Depending on when you stumbled upon Steve Brown’s rare blend of shredding chops, energizing stage presence, and uber-melodic songsmith, you might say that he’s best known for his work with Trixter. And that’s fair, given the quality of records like 1990’s Trixter, 1992’s Hear, and 1994’s Undercovers, and more modern albums, 2012’s New Audio Machine, and 2015’s Human Era.
But his exploits didn’t stop there, and the feisty yet affable New Jersey native has also shared the stage with Def Leppard, Danger Danger, Ace Frehley, released some solo singles, like “One To Lean On,” and most recently, dropped two memorable records with supergroup Tokyo Motorfist in 2017’s Tokyo Motorfist, and 2020’s Lions.
All this is to say that Steve Brown’s musical well is endless. As a guitar player, he’s first-rate, with skills bred in hard rock, pop, and classical music. But that’s not all, as his songwriting and skills behind the boards as a producer stand chest-to-chest with his outright ability to tear up his trusty Super Strat’s fretboard.
Production, session work, and Trixter aside, Brown can often be found alongside his former bandmate and lifelong friend, Trixter bassist P.J. Farley, playing acoustic shows. And lately, when he’s not giving his line of SBS Guitars attention, he can be found alongside fellow rocker, Ace Frehley, providing juice to the Spaceman’s upcoming record, 10,000 Volts.
So, yes, Steve Brown is a busy man, that much we know. But not so busy that he couldn’t dial in with ClassicRockHistory.com to take us on a journey recounting the ten albums that changed his life.
Steve Brown of Trixter: 10 Albums That Changed My Life
# 10 – Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)
As far as influential records for me, number ten has to be Abbey Road by The Beatles. This is by far one of the greatest pop-rock records ever made. It was made toward the end of the ’60s, and I believe they recorded this on 16-track, 2-inch tape. So, the production doesn’t sound outdated like a lot of their earlier records from the early ’60s when they were using 4-inch tape. I believe once they got to Sgt. Pepper, they used 8-track tape, but with Abbey Road, even in this day and age, it still sounds current and doesn’t sound old.
But as far as songwriting goes, it doesn’t get much better than The Beatles—especially on Abbey Road. It’s got some of the greatest songs ever written, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison really shine here. If you look at “Something,” that’s probably one of the greatest pop songs ever written. And again, it’s just a magical record that, when I was a kid, was always playing in my house. My parents always had the stereo going when they’d come home from work, and Abbey Road was one of those records that was always playing.
That said, it was until 1988 or ’89 that I was given a CD by an A&R guy at a record label. This would have been when Trixter was about to get signed, and he said, “Steve, you need to listen to this CD every day and learn about songwriting from this.” His name was Tim Carr; he worked at Capitol Records and almost signed Trixter. But I’m forever grateful to Tim for giving me the CD because, in the ’80s, I was really listening to much Beatles music, but giving me Abbey Road and telling me to listen to it got me to listen, and I got it. I went, “Ah! Now I understand.” And so, Abbey Road by The Beatles would definitely be number ten for me.
# 9 – Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack – Bee Gees (1977)
For number nine, I’m going with the Soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever by the Bee Gees. This was the original motion picture album from the movie and was a huge player in the Brown household during the ’70s when it came out. I remember my mom, dad, brother Mike, and sister-in-law, Marianne, taking disco dance lessons while I was cranking up Kiss [laughs]. I could never get into that, but even as a little kid, I always keyed in on songwriting and could hear great songs on this record.
I’m still a huge fan of the Bee Gees to this day, and this record plays constantly in my world. It’s always on my phone, and I have it with me when I travel, too. But the songs are great. I love the way the Bee Gees wrote a lot of these songs, but they also had different artists on them. So, with “Stayin’ Alive,” “How Deep is Your Love,” and “More Than a Woman,” those are all great songs. But one of my favorite songs is “If I Can’t Have You” by Yvonne Elliman; that’s just a great pop song.
And again, if we were to take any of these songs, remove the disco beat, and just play them on an acoustic guitar, they’re all still great songs. But I just love all the songs on this record, along with the great production, string arrangements, and vocal layering by the Gibb brothers. And all the stuff they did on the other songs, as well, was just a huge influence on me. So, I gotta give it up to the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, for sure.
