The Facets of Steve Conte By: Dick Beach
Written by Staff on December 2, 2021
Photo By: Photo: Anja van Ast
Steve Conte is known for different things to different audiences. Cowboy Bebop to some, a player with Blood, Sweat and Tears to others, and as a member of the iconic New York Dolls. One hard hitting question and a bunch of other, interesting, conversations.
RRX: We’re speaking with Steve Conte today, who has played with just about
everybody on the planet has a new record called “Bronx Cheer”. Thank you very much for joining us.
SC: My pleasure. Hi Richard, hi everybody out there. What’s happening? Where are we located right now? I know we’re on the web, but where’s home for you guys?
RRX: The home base for our organization is in Waterford, which is a little suburb on the river. And I just want to start, because this is a very important question, and our readers just want to know. You grew up in Utica. You were born in Utica; I imagine you spent a few years there. You
now live in The Bronx. Pizza or tomato pie?
SC: You’re asking a really tough question, man.
RRX: I thought I’d hit you with a hard-hitting journalistic question to start.
SC: You know I love my pizza, especially Sicilian, but the tomato pie I grew up with. Every time I come upstate I go to a place where I can get some. But it just doesn’t
happen down here, they don’t have it. So, I love both, how’s that for an answer?
RRX: Hedging your bets.
SC: Yeah, I was born in New Hartford. I don’t know if I ever lived in Utica proper,
I spent most of my early schooling years, kindergarten through fourth grade, just outside of Buffalo,
so, we even moved further upstate, and yeah, we had some brutal winters up there. Then
we moved to New Jersey, and down this way ever since.
RRX: I was surprised to see that your first touring gig was with Blood, Sweat, and Tears? Tell
me a little about that. Because I think people will go, ‘wait a minute, that dude did
SC: There are different segments of the population that know me for different
things. There’s one segment of the population that only knows me through my work
with Japanese anime. But those people had no idea that I was a singer and a songwriter on my own, that I ever recorded with my own bands, or other bands – they just know me as the voice of
Cowboy Bebop, whatever, the anime. And there’s those people who know me from my
time in New York City, playing with all these different people: Paul Simon, Peter Wolf,
Billy Squier, you know, the Dolls and Monroe. Then there’s the Dolls and Monroe
people, like the sort of glam-punk, sort of garage people who would have no idea that I
did anything, like, ultra-musical before that, like study jazz guitar, and play with Blood,
Sweat, and Tears.
RRX: Bronx Cheer has some straight ahead rock n roll, there’s some other stuff that has a very… I won’t call it swing but I’ll call it a mellow jazz feel with respect to chord changes and where the lyrics go. Did that just happen because of what you write or was that purposeful?
SC: Well without knowing the specific songs and parts you’re talking about I thought you were going to say with regard to the rhythm, the swing that would be coming from Charley Drayton, (the drummer). Charley Drayton who plays with Keith Richards, X Pensive Winos, B52’s and The Divinyls, he’s played on so many hit records and I got him! We did a lot of live things together with Bernard Fowler who sings with The Stones. I knew I wanted to make this straight ahead rock n roll record but I wanted swing and a little bit of a different quirkiness to it and Charley always brings that to anything that he plays on, so I knew Charley was the guy for it.
RRX: Everyone’s going to know the rock n roll stuff, tell me how did Cowboy Bebop start up?
SC: Well, it’s a huge phenomena when I got the call. I call it when you hang around this crazy town long enough and shit happens, you know? I got to New York in 84 or 85. I moved in, in 86 and started hanging out a little earlier and building my reputation. This woman Yoko Kanno came to New York from Japan and she was asking for a male rock singer and her translator (for lack of a better word) reached out to some New York heavy musicians and asked can you give me the name of male rock singer? My name got tossed in the hat, so I sent a demo tape, she loved it. A couple of months I’m coming back to start a soundtrack for this new Japanese animation series called Cowboy Bebop, it’s 1998. So I did it and she kept calling me for more of those and before I know it, it’s like… time goes on we’re doing more and different animes Ghost in The Shell, Wolf’s Reign, Brain Powerd and I eventually did some for Sonic, you know the video game not with Yoko but someone else. But you know everything sort of builds and they start associating my name with that, which is completely different from the rock n roll world.
RRX: You were in The Dolls and as I understand it there’s supposed to be a new recording being done with Michael Monroe from Hanoi Rocks, you played with Peter Wolf. How much of that is very different but very the same?
SC: Whelp, some of that stuff is ages ago now, like the Squier, the Wolf, the Paul Simon, the Maceo Parker. These things happened in the late 90’s to early to mid 2000’s. I joined The Dolls in 2004 and that was really the first time I played punk rock or garage rock or whatever you want to call it. Proto-punk or glam, I don’t know. Once I got into The Dolls, I really dug into the music to get to its essence. You can’t stand up there on the stage and not believe what you’re doing and not love it.
RRX: In an interview I saw, you actually start with two inch tape, which is not the cheap way to go anymore. How do you think that affects what you do? Because this record sounds awesome.
SC: I agree the early digital stuff would sound cold and brash and on the high end brittle. On one of my albums, I started recording on digital and it was irking me so much with the brash high end, when we mixed it, we actually mixed it to tape. This time we started out with two inch analog tape, it’s just got that warm tape saturation. We use one reel of tape and we get a take of a song and then we just record over it. We dump it into the computer and we say okay there’s that one’s done. Okay let’s roll over the tape now and each reel of tape lasts like fifteen minutes so you can get like three songs on it. Then you just wipe it and do the next track. We did that for all ten songs.
RRX: When you were touring and you were on a bill with Bo Diddley, did you ever meet one of his guitar players, Frank Daley?
SC: Oh. I know Frank from Albany.
RRX: You know Frank?
SC: I know the whole family. I know Joe, I know Jack. I played with all of them.
RRX: Frank used to be my two doors down neighbor.
SC: Wow. Frank Daley man, yeah
RRX: That whole Daley family, I’d look and go, how did that much talent get into three brothers? They’re extraordinary.
SC: Yup, Joe was great too. A great drummer. Yeah, they’re like me and my brothers, me and my family. I have another brother Jeff who’s a great drummer and my brother John of course is a phenomenal bass player. He played with everybody from Ian Hunter to Roseanne Cash, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes for the past decade. But yeah, we have a similar thing going on, it’s that brotherly Upstate thing man.
RRX: I always ask people. The thing that I do when I end an interview. If there is a single statement you would like to make to the world, to everyone, anything you’d like… what would you say and why would you want to be remembered for it?
SC: That’s a heavy responsibility.
RRX: I believe everyone has a message that can resonate. That’s a personal thing with me. I never wanted to have an interview where we go through all of this other stuff and not give you the opportunity to express something that you’d like people to know.
SC: Well, there’s probably a couple of different ones. In life my motto is just be a righteous dude, you know? Be a good guy. There’s so many people in this world where people just use other people for as much as they can and just kick them to the curb when they’re done. I’m not one of those kinds of people, and I really detest people who are. I’ve met them throughout my life and career. I just write those people off, they don’t figure into my list of true friends anyway. So, I’d say, you know? Do the right thing. You know when you’re doing something sleazy and not cool. I try to lay everything out even if I’m asking for a favor from somebody. I’m not going to hide behind some fake thing and spring it out at the last minute, hey, how about this favor? I’ll come right out and say hey, look you know, this is what I’m thinking. How do you feel about this? Honest communication. Be a good dude and please buy music again!
RRX: Thus endeth the interview.