Jeb: We have done a couple of interviews before and I bug you with an email once in a while but to be totally fucking honest with you, I have always thought you were a bit out of place in Toto.
Jeb: Not the sound of the band or anything but you are an awesome guitar player and you don’t always show it in Toto.
Steve: I purposely do that. Here is a perfect example: When I have a solo I tend to be silly at first. All the guys in the band will go, "That is really great, Steve. Your guitar player friends will really love that shit. Now will you play something that goes with the song?" I say, "Okay, fine." Outside of my day job I play all kinds of crazy shit. I have a fusion band called El Grupo and when I play with them I go nuts. When I play live with Toto I stretch out a bit and play with a lot more flash. But you have to do what is right for the tunes. Toto is not just about my guitar playing; they are not my guitar band. There are six other guys and Toto is really much more about composition then they are about riffs.
Jeb: Toto’s last studio album started seeing you guys open things up.
Steve: This one is a hundred million light years better than that.
Jeb: A lot of people do not understand how sessions work.
Steve: Here is the big myth about the studio guy: They say that we just show up and read the charts, play the parts, get the money and go home. They say there is no heart or soul to a studio guy. The truth be told, 99% of the time we were handed a blank piece of paper and we wrote our own parts. We rearranged and basically produced most of the records we played on. Rarely did we ever just have to read the notes. Jeff and I were hired to bring what we had to the party. We were in demand because of how fast and how good we could do it. We were in and out and it was done.
Jeb: I was looking at everyone you have played with and my jaw dropped. People usually have a style that is their niche. You are all over the place from Kenny Rodgers to Michael Jackson to Cheap Trick.
Steve: I get around, bro. I have had a fantastic run. I used to shy away from talking about the studio guy thing. I thought that it maybe detracted from my role in Toto but the fact of the matter is that I am actually really proud of what I have done. There are not too many mother fuckers who have done what we have done. No matter what you think of the band, we certainly contributed to a ton of massively successful records. It is even more so when you realize the amount of creativity that we got to put into the albums. A lot of cats just stare at me and go, "Will you make my record for me?" Seriously, there were big time massive name producers who were not even there when we cut our tracks. Yet at their speech at the Grammy’s they are thanking themselves. I was on the Album of the Year for three years in a row in the 80's.
Jeb: Does it come naturally to you to change hats so easily?
Steve: I never really thought about it; I just do it. I dig all kinds of music. I just listened to the tune and tried to do what was right. A lot of times we were hired to polish the turd. You would not believe some of the demos we had to listen to. It makes you wonder how they get record deals, let alone how they sell two million copies of it.
Jeb: You are hired to make them sound like a real band.
Steve: That whole era is dead and gone. I used to walk into a room and ask who I was playing with. We would just jam and play till we got a take. Now it is all done by computer and it is all smoke and mirrors. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! You go to a concert now and it sounds like the record because it is the record. I think that is kind of jive. I watch all these late night shows and we hear these horrifically bad garage type bands. These cats just can’t play or sing and they are playing in front of 50 million people. The guys who can actually play don’t even get looked at. It is ridiculous to me. Everyone has to be so hip.
Look at the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. How sad is that shit. Blondie is in but Van Halen is not. The whole thing is just Jann Wenner’s yank. It is as ridiculous as his Hundred Best Guitar Players in Rolling Stone. That was so bad and glaringly wrong that it was funny. Any ‘best of’ anything is so subjective. It is like asking a blind guy who the best looking chick in the room is. He is going to say the one who smells the best. Fuck that shit, man. No one needs to be validated like that – it is just a joke. Do you think Mozart ever got an ASCAP check? He didn’t even know his shit was any good. He was dead for 200 years before anyone started playing his shit and now it is classic.
Jeb: Maybe I am just getting old but it seems to me that things were better back in the day.
Steve: They were better. My kids are all about classic rock. There is only one Green Day. We don’t need a hundred of them. But now I sound like some old fart who is bitching about how much better music was back when I was a kid. All the young punks just go, "You’re an old fart man. Your music sucks."
Jeb: You can’t win.
