STEVIE SALAS: “I Didn’t Want To Tell A Story About Victims, I Wanted To Tell One About Heroes”

Stevie Salas
Photo: Framus photo

Having cut his teeth with Funkadelic legend George Clinton, guitarist Stevie Salas went on the tour the world with Rod Stewart and play with such artists as Mick Jagger and Was (Not Was). His own band Stevie Salas Colorcode blended Funk with Hard Rock while his solo career has seen him expand his musical boundaries still further. His latest projects include Inaba/Salas with Japanese legend Kobi Inaba which sees him in a more eclectic Pop territory while his recent documentary Rumble: Indians Who Rocked The World saw him scoop a mountain of awards while shining a light on the influence of Native Americans on popular music. Mick Burgess called up Salas for a lengthy chat about his latest Inaba/Salas album and his Rumble documentary as well as a look back on his career.

You most recent album with Inaba/Salas, Maximum Huavo was released back in February last year. You were quite fortunate to have managed to squeeze that out before the lockdown hit?

Well, I wasn’t planning on doing it like that, we didn’t know. Koshi and I spent a year writing, going back and forth and meeting in cool exotic places. It was like the with the old school where you used to get all this money to record an album. I remember when I was a kid, in 1987, before I got signed, I was doing pretty good and I produced Was (Not Was) and I was going to England with them. The record company would say, Steven, why don’t you go work with this guy in London, here’s $10,000 and back then $10,000 was a lot of money, and go stay there for a month and get a vibe and feel the energy that’s going on. First day, I was on a plane to a beach party in Ibiza. In the old days, you could do stuff like that. Now it’s hard to make a buck. They still sell a lot of CDs in Japan so Koshi and I thankfully can still get gold albums from actual CD sales. CDs pay much more than digital. We were free to do that as we had a good budget to make the record. We were winding the album down in September 2019. Koshi had a B’z tour and then I came back in December. At that time they were closing Japan down so that’s when I first heard about this. I went back to Japan a few times in early 2020 and I went back one last time to shoot the cover Rolling Stone in March but by the time I was there in March the world stopped. The plane I flew in was one of those big old Dreamliners in business class and there was eight people in a plane that can hold 400 people or something. You could tell the shit was hitting the fan and that’s when we knew this thing ain’t gonna stop. Fortunately, the album was done and released just before things started getting really bad.

Maximum Huavo is the second album that you’ve done under the name Inaba/Salas with Japanese singer Koshi Inaba. How did you first meet Koshi?

I actually met Koshi when I was in my heyday. I hadn’t even made Back From The Living yet. Koshi and his guitarist, Tak, were huge fans of the Colorcode. So much so that they went and hired the same engineers and went to Platinum Island in New York, they hired all the same guys and they went to the same studio, that I recorded in to get that sound. I was having a party at the Hard Rock in Tokyo and they came and I met them. I made friends with mostly Tak because he was a guitar player. I remember in 91, I was playing a gig with Colorcode for some big event I flew and Tak sent me a bottle of champagne backstage. The guy’s really a nice dude. Then Tak and I did some magazine covers together. Then Koshi and Tak came to LA to record several times, but one time, they actually came to my house in the Hollywood Hills So I’ve been known him for a long time and I’ve played on many of Koshi’s solo albums since then and I wrote a couple songs with him for his solo albums.

When did you start work on the Ianaba/Salas project?

One day in 2016. I received a message from Koshi to say he felt empty and uninspired and that he couldn’t write. He asked if I would come over and write some songs. I just jumped on the plane and flew to Tokyo. We went to the studio and I sat there and I got my acoustic guitars as we write everything on acoustic. I asked him what he’d got and he said he had nothing. I just said that we should just have some fun.

What sort of music were you exploring together?

When I used to live in England in 1987 there was just kind of a Pop music that was like Funk. It all had synth bass but it was still Pop music. It was like Duran Duran music, all that kind of shit and it had fat funky bass, where you could dance to it. I loved this Funk music with this weird popping, slapping bass. I said that we should break some rules and instead of writing a Stevie Salas record with Koshi singing or another Koshi solo album with me playing guitar we should do something that you could have a bit of a dance to. I said we should use synth bass on everything. I wanted it to be like something with Bootsy or P-Funk. I listened back to the Clash in 1983 and I wanted every guitar to sound lo-fi and shitty, so nothing perfect. We wanted to make it ratty but with big melodies. Right away, we wrote the song “Overdrive” and a couple of other songs. Then I left that week and Koshi started writing lyrics and he wanted to do it again, so a month or two later, I flew back and we did another 6 or 7 songs and I thought this shit’s really cool and thought maybe we should release a single. His manager thought we had something really special here so we decided to put a record out.