# 8 – Pump by Aerosmith (1989)
At number eight, for me, I’ve got to go with Pump by Aerosmith. These guys were such a huge influence on me, and I always loved Aerosmith since I was a kid growing up in the ’70s. And even in the ’80s, after they came back, I thought Done with Mirrors was pretty cool, and I loved Permanent Vacation, which came out after the band got sober. But to me, Pump was when Aerosmith was at their zenith as far as the whole ’80s revival went.
Another reason Pump was a very important and influential record is that when Trixter got signed, we went out to California to record the first record [Trixter], and right around that time, Pump came along with a few other records. But Pump was the one that I listened to every day with [producers] Bill and Jim Wray. We wound up using a lot of the production techniques that Bob Rock used. And we did a lot of the Joe Perry and Steven Tyler vocal things that they did on Pump, too.
For me, “Love in an Elevator” had many different guitar sounds that Joe used, but he didn’t have the typical hard rock setup. It was just souped-up Marshall amps; Joe used Gretsch guitars and Fender Telecasters and had all these tricks to get good guitar solo sections. I was very much influenced by Joe Perry and the Pump album, which had more of a swanky sound and had layers of different guitar sounds.
But the songs on Pump are just out of control, too. I mentioned “Love in an Elevator,” which is this sort of gang vocal stuff, which was great. And then you had “Hoodoo/Voodoo Medicine Man,” which we actually lifted at the beginning of that snare drum thing [laughs]. We used it on Trixter’s “Play Rough,” which was definitely influential. So, again, Aerosmith’s Pump remains one of my favorite Aerosmith records and was a huge influence. So, thanks to Aerosmith, Bruce Fairbairn, and Mike Fraser because we copped a lot of your production techniques for the first Trixter record.
# 7 – Hysteria – Def Leppard (1987)
Next up, of course, I gotta include Def Leppard’s Hysteria. I loved Def Leppard from the beginning, and they were absolutely one of the most influential bands for me when I was starting Trixter. I loved the first record, On Through the Night, and High ‘n’ Dry, too. I remember seeing an interview in Circus Magazine with Rick Allen when he was like 15 or 16 when he first joined Def Leppard. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head that said, “I’m going to start a band, and I’m going to be younger than Def Leppard,” since I started Trixter when I was like 12 or 13 years old.
But Def Leppard’s Hysteria, man, it was a completed production and songwriting game changer in the ’80s. It was Mutt Lange, Mike Shipley, and Nigel Green, all the cats who worked on the record, and of course, the songwriting was akin to Queen’s Night at the Opera or Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, only for the ’80s. They really did create a masterpiece. It was record-making perfection, and I still recall the sound of it when I first got the cassette and played it on my stereo—I had never heard my stereo sound so good.
Again, Hysteria is one of those records from the ’80s, almost like Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, where it’s special, but the production is like ten steps up the ladder with Hysteria. So much so, that to this day, it’s used by dance and pop artists to listen to when they need something to gauge their records against; they reference it against Hysteria. And then there are the songs, like “Rocket,” which had them doing things like sampling and creating loops; that blew my mind. I’d never heard anything like that before, and it was way more advanced than anything that was happening in hard rock, or pop, for that matter.
And then there was “Animal,” a song that was nice, concise, and kind of like “Photograph,” but part two. It was fucking pop brilliance, with a great guitar sound and these big vocals that were so tight and crisp. You have to give it to Joe Elliott, whose vocal performances are amazing and match the guitars’ unique sound. I believe they used the Tom Scholz Rockman as the main guitar box on maybe 95% of that record. But anyway, to this day, I listen to Hysteria all the time. It still makes me feel incredible, and it’s a deep record, too, because it was longer and put on cassette, which could hold more music. It’s one of the longer ’80s rock records, and I still love it.
# 6 – Slippery When Wet – Bon Jovi (1986)
At number six, I’ve got Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. I’ve been a Bon Jovi fan since the beginning, and I loved the first two records and even saw Bon Jovi when they opened for Ratt on the Invasion of Your Privacy tour. That would have been my first time seeing Bon Jovi, and I remember watching them and going, “This is the exact band that I was Trixter to be like,” minus the keyboard player [laughs]. And then you have Richie Sambora, who hugely influenced me because seeing him was the first time I realized, “Hey, that’s what I need to be doing. I need to be a lead singer and lead guitar player at the same time.”
