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Read Steve Thompson’s interview with Infront Artists

Read Steve Thompson’s interview with Infront Artists

steve thompson in front artists interview
Infront Artists·Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Infront Artists writers Steve Eggleston (from Los Angeles / San Francisco, California & Las Vegas) and Dana Amma Day (from London / Somerset) had the opportunity to Skype with iconic music producer, mixer and arranger Steve Thompson.

Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss and Steve Thompson mixing Forever at Electric Lady Studios NYC (Source: Steve Thompson)
With 7 Grammys and 150+ diamond, platinum and gold records under his belt, Steve gives Infront Artists Steve and Dana an exclusive look back on his storied career, shares his thoughts on the current state of the biz, gives pointed advise to our Infrontees seeking to elevate their game to the next level… and explains…HOW IT ALL STARTED WITH A GOOD RECORD COLLECTION.

INTERVIEW: Infront Artists / The Eggman: Hi Steve. Great to chat with you today. You started out as a DJ. When and how did you make the leap from deejaying to producing, mixing and arranging songs?Steve ThompsonWell, it actually started out when I was playing guitar at age eight… I played on my own and with bands… and after a while I THOUGHT I SUCKED… so I figured I’d give it up.

Infront Artists / Eggman / Dana: Laughs.

Steve Thompson: And then I was WORKING IN MUSIC STORES and started to build up a great music collection at home… This was the early ’70s when there really weren’t any deejays in clubs. The only clubs that had deejays were the gay clubs… I was going to this club called Leonies, in Deerpark, New York, where they used to bring bands in like Twisted Sister… The band would perform and when the band would get off the stage the club kinda died, with no energy going on. So I suggested to the club owner, why don’t you put a DJ in there. This way when the band stops you can keep the energy going… So about a month or two later, I got a call from the club owner, who said, well, I just put a DJ booth in. Can you come on over and be my DJ?

Infront Artists / Eggman / Dana: Laughs.

Steve Thompson: First of all, I’d never done that before. But the beauty is I HAD A GREAT RECORD COLLECTION. So that’s when I first started deejaying. It was actually a pretty good living as I also had a day job working at the record store. So I continued doing that [deejaying], really just kind of honing my craft.

Infront Artists / The Eggman: When did you make the leap to producing, mixing and arranging songs? How did that happen, starting off as a DJ?

Steve Thompson: Around 1976 or 1977, Roulette Records wanted to release a dance music compilation… They asked me to put together a compilation with a bunch of artists, so I picked the top dance artists of the time, such as Donna Summer, and did a double album and it was kind of interesting because the album sold over 12 million copies.

Infront Artists / Dana: Wow.

Steve Thompson: And I had never done this before. So that was my first attempt working on music. I basically sequenced it like you were in a club… First song was Donna Summer’s, “Love to Love You Baby,” and then I moved on and moved the tempo up.

Infront Artists/ Dana: What was the name of the album?

Steve Thompson: It was called “Disco Hustle.” 1976.

Infront Artists/ Dana: I’ve got to go out there and find it.

Steve Thompson: It’s still around in vinyl. You can probably find it online. Try

Infront Artists / Dana: I think a re-release would be fabulous.

Steve Thompson and Mick Jagger going at it (Source: Steve Thompson)

Steve Thompson: Then I worked in the club called Barrymores in Long Island, New York, and the owner, Ron Radom, really loved my style and I worked at the club for awhile… we lost touch… then I get a call from him saying, I’m working at TK Records now. TK Records was like KC and the Sunshine Band, George McCrae, those types of artists, Anita Ward, “Ring My Bell,” you know, and he bragged to Henry Stone who was the owner of the label that, hey, “this guy Steve’s got talent. Hire him.” So I had to PUT A SAMPLE REEL TOGETHER showing what I could do as far as doing a dance remix. And so at the time I was working at this club called Uncle Sam’s and a guy I worked with, Mike Arato, who was another DJ there, we put together a reel with one