How were you looking to progress from your sound on your first record?

If you’re a fan of mine, I tried to put in little cool shit. You know, like Brian May sometimes did when Queen did a Pop song then he’d put in some weird little guitar thing and that was just sick. On Maximum Haevo I wanted there to be more guitar than on Chubby Groove. Chubby Groove was us really experimenting and trying not to be too heavy handed on it. Koshi actually wanted more guitar on Maximum Huavo and I had more time to think about doing heavier riffs here and there. I didn’t want to write a riff record but we wanted to write a record like it was like being in London in 1987 except there was no Stock Aitken and Waterman.

Where did you record the album?

We were handpicking every musician and I was booking studios in Nashville and LA so we were in Nashville in the morning cutting some tracks and then we jumped on a jet flew to LA and went to Taylor Hawkins house and he played drums on a track. Then one morning we went to an Indian reservation and they played pow, pow drums to the same track with Taylor on it. We were just doing all this shit and having a good time and most importantly, Koshi was coming alive.

Were you able to record the album together in the studio with all of the musicians?

I’m still old school and when I produce a band, I’ve actually got to be in a room with them. So, we were fortunate as I’ve sold a couple million records and Koshi has sold over 100 million records, so we had real budgets and we were able to do it like the old days. We had the means to be able to do a project where it was enjoyable for both of us where we could communicate like real musicians and be in a room and create. Anybody who doesn’t get to do that now I feel bad for because that is the real true way to communicate as a musician.

Currently the album is only available in Japan. Do you have plans to make it available more widely.

Again, this has something to do with CDs and we can put out a record and sell 100,000 in a week. 100,000 sales at $38 each generates a serious amount of money. If we were to digitally released that stuff all over, it would take away a bit of the impact of those people that still buy CDs.

Would you not release it on CD over here over in Europe.

I don’t think there’s a market for it. What we would do maybe is do digital later on. What I really want to do is have Koshi do all the songs in English as we do get offers to go play together in Europe and Korea because the music has a sort of an international sound to it.

Japan has always been in a really good market for you. Why do you think you’ve really hit it off over there?

It’s always been my biggest market but I don’t know why. It started in 1990 when Colorcode came out and I met some Japanese people from the Polygram label there and then came to LA to meet me at one of my shows. I always wanted to play in Japan. It’s always been a dream. When I went there, my album in America, let’s just face it, it just wasn’t, wasn’t working. The critics and the press loved me but I couldn’t get on the radio because I didn’t sound like Bon Jovi. There was no place for me. My problem was, I played with P Funk then I also did Was (Not Was) then it was Rod Stewart, who was about as mainstream a rock star as you can get and I was opening for Satriani too. So now I’m a guitar hero and people didn’t know what to do with me. Although it probably made for me having this long career. That’s why I’m still able to talk to you. I’m 100 years old now. But at the time, it was a really political problem and it was my fault for wanting, as a musician, to work with everybody I could who was amazing. I’m a big fan of music and I could put sit around and play Aerosmith songs all day and then I could sit around and go play with the Ohio Players too. I could go to Japan and they didn’t try to categorise me and I think that’s why I was always more popular there. To make a short story long.

Do you think that record labels didn’t really know how to market you as you covered so many different styles of music?

You’ve just explained why I’m not successful as my music is too eclectic. There’s just no category for the music that I play.

One of your recent projects, the documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, has won you a host of awards. Why did you decide to produce a documentary about the influence of Native Americans on popular music?

Originally, I made a movie for indigenous people, to give them some inspiration to show some merits of some amazing indigenous musicians. Really, as a way to let indigenous people know that these guys that somehow succeeded and if they can do it, you can do it. That’s all the movie was made for, to inspire some indigenous people. I didn’t know it was gonna change written history and become this massive thing.

When did the idea first come to you?

