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Interview with Steve Conte


Dawn Osborne caught up with Steve Conte of the Mike Monroe band (and ex New York Dolls) before his solo London gig at the Slaughtered Lamb and other UK dates:

steve conte - interview

DO: What sort of set can the crowd expect at your solo gigs?

SC: It's gonna be a mix of material from my last two solo albums. One is an album of covers 'International Cover Up' where I did some of my favorite covers, my 'Steve Conte NYC' album - all original material, my new single 'Gimme Gimme Rockaway' with B side Janis Joplin's 'Mercedes Benz', some other choice covers not on any of those albums and a Company of Wolves song.

DO: You're playing the Slaughtered Lamb in London which is interestingly the same name as the pub in the old Company of Wolves MTV video 'Call of the Wild'? Is that just coincidence?

SC: Yes! Amazingly ... and I'm playing Edinburgh the last date of the tour where we made that video all the way back in 1989.

DO: A lot of people know you initially from Company Of Wolves but given the mis-marketing of that band Steve Conte has a lot more to offer that the box that the record company put you in at that time?

SC: They always had a problem knowing how to market us. We were regular Rock n Roll guys. We were more like the Georgia Satellites and Creedence although we loved AC/DC and Aerosmith and Zeppelin. They put us in 'Metal Edge' and I think Kerrang! in the UK, but our music was not Hair Metal.

I love so many different kinds of music. For my last original album, 'Steve Conte NYC', I really had a focused idea of making it very songwriting orientated, songs I could play acoustically by myself ... had to be melodic and have interesting stories and it came out kinda Americana, more like Tom Petty, rather than a Hard Rock album.

I started Company Of Wolves with my brother and songwriter and lead singer Kyf Brewer and drummer Frankie La Rocka. Keith and I met at a Blues night that I used to run once a week in Manhattan for two years. We had all kinds of people come down: John Waite, Julian Lennon, Willie De Ville, David Johansen when he was Buster, Cyndi Lauper, Carole King, Phoebe Snow was a regular ... so all these great people and studio musicians like Willie from the Letterman show, the Blues Brothers guys. So that's where I made my connections into the studio scene in NY and I would get calls. People would see me play there and recommend me for gigs that were suitable for what I did. I was not a guy that would read notes. It was more of a feel thing.

DO: Who were your main influences?

SC: Obvious the classic 60s Brit scene: Beatles, Stones, Kinks, The Who, The Hollies, Zeppelin and Queen later. Chuck Berry was one of my first guitar heroes and the first guitar solo I learned was 'Johnny Be Good' and then I got to play on stage with him years later. I was a drummer first, but when I picked up my brother's guitar and found I could write songs, and as I got better I thought I'm not gonna be stuck behind a drum set, I need to be out in front. So I started taking guitar lessons and before I knew it I surpassed my brother and he switched to bass. As I became adept pretty quickly I moved past the Beatles and Stones into more complex Zeppelin open tuning and Jeff Beck and got into Jazz and Jazz Rock and that took me into the 80s. I hit a wall with the complex stuff and and then I went all the way back to the Blues, Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. I realised maybe I was maybe missing a little of the raw gut stuff.

DO: As time went on you landed an amazing opportunity for someone from NY, the New York Dolls, very high profile. How did that affect your playing style?

SC: I had never played that way before. I had grown up always having goals. I knew how to practice, so I could gain momentum and become better all the time with my playing. All of a sudden I had to strip everything way back. I had some Punk albums, the Sex Pistols and Clash records, but in the 80s I was more into the Police, the Pretenders and XTC. They were my favorite bands. None of them had that Johnny Thunders raw ignorance. I don't mean that in a bad way. He did his thing and he did it on everything. He had about three different licks that he played and he played the shit out of them. I had grown up with Chuck Berry and Keith Richards. That was what Johnny was − Chuck Berry and Keith Richards turned up to ten on the amp. So I went back to my roots. That's how I existed in the Dolls.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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To be able to step into a band that's ready made, that's already legendary from NY (there's only like three of them) that was the dream gig, that was like joining Aerosmith. At the end only David and Sylvain left. When we started Arthur Kane was alive. We did two shows with Arthur at the Royal Festival Hall in the UK. Then he passed and my brother did one gig with us at the Mood Festival in Manchester with Morissey, but then my brother had other commitments so we started auditioning for a bass player in NY. Sylvain said I want my friend Sami to audition for bass, because David had chosen me for guitar. Sami came in and he was the right guy, there was no doubt. But it was amazing to be stuck right into the Johnny Thunders hot seat!

DO: Was the Sam Yaffa connection how you got dialed in to the Michael Monroe band?

SC: Exactly. There was a period when the Dolls weren't working very much and Sami had started a band with MM and all of a sudden the guitar player didn't work out. They called me. I said sure I'll come over and check it out. Before you knew it the gigs with Michael started piling up and the Dolls gig were getting less and less, so hey, I have to work. I've done four albums with Michael: 'Greatest Hits Live', 'Sensory Overdrive' with Ginger, 'Horns and Halos' with Dregen. The 'stage right' guitar player chair is a revolving door. Except I think Rich Jones is sticking around for a while. Rich and I wrote a lot of the material together and separately for a new upcoming MM album. We recorded 18 songs for the new record coming up but there's only gonna be twelve on it. So we'll have extras left over for B sides or maybe for the next album. It's still untitled yet, but songs are being mixed right now.

DO: You have a new album of your own on the way?

SC: Well 'Gimme Gimme Rockaway' is a one-off single for Little Steven's label Wicked Cool Records. He's been very supportive of all my recent records on Underground Garage radio, but I have been writing and stockpiling songs ... for my whole life!

DO: Your solo work is generally less punky than your work with Michael Monroe?

SX: It's more rootsy. American Folk, Blues, Soul and R&B. But actually for my next solo record I have a lot of real Rock n Roll songs that have not been used by Michael. I may do a pledge campaign and release it myself.

DO: Michael Monroe keeps you pretty busy...

SC: Yeah, but it's good to have another outlet so I can sing my own songs. I write a lot of the songs for Michael, either by myself or with Rich. There's been some collaboration with Sami and Dregen for past albums. It is artistically satisfying to write for Michael because I still get to say what I want. But I am always thinking in the back of my head about who Michael is, so it sounds like it is written by him. 'Ballad of East Side' was written by me. Michael lived in NY on 3rd Street. I didn't, but I lived in Manhattan for 30 years. So I can write about what's happening in NY and the corporations taking over everything and the rich kids moving in and all the art going out.

DO: You seem to live and breathe for Rock and Roll. It's not all Champagne and gold records any more. You're doing a grass roots UK tour. You wouldn't be caught doing anything else?

SC: No. It's been 3 years since I toured here so I am overdue for a tour here. The audience here just get it. They know what I am about and appreciate it. Almost more than really anywhere else.

Click HERE to read the Steve Conte concert review.

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