is monumental for all of us guitar players. And, then as I got better, it coincided perfectly with the time of early English progressive rock guitar players. So, I really gravitated towards the guys like Steve Powell, Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett, just because they incorporate every style of guitar there's a concept of wanting to create soundscapes within the context of a rock song.

Steve Stevens:
For any of my non tremolo style guitars, I use a 10 to 48 set that I put together myself. And, I still remember my first set of super Slinkys came in the pink package. We had head shops back then they sold the incense and and pipes to smoke grass and they sold Ernie Ball strings and they kind of fit in with the times and they certainly fit in with the head shop because it kind of looked psychedelic and definitely had that kind of San Francisco thing about it. For me, it's a great little home base to have and the company's been so supportive of and when you're out in the middle of nowhere and "Oh man, we ran out of strings. Oh, you got to get Ernie Ball on the phone." And, you send them out. I'm just an Ernie Ball guy. I like the way they feel and they just feel like great guitar strings to me.

Steve Stevens:
It's really cool actually now to be a guitar player because I went through a period of things got very excessive in the 80s with the shred guitar thing and then the nineties hit and everybody kind of dumbed down. And, once Nirvana became popular, it was like almost embarrassing if you could play well. And, we almost went through an entire decade of that kind of stuff. And, I remember seeing guitar players that I knew technically capable, moping around looking at their sneakers. I was like, "well that's kind of a drag, you know?" So, it's kind of great that guitars back to, if you can play the thing well, play it, be proud of it. I'm fortunate that 34 years later, I'm still with Billy Idol, the guy I started with.

Steve Stevens:
And, when I go into a memorable guitar thing, a riff or an intro or something, when you have 18,000 people that all go, and sometimes you play a country where people sing the guitar solo and they're not going to be able to do that if you're going a [strange blurb noise 00:04:31]. So, I try and find solos that at least have melody to them that are memorable. And, then if you want to give them a couple of bars or some flash or something, that's great. But, I try and play stuff that that is memorable.

Steve Stevens:
It was never to just be, "Hey, check me out, how fast I can play" and all this. I just wanted to have enough vocabulary of stuff that if something called for it that I could use it rather than having to constantly challenge myself and be limited by my own technique and I'm still limited by certain things that I always want to play better. I wake up in the morning, have a cup of coffee, pick up a guitar and go, "man, I wish I knew how to do so-and-so." I can always challenge myself because the guitar is that just one of those instruments. It's endless and it's always, there's always more that you can do on it.

Steve Stevens:
I'm so lucky that I picked up the guitar in a time when rock stars and guitar players were larger than life. And, the only way that you could connect with them was to go to a concert and it was such a huge, massive event. First concert I went to was the James Gang and then I went to see all of my favorites. Genesis, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Quad and all those. And, I just thought, "that's what I want to do." I want to be able to express myself. And, I was too young to pick up the guitar to want to get chicks or get laid. Seven and a half years old you don't even know what that is. But, I just wanted to, I guess, express myself and be able to join in.

Steve Stevens:
The best thing about a guitar is when you're jamming with other musicians, when you're in there and you're communicating and you're jamming and it's all working, there's no better feeling, and you're on that you're just riding that kind of euphoria of having this musical conversation. That is truly the greatest thing about playing this instrument. If you're at home and you're shredding and you're working on something that you know you really want to do, you're going to pass this plateau as a player, especially for young players, once you've got it, you can't wait to get new room and jam with people. Pull that sucker out. And, everybody goes, "man, I didn't know you could do that." And, it's like the best feeling in the world, you know? And, I still get that feeling, working with musicians and playing shows, doing gigs around the world never changes. I'm really fortunate that that feeling has never escaped me.

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