Interview: Stef Burns

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's start with your latest release "Bayshore Road" (Favored Nations), with your good friend and acoustic guitarist extraordinaire Peppino D'Agostino. Who's idea was this "musical joint venture".

Stef Burns: We met here in San Francisco around the year 2000. I heard him play at a solo concert and I said let's get together and play. After we did a benefit concert for a local school we both decided together to record a CD and do some touring.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you record some tunes together in the studio?

Stef Burns: We recorded everything together in the studio, but we had trouble in the first studio getting a good electric guitar sound, so I re-recorded most of my guitar in a different studio.

Guglielmo Malusardi: On this CD, your typical sound has been a little "sugar coated" or "acousticized". Why was that decision made?

Stef Burns: It was completely Peppino and I together just playing what came naturally. I love the "sweet clean" strat tone that I used. I think it fit well with Peppino's style and the style of the compositions.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Did you play some guitars you had never used before on the CD?

Stef Burns: I was able to try some new things that I had not really recorded before, like a western tremolo twang type of sound and some tones that were jazzier than I had done before. I recorded "Manha de Carnaval" and "Birdland" with a Gibson ES335.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What kind of approach did you take for your solo recording? Did you improvise, or write out the solos before the recording session?

Stef Burns: Everything was improvised. That is the way I prefer to do it.

Guglielmo Malusardi: How long was the "walking" on Bayshore Road, from the initial writing to the release of the CD?

Stef Burns: Sai che no lo so? (You know what? I don't perfect Italian) Maybe a year and a half.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You just finished your last tour with Peppino. How was it?

Stef Burns: The tour with Peppino, Juan and Walter in February 2006 was our best ever. We had such a good feeling between each other and with our fans.

Guglielmo Malusardi: You are actually used to playing live on crowded stages, both with the most famous Italian rock singer, Vasco Rossi and the famous Huey Lewis Band. How do you feel just sharing the stage with Peppino and his acoustic guitar?

Stef Burns: It's fantastic. It's a whole other wonderful world. Being free to improvise and fill up the sound just with his acoustic and my electric is a great musical journey. It's a different side to my music that was missing before.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's introduce the other members of the band. Walter Latupeirissa on bass and Juan Van Emmerloot.

Stef Burns: These two great musicians from The Netherlands were brought in by Peppino. He and Juan have toured and done a DVD together. Juan and Walter play together often. I am very fortunate to be able to play with them. I also have just recorded some songs with them for my next Stef Burns CD.

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Guglielmo Malusardi: You have an amazing solo CD (available on this web site), entitled "Swamp Tea", released in 1998. Powerful structures, soulful ballads, great melodies and fantastic guitar soloing, with such great musicians as Narada Michael Walden, Steve Smith, Deen Castronovo, your long time musical bandmate in Y&T, Jimmy De Grasso on drums; Myron Dove, Benny Rietveld on bass, Marc Russo producing; your long time band mate John Seppala and Frank Martin on keyboards . I personally consider it your musical "identity card". Do you agree?

Stef Burns: Well, it is of that time. But many things have changed since then. My ideas are different and my sound. I really like that CD and I am proud of it. The people that you mentioned were a dream to play with.

Guglielmo Malusardi: What's the meaning of the title?

Stef Burns: Nothing really. Just a strange beverage.

Guglielmo Malusardi: On "Bayshore Road", you and Peppino covered a tune from "Swamp Tea", the beautiful ballad "Echo Lake". Whose idea was this?

Stef Burns: It was Peppno's idea. He wanted to try new voicings with an alternate tuning. It also gave me a chance to play a softer, more intimate version.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Are you actually working on another solo album?

Stef Burns: Yes. I have started recording some songs with Juan and Walter. I hope to complete the rest this fall and release early next year. I am working towards releasing something with Ultra Records in Milan and Family Affair Dist.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk now about your "Italian life". Since 1993 you have been playing guitar on Vasco Rossi albums and at his live concerts. To give an idea to people that don't know this artist, he has sold several millions of copies of his albums and he's selling out all tour date, even when the concerts are held in 80,000 seat Italian football stadiums. How did you meet him?

Stef Burns: After Vasco's producer, Guido Elmi, heard me play on Alice Cooper's "Hey Stoopid", he hired me to record on the "Gli Spari Sopra" album in Los Angeles, thanks to my friend Stephen Hart who was the engineer on that album. Then I met Vasco at rehearsals for "Rock sotto l'assedio" San Siro Stadium, Milan 1995.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I remember at your last clinic in Italy, you answered a question about your first Italian gig with him in San Siro stadium. Can you relate that story?

Stef Burns: Well, when I recorded with him in Los Angeles I had never heard of him. When they asked me to play live in Italy I was happy to come, but I was so shocked when I came on stage in the stadium and experienced the immense size of the crowd and the passion of Vasco's fans. They sang every word and loved all the songs with intensity. It was wonderfully overwhelming.

Guglielmo Malusardi: With Vasco, in a very special free concert, organized last year in the south of Italy to thank his fans, you played your guitar in front of an unbelievably huge audience of five hundred thousand people. Try to describe what you felt on stage at that concert.

