5 Albums I Can’t Live Without: Steve Conte of the New York Dolls

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Name Steve Conte

Best known for Playing lead guitar in the New York Dolls, being a solo artist on Little Steven Van Zandt’s label Wicked Cool Records, and singing on Japanese anime soundtracks like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost In The Shell.

Current city Bronx, NYC

Really want to be in Rome, Italy…eating penne pasta marinara, drinking Amarone (Italian red wine) and not getting fat from it.

Excited about My new album, Bronx Cheer dropped November 5 on the Wicked Cool Records label. (It can be ordered on Bandcamp.com via the Wicked Cool page or my Steve Conte page there.)

My current music collection has a lot of Everything!! Bebop jazz, punk/garage rock, funk, rockabilly, blues, soul, classic rock, early rock ’n roll, bossa nova, flamenco, dub reggae, singer/songwriter, etc.

And a little bit of Classical.

Don’t judge me for Styx’s The Grand Illusion.

Preferred format Well, I prefer vinyl and CDs, but I am guilty of being lazy and just listening to streaming music via my phone and a Bluetooth speaker—for convenience only. I actually discover a lot of new music that way, it allows me to check out stuff I haven’t heard before without having to be bummed out because I bought a record with one good song on it.

5 Albums I Can’t Live Without

1

Revolver, The Beatles

I grew up hearing my parents’ jazz and classical music collection in our home, along with whatever pop and early ‘60s rock ‘n roll came on the AM radio, but one night my parents invited a young, hip couple over for dinner and they brought Revolver with them. The sound was nothing like I ever heard on record or on the radio; 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 constantly interesting, intriguing, innovative, unpredictable and inspirational even though I’ve heard it a million times. It’s still my favorite album of all time.

2
Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2), The Rolling Stones

This was the first Stones album I ever owned and for me, the PERFECT introduction to the band. It has “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 verses 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 Shadows.” And like with Revolver, I was hypnotized 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’s 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.

3

Sign ‘O’ the Times, Prince

Prince’s finest…his “Double White Album.” It’s got 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, that’s why. 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.

4
Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin

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 unparalleled and the bass playing as funky as an old R&B man from the South Side of Chicago. The light and shade here is 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.

5
Ballads, John Coltrane

This album is so beautiful I could almost cry every time I hear the first two notes from Trane’s tenor saxophone. It’s my early-Sunday-morning-lounging-in-pajamas album, my romantic evening album, and my learning how to phrase a melody album. I heard about it through an interview with one of my favorite guitar players, Larry Carlton, who said it was one of his faves, so I bought the album and man, was he ever right.

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