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Steve Stevens

Steve Stevens live with Billy Idol on August 13, 2008 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo by Matt Becker
Background information
Born May 5, 1959 (1959-05-05) (age 50)
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Genres Hard rock, New Wave, Electronica, Blues, Progressive rock, Instrumental rock, Jazz fusion, Tribal house, Goa Trance, Flamenco
Occupations Musician, Songwriter, Producer
Instruments Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Synthesizer
Years active 1980 -present
Associated acts Billy Idol, Bozzio Levin Stevens, Juno Reactor
Website Official website

Steve Stevens (born as Steven Schneider on May 5, 1959, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American guitarist and songwriter.

He is best known for playing for other artists (most notably Michael Jackson, Billy Idol, and Vince Neil) and less known for his critically acclaimed solo efforts (Atomic Playboys and Flamenco A Go-Go), collaborations (Bozzio Levin Stevens, a.k.a. Black Light Syndrome), and as an in-demand session guitarist.


Musical career

Steve Stevens attended New York City's prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts as a music major, studying the guitar, and graduating in 1977.

In 1979 Steve played in a band called One Hand Clap with lead singer Ray Melnik. They played Long Island clubs almost six nights a week for about a year. Steve and Ray eventually moved on to join the Fine Malibus in New York City. The Fine Malibus all lived and rehearsed in a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) loft on west 30th street. They caught the attention of Jimmy Miller who originally produced some of the first Rolling Stones albums and he arranged for them to record an album at Compass Point Studios in Nassau, Bahamas, which was funded by Chris Blackwell of Island Records. They spent 2 months there in 1981 and even played a local club at night. They wrote & recorded an album of the same name with Island Records but it was never released. At Compass Point Studios is where Steve met singer Robert Palmer. Steve moved on when the manager of the Fine Malibus Ric Aliberte introduced him to Billy Idol. Aliberte and Aucion made a vebal agreement that Aliberte would co-manage Idol if he signed Stevens into the Idol band which he did.

His hit-making collaboration with Billy Idol began when Idol moved from the UK to the U.S., shortly after the latter's band Generation X disbanded. Stevens co-wrote and played on the albums Don't Stop EP, Billy Idol (1982), Rebel Yell (1984), Whiplash Smile (1986), and the remix collection Vital Idol (1985). Musical differences during the Whiplash Smile sessions led to the pair's parting of ways (namely, Steve's jazz-laden guitar work on the cut "Man For All Seasons"). In (1987) Michael Jackson hired Stevens to back him on the Dirty Diana track.

Following his departure from Billy Idol's band, Stevens pursued a solo career, releasing his first album Atomic Playboys in 1989 and receiving good comments from the critics and a moderate commercial response.

In 1991 he recorded an album with Michael Monroe called Jerusalem Slim, only released in Japan in 1992.

In 1992, Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil was put into the studio to record a single for the movie Encino Man called "You're Invited But Your Friend Can't Come" with Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw of Damn Yankees fame, respectively. To help record the song, Vince put together a solo band, bringing Stevens in to play guitar. The following year, a $4 million deal was closed for Neil at Warner Bros. (Stevens was brought back into the fold and subsequently played all bass and guitar tracks on the debut album at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.) The album, Exposed, was released on April 27, 1993. It debuted at #13 on the charts, although it soon began a downward spiral. It had notable quasi-successful singles with the songs "Sister of Pain", "Can't Have Your Cake", and the aforementioned "You're Invited But Your Friend Can't Come". The album was moderately successful Mötley Crüe-styled rock. It sold somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 copies. Afterward, the band, including Stevens, toured opening for Van Halen in 1993, and then embarked on a '93-'94 club tour. Upon completion of the tour, Stevens left the band.

Stevens recorded his second solo album, Flamenco A Go-Go, in his home studio entirely by himself. This effort stemmed from the inspiration he received after attending a concert by Flamenco virtuoso Paco de Lucía.

Stevens (along with Harold Faltermeyer) won a Grammy in 1987 for his performance on the Top Gun soundtrack and has worked with a host of other artists such as Thompson Twins, Joni Mitchell, Peter Criss, Steve Lukather, Ric Ocasek, Ben Watkins of Juno Reactor, Greg Bissonette, Pink, Jill Jones, Robert Palmer, Jizzy Pearl, Terry Bozzio and Tony Levin (releasing two albums under the name Bozzio Levin Stevens) on Magna Carta Records.

After an extended hiatus, Stevens and Idol reunited in 1999 for a series of tours across the USA and Australia. This era included a recording captured for the VH1 show Storytellers, which was subsequently released on CD and DVD. Stevens also appeared in the Billy Idol episode of VH1's Behind The Music.

Such was the success of this renewed collaboration, in 2005, along with producer Keith Forsey, the duo released Billy Idol's Devil's Playground album. This was the first album to feature the trio since 1986's Whiplash Smile. Also touring with Idol was keyboardist Derek Sherinian - Stevens played and co-wrote three songs on Sherinian's 2004 solo album "Mythology".

Stevens has an additional following in Japan tied to his appearances with Japanese rock singer Kyosuke Himuro, who is Stevens' junior by one year. Stevens was first involved with Himuro's big hit single "Native Stranger" in 1996, and appeared in this song's music video. Stevens participated in Himuro's album "I・DE・A" in 1997 as a guitarist, songwriter and arranger.


