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Steve Stevens: 8 songs that changed my life

Steve Stevens with his signature Knaggs guitar
Steve Stevens with his signature Knaggs guitar (Image credit: Patrick Shipstad)

When guitarist Steve Stevens steps out on stage with Billy Idol in June 2022, it'll be a year short of four decades since the two first worked together on Idol's self-titled debut solo album, way back in 1982.

While Stevens co-wrote just two songs on that album (opener Come On, Come On, and Shooting Stars), by the time the following year's Rebel Yell rolled around it was a true 50/50 partnership, with Stevens co-writing every song on the album, including a trio of enormo-hits: the title track, Eyes Without A Face and Flesh For Fantasy.

He's been Idol's partner-in-crime ever since, with brief excursions into supergroup territory with fusion trio Bozzio Levin Stevens in the late noughties, and more recently with The Deadland Ritual - alongside Geezer Butler, Matt Sorum and Franky Perez - who appear to have disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared.  

Here are eight songs that helped fuel the teenage Stevens’ rock’n’roll dreams.

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James Taylor - Fire And Rain

I started playing guitar when I was seven and a half – I picked up my dad’s $17 acoustic and my older brother’s friends coached me -  and this was one of the first songs I was determined to master. The singer-songwriter folk scene was happening right around that time, so all my friends were learning Joni Mitchell and James Taylor songs, and I remember in second grade I played this at school for ‘show and tell’. 

My friends and I were a bunch of little misfits, not your normal kids, and we knew that James Taylor had psychiatric treatment and had struggled but come through to the other side, so we related to the fact it was deeper than the average song on the radio.


The Rolling Stones - (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

When you get your first electric guitar, as I did when I was 13, there’s nothing better than playing a song like …Satisfaction; I might have played this for the first time in the guitar store when I bought it. 

[Jimi] Hendrix and Sgt. Pepper were a bit beyond my reach at 13, but you could plug in a fuzz-box and sound exactly like Keith Richards, and that was really exciting, because you could impress your friends and play something that sounded exactly like the record. My parents like The Beatles, but didn’t like the Stones, so that was a good enough reason for me to love the Stones.


Chuck Berry - Johnny B. Goode

Chuck Berry was the greatest music teacher I ever had. I got a copy of his Greatest Hits album and learned to play every song on it. His music was fun, you could play it with your friends, and sing along, and all those songs were definitely within reach of a guy who’d just got his first electric guitar. At 13 I was in my first covers garage band and we played Johnny B. Goode and Maybelline and we couldn’t have been happier.


Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven

Everyone who started learning guitar in the early 1970s had to learn Stairway… It had everything, within that one song is an encyclopaedia of guitar. It took me a long time to be able to play it correctly. I thought I had it right, but then I heard my brother’s college room-mate play it really right, so I had to re-learn, and that was such a revelation. 

The solo is a song within itself, a really important piece of music, and when you master it there’s the same sense of achievement you get from performing a classical piece perfectly. I wish I could have seen Zeppelin, but tickets for their shows at Madison Square Garden always just went so quickly, and the scalper prices were way beyond what I could afford as a kid.


Yes - Heart Of The Sunrise

Up until Close To The Edge I was a huge Yes fan. When I heard Steve Howe, he was the first guitar player that, for me, incorporated all the different guitar styles I was learning within the context of a rock band. I’d heard Roundabout on the radio, which led me to buy the Fragile record, but the song I really loved was Heart Of The Sunrise

I really admired how Steve Howe orchestrated his guitar parts, within one song he’d play folk guitar and psychedelic fuzz guitar and Jazz guitar, and it made me think, “Wow, you can do that!” As much as I admired Eric Clapton, I was much more drawn to the guys that orchestrated their guitars. 


Deep Purple - Highway Star

I loved Deep Purple’s energy, and the early records Mark II records were huge for me. Highway Star is an amazing song, and again, Ritchie Blackmore’s solo here is constructed like a piece of classical music. I always loved guitar players who really wrote for the song, who weren‘t just improvising blues scales over the chord changes. 

I didn’t really follow Ritchie into Rainbow though: once I joined up with Billy [Idol] I was so busy that I wasn’t even that aware of what anyone else was up to. We were inventing our own thing. 


Jimi Hendrix - Castles Made Of Sand

I grew in a really racially mixed neighbourhood in New York, and my best friend was Puerto Rican and he turned me on to artists such as Tito Puente. Then when we were hanging out with his friends, they turned me on to Curtis Mayfield. When I heard Hendrix play Castles Made Of Sand it was so obvious to me that it was his Curtis Mayfield influence coming through. 

I learned this song note-for-note, because it really touched me emotionally, it was so vulnerable. Hendrix’s first album [Are You Experienced] was mind-blowing, and Electric Ladyland is another milestone in guitar playing, but Axis… is my favourite, because the band really hit their stride here.


King Crimson - The Court Of The Crimson King

This is such a timeless record. I’m a huge Robert Fripp fan, he’s such a unique guitarist. Progressive rock was unchartered territory in 1969, it wasn’t all bloated, it was about exploration, and to me this record represents everything progressive rock should be. In 1969 this felt like punk rock felt in 1977. 

I’m really a product of early ’70s English guitar playing, and as much as it was fun to see the Ramones and Television at CBGBs, I was never going to throw out my King Crimson and Jeff Beck and Zeppelin records, just because someone said it was old hat now.