Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 61: Steve Conte

Steve Conte is best known as the former lead guitarist for the New York Dolls and a member of Michael Monroe’s band. But the New York City guitarist, singer and songwriter has played with many artists during his career, including Billy Squier, Willy DeVille, Suzi Quatro, Crown Jewels, Company of Wolves and many more. He has also worked with Japanese composer Yoko Kanno on soundtracks to many anime series. Steve’s new solo album “Bronx Cheer” will be released on 5th November via Wicked Cool Records. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson talked with Steve about the five albums that rocked his world.

The Beatles “Revolver” (1966)

“Since birth, I had been hearing jazz and classical music in our house – along with pop and early 60s rock’n’roll on the AM radio. But one night in 1966, my mom and dad invited a young, hip couple over for dinner and they brought with them something that would totally change my life forever, ‘Revolver’. The sound was nothing like I ever heard on record or on the radio. Sure, I was just a kid with a small number of years listening to music at that time, but I knew this was special; the innovative tape loops and droning of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the psychedelic lyrics and guitar sounds of ‘She Said, She Said’, the string quartet on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, the French horn solo on ‘For No One’ – even the way the album started with ‘Taxman’ and the count off with room noise and coughing. Rock’n’roll records hadn’t been made like that before. Everything I had heard up till then was clean and careful compared to this. I stared at that cover artwork and those photos for hours, listened with headphones and sang along with it until every note of music on that record was engrained in my consciousness. It remains my favourite album of all time.”

Wes Montgomery “Tequila” (1966)

“One of the earliest jazz records I can remember hearing. The sound of Wes playing those octaves with his thumb had such a vibe. Little did I know back then that this would be considered his ‘commercial sell-out’ period where he was covering pop tunes and barely playing any single note lines. Later, when I would become interested in playing jazz guitar myself, I figured out his tune ‘The Thumb’ off of this record, which is the song that I sent in on an audition tape to get me in to Rutgers University where I would study with Wes’s protégé, Ted Dunbar. While studying there, I got turned on to the early Wes recordings where he was playing bebop and jazz standards, hardly using any octaves, mostly single-note lines at fast tempos – and that was mind-blowing! Although it has schmaltzy string arrangements on some tracks, this album still has a special place in my heart. It’s Latin-flavoured and is not as overly produced as some of the albums that would follow. Most tracks were just a quartet with Ron Carter on bass, Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto on percussion – his first album without a keyboard laying chords down behind him as he soloed. I still listen to it regularly as it is THE album that made me want to play jazz.”

The Rolling Stones “Through the Past, Darkly” (1969)

“I got this album for my 9th birthday and it was for me, the perfect introduction to the Stones. Their most recent single at the time, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was on it, as well as two other singles that weren’t on any albums; ‘Dandelion’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. Those three songs alone would’ve been enough to convert this diehard Beatles kid into a Stones kid – and this is where my musical schizophrenia began – bright pop melody vs. dark blues. I never participated in those wars – ‘Are you a Beatles fan or a Stones fan?’ People thought that you couldn’t be both…but I was. ‘Street Fighting Man’, as we all know now was started on cassette tape and then transferred over to proper studio recording gear, but as a kid, it boggled my mind, ‘why does it sound so cool?’ Then there was the dark pop of ‘Paint It Black’ (with its world music influence) and ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ sitting alongside the power pop of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Have You Seen Your Mother. Baby, Standing in the Shadow?’. And like with ‘Revolver’, I was hypnotised by the psychedelic moments; ‘She’s a Rainbow’ and ‘2000 Light Years from Home’. Again, there was nothing else out there that sounded like these tracks, thanks to things like John Paul Jones’ haunting Mellotron on the latter, the sound of which would figure in my later love of Zeppelin. It’s a bold compilation; the mix of all those styles – not unlike The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ which had come out the year before – is what turned me on and made me think it was just fine to like different styles of music, even if it was all by the same band.”

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin II” (1969)

“The album of MONSTER riffs. ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Moby Dick’. Epic songs, complete with mid-song excursions into sonic freak-outs. The guitar tones are incredible; warm and creamy, the drum sounds are live and full of air, the vocal wailing is unparallelled and the bass playing as funky as an old R&B man from the southside of Chicago. The light and shade here are fantastic, mellow verses contrasted with bombastic choruses like ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ and ‘Ramble On’. I know every little sound on this record, from Plant’s breath before the start of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, the first song on the album, to the last harmonica slide up at the end of ‘Bring It On Home’ that finishes it. Page’s production, layering of guitars, panning of instruments, reverb and the sound of the room are all groundbreaking and there is a reason that to this day, the record is like a holy grail for musicians, singers, engineers and mixers. Sure, Page and Plant ripped off some of the songs from the original bluesmen – again, as they did on the first album – but they did something so original with the end result that I can almost forgive them for it.”

Prince “Sign o’ the Times” (1987)

“Prince’s finest…his ‘Double White Album’. So many different styles, genres, moods and characters. From the funk of ‘Housequake’ to the power pop of ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ and every shade of rock, soul and balladry in between, it is a sonic feast…a true masterpiece. He goes Beatles on the surreal ‘Starfish and Coffee’ and on his religious ode ‘The Cross’ and then in complete opposition to that, gets down and smutty on ‘Hot Thing’ and ‘It’. And he doesn’t just deliver the goods musically, Prince sings his goddamn ass off on ‘Slow Love’ and ‘Adore’. Add to that the lyrical content – genius things that nobody had ever said before; ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’…come on! How did nobody else ever think of that? Because they weren’t Prince Rogers Nelson. The same goes for ‘Strange Relationship’ and the title track. When this album came out, I was the guitarist and musical director for his singer, Jill Jones – of The Revolution – and we were gearing up to go out on tour with Prince, to support him on an American tour in the summer of ‘87. But that tour never happened, due to poor sales of the album here in the US. Successful sales have never been the measure of a great album to me – and this one stayed on my turntable for many, many months during that time period and for years after. To this day it is still one of the most inspiring records ever, to me.”

“And that’s it! Thanks for listening to me ramble on. Please support original music!”