When I opened for The Stones, I met a guy named Brian Wright MacLeod an indigenous writer who had written a book on Native American music history and he was documenting every recording by Native American people going back to 1908 and wax cylinders. He started schooling me about being it. I didn’t know that Jesse Ed Davis, whose name I used to see on every album I owned as a kid, was a Kiowa. I got really into the story. I started thinking that I had to find a way to give something back. I wanted to be known for something more than a guy who just jumped around with a guitar. I wanted to go back to Indian country and help inspire these people to have a great life and a great career.

How did your idea come to fruition?

I gave a speech at the opening of a recording studio in Canada and I said that everywhere I go in the world, people love indigenous people. They love Native Americans. They love our culture but we just don’t realise that. Everyone’s trying to get one guy like me on Jay Leno or on David Letterman or something and people say that I’m the only Indian on David Letterman but it’s got nothing to do with being an Indian. We need to bring the mainstream to Indian country not try to get one Indian into the mainstream. In the audience was guy called Tim Johnson, who was the head of the Smithsonian National Museum and he said my speech was amazing and he agreed with me 100%. He invited me down to the Smithsonian to see it. So, I flew down to Washington, DC to meet him again and see the Smithsonian. I told him the story of Rumble, about the Indian musicians. He knew nothing about it, like everybody else who knew nothing about it. He suggested that we did an exhibit and I took a job at the Smithsonian. So me, dumb ass barely graduated out of High School who plays Rock ‘n’ Roll for a living and now I’m working at the Smithsonian for three years to create this exhibit which I wanted to call Rumble but that was too wild for the Smithsonian so they called it Native Americans In Popular Culture and we fleshed out the story of Rumble.

Did the documentary grow from the original exhibition?

Yes, it was a hugely popular exhibit at the Smithsonian, the biggest one they’d ever had to date. All of a sudden, I felt like, I’m onto something. By this time, I’m already producing television shows in Canada so I said, I want to make a film. So, I found a film company to work with Resolution Pictures. We made the film Rumble and it changed the world but we had no idea that was going to happen.

How did you get the idea off the ground and get the sort of financial backing needed to take it from being just an idea to actually doing the documentary?

Since we’d done the Smithsonian first, real legitimate seeds were sown. We had a three-year run-in New York and six months in Washington and it was a proven winner there. The Smithsonian fleshed it out so we knew the history was real. We didn’t have to worry about film makers, film companies and TV companies saying that it was all bullshit. It had the Smithsonian stamp and therefore, it was legit and it gave us a real weight. I was living in Canada at the time, and I went to a thing called Hot Docs and there was a pitch session you could do and every single network was there. And Christina Fon from Resolution who produced it with me and Catherine Bainbridge who co-directed the film. They sat me down at every table and I told him the story.

What was the reaction like to your pitch?

Every single network said yes. So, then the problem was trying to figure out who to go with. I really wanted PBS to have it because I was all about credibility. It wasn’t about trying to get rich off this thing. I wanted it to be a credible story that stood the test of time forever for history for Indigenous people. I wanted PBS even though we might have been better off on HBO.

Once you had the backing of the network, how did you take your idea forward?

I knew the movie in my head that I wanted but I had to let the directors go through their whole thing and they were dealing with racism and dealing with all these things but I didn’t want to tell a story about victims. You know so many stories about people of colour or victim stories but I didn’t want to tell that story. I wanted to tell a story about heroes to me about Buffy Sainte-Marie, Robbie Robertson, Jesse Ed Davis, Randy Castillo and Link Wray. These people were heroes. We told a story about heroes and that’s what flipped the script because it was no longer about victims. We’re didn’t want to go in there and tell you how shitty this country is for fucking these guys over. Why do you not know Jesse Davis by heart. He played with all four Beatles; he played with the Stones, he played with Rod Stewart’s band, he played with Clapton. Clapton played on his records, he played on Clapton’s records. He played with Jackson Browne. Anybody that’s played with all four Beatles and the Stones should be known on a first name basis but nobody knows this guy. That’s insane. It’s like Native American people were invisible.

Do you feel that you’ve now redressed that injustice.

I feel like in history, we have a place at the table now. History is written by the people who win the battles. I was always taught that Columbus discovered America and I celebrated Columbus Day but hey, man, there were millions of people here already. With the music, food, culture, everything, it’s written by the people who win the battles and Indians got their asses kicked. We were almost wiped out so there was no one there to tell our story and no one there that even knew that story. Once we started looking, we found it, it was all there. I didn’t know Charlie Patton was Indigenous. There was footage of Howlin’ Wolf talking about this Indian guy who taught him how to play the guitar and he was talking about Charlie Patton. Billy Gibbons came up to me when we were at the Roxy and he pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of Charlie Patton and he said that he had brown, wavy hair like an Indian but we always just assumed he was an African American but he was actually is of Indian descent. We just had to open our eyes and our ears.

