Steve Stevens on Longtime Partner Billy Idol: "We Didn’t Slag Each Other Off"

Stevens with Billy Idol at Bospop 2010 in Weert, Netherlands.
Stevens with Billy Idol at Bospop 2010 in Weert, Netherlands.
Simone van den Boom via Creative Commons

Among the copious guitar heroes the 1980s gave us, Steve Stevens — best-known as Billy Idol's capo and lead collaborator — remains in a class of his own. By Idol's own admission, Stevens' eclectic fretboard pyrotechnics and deft sense of arrangement were the emulsifying agents that helped make Idol's most iconic records what they are. The reverence the guitar world holds for Stevens is difficult to overstate.

However, what is possibly even more impressive than Stevens' guitar histrionics is the fact that the bond he shares with Idol has remained so strong after weathering 34 years of rock 'n' roll together.

In 2014, the pair released a sonic companion to Idol's autobiographical memoir, Dancing With Myself, titled Kings and Queens of the Underground, and they've been touring hard behind the album since. In preparation for Idol's impending South Florida tour date, we caught up with the ax man and orchestrator to discuss the uncanny longevity of his musical partnership with Idol, the universal appeal of the music they've made together, and the loss of a friend and hero in Yes' iconic bass player, Chris Squire.

New Times: This last Idol tour has been a really long jaunt. Do you still enjoy getting on the bus and hitting the road this hard after so many years of doing it?

Upcoming Events

Steve Stevens: Obviously having my wife, Josie, traveling with me gives me an opportunity to actually see some shit! Left to my own, I just stay in the hotel; but she actually plans out some sites and museums and things to do! But, to be doing this with the same guy for 34 years is absolutely unheard of in my business, so we’re just really lucky that we’ve kept our working relationship intact, and that there’s still a fan base. And, most importantly, that we still enjoy playing for people.

The mutual reverence between Billy and yourself is immediately apparent on stage, and he seems to truly relish sharing performing with you these days. Could you describe how your artistic relationship has changed with him over the years?

I think what’s unique about it is that we don’t have any of that traveling-in-separate-buses, anti-social stuff that happens to a lot of bands that have been doing it as long as us, where it becomes solely a business venture. It really isn’t that way! We’ve been through so much crap together, and maybe that’s a little bit of Billy’s punk rock ethos; he comes from the school of thought where you just don’t fake it. He really enjoys getting in there and rehearsing with the band. We all travel together, we all stay in the same hotels, and we all hang out together. I think that’s a bit of a punk rock thing, and Billy’s always been like that. It’s never been about his name being on the marquee.

And as far as the working relationship goes, it’s always been cool that way — even when I left the band. We didn’t slag each other off, and we’ve always stayed in contact. He respected that I was going to try something musically on my own, and he kind of gave me his blessing to do that. I think that’s maybe part of why we’re still so cool with each other, because there’s never been a point where we can look back and say, “Ah! You said that or you said this!” — we just don’t have that history.

Billy Idol
Billy Idol
Photo by Michael Muller

It’s really remarkable that you guys have enjoyed the type of success you have and come through it with virtually no bad blood of any sort.

Yeah, because we just never felt that way! We accept our differences, really, and we accept the fact that we’re different people, and we like different things and go about those things in different ways. But when we collaborate, we bring those cool differences to the table.

The music you’ve made with Billy Idol has a nearly universal appeal. Is there anything in particular that you could attribute that to?

You know, the only thing I could say is that you really can’t pigeonhole our music. By and large, the three people that crafted those classic Idol records were myself, Billy, and our producer, Keith Forsey, and between the three of us, we all brought such different aspects to the music. I brought my classic guitar rock stuff, Billy brought his love of punk rock and classic American rock ‘n’ roll like Elvis and the Doors, and even Johnny Cash, and Keith’s dance music background and bringing in the electronic elements — and the way we utilized electronics in our records, even in 1982 — really put a little flavor of everything in Billy Idol’s music and our music never remained in one single category. A lot of bands get stuck in a single sound, and that can be easily dated.

We took it really seriously, making those records. I think a lot of artists really did back then. You were dealing with a lot of money and a big budget and you kind of go, “Whoa, we better really deliver something!”

We were also really hungry. Billy had moved to a new country and really wanted to prove himself, and all three of us really wanted to show that we could do something new and offer something new to music.

Now that you’ve toured so heavily on Kings and Queens of the Underground, what’s next for Idol and what’s next for you personally?

It looks like we’re going to continue to tour well into next year. Believe it or not, there’s a lot of countries we’ve never played together. I’ve never played Japan with Billy Idol and Billy Idol as a solo artist has never played in Japan, and we’ve only just returned to Australia after, like, twenty years! I’ve never played South America with Billy Idol, and there’s talk of going down there. So, there’s a lot of touring left to do, and then we’ll take a breather and see what the next move is.

I know you were close with Chris Squire and the influence Yes has had on you as a musician is extremely well-documented. Are you doing anything live to pay tribute to him since his passing?

I’ve always played some of “Roundabout” during my solo feature — even before Chris passed away — but, Chris was the first of my first musical heroes that I ever got to meet. I’m a huge Yes fan, and I remember when I got to meet Chris, I played him in my apartment a cassette tape of my cover band playing a 40-minute Yes set, and he sat there and said, “You guys sounded better than us on some of that stuff!” when it was finished. He even threw me a party for my 30th birthday.

I was in Los Angeles and I was still living in New York at the time, and you know, man, it’s really special when you meet one of your heroes and they’re as kind and larger-than-life as Chris was. He really was the real deal, and he loved Yes. He kept that band going through thick and thin, and when it came time to get Trevor Rabin in the band and they started to write music again, there was like, 18 labels that turned them down! This was a band that was selling out multiple nights at Madison Square Garden, and they couldn’t get a record deal because of the stigma that came with prog-rock and such. And Chris believed in that band so much! It was his perseverance and his ingenuity in getting Trevor Horn to produce and craft 90125 that gave that band a second life. He was just a cool guy, and musically, I think he was one of the true innovators of the bass guitar and — in a different way, of course — another Jaco Pastorius. Everyone that knew him just loved the guy.  

Are there any deep cuts from the Idol catalog you miss playing or would love to bust out live?

Yeah! Every now and then we try to throw a deep track in and the audience doesn’t always expect it. But obviously, having a new album, if we’re throwing in a more obscure tune, it’s going to be off the new album. But one that we did do that we don’t do live anymore that I always enjoyed playing was “Daytime Drama.” That’s actually one of my favorite tunes on Rebel Yell, and it was never a single or anything, but I love the cinema aspect of it, and I thought we really hit on something with that. It has such an interesting arrangement. I love songs that have independent basslines and chords that shift around, and we didn’t do much of that with Billy Idol, and that song has a lot of experiments on it. Lots of weird guitar shit, and I love the weird stuff!

Billy Idol
With the London Souls. Wednesday, September 21, at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood. Tickets cost $55 to $75. Call 954-797-5531, or visit seminolehardrockhollywood.com.

Use Current Location

Related Location

miles
Hard Rock Live

Upcoming Events


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >