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© Martin Charbonneau / Demotix/Demotix/Corbis
Contrary to popular belief, Steve Stevens, Billy Idol's sonic six-string master (and Grammy winner for his Top Gun Anthem), did not grow up on a steady diet of guitar histrionics. The sounds of '60s folk music filled his early ears, especially the songs of Phil Ochs, who hailed from Stevens' birthplace of Far Rockaway, Queens.
“I played acoustic guitar from the time I was seven till about age 13," Stevens says. "The folk scene was very big in my neck of the woods. Everybody was playing Phil Ochs songs. In fact, I remember the den mother from my Cub Scout troop was excommunicated because she let us sing his songs."
Contributing to Stevens' diverse musical was his father, whom the guitarist describes as being "a really cool hi-fi nut. He was always bringing home records that were surprising and out of the ordinary. He played us the first album that had a Moog synthesizer on it. Because of him, I wasn’t always listening to stuff that was on the radio or what my friends were playing."
Through the years, Stevens has continued to seek out music that spanned genres and trends. Part of his artistic curiosity, he says, is fueled by a need to distinguish his own identity as a player. "In my opinion, the last thing you should do is spend a lot of time to listening to your contemporaries," he says. "The reason for that is a) because you don’t want to sound like everybody else, and b) because it’s important to have another point of view. I found that listening to arrangers and movie scores and soundtracks was really helpful. You can cleanse your ears from the barrage of the same old information by stepping outside the box and checking out different things."
Whether it's pop, movie soundtracks or Broadway scores, Stevens stresses that all effective music has one thing in common: clear, blatant tunefulness. "A good melody is a good melody," he says. "It doesn’t matter where it comes from. It could be Tangerine Dream or a German krautrock band. If a song is strong melodically, it’ll stay with you."
So where does a man with adventurous tastes draw the line? Stevens laughs and admits that the appeal of opera has always eluded him. "There’s just something about it, man – I can’t get into it," he says. "Everything but opera for me.”