It was always there but we just couldn’t see it. When we started making this movie, it all just magically appeared and it just fell into place.

How challenging was if for you to actually get the documentary made?

It was a hard movie to make because I needed to have every Rock star, I knew on it. If you’re going to say that these Native Americans influenced Pop music history, I had to let the people who were influenced say it. Luckily, I have a pretty good phonebook and I was able to get in so many of these people and that’s what made the difference. If I told you, Jesse Ed Davis was an amazing guitar player you might not take any notice but when Eric Clapton says it you’ll think that you’d better fucking check this guy out. So, I needed to have those types of people in the film to make it really believable to the non-believer.

What was the reaction like to your finished documentary?

The film was looking like we weren’t going to finish it then we got asked to be in Sundance and that’s one of the big film festivals so we knew we had to get it finished. I knew I was going to be on an Inaba/Salas tour and wouldn’t be at the festival. I was in rehearsals in Tokyo at the time when I heard that we’d won at Sundance and all of sudden I’m on this big screen at Sundance while I’m in the studio in Tokyo. Once we won Sundance the whole shit just blew up. I came back home after the tour and went to the Boulder Film Festival and that kind of freaked me out as there were lines of people going round the corner and the screening was sold out. I was dumbfounded and felt like I could have cried. Then they wanted me to travel all over the world to support the film it was just amazing; I was flying all over the planet. We were winning award after award and none of it was expected. We won three categories at the Canadian Screen Academy Awards. I was choked up.

Have you considered releasing a soundtrack featuring the artists from the documentary or perhaps a boxset expanding on the music that was shown?

If it was the ’90’s we could have got a record company to release a soundtrack but do you know how much money it would cost to clear all of the rights to the music we’d want to use? We weren’t able to do that but Steve Van Zandt put together a bad ass soundtrack for it online.

What are you plans next in the documentary field? Do you hope to do a follow-up feature or maybe something totally different?

I’m doing scripts for TV right now although I am doing a documentary with a brilliant comic director called Donick Carey about racism called The R-Word. It’s about a white guy who loves everyone trying to teach his kid about racism without pissing everybody off and he loves the Red Skins football team, so he has to deal with that. I think it’s a really good story and Donick has been brilliant.

Are you still an advisor at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian?

I did it for three years. It looks amazing on your resume but doesn’t do much for your pocket book so I had to get back to working. I did my share and I’ll do it when I can but you don’t make a lot of money doing documentaries.

You’ve worked with an incredible array of musicians over the years. George Clinton gave you your big break. How did that happen?

I moved to LA in January of 1985 to try to make it and by August 1985 I was homeless. Luckily, I met David Pahoa from The Plimsouls and he worked at a studio with Rick Parada called Baby O Recording Studio and they liked me and let me sleep on the couch and I’d do jobs for them like sweeping up. I’d go up to every musician who came in like Gene Simmons who was producing Keel at the time and tell them that I played guitar and they’d say “Fuck off”. I didn’t care as I was young. One day I said it to George Clinton and he was in working on a track called “Hooray For Our Team”. They had Jack Sherman from the Red Hot Chili Peppers in on guitar and I guess he wasn’t giving them what they wanted. They came and woke me up at 2 or 3 in the morning and asked if I wanted to play. Keel’s equipment was set up in the studio covered in yellow tape saying “Do not touch” but I just plugged my guitar into all their cabinets.

Was this your first experience in a recording studio?

That was my first professional recording session. I just started going crazy doing all that divebombing Steve Stevens shit. Jack Sherman went home and I was invited to stay for the rest of the record and that’s how my career started. What I realised was that Jack’s playing was amazing and he played this Funk line that was so bad ass but I learned something big at that first session. Jack was super influenced by Funkadelic but I was more influenced by KISS, Aerosmith and Steve Stevens from Billy Idol’s band so I wasn’t trying to do exactly what I’d heard on a Funkadelic record that I’d grown up listening to. Jack was doing some authentic Funkadelic stuff like they did in the old days but they’d already done that and they were looking for something new. I realised then that I needed to find my own self and my own sound and I decided to be the guy who’d play Funk music through Marshall amps with distortion and that’s where the Colorcode sound came from.