Steve: I’m not trying to win; that’s the point. I have my niche and people dig it or they don’t. My next year is booked up. I am laughing my ass off. I am booked up till I am 50, so life is good. To be a working musician in this era is rare. I know guys who were great who have to leave the fucking music business because there is no work. I am so fucking lucky and I know it. It breaks my heart to see great players taking a day gig; it kills me. Then you see all these fucking schmucks who have been playing guitar for six months and barely even can play a barre chord on the Leno show.
Everyone wants to be tragically hip. I honestly believe that people talk themselves into liking complete rubbish because they are supposed to like it. I don’t want to name names, as that is a shitty thing to do, but you know what I am talking about.
Jeb: My daughter and son go to shows with me and they love the classic shit. I took them to see Alice Cooper and they were amazed at how good the live music sounded compared to the popular bands they like.
Steve: When we grew up we were told that you had to be really fucking good to even be considered to make a record. We practiced really hard for many, many years because that is what it took. It was not about how my hair looked. Somewhere in the middle of all that, MTV started and they changed the rules. Suddenly, it was all about style and not about chops. It is to the point now where it is uncool to be really good. That is hysterical to me. That is what is wrong with everything. The music business is not run by musicians; it is run by suits. They don’t want to develop artists; they want one hit records and they want to get on to the next.
Jeb: I want to talk about some of your sessions that you have done. Tell me about your playing on the Dream Police album by Cheap Trick.
Steve: I did some of that. They didn’t credit me on the record but they gave me a platinum record and Rick Nielsen gave me a solid gold pick – I thought that was pretty cool. The song Voices is pretty much me. If you listen to it, it doesn’t sound like Rick. He didn’t need me to do it, the producer, Tom Werman, brought me in. I cut the tracks with the guys and it was a lot of fun. Rick is a great musician. They didn’t need me; they just wanted something different. I think Robin Zander has one of the greatest voices in rock n’ roll. I was brought in for flavor.
Jeb: You were also on Eric Clapton’s Behind the sun.
Steve: I played a little rhythm guitar. I talked my way on to that one just so I could be on the record. I knew the producer and they asked Eric and he said for me to come on down. I was a bit star struck meeting him. He invited me to do the Crossroads thing a couple of years ago but I wasn’t able to make it.
Jeb: From the inside is an amazing album by Alice Cooper. What did you do on that album?
Steve: I wrote a couple of tracks and I was on the whole record. I wrote Serious and Nurse Rosetta. Rick played on Serious with me. I had not heard that for 20 years and my son downloaded it off iTunes. He said, "Dad check this out." I said, "Man, is that me?" I remember writing those songs with Alice, Bernie Taupin and David Foster.
Jeb: Did you play with Dick Wagner on the album?
Steve: He was great and we played together well. Davey Johnston from Elton’s band played on a couple of tracks as did Steve Hunter. I was fucking 20 years old when I did that – I was still a zit faced teenager.
Jeb: Let’s talk about the infamous Peter Criss solo album.
Steve: I did a couple of records with Peter. Kiss are great guys; they get the joke. Peter didn’t even play on the record; they hired another drummer. He sang the shit so it was valid from that point of view.
Jeb: Peter Frampton’s Breakin’ al the rules was an underrated album.
Steve: We cut that live at the A&M sound stage. There is a funny story on that one. Jeff Porcaro was on it as well. It was really fun. We cut it with a mobile truck. We were cutting tracks on the sound stage and the truck was out in the parking lot. We did this take and at the end of it Peter goes, "How was that?" There was dead silence. Jeff, Peter and myself go into the mobile truck and we see the producer is passed out on the console. I think maybe he was taking some qualludes or something. Peter was mortified. I think the tape was still rolling but the cat just nodded off.
Jeb: In 1979, you did an album with John Mayall.
Steve: Back in the day you would get hired for a session but you would not know who the artist was. You would just be told to report on this date. All I got to do with him was play some silly little rhythm parts. I didn’t get a chance to blow, which would have been great with John around. It is really great getting to be around greatness like John. He was there and he was really cool.
Jeb: He is the Toto of the blues. No one gives him the respect he deserves in America.
Steve: He works really hard. I agree with you. He spawned some pretty serious guitar players.
Jeb: Is that you playing on Beat it. Everyone thinks it is Eddie Van Halen.
