Walter: Do you remember the first time you saw or heard The Mahavishnu Orchestra?
Steve: I think it was 1972? The inner mounting flame. It scared the shit out of me. I was just a teenager and this music was harmonically and rythmically alien to me. I remember my parents coming into my bedroom while I was playing it and they just shook their heads in disbelief. Hahaha. I was hooked. It's like drinking fine whisky. The first time stings a bit but THEN... it get's good to ya! Hahaha.
Walter: Do you have a favorite Mahavishnu Orchestra record?
Steve: Birds of fire. I was starting to "get it" and we played some of the music at high school dances. You haven't lived till you have seen high school kids TRYING to dance to Hope, hahaha. We had a kick ass high school band: myself, Mike Landau, Steve Porcaro, Carlos Vega and John Pierce, all who have gone on to be pro players. We would just LOVE to fuck with people. Landau and I did a version of Birds of fire where we played each others guitar in octaves (NOT easy to do, looked a bit dodgey but we were young) and played the melody in octaves. My hand was on playing the low octave on Mikes guitar while I picked MY guitar and Mike was up the octave picking his guitar. We played the melody of Birds of fire that way. It was a "parlor trick" done with FULL respect but when you are 15 you kinda "hot dog " shit and we just did it cause we could. I hope John knows it was done with respect!
Walter: Do you have a favorite tune?
Steve: Hard to answer. I am still listening to this music in awe. John (McLaughlin) is from another world, as are ALL the guys in this band. Jan (Hammer) is a dear old friend. I met him when I played with Jeff Beck and Santana in 1986 in Japan. I am not worthy! Hahaha, I digress... I loved all the records. It was music FAR ahead of it's time. I would LOVE to see some lame ass rock critics TRY and make a legit critique. Not possible as the music is SO far over "normal" peoples heads it's almost laughable. The Mahavishnu Orchestra... WAY ahead of its time! And that was 30 fucking years ago! I rest my case!
Walter: Has the band, or McLaughlin in particular, had an influence on your own guitar playing?
Steve: Well, all I can say is that John has made my hands hurt may times. Writing somewhat impossible fingerings for the melodies he and the guys composed... check out Celestial terrestrial commuters sometime. It plays alot harder than it sounds and it sounds crazy. Hahaha. I am quite sure John yawned whilst playing it as to this day he re-defines style, chops and vision!
Walter: You formed Doves of Fire to pay tribute to Mahavishnu and fusion in general?
Steve: Well, this band was put together for fun and to pay tribute to music that we all love and that hasn't been played in a few decades. Simon Phillips on drums, Melvin Lee Davis on bass, myself and Jeff Babko on keys... it was OUR way to show a love and respect to that era of music. It wasn't easy to make it swing and play the shit right believe me, hahaha. We did a short tour in Japan a few years back, a few Los Angeles dates and we had a blast. I LOVE the first era of "fusion". The term is SO misunderstood but for me and my boys, we lived it, loved it and still do! Those guys set a standard that is yet to be matched.
Walter: How does one approach playing Birds of fire? What makes the tune different or difficult etc.?
Steve: Well, one will be humbled when THINKING it sounds easy until hands hit fretboard, hahaha. It has to groove as well as just executing the right notes. They made it sound easy. I assure you it is not! When you are an innovator like The Mahavishnu Orchestra was and still is, you just stretch the possibilities to the limit and then some. I would LOVE to hear some of these pompous ass rock star kids today even make an ATTEMPT to comprehend the music, let alone play it. Hahaha. Sorry, had to throw that in. I have been playing for almost 40 years and it still kicks my ass.
Walter: Any comments you would like to add?
Steve: Yes. I met Jan Hammer in 1986 and we became friends. I LOVE Jan, a brilliant musician and a funny mother fucker as well. He told me stories of the hey day of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was honored to have him play on my first solo record in 1989. I met Billy (Cobham) when he was playing with Peter Gabriel in 1994. My old band with Simon (Phillips) was called Los Lobobotomys and we were doing a Euro tour and openend for Gabriel, and Billy was kickin' it on the drums. I got to meet him and thank him for one of my fave records of all time: Spectrum. I gotta play with him sometime.
In 1997 I was producing a record for Jeff Beck (never came out, but is AWESOME anyway) and Jeff took me to see John at an all Indian concert in London with the masters of that genre and we saw an AMAZING improvisation concert and afterwards Jeff took me back to meet John. I was gob smacked. Here *I* am with Jeff Beck introducing ME to John McLaughlin and John was SO cool to me. I was in disbelief he knew who the fuck I was. I almost couldn't speak. HE was so warm and funny and he and Jeff are old friends and were cuttin' it up. It was really cool to see the repore between the 2 giants. John actually wrote a piece for the 3 of us to do that never happened. Damn... I am not worthy. Maybe someday that dream will come true.
walterkolosky.com, February 2005