After working with George Clinton, you worked briefly with Andy Taylor of Duran Duran. Why did that end so quickly?

He’d just quit Duran Duran and had a song called “Don’t Let Me Die Young” and he was going to go on tour opening for The Psychedelic Furs and I was introduced to Andy. It turns out that me and Andy didn’t get along and he fired me in a really bad way. The second gig on the tour was in San Diego and my parents, my friends and everybody had already bought tickets and I was coming back after being away for two years to play at the Open Air Amphitheatre and it was big news. He fired me a week before the gig. He didn’t even tell me. I turned up at rehearsals and there’s someone else playing through my amplifiers. I’m still angry about that. I was so embarrassed, I was crushed.

It wasn’t all bad though as working with Andy Taylor gave you an important connection that led you to join Rod Stewart’s band for his Out Of Order tour in 1988?

Andy was managed by Rod Stewart’s manager and he said that I should audition for Rod and he liked me and he took me for his band. I had no experience and went straight from my High Scholl band to stadiums. It was mad. That was one of the biggest gigs in the world at the time. The first four gigs were in football stadiums and the only other gigs I’d played up until then were with my High School band. Carmine Rojas was the bass player with Rod at the time and I had a poster of Carmine with David Bowie on my bedroom wall in my Mom and Dad’s house.

That’s a big step up into large arenas and stadiums. How did you feel when you first started to play at these venues?

I would spend all day at the venues watching all of the opening acts. I was taking in all of the experience. While the other guys were at their hotel rooms until an hour before the show, I was there all day. I couldn’t even believe I was there. I didn’t feel scared as I envisaged it as my destiny and I was going to be there. I’d visualised it and it happened so I felt like I belonged on that stage.

You once saying when you played with Rod Stewart that you saw yourself on the big screen in the stadium and started doing some guitar hero moves and Rod glared over at you. Did he tell you off for trying to steal his limelight?

It was at the Miami Dolphin Stadium and I started “First Cut Is The Deepest” on the acoustic guitar and right when I looked up, they had the biggest Diamond Vision screen at the time and there I was 60 feet tall and I just stopped and stared at myself and I pointed. I looked over and Rod, Carmine and Jeff Gollub were all looking at me. Rod came over to me later and said that I had to grow up and get my shit together and that I couldn’t stop in the middle of a song and point at the girls. I said that I wasn’t pointing at the girls and I told him the story and he said that was even worse. He stormed off and I was so close to being fired. I got close to getting fired many times. I was in way over my head. I wised up pretty quickly after that. The guys in the band were legends and I was a nobody. I took it all in and just enjoyed it. The tour was great, I loved it and to tell you the truth I didn’t want to quit the band at the end of the tour. I would have stayed with the band forever as they were like my big brothers and Rod was like a giant father figure to me.

Why did you move on?

A month after signing up with Rod, Island Records gave me the biggest recording contract that they’d ever given to a new artist. I kept it a secret and didn’t tell anybody. I was afraid to tell Rod as I thought he’d fire me. I kept it a secret for 9 months. We were having dinner in Wisconsin and he just said that he’d heard I’d signed a deal with Island Records and asked what I was planning on doing. We were about to do a huge stadium tour of South America and I wondered if I’d ever get that chance again but Island Records asked me if I wanted to be my own artist or just work for someone else and I needed to make the Colorcode record and that’s what I did.

Rob Lamothe was the original singer with the Colorcode. Why didn’t you end up recording together?

Rob was the guy that I looked up to in San Diego. We grew up together but he was the biggest Rock star in San Diego. I wanted Rob to be my singer and he started cutting songs and those early Colorcode songs with Rob sounded incredible but he also had a development deal with his own band Aircraft with Atlantic Records. I went to England to work for a while and Rob got busy with Aircraft and when I came back Rob was deeply into that and then I joined Andy Taylor and then I got fired. I got a development deal with Elektra and I started on the Colorcode stuff and I had nobody to sing so I ended up doing it myself. Everybody loved it and I ended up getting signed as the singer but I never wanted to be the singer.

When you first started your solo career with the Stevie Salas Colorcode you were a classic three piece with Winston Watson on drums and CJ DeVillar on bass. Why did you settle on the three-piece format?