Steve: Eddie played the guitar solo but I played everything else. I played bass and all the rhythm guitar parts. Jeff and I made that record. Eddie and Ted Templeman cut the two-inch tape but you can’t do that the way we were doing the album because you can’t get it to synch back up again. You have to understand, this is the early 1980's. You have Michael’s vocals and Eddie’s solo on tape and then Jeff had to go back and play the groove for the whole song. I just over-dubbed everything else.
Jeb: A lot of rockers were pissed when Eddie played on that album.
Steve: I never really gave it much thought. Ed and I have been friends since the 70's.
Jeb: We were long haired, pot smoking, mullet headed rockers and we worshiped Eddie and hated Michael Jackson. Seriously, a lot of rock fans thought that was the moment rock died.
Steve: All he did was do a fucking session for god sakes. It wasn’t the end of Van Halen by a long shot.
Jeb: When you get outside of your inner sanctum then that is what rock fans talk about.
Steve: That is what is wrong with the world. Everybody loves their heroes but heroes are people too. Eddie did it for a laugh. There was a backlash for sure but does anyone really care anymore.
Jeb: How did you get involved with the Tubes.
Steve: I wrote Talk to ya later. We wrote it in an hour and then we cut it. I played bass on the record because the bass player refused to play on the record because I was on it. Fee and I have been friends forever. I played all the guitars on it and then it became a hit for them. I did the same thing for She’s a beauty.
Jeb: You also played with Meat Loaf.
Steve: That was a live album they did. They brought me in to fatten up the guitars after the show. Meat and I are old friends. We have played live together many times. He belongs to the same country club I do. All of my friends are golf heads. I am not a golf head but I hang out with them. There are charity events that go down and we all get up and play. Meat throws down like it is the last time he is ever going to get on stage. He is singing "Louie Louie" and he is throwing it down.
Jeb: You played with Stevie Nicks.
Steve: I did a couple of records with her. I am on the song Stand back. That is another classic example of the producer not being in the room when I played. They were looking for that Billy Jean type of guitar part. They tried eight guys. I walked in and did it in one take. She called me on the phone and thanked me. I did another record with her in the early 80's.
Jeb: How did you end up on a Tommy Tutone record?
Steve: We were on the same label. His A&R guy asked me to come down and play on his album. It was the record after "867-5309." There is a lot of shit that I am on that you might not expect to find me on. You would not expect to see me on a Barbara Streisand record. I will tell you one thing about this chick: I was sitting next to her watching her sing and that woman has pipes. The tunes may be cheesy but you cannot deny that woman can sing.
Jeb: Talk about an amazing singer, you worked with Aretha Franklin.
Steve: I did three records with her. The band was awesome. I was three feet away from Aretha throwing down. It made it hard to play because she was so bad ass. They are some of my favorite records that I have ever played on.
Jeb: Do you ever get star struck?
Steve: The wildest one that ever happened to me was George Harrison. We actually became friends. We did a big benefit for Jeff Porcaro right after he passed away. Eddie was there as was Donald Fagan, Boz Skaggs and a then unknown Cheryl Crow. George and I became friends. He invited me out to dinner. He said, "Meet me at Marino’s on Melrose. I have invited a few people out for dinner." George is the reason that I play guitar. To become friends with him was amazing; god bless his soul. He was very nice to me.
I was sitting there waiting for everyone to show up and Bob Dylan walks in. I was like, "Hey Bob, I am a friend of George’s. Jeff Lynne then walks in. We were having Martini’s with Bob; George didn’t drink by then. We were just sitting there talking about Sammy Davis Jr. I just thought, "If only the guys I grew up with could see this." The whole restaurant was going nuts. George invited us up to Jeff’s place for a jam. A bunch of us ended up jamming on Beatles songs. It was really fucking cool. I could have literally died right there. I have had a few moments like that. Once I was sitting next to Elton and said, "Play Levon for me."
Jeb: You also played with Warren Zevon.
Steve: Waddy Wachtel brought me into that. Warren was great. I was a big fan and Warren was hysterical. He has the driest sense of humor in music. The nice guys die and the assholes live forever. I have happened to trip and fall in some great places.
Jeb: You played with Jimmy Webb.
