Way of the Gods pt.1: Steve Stevens
As many of you know, I write an interview series over at TinFoil Music Magazine (or, more properly, "Tinfoil.Music"). The series is called "Guitar Gods" and has featured well-known guitarists like the late Michael Hedges and Grammy Award winning Billy Idol guitarist Steve Stevens, as well as new players like Insane Guitar founder Joel Wanasek. In the future, there will be interviews with other IG columnists as well as established gurus like Jennifer Batten and the Great Kat. On occasion, we’ll take a closer look at these players right here at Insane Guitar – analyzing their styles and offering licks and exercises.
This month, I’d like to look at the incredible playing of Steve Stevens.
How a Grammy Award winner can be under-rated is beyond me, but Steve is often left out of the typical "greatest guitarist" lists. A brief perusing of his work with Billy Idol, BLS, and others should make it obvious to even casual listeners the immensity of his talent. While IG readers might be less interested in the more "pop" projects Steve has been involved in, no shredder should be without a copy of the two Bozzio, Levins, Stevens CDs: "Black Light Syndrome" and "Situation Dangerous".
Today, however, I’d like to pull a few trinkets out of the song "Rebel Yell", which provides a veritable lexicon of early techniques employed by Stevens. While the song hardly provides a complete delineation, it does provide us with more than enough ammunition to play with this month!
The first technique is often referred to as "hybrid picking". Proper hybrid picking is the use of both the pick and the fingers in a pattern or passage (common in country and acoustic blues), but the term is also used occasionally to describe a static pattern with one or more fingers while playing a line with the thumb or free fingers (often heard in flamenco and classical music). The below example, similar to the opening (and closing) of "Rebel Yell", can actually be played either way, so try ’em both and see which works better for you.
Another idea Steve employs to great effect is something we’ve covered before. Namely, moving licks and melody fragments across octaves. The lick below is similar to what Steve uses in the 2nd half of the solo section. Technically, it should provide no challenge for the average player – but it provides lots of sonic spice to your soloing. Hey, if repeating a theme is good enough for Bach, it’s good enough for you!
The last lesson segment for today isn’t a lick or run – it’s the creative use of feedback. Jimi Hendrix and Sonic Youth and others had an affect on Steve…and he learned his lessons well, as one can hear from the all-to-brief feedback sections injected into "Rebel Yell".
As ya’ll probably know, feedback happens when the output (from your amp) returns as part of the input (your guitar pickups), which creates a long, sustained, and often uncontrollable scream. We can talk all day about the whys, but that’s not the point today. The feedback exercise is simply to stand in front of your amp, strike a note (while muting all the other strings), and get close enough to set up a feedback loop. When the guitar feeds, hold the note for a bit. Then move the guitar slightly until the pitch changes. Move in the other direction next and see what you get. Grab your bar and bend he note up and down. Play with it!
A final note: I’ll be doing a series of guitar clinics and workshops in the next few months (starting in September). If you’re interested in one in your area, drop me a line and we can discuss it.
See ya next time!
David M. McLean is the proprietor of
Skinny Devil Music
Labs, former guitarist of the avant-garde fusion-metal band
guitar instructor, and columnist for
TinFoil Music Magazine
(where he conducts interviews in the on-going series “Guitar Gods”). His
new solo album, “HUNGER”,
will be released later this year