Stef Burns: It was great. A very lovely event. I wish it did not rain but maybe that added to the magic a little. But I felt sorry for the people getting soaking wet.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Another career highlight. 2004, a July's night in Rome, Joe Satriani invited you on stage to join him, Robert Fripp and Steve Vai on the G3 jam. What you remember about that night?

Stef Burns: I was thrilled to play with three incredible guitarists such as Satriani, Vai and Fripp. I was a little nervous at first but then it just became this wonderful jam. Jeff Campitelli (drums) and Matt Bissonette (bass) were also wonderful.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I mentioned previously your last clinic in Italy. It's not the first time that I've seen your clinic, but last time In Milan you really surprised me. I've never seen such a funny clinic. Are you thinking about leaving your musical career behind and debuting as a comic actor?

Stef Burns: No! I'm just a goofy guy sometimes and I like to have fun with the people. I enjoy humor in music as well.

Guglielmo Malusardi: We spoke about your role with Vasco Rossi's band, but you also played the past with Yesterday & Today (Y&T) and with a very particular rock star named Alice Cooper. Let's talk about those two situations.

Stef Burns: Both were great hard rock experiences. Alice Cooper was a more expressive situation for me and I was very involved in the recordings and live arrangements. Alice is such a cool guy and I miss him very much. I had to stop playing with him when I became too busy playing with Vasco. Y&T was so cool also. A tough, blusey hard rock band. It was great to be a part of that for so many years. It was like heavy metal school for me.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Back to the future, in a couple of months, you will start the Huey Lewis and the News American Tour. Tell us something about your experience with this band.

Stef Burns: Nice reference! I love playing with Huey and the guys. I feel very fortunate to play with so many diverse artists, each with their own style that enriches my musical experience. With Huey we play a very tight, funky, bluesy type of rock 'n' roll that is so much fun. I love playing all the hits that I heard so much in the '80s on the radio, They really are one of the few bands from the '80s whose music still holds up today. This summer we are touring together with Chicago. It's fun also because, like Vasco and Alice, there are a lot of guitar solos.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Let's talk about your guitars, amps and effects when you are on stage with Peppino, Vasco and Huey.

Stef Burns: The guitars are mostly the same with each band. My main guitar is a 1991 Stratocaster built for me by Larry Brooks in the Fender Custom Shop. It has a Duncan JB in the bridge position with a coil tap and Texas specials in the neck and middle. I have some other Strats and Telecasters that I love. Some tunes with Vasco I play a Les Paul Custom. Amps with Vasco are Marshall JCM 900. With Peppino I use either the Marshall or a Fender Hot Rod DeVille 4x10. With Huey I use the Fenders though this year I may add the Marshall for a better lead sound. I use a few pedals for different distortions and gain, Wah, Whammy, Tremolo, Compressor/sustainer and Advance Cat Drive Boost made in Italy, great for clean solos! For delay, chorus and reverb I use the old Alessis Quadraverb.

Guglielmo Malusardi: When you are in the studio, do you use the same gear?

Stef Burns: Usually the same gear, though on the "Bayshore Road" CD I also used a Bruno Amp that belonged to Masaki Liu, the engineer on the record. Very nice and smooth.

Guglielmo Malusardi: Being that you have had a long career as a professional guitar player and considering the hundreds of thousands of kids all around the world that are learning and practicing every day with a dream to be one day be a famous guitar player, what would you suggest to them?

Stef Burns: Keep playing, keep trying new things as well as listening to and learning the old ones. Try to listen and play with your heart. Play with other musicians as much as possible and when you are getting good enough, be heard in public as much as you can. Play gigs often as well as practicing. Stay healthy and don't do drugs.

Guglielmo Malusardi: I personally consider instrumental music as a pure state of music. Everybody in every country can enjoy it completely. No languages, political or religious barriers. What's your point of view?

Stef Burns: That is the beauty of music. I like it because I like melody and chord changes. Although, I am planning on singing on my next record so watch out!

Guglielmo Malusardi: If you couldn't have supported yourself as a professional musician, which profession would you have chosen?

Stef Burns: An architect because I love to design and build houses. Maybe a forest ranger because I love the wilderness.

Guglielmo Malusardi: OK Stef, thank you so much for the interview . Feel free to leave a final message for Guitar Nine readers.

Stef Burns: I hope to see you all out there on tour! Thanks for listening!

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Between Italy and California - this could serve as the title of his next solo CD. Actually it is a way of life for Stef Burns, an amazing San Francisco Bay Area-based guitar player, because in 1995 he answered a call from Vasco Rossi (the most famous Italian rock singer) to play guitar in his band. He's released a solo CD ("Swamp tea") and "Bayshore Road" (recorded with Italian acoustic maestro Peppino D'Agostino). Burns also currently plays with Huey Lewis and the News, and has logged time in the Y&T and Alice Cooper bands.

Guglielmo Malusardi got a hold of Burns to talk about his many musical projects and his upcoming solo album.