Once I started singing, I felt this great vibe as a Power Trio and the label loved the idea of a Modern Funk Hendrixy thing that I was doing and the trio worked for the whole visual of that. I thought the Colorcode was a great band. We worked our assess off. I had just got off a tour playing with Carmine Rojas, Jeff Golub and Tony Brock and I was a much better musician than I was before so I needed to get my band up to speed so that was my major concern, how do we get better, how do we get great?

You worked in another Power Trio in Third Eye Open featuring Bootsy Collins and Buddy Miles that you did in 1992. That was an incredible 3-piece. How did you end up putting that together?

I didn’t want to do that record. I was in Canada working with Jeff Healey at the time and I got a call from Bill Laslow and he told me he’d run into Buddy Miles. I didn’t realise he was still alive. At the time me and Bootsy were getting ready to do Colorcode II and it was going to be called The Bootsy Tapes. It would be me, Bootsy and Winston as CJ quit. I wasn’t sure but Bootsy talked me into it and said that I had to imagine him and Buddy Miles as the rhythm section. I went to New York and every song I wrote just didn’t work as Buddy was just in a different place. We ended up writing some new songs and the first I did was “Got A Feeling” and it felt like we were getting into the Band of Gypsys territory. We just went Fuck it, we’d do 8-minute jams and let Bootsy sing and we just made a record of us jamming. It wasn’t the kind of record you’d make if you wanted to be successful but it was so cool and people loved it. I think that album gave me a longer shelf life of credibility whether I deserved it or not and with that credibility came a lot of open doors. I remember one review in Burrn magazine when it mentioned three legendary musicians. I was amazed that called me a legendary musician alongside Bootsy Collins and Buddy Miles. The whole thing was just amazing.

Did you play any live shows?

We didn’t play any but we were offered some big shows. Bootsy had been offered some other stuff for a lot of money and to tell you the truth Buddy Miles was a loose cannon and you’d never know what you were going to get with Buddy so it was a tough thing. At the same time, I was becoming gigantic in Japan. So Bootsy had an opportunity to make a ton of money and I had an opportunity in Japan to make a ton of money so it didn’t work out but I do wish that we’d played just a handful of shows. It would have been great.

Why did you decide to continue as a solo artist rather than with the Colorcode after the second album? 

When I started Colorcode, I wasn’t black and I wasn’t white but I’m an Indigenous person as you know. I’d worked with George Clinton and Bootsy and also Was (Not Was) who were a weird combination of people of all colours. I felt that everything I was doing was a cross. I was playing Rock and R&B and Funk and Colorcode encompassed this. The band was just called Colorcode. Then I became famous with Was (Not Was) who were Number 1, I did the Bill and Ted soundtrack and that was a giant movie and I was in Rod Stewart’s band so I was on fire. The label wanted to use my name and it was Island that wanted it to be Stevie Salas Colorcode, not just Colorcode. That did not sit well with CJ and Winston and now I wish I hadn’t done that. The business fucked up that band and maybe I did too as I should have fought more for them but I was just a kid and didn’t know what to do. Me and Winston are still friends and I was hanging out with CJ too but now I don’t think CJ and Winston are talking to each other for some reason. I had thought that I’d like to get the boys back together and do a tour of Japan but as they’re not talking right now we’ll have to see. To be honest at the time CJ and Winston weren’t feeling “Tell Your Story Walking” and “Born To Mack.” I was going somewhere else musically that those guys weren’t liking so as it was musically different, I just went with Stevie Salas rather than the Colorcode.

Why did you decide to do a covers album when you released The Electric Pow Wow?

Electric Pow Wow was more of a bridge album with all of my Rock star friends playing on it. I hadn’t finished the second Colorcode album at that point, it took us three years to make that record so I made records in between including Electric Pow Wow and the Hardware album. People seem to love that record. Kerrang magazine didn’t like it because it wasn’t heavy enough. I was never trying to be heavy in that way, I wanted a heavy beat. I want to do something that was gorgeous and beautiful and could make you cry but also Rock, like Led Zeppelin could do.

Sometimes your album releases can be a little confusing. Viva La Noise for example contains some material from your Alternative sessions and Alternative was re-released as Alternative Gold a year after its original release? Is this the way the industry works in delivering music to different territories?

