STEVE STEVENS (1959–PRESENT). While a guitarist of many talents, including progressive rock and flamenco, Steve Stevens is without a doubt best known as Billy Idol’s stage and studio foil, where, armed with a Les Paul and a glam rock image borrowed from equal parts Johnny Thunders and Siouxsie Sioux, he has infused the best of the veteran punk rocker’s material with a hard rock edge that helped the two crossover into mainstream success in the 1980s and has continued to drive their career into the new millennium.
Beginning guitar at the age of seven, the Brooklyn-bred Stevens quickly became a progressive rock aficionado of bands like Yes, ELP, and King Crimson. After playing on the Manhattan club scene for a number of years, Stevens met up with ex-Generation X singer Billy Idol, who had moved to New York to start a solo career. Marrying Stevens’ hard rock edge and Idol’s sneering punk stance to an often dance-music beat, the two soon found themselves with a formidable and marketable hybrid style that was complemented by the pair’s striking visual image of Idol’s neo-Elvis blond spikes and Stevens’ black mane and painted fingernails. Debuting their act just as MTV was beginning, the pair experienced massive success with the albums Billy Idol (1982) and Rebel Yell (1983), with heavy airplay on radio and MTV.
Stevens also collaborated with other artists during the mid-eighties, including Michael Jackson, Robert Palmer, and the Thompson Twins. In 1986 Stevens won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for his work with keyboardist Harold Faltermeyer on “Top Gun Anthem,” which appeared on the hit soundtrack to the popular Tom Cruise movie Top Gun.
After Idol’s disappointing Whiplash Smile (which used drum machines instead of drummer Thommy Price, whose unique sound and groove had powered previous Idol releases), Stevens left to pursue his own more rocking muse. Signed to Chrysalis Records, he released Atomic Playboys with vocalist Perry McCarty and drummer Price in 1989. Stevens’ trademark sonic and visual style was in evidence, although the album went in a more hard rock direction, stripped as it was of punk and dance influences. Even so, it also showcased Stevens’ growing competence on flamenco and jazz styles. Although Stevens toured for the album, the futuristic glam image that accompanied the album (and found Stevens decked out in headto- toe black vinyl) didn’t quite fit in with the hair metal of the day and failed to find much of an audience beyond guitar enthusiasts.
After the turn of the decade, Stevens hooked up with former Hanoi Rocks vocalist Michael Monroe to form the group Jerusalem Slim, which unfortunately never released any material even though the pairing seemed inspired. 1993 saw Stevens collaborating with ex-Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil for the singer’s solo debut Exposed and its subsequent tour.
Later in the nineties, Stevens participated in a project spearheaded by groundbreaking drummer Terry Bozzio, which also featured renowned bassist Tony Levin. The resulting group, Bozzio Levin Stevens, released two albums of improvisational progressive rock that did much to show how broad Stevens’ musical palette had become. The group released Black Light Syndrome in 1997 and Situation Dangerous in 2002.
In 1999 Stevens released his second solo record, Flamenco A Go-Go, an album of infectious flamenco guitar over electronica rhythm tracks. 2002 saw him finally reuniting with his former partner Billy Idol for an episode of VH1 Storytellers. In 2005, he collaborated with Idol on Devil’s Playground, an album in which the duo combined Idol’s punk influences with much heavier rock, while leaving the pop and dance elements of their previous work behind. In 2008, Stevens released Memory Crash, an album of instrumental hard rock that showcased his rock guitar chops and featured a cover of Robin Trower’s “Day of the Eagle” in collaboration with Doug Pinnick of King’s X.
Discography: Atomic Playboys (Warner Bros., 1989); Flamenco A Go-Go (Ark 21, 1999); Steve Stevens (Wea International, 2000); Memory Crash (Magna Carta, 2008).