The way Richie Sambora encapsulated that for me, man, he was the all-around package. All these other guitar heroes were pretty good singers. Eddie Van Halen was a good singer, and I don’t know about Randy, but Ace was a pretty good singer. But Richie Sambora, he clearly was a lead singer who sang all the high harmonies. But anyway, when Bon Jovi came out with Slippery When Wet, Trixter had already met Jon, a huge supporter of ours and loved it. I heard that album, and I knew for the first time that they would be the biggest hard rock band in the world. And a couple of months later, after it was released, that’s exactly what happened.
Jon Bon Jovi was the first guy who got behind Trixter and supported us. He was the guy who introduced us to the Skid Row guys, which was awesome. And as far as Slippery When Wet, you had the Desmond Child, Richie Sambora, and Jon Bon Jovi songwriting team, which produced stuff like “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive.” And then you had the Bob Rock/Bruce Fairbairn production team, who had done the Loverboy records. Hearing this marriage of Jon and Richie collaborating with Desmond, Bob, and Bruce, it was like the X-factor had come for them.
This record took Bon Jovi to the next level and was precisely what they needed. With most bands, there’s always an element that the band members and songwriters within the band can achieve by themselves, which I learned making Trixter records, but Bon Jovi did that to the max. Every song is incredible, and there was the Jersey pride element. Seeing them go from an opening act to a headlining band owning it in legit arenas was terrific and showed arena rock at its best. Slippery When Wet is one of the defining records of the ’80s hard rock and hair metal scene. And beyond that, Bon Jovi remains the number one or two hard rock band of the ’80s, without question.
# 5 – Invasion of Your Privacy – Ratt (1985)
Next down the pike at number five is Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy. Now, I loved Ratt from the beginning, and Warren DeMartini, hands down, is one of my favorite guitar players as far as the ’80s guys go. Post Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, who I was very influenced by, Warren was a guy who had something that completely spoke to me. His solos were the perfect marriage of taste, melody, and pure fire.
Warren knew how to start off a solo the right way, but he also knew how to rip it up. He was great at putting in cool and unique note structures, and I didn’t realize it until later, but he had a little bit of a Michael Schenker thing going on. But Invasion of Your Privacy, even though I loved their first record, Out of the Cellar, is the crowning moment for Ratt and Warren. It’s the best Ratt record, and that’s because of the songs. Everything revolves around great songs, and this was Ratt at their apex, as far as I’m concerned.
The record starts with “You’re in Love,” and then later, you’ve got “Lay it Down,” which are a couple of the greatest Drop D [tuning] riffs ever written. And Warren’s solos on both songs are just off the charts, like total perfection. And another song that I love off this record is called “Between the Eyes,” which is very unique, along with Beau Hill’s production. This record was post-Pyromania, and you could really hear the Def Leppard influence, but by far, it took it to another level.
# 4 – Diary of a Madman – Ozzy Osbourne (1981)
Number four, and I’ll have to go with Diary of a Madman by Ozzy. I remember getting this after reading about Randy Rhoads, and it was the first Ozzy record I got where I got to hear Randy play on it. And once again, this record completely took over my life. Once I heard this, Randy came next in line after Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen. So, there were those guys, and now, there was Randy Rhoads, who became my third main guitar hero.
The album came out in late ’81, but I first heard this record in the summer of ’82, and man, it was everything to me. I got the Star Licks cassette guitar series, which helped me learn all of Randy’s licks, and a lot of Diary of a Madman was on there. I remember being immediately drawn to the classical influence and hearing harmonic minor and diminished scales for the first time on this record, too. But that aside, Randy’s image was so cool with his polka dot guitar, the leather suits, and the white Jackson Concorde V; that was so powerful and influential for me.
That record, Diary of a Madman, especially the title track, got me to take classical guitar lessons after I’d been playing guitar for a couple of years. So, after that, I wound up taking classical guitar lessons for a while, which was cool. But with Diary of a Madman, I just loved it; the whole cinematic thing within the music… was scary, and yet, it was so fun. So, that’s why I love Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman and Randy Rhoads. God… he was such a huge influence.
# 3 – Dream Police – Cheap Trick (1979)
Number three, and what came after Kiss and Van Halen, would be Cheap Trick’s Dream Police. Cheap Trick was a band that I had read about in all the magazines, along with Kiss and Van Halen, so I knew I wanted to check them out. And I know that Cheap Trick at Budokan came before it, but Dream Police was influential on me because I was really when I was keying in on songwriting right way when I was like 9 or 10 years old.
