For over twenty years Stevie Salas has been one of the most hard working musicians in the industry. Having first found acclaim as the guitarist for George Clinton, Salas has since collaborated with the likes of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart, performed portions of the score for the hit comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, produced a variety of albums for other artists and has also enjoyed acclaim as a solo artist.
For his debut album, 1990’s Stevie Salas Colorcode, he incorporated elements as varied as Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix. The latter would become a frequent comparison in subsequent reviews, with Rolling Stone stating, ‘Salas’ guitar playing is Hendrixian in the best sense of the term,’ while Musician added, ‘Unlike those who think Hendrixian means ‘long guitar solos,’ Stevie Salas captures the range of effects.’
Stevie Salas looks back over a long and successful career.
You formed your first group This Kids while still in high school. What do you recall about this group and what were your main influences? Did any of the material that you wrote or performed during that time make it into your subsequent work?
It’s funny you should ask about This Kids coz I just saw that a bunch of cool old shots of us are posted on Facebook! I was the main songwriter for the band but they were not great songs, I was fifteen when I started This Kids and it was a great band to be in living on the beach in Oceanside, California. We surfed and loved rock and new wave/punk music so we mixed it up, doin’ Led Zeppelin but also doin Police covers too, but the years I spent in that band were the foundation for my whole musical career.
What prompted your decision to move to Hollywood and how much of a struggle was it to survive as a struggling musician?
I knew that This Kids had gone as far as we were gonna and I think I was more commited than the other guys so I just made the move. I had seen my future Colorcode drummer Winston A Watson Jr. and he moved to LA so I made the move and lived in a walk-in closet in a house he was sharing with friends.
The first 8 months were the the worst of my life. I was so broke but 1985 was an incredible time to be playing music in Hollywood.
How did you first make the acquaintance of George Clinton and how did you come to collaborate together?
I was living in that closet at Winston’s house and after eight months we all got thrown out of the house, so then Rick Perotta (who would go on to start Matchless amps) owned a recording studio named Baby O in Hollywood and I used to hang out there a lot with a guy named David Pahoa who was the bass player of the Plimsouls. So Rick used to let me crash out there on the couch and one night I met George Clinton there and told him I was a guitar player.
That night he was doing a session with a guitar player named Jack Sherman who was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and he was not gettin what he needed so at 3am he and David Spradly, the co-producer, woke me and I went into the studio and lost my mind, then after that I was in George’s clique.
During this time you worked as a producer for Was (Not Was) and collaborated with Rod Stewart. How did you manage to find such varied opportunities and is there one specific moment you would cite as your big break?
Hollywood is the kind of town that if you’re out every night and you get in with the right people things could happen and I was SUPER lucky. When I co produced Was (Not Was) no one knew who they were, they were just some funny guys with a lot of talent and we never knew the video we shot for Walk the Dinosaur would be such a huge hit and be on MTV in heavy rotation.
You also provided music for the hit comedy Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. What parts of the score did you work on and what kind of directions were you given from the filmmakers?
Once again just like with Was (Not Was), Bill and Ted was just on oddball movie that had lost its distribution deal and I never thought it would even come out let alone become the iconic movie that it now is. I got the gig because the super producer David Kershenbaum owned a studio called Powertrax and I was a staff producer for him and he was the music supervisor for the film.
We were workin on all kinds of stuff like Tracy Chapman and films like Action Jackson and Big Shots so I was very busy as a writer producer then. Another thing about Bill and Ted that people don’t know is that the shot of my hands and George Carlin’s face at the ending doing that wild guitar bit I did was shot months after the film was finished shooting, but in screenings the ending was testing bad so one night director Stephen Herek set up a garage with the phone booth and we just shot that whole ending in one night.
What were your thoughts on the LA glam scene during the late 1980s and do you feel that the excessive image many of these bands had often overshadowed or belitted their music?
You know these things happen with all styles of music and it comes down to the fact that some bands are great and some are crap and all the hairspray, make-up, tattoos, piercings etc., won’t change that.
Your 1990 album Colorcode enjoyed major success in the metal industry due to the track The Harder They Come. How do you feel this album differed from your previous work and how do you feel this record holds up twenty years later?
That album just gets bigger and bigger over the years and the cool thing about it is that metal kids loved it but it was really an alternative album. It did not sound like Bon Jovi or Ozzy, it had its own thing and I think that’s why it still sounds fresh today. I played Blind on my last European tour and I had these young kids rockin’ in front singing it and at the end of the song I asked “How old are you?” and they were nineteen, and I said ‘You were not even born when I put that song out’ and that really trips me out.
Throughout the 1990s you toured with such artists as Joe Satriani and Duran Duran, as well as working with Terence Trent D’Arby and Mick Jagger. Do you feel that each collaboration has a profound effect on your musical style and which in particular has inspired you the most?
I am a musician and I am on this planet to play with the best ones I can find, so any time I get a chance to be around greatness I gotta take it. I learn so much from everyone I play with and all have inspired me in different ways. The best would be Jagger because he really showed me you’re never too old to rock!!
Having worked in the industry for twenty five years are you constantly influenced by modern music and has different styles and tastes over the years allowed you to vary your work and avoid repeating yourself?
Funny thing is most of the new music really rips off the ’60s and ’70s so I still go to the source. But I am always lookin’ to be inspired but it’s gettin harder and harder because the internet allows artists to release TOO much music and often before it’s really great, so its hard to get through the clutter.
Out of all the numerous projects that you have worked on what are your most proud of and what moment would you want your musical legacy to be defined by?
Perhaps that defining moment has yet to come cuz I am not planning on stopping for a while BUT I know I better do something BIG otherwise I will go down in history as the guy who did Bill and Ted… not that that would be such a bad thing.