I got a massive recording contract in Japan and they paid me a fortune. It was crazy. Part of the deal was that I had to give them the music first. Alternative would come out in Japan and imports appeared everywhere. So, I changed the format and put it out in Europe a year later and they had different songs and a different cover as they were coming out on different labels. It was a mess to tell you the truth. With Alternative, I thought of Led Zeppelin III. I was sick of big Rock sounds, I had that on Back From The Living so I went small. I played more acoustic as I was ready for something different. I got Dave Abbruzzese in on drums and he’s just the greatest musician I’ve ever worked with. Some places still called it Colorcode and others just Stevie Salas but at the end of the day it’s just Stevie Salas as I pretty much write all of the music.

Were the songs on Alternative Gold different mixes to the original Alternative release?

What happened there was Alternative came out and was huge in Japan and I did a huge tour over there for me. Toyota wanted me to do a song for them and if you could do that, the song would be huge overnight. So, I did “Moving Through Sound” for a Toyota Chaser commercial. They released it as a single and it was everywhere. The label said they couldn’t put out a whole new album so they decided to remaster Alternative and add some different versions of songs. I’d cut 19 songs for that album and only used 10 so there were extra tracks to add and we also put “Moving Through Sound” onto it. The album was released as Alternative Gold as they needed to have an album to sell the song from the Toyota commercial.

You worked with Mick Jagger too. That must have opened a lot of doors for you?

When I did Jagger, it was a gift. I was in a hole. He called and only Jagger could have got my head out of the dirt, I was really in a depressed state. He just inspired me so much. That was around 2001. After Jagger I became a musical director and consultant at American Idol, I got a job at the Smithsonian. Working with Mick Jagger helped move me into the upper echelons of the business. Before that I was just a credible musician but after you do Jagger you go to another level. When I did American Idol, at that time it was the biggest show in the world.

What acts did you work with on American Idol?

My first act was Daughtry, then Jordin Sparks who sold 2 million records then David Cook who sold a million records and in my last year I had three of them Alison Iraheta, Kris Allen who won and Adam Lambert. They all bombed unfortunately and it got worse as the shows went on but then Adam ended up fronting Queen, which is incredible.

Where you first met Bernard Fowler who you worked with in Nicklebag and the IMF’s?

I’ve known Bernard for years. He’d sang background vocals on the Hardware album and it was Bernard who introduced me to Mick Jagger. I actually met all of the Stones because of Bernard and started hanging out with Keith first

It’s been a while since you did something together with Bernard. Do you have any plans to record together sometime?

I’ve got a lot of good stuff with Bernard on and I’ve just digitised 98 2inch master tapes and am going through all of my old material I think I’m going to release a series of records through Warner’s that have different versions of my music. Dave Abbruzzese, the legendary Pearl Jam drummer has just mixed a couple of tracks for me and he’ll be remixing different versions of older songs that can be updated and there’s a lot of good stuff with Bernard. He’s just amazing.

Looking to the future, when can we expect a new studio solo album from you?

I don’t really know as I’ve been writing so much for Inaba/Salas and I’m writing scripts more now so I haven’t felt the need to make a new record at the moment. I was in the studio the other day editing songs and I was working on a song called “Overground” and I hated the drums on that so I was editing that. I was also working on a song called “Alone In The Crowd” from Alternative that I’d always loved. I thought that I had a bunch of deep album cuts that no one even knows. I’d like to retune up some of the songs that I still feel are relevant today that people don’t really know. People don’t talk about “Punk Ass Bitch” or “Crack Star”. I think “Crack Star” is one of the best songs that I’ve written and has certainly one of the greatest guitar solos that I’ve ever done. As far as new songs, I just don’t think I have anything new to say as I’m enjoying writing with Koshi Inaba so much more.

We haven’t seen too much of you in the UK and Europe over the years, do you hope to get over here sometime soon and play a few shows?

I’d come over in a minute if I could get promoters to make an offer. I just can’t go over and lose money. I don’t care if I don’t make any money I just don’t want to lose any. If it was put together well and promoted properly, I’d love to come over.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

There’ll be a series of albums coming out called Garage Funk on Warner’s and they’ll be available everywhere and then I’m working on films and TV shows. Hopefully you’ll see me on TV soon so then I’ll be as rich as shit and I’ll then be able to tour all over as cost won’t matter.

Maximum Huavo by Inaba/Salas is out now. Rumble: Indians Who Rocked The Work is out now on DVD and Blu Ray. For more on Stevie Salas visit

Interview By Mick Burgess


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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