Steve Stevens was also briefly mentioned on the popular Japanese television show Iron Chef in episode, "Sardine Battle." (1998). He was described as a guitarist from Los Angeles by the commentators when they were informed that they had a "special guest" in the audience.

Steve Stevens song Power of Suggestion, track #2 on Atomic Playboys was used for the intro sequence during the rolling of cast and credits of 1994's Ace Ventura Pet Detective.

Steve Stevens is well known for his use of a Raygun sound effect in the Billy Idol song Rebel Yell. This sound effect was created by using a unique picking technique on the guitar, right where the strings meet the bridge, while simultaneously kicking his amplifier, causing the reverb springs to bang into one another. He now uses a real toy raygun that produces the sound effect, equipped with a pitch bender and a repeat changer.

In the mid 80's Hamer Guitars (then based in Chicago) issued the Steve Stevens model I and model II shaped similarly to a Gibson Les Paul Jr. with a Honduran mahogany body, set in neck, humbucker-single coil-single coil pick up configuration and a Floyd Rose tremolo system. Steve then left Hamer guitars after leaving the Billy Idol band in 1986-7. Stevens began using and endorsing Gibson Les Pauls again (he was often photographed with a Les Paul prior to signing the Hamer deal. He used them while recording with the aforementioned Idol in the very early 80's), usually in a glossy black finish, from 1988 through the Atomic Playboys album (1989) and into the very early 90's. Steve then worked with Washburn guitars custom shop to produce the Steve Stevens Signature Series. This comprised three versions, two produced in the Chicago custom shop and a mass produced model made in Korea, the SS40. These guitars, first produced in 1993, were the SS80 and the much rarer SS100. The technical specifications of the two American made models were identical, the differences were cosmetic with the SS100 having a white front and a black sides and back. Located on the front of the guitar was a Frankenstein's monster airbrushed graphic. The SS80 was produced in solid black with gold hardware, the SS100 having black anodized hardware. Both guitars were fitted with the treble side of the pickups angled towards the neck. These pickups were Seymour Duncan JB models, with the SS80 having gold plated polepieces. The bodies were popular, a Schaller licenced flush mounted Floyd Rose tremolo, with an R2 nut was used. The neck was a 22 fret, one piece quarter sawn rock maple, with a walnut skunk stripe,pearl dot inlays and Dunlop 6110 fret wire. Rare first run models have an unfinished headstock on the SS80 with a Famous Monsters Washburn logo,later models have body color headstocks with both the Monsters type logo and a script logo. Steve played the 1993 NAMM show for Washburn, made the aforementioned videos with the Vince Neil Band, but when the tour started in 1993 with Van Halen, Steve had apparently left Washburn and was using Ernie Ball-Musicman guitars given to him by Eddie.

Steve recently collaborated with Bare Knuckle Pickups a pickup manufacturer from England, to produce his signature model Rebel Yell pickup model. These can come with Steve's trademark rayguns etched onto the covers. Steve has a new album Memory Crash due out on January 29, 2008. Currently he uses new model Gibson Les Paul models, fitted with Tone Pros locking bridge systems. Steve also plays a gold-chromed Framus Panthera that has been outfitted with a Tone Pros bridge. October, 2009 Steve is endorsed with VLeffects Custom shop an effects pedal manufacturer from Paris, France. He plays with the VLeffects Bullitt Booster Fat Vintage model.

Steve was already a Hamer endorser when he was with the Fine Malibus (circa 1981). One of the most notable Hamer guitars of that time ('81-'82) was a 3/4 scale "Standard" (Explorer design) in a solid, bright orange finish. It had a great, growly tone, but was impossible to play higher than the 14th fret. All the other Hamers then were "Specials" one bright pink, one with a new (at the time) "graphic" design in black and white. All were loaded with Seymour Duncan "JB" pickups (Another brand endorsed at the time along with Dean Markley strings). The (one and only) Les Paul used to record the album "Billy Idol" was an early 50's gold top that had been badly modified before he bought it just prior to the album being recorded. It had the wrong tailpiece/bridge, and someone had put mandolin frets on it. It was sent to Roger Sadowsky to make it right. After the repairs, it was a killer guitar until it was badly damaged in a freak stage accident a few years later. It was then repaired and refinished, now black, but never again the same. The "ray-gun" effect was actually created by accident. After the first Billy Idol album was recorded, a particular digital delay was purchased to add to the existing Roland SRE555 tape delay/chorus. Turned out the digital sound quality was too sterile and the echo was unused in the signal chain. While playing around with the settings of that digital delay, it was accidentally discovered than when the regeneration was turned up full, it created a self-generated oscillation - the "ray-gun" sound. The digital delay was left in the effects rack (as a space filler) up until the time it was used (footswitched off/on) for the ray-gun sound as the unit was constantly running that cycle, but could be muted or pass the audio as needed. Of note: no other brand, or model of the same brand, of digital delay tried would produce the same effect. The brand and model (and the unit in the rack's purpose) was kept secret, as was the purpose of the LED chase lights on the effects rack at the time.



Solo albums

Albums with Billy Idol

Albums as a member of Bozzio Levin Stevens


Other Recordings

Various Collections

External links

Additional interviews

Guitar Lessons


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