Steve: He is a great songwriter. I did a couple of records with him. One he produced and the other Linda Ronstadt produced. Linda was great. She is so proper. George Massenburg was co-producing the album. I said the word fart when Linda was out of the room. George bet me fifty dollars that I couldn’t get Linda to say the word fart. Linda walked in the room and I whispered in her ear that if she said fart then I would get fifty bucks off of George. She looked and me and smiled and then looked at George and said, "Fart." She laughed about it.
Jeb: Before we end I have to ask you what it was like to play with Roger Waters?
Steve: That was fucking unreal. I happened to be in the studio; we were recording in the same complex. David Gilmour is a good friend of mine and he is one of my all time heroes. I love Pink Floyd and I love how their music makes me feel. I have a lot of great childhood memories that have their music as the soundtrack. Jeff Beck did most of the guitars on the Amused to death record. I was wondering the halls and they came out and said, "We need a couple of parts. Can you come on in and play?" I was like, "Are you kidding me? I’m in." I walked in and brought my shit in and I got to play some rhythm parts and I got to play a solo on one tune. It was a great honor for me.
Jeb: Have you played on Van Halen albums or just sang?
Steve: I just sang background on them. Eddie and I have written tunes together; he was on my first solo record. I played live with Van Halen a bunch of times. Ed is my neighbor. Ed and Val are both very close friends of mine.
Jeb: A lot of people are worried about Ed. Is he okay?
Steve: He is fine. He went through a really rough spot. Let’s face it, on top of what you may have heard about him hurting himself, he got divorced, got cancer and lost his mother all in the same year and a half period. And his band falls apart and there is all that bad vibe. It is tough on a cat. You have to give him a little slack. His body of work speaks for itself. There is still a lot of good music left in Ed. You just have to let him go through what he is going through.
Rumors are dangerous. The internet is dangerous. You start saying shit about somebody and then it morphs into this other shit. He is just a fucking man who is trying to raise his son and get his health and his mind right. It can’t be easy being a guy like that. He has pressure to be absolutely brilliant every time he touches the instrument. You can’t reinvent the wheel every time. He has been unfairly eaten alive. Give the guy a fucking break. Sometimes when you get older maybe you do lose a little of an edge. We are trying to bust our asses and trying to think what we are doing is valid and good. It is always going to be compared to your most famous work. Consequently, someone is going to say that it is not as good. Maybe everyone is going to say that and maybe it is true; I don’t know. I can’t imagine Jimi Hendrix being alive doing smooth jazz records. Who is to say that would not have happened? It is like going to see the Sex Pistols when they are 45 years old.
Jeb: Now they are in the Hall of Fame. Times have changed.
Steve: It is the Jann Wenner Hall of Fame. It is completely invalid and it is starting to catch up to him. It is only based on Jann Wenner’s personal taste. It is embarrassing. Everybody hates the Hall of Fame. The blogs on the net are starting to rake him though the coals. He deserves to be raked through the coals. He is everything that he hated when he started the magazine. Half the goddamn magazine is male underwear models – we all know where that is coming from. In the meantime, he is flying around in his corporate jet with his multi-trillion dollars stuff and he is supposed to be the voice of rock ‘n roll. He is a has-been. Now he is inducting himself into the Hall of Fame. That is fucking beautiful! That summarizes what he is all about.
They put the Loving Spoonful in? They made a couple of nice little tunes but the Hall of Fame? Where is Jethro Tull? Where is Yes? There a lot of people who deserve to be in. I am never going to be in because they hate me. Toto made some cute little records too but as musicians I think we deserve to be in there. I know that sounds egotistical but they put in these one hit wonders and it makes you scratch your head. They are finally going to induct Black Sabbath. The Sex Pistols being in the Hall of Fame goes against everything they stood for. They are 50 year old guys trying to be punks. That is like seeing your Grandfather dressed up like Motley Crue. That is so wrong; don’t do that. They had one bad record. I understand it. I was in London with Boz Skaggs in 1977 and I saw the whole Punk think unfolding. It was really scary to me as I was just a teenager. It was a moment in time. The Clash were a much better band. Sid Vicious didn’t even know how to play the instrument but nobody cared because it wasn’t about the music. It was social fuck you. That is great when you are 19 but it is sad when you are 55.
Classicrockrevisited.com, January 2006