This was right after I’d started guitar lessons, and what I was hearing was very unique to me and very apparent to me. I immediately keyed in on The Beatles’ influence Cheap Trick, and I just loved all the songs on Dream Police, like the title track, which still blows my mind. It’s just an incredible song, and it had this speedy little thing but was still heavy and even had some Kiss influence throughout. But other songs, like “Way of the World” and “Voices,” showed everything. And then there was Robin Zander’s voice, which still to this day captivates me.
And again, the songwriting and the structure of some of those tunes were fantastic. Rick Nielsen’s unique songwriting zaniness, if you will, along with Robin Zander’s voice and the power and frenetic drumming of Bun E. Carlos, was all amazing. And then there’s the unique eight-string bass playing of Tom Petersson, which only adds to such an incredible record. I love Cheap Trick, and it’s where I got the name of my band, Trixter, from. There was definitely some Cheap Trick influence there, for sure.
# 2 – Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
My number two record is Van Halen’s first record, Van Halen. Again, this record was life-changing for me on so many levels. When I heard the beginning of “Runnin’ with the Devil” and the way Ed’s guitar sounded, man, it was just something different like I’d never heard before. But what’s interesting about my first Van Halen experience in ’78 was that, again, someone loaned it to me. This time, this kid Tommy Walsh up the street gave me an eight-track tape of it, and the song order was different than when I got the vinyl record a couple of weeks later.
With the eight-track “Runnin’ with the Devil” came first, and then, I believe, “Feel Your Love Tonight” came second. But overall, Van Halen was amazing. I loved the sound, the vocals, the crispness; there was just something about it that was different. It immediately was in my heart, my soul, and my blood. Hearing the vocals, the guitars, and then, of course, hearing “Eruption” for the first time, man, I knew it was an electric guitar, but by the end of it, when Ed was doing his tapping section, I had no clue what to make of it.
To this day, “Eruption” is the most incredible guitar solo that was ever been recorded. But Van Halen came after hearing Kiss, and then I saw some other bands, probably Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, and some of the heavier bands of the ’70s. But there was something different with Van Halen, David Lee Roth’s vocals, and the unique blending of Michael Anthony and Ed’s harmonies; there was just something heavy about it, yet poppy and fun.
All of that drew me to it because I could hear that it sounded like beach music. It was like hard rock beach music, and it just made me feel good. I was a big summertime kid who loved to go to the Jersey Shore. So, songs like “Ice Cream Man” and “Feel Your Love Tonight” were like party songs, and that drew me in. The power of that, and again, Eddie Van Halen, was incredible. Ed and Ace Frehley were the two guitar players that made me take guitar lessons, and I want to learn everything about rock guitar.
# 1 – Rock and Roll Over by Kiss (1976)
It was the first rock record I ever heard that completely blew my mind. I was eight years old and remember being loaned a copy of the record by my sister-in-law Marianne’s brother, Paulie. And I saw the picture on the cover of Rock and Roll Over in his room in his house in Paramus, New Jersey, and it was like something out of a movie. Smoke was coming out of it, and I could have sworn there were lights behind it, just like a movie. Something was just drawing me to it.
After that, Paulie picked up the record and said, “Steve, you should listen to this record. I think you’d like this band,” and I had no idea what to make of it. I didn’t know that the four characters on the front cover were the band. I just thought it was a cool album cover. And when I brought it home and dropped the needle on the vinyl album, the first song, “I Want You,” came on with the acoustic guitars, and as soon as I heard it, I was like, “This kind of reminds me of Rod Stewart or The Beatles.”
My parents loved music; my brothers are ten years older than me. We had a lot of music in my house as a kid; Fleetwood Mac was huge, and we listened to a lot of The Beatles and Rod Stewart. But when I heard the “I Want You” and those acoustic guitars, and then the electric guitars kicked in, along with the snare drum, I will tell you, it was just like seeing a Kiss concert for me. Explosions were going off in my head, and it was the beginning of my love—that has never ended—for Kiss.
Now, all these years later, here I am. Every song on Rock and Roll Over is still near and dear to my heart, and I even played “Ladies Room” a couple of weeks ago at the Kiss Cancer Goodbye event with Ace Frehley and Bruce Kulick.” And man, it almost brought tears to my eyes because I remember hearing those songs, like “Makin’ Love,” “Calling Dr. Love,” “Hard Luck Woman, ” and “Take Me;” every song on that record just kills me. I just love it. So, Rock and Roll Over is definitely number one for me. Rock’ n’ rock, thanks!
Steve Brown of Trixter: 10 Albums That Changed My Life article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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