Steve Conte - New York Dolls Print E-mail
Written by Dom Daley   
Tuesday, 06 October 2009 09:00


They were certainly big shoes to fill, the Thunders creepers. But Steve Conte, after a period of uncertainty in some corners of New York Dolls fandom, appears to have now been accepted and appreciated as a crucial member of the current line up of the seminal band.


With his 'Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth' album about to become widely released - after previously only being available at New York Dolls gigs - and the Dolls about to embark on another lively trek around the UK, what better time to catch up with the former Company Of Wolves member (God, that seems so long ago!) and find out the facts?



As you know, I was impressed with the 'Crazy Truth' album that I picked up at a Dolls gig - for me, musically, it was right on the money. Were the songs already written or did it grow in rehearsals?


About half of the songs were already written prior to the band's existence. The rest of the songs were either written specifically for the Crazy Truth or were songs that I was going to present to the Dolls but decided not to. When the CD is released in October it will have different artwork, more credits and it will be of better sound quality and a more dependable, high quality disc compared to the ones at the shows.


Is there more to come from the Crazy Truth? Maybe, a second album?1crazytruth

Oh yeah, we have another two albums worth of songs; more diverse material than this first record. It's still rock & roll but playing around with our Afro-Cuban influences.


There have been some great interviews with you in magazines about your credentials and your c.v. is certainly impressive. Playing in Japan to 17,000 people one week then doing the Dolls gig the next week. From studying Jazz guitar performance to film scores. You've also played with a variety of musical legends. You're not a fan of standing still and doing nothing then? 


11conteI'm like a shark in the water, I gotta keep moving or else I'll die - ha ha! It keeps things interesting too. If I had to play the same type of music, only one music my whole life, I'd go nuts. Lucky for me, I can do a few different things well. Then, when I do a gig it's like - which hat am I gonna wear tonight?



You once said "write a song every day and maybe once a week you'll have a decent one" so I make that 52 great songs a year!  When can we hear them?

I have thousands of songs. I may not release them that often but they fill my NYC apartment on cassette tapes, CD's and now, hard drives. If you add up the three albums by Company Of Wolves, three by Crown Jewels, one by The Contes, two by New York Dolls, two by Mr Henry and one by The Crazy Truth, I've got quite a few songs out there. I also just wrote three songs for a Spike Lee produced film, 'The Perfect Age Of Rock & Roll'. So if you haven't heard all those records you'll have some searching to do!



I read that after the first gig with the Dolls in London, things didn't go like they were1conte rehearsed and you were a bit bummed about it - I take it that doesn't happen anymore? Sylvain and David seem like a very relaxed pair both on and off stage, what would you say working with them is their single biggest quality that has rubbed off on you? And has working with them changed how you approach writing or recording?


Music is like life, it goes in cycles. At first you create purely with instinct, then you learn some stuff and apply it, then you try to get back to ignorance again.


When I say ignorance I mean getting your mind out of the process, no thinking, just feeling. That's what I got back to more than ever with the Dolls because I've been heading that way ever since I studied jazz, theory and harmony. First thing I did after my schooling was to go back to where I came from; to the Beatles, then the blues and soul and then the garage bands. These days I try not to have such a preconceived idea of how a song should turn out when recorded. I used to plan stuff out a lot more. Since being a Doll I've been going with the flow lately and it's liberating.


2conteliveKnowing your varied musical background with jazz, a love of Hendrix, also people like Paul Westerberg and playing with Willy DeVille and onto your Dolls experience, have you ever fancied putting together an album of your favourite songs? If so what would get on the record and who would you have play and sing on specific tracks? The Dolls were playing 'Take Another Piece Of My Heart' and when I heard it I thought it fitted perfectly and such a great song - whose idea was that? And has it been recorded? 

Oh yeah, if I had time I'd do a 60s psychedelic covers album, a blues album, a jazz album, a 70s soul album. I've been influenced by so many things...from Sly & The Family Stone & Jimi to Coltrane & Billie Holiday to Howlin' Wolf & Leadbelly. The Janis Joplin song was David's idea but we've retired it from the set now.



Are you currently working on anything specific?  Do you like to plan ahead or take it as it comes?

First I want to get this album out and tour but all the while I'm writing new stuff and we rehearse new material as well. One day I will decide to roll tape at rehearsal and the next album will be started!


Having seen you live recently in Florida and on the boat in Bristol when you played the UK last year, I couldn't help notice how very different an experience gigs were in the UK compared to America. Do you, as a performer, notice a difference in audiences around the globe? Say from the UK to the USA to Japan or mainland Europe?



Yes, in general I find audiences outside of the US more open to what they haven't been "fed".Steve_Conte_Cartoon_2 In Italy before we'd even play a note I could see look of wonder on people's faces, as if they knew we were gonna create something right in front of their eyes. In some big cities in the US audiences are jaded, like they've seen it all and they dare you to impress them. I love playing for the Germans, Italians, in Scandinavia....and Boise, Idaho!


Do you think the Dolls get a fair press, musically? As a band I think the talent in the current line up is often overlooked from certain journalists who tend to just write a predictable piece about the early years when covering the band, and are dismissive about the current line up and releases (incidentally you have been in the band longer than the original line up now anyway)?


All of that is true. Let's face it, journalists want the sensationalism. These days the band is all grown up with no drug problems or drama and has good artistic players in the band - no most American journos tend to still ask about the "good ole' days" of drag & heroin. Europe and the rest of the world is different though, I've had feature articles in guitar magazines so they do care more about the music and the current line-up.


Ever had a gig from Hell Steve?


They all have their own little bit of hell in them. Most recently there was a gig @ South by Southwest in Austin, TX where we had a guitar tech who had never tech'ed before and I spent the whole show alternately yelling at him and then turning to the crowd and laughing about it. The guy was clueless, he gave me a 3 foot long guitar cable and tuned my guitars up a 1/2 step to F. Luckily he was a sweetheart of a guy, otherwise I would have strangled him.





And then he was gone. Uber Rock's new best friend can be seen wearing his New York Dolls hat in the UK in December so catch him if you can  at one of the following shows


Cambridge, The Junction (Dec 2)
Bristol, Anson Rooms (Dec 3)
London, HMV Forum (Dec 4)
Southampton, Talking Heads (Dec 6)
Leamington Spa, Assembly (Dec 8)
Liverpool, O2 Academy (Dec 9)
Edinburgh, Picturehouse (Dec 10)

Ticket Hotline: 08700 603 777. Book Online: Alternatively, check out the individual box office details for each of the seven venues.

You won't be disappointed I can assure you of that. Also pick up a copy of his album with the Crazy Truth and see what all the fuss is about. 


Steve Conte & The Crazy Truth.

In stores October 20 On Varese Vintage Records.