Electric guitar instrumentalists never have been at the forefront of the rock music scene. Although widely respected, musicians such as John Mclaughlin, Carlos Santana – even the artistically ubiquitous Frank Zappa – generally get relegated to a rock music ghetto. So it’s encouraging to hear young guitarist William Steffey bucking established tradition with his new tape, “Up on the Rock,” which features a distorted instrument played at a blistering pace, with very little singing. ‘The instrumental guitar is probably more popular now than it ever was -and it never was really popular,” said the 18–year-old Deerfield native last week while home on winter break from the University of Iowa.
“I LIKE ALLAN HOLDSWORTH, a rock/ jazz fusion guitarist,” be continued. “And there’s a new guy named Joe Satriani who is dominating the instrumental rock guitar sound. There also is acoustic guitar player Johnny Marr, formerly with The Smiths.”
The young musician has been stringing along on guitar since fifth grade. Although he performed in his high school jazz band and has given private lessons, he is largely self-taught. At the University of Iowa, where he is a freshman, he plans on majoring in music and, wisely, minoring in business. “I’d like to be a solo artist, but anybody who knows anything about the music business knows that you take what you can get in order to feed yourself,” he said. “I know I have to get my product out and my name around.”
Steffey’s recording received a lot of airplay m Iowa City, and reportedly resulted in sales of more than 100 copies. Available locally at Rose Records outlets. the tape has sold half that amount here.
“AT DEERFIELD HIGH School. I was known as a guitarist,” he said. “I played with number of bands, the last of which was called ‘Ahem.’ I guess a lot of people still remember me.” In addition to guitar. Steffey also plays a programmed keyboard synthesizer on “Rock,” He is joined on one track by flugelhorn player Jim Berry. Steffey, Berry and percussionist Andrew Weiss (all Deerfield High School grads) plan to release another recording next year.
In many respects, Steffey follows in the footsteps of rock guitarists like McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix, who broke out of the usual practice of playing a limited set of notes within the blues scale. “My music is definitely a fusion of all the types of music I’ve been exposed lo,” he explained. “Harder rock has been a big influence, but l also like to listen to other musicians such as Thelonius Monk. Anyone can bang out a bunch of atonal notes, but Monk knew how to put them together.”
HE NAMES PAUL McCARTNEY, Harry Chapin and the group, Steely Dan, as other out-of-the-way influences. Despite the preponderance of amplified electronics (he runs his Washburn guitar through a full rack of effects) and the fast manner in which he plays, Steffey is no advocate of sledgehammer genres like Glam or Speed Metal “A lot of guitar players aren’t into feeling,” he noted, “some people might think it’s funny for me to say that because l play so fast. But you have to do it with feeling. I go for speed, but I .also try to incorporate feeling by slowing down and playing whole notes if necessary,” he continued, “In my choice of notes and the way I attack them, I try to use tasteful, melodic sounds.”
by Michael Bonesteel