We recently had the distinct pleasure of chatting with New Jersey-based virtuoso guitarist, Steve Bello. An affable, long-locked rock ’n’ roller with a smile as quick as his fingers, Bello has a fantastic sense of melody and arrangement that you don’t always hear from purely instrumental players.
Inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Uli Jon Roth, John McLaughlin, and Prince, he calls his playing style “instrumental progressive funk metal” in the vein of Living Colour/Joe Satriani.
With an impressive seven studio albums under his belt, Bello’s authoritative playing has nabbed the attention of music gear companies such as Ibanez, Orange Amplifiers and ElectroHarmonix, and he even has 4 signature pedals with Checkered Pedals. He’s shared the stage with Bumblefoot, Nik West, and Juma Sultan (conga player for Hendrix at Woodstock), and toured through Germany with Shocka Zooloo which featured TM Stevens (bassist with Steve Vai, Joe Cocker, Miles Davis, James Brown) and TC Tolliver (drummer with Plasmatics).
Read on to learn more about what makes this 7-string slayer tick, and what he thinks the future has in store for the music industry post-pandemic.
Alexx: I can definitely hear some Uli Jon Roth influence in your playing (tell me if I’m wrong), but who else would you say inspired you?
Steve: Thank you for that. Uli was and still is a big influence on my playing. Early on, my influences were Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmsteen. And then Steve Vai and Vernon Reid turned me upside-down. Other guitarists outside of the rock/metal realm would have to include John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia, Prince, Andy Summers. Ty Tabor of King’s X really inspired me to forge having my own sound, or something slightly unique in tone.
Alexx: At least from what I’ve heard in your recordings, you definitely seem to lean into the rock/metal/progressive genres (awesome!). Is there any other genre you’re interested in tackling or exploring on future recordings?
Steve: I played funk music for a time and incorporate that into my music. Played in jazz band in college, and some of that seeped in as well. I like classical, can play some parts of Paganini violin licks but lack the discipline to really commit to studying classical guitar. I write whatever feels good. I’ve tackled reggae a bit, as well as folk/Jimmy Page-style acoustic numbers. I know my heart belongs in the rock/metal camp with other overtones.
Alexx: You have an immense and very impressive catalog of solo albums. Which one would you say is your favorite, which one was the most rewarding painstaking or difficult to produce, and which one would you choose if you had to define yourself as a player?
Steve: MARBLEHEAD is still tops for me; that album came out in May 2018. I still have to say my second album ALL WIRED UP (2014) was a joy to make, lots of good memories there. I try to write songs that I can reproduce live, never want to feel like I did something so over my head that it’s impossible to replicate on stage. As far as defining myself, I will lean to MARBLEHEAD again as that shows my range as a writer.
Alexx: In addition to being a solo artist, you’ve also accompanied other notable musicians. Can you tell us about your tenure as TM Stevens’ guitarist for example, and how that challenged you as a player? What did you have to do to prepare for a high profile gig like that?
Steve: I had known TM since 1993, met him at a club in Hoboken. I knew he was good but had no idea he was THAT good. I was so blown away; thought to myself “I can see myself in that band!” Took 19 years, but when he called me and asked “Feel like playing guitar in my band?”, I flipped out. My first show with him was at Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ (June 16, 2012) and it was an insane show. I threw my back out real bad that morning but was determined to play. Then, we did a second show at the same place two years later. Was asked “Wanna go to Germany on tour?”, I grabbed my passport and was off! That was September 2014. His music was so challenging and I loved it! Really made me grow as a player, writer and performer. His one piece of advice for me was, “People don’t pay to see the top of your head. Show them your eyes!” I learned his songs nine ways from Sunday and felt I did a great job. The band also had TC Tolliver on drums (he was in Plasmatics in the 80’s) and we were a Sherman tank!
Alexx: The pandemic has been so hard on gigging musicians, especially with all the venue closures. How have you shifted your energies as a musician during this time, and how has the lockdown affected your creativity?
Steve: I am always creative, pandemic or not. I stopped performing as of last year anyway, so that lowered my stress and anxiety. Writing comes pretty easily to me, I never feel like I have a mental block.
Alexx: What do you think is going to happen to the industry after the pandemic is over? Will there even be an industry left, or do you think it’s just going to change form?
Steve: I think things will explode, people will see any band right now because humans need interaction and an outlet to express themselves. The industry needed to be cleansed, so to speak. Not sure what the next step will be. I think this is a great time for musicians to get new music out, not feel like they are on a time crunch, no guy chomping a cigar saying “Get something out or you’re dropped.”
Alexx: The New York Times just released an album entitled, “Guitars Are Back, Baby!,” in which they describe an uptick in instrument and pro audio sales online (largely due to the pandemic). Does this give you some hope that some new players may help to revitalize or breathe some new life into the otherwise flailing music industry?
Steve: I read some of that. Hard to say really. In the 80’s, there was the “guitar is over, synths rule” mentality until Van Halen merged the two with “Jump”. Suddenly, it was cool to play guitar again. I know there are some players on Instagram who make some fascinating music, like Mateus Asato. But new players will want to chomp on something more digestible like Ramones or AC/DC. Only a matter of time. Wish I had a crystal ball to predict things. Acoustic guitars are bigger than ever because of portability, that much I can tell.
Alexx: What are you focusing on more these days? I know you’ve been doing a lot of teaching as of late. Can we expect another solo album sometime soon?
Steve: Teaching is definitely my life path, though I plan on doing one final solo album. Was hoping to record something for a mid-2020 release but no dice. If I can get started by Winter and have something out in Spring 2021, then great. I learned not to rush things or place undue stress on myself anymore.
To learn more about Steve Bello, follow him via the following links:
Official website: steviehimself.wixsite.com/bellorocks
KCO Promotions page: facebook.com/kcopromotions40
Alexx Calise is an accomplished singer, guitarist and songwriter. Perhaps best known for her hit song, “Cry”, which became a staple on the show “Dance Moms” and boasts millions of hits on Youtube, Calise’s raw emotion, heart-and soul-lyrics and unmistakable vibrato have impacted thousands of young girls all over the world. Calise is currently working on new solo material, and she will soon be releasing a new EP with other music projects,. In addition to her musical pursuits, she also works in the social media and marketing department at Roswell Pro Audio, and writes for a number of music publications. When not playing shows or writing music, she enjoys horror movies, exercising or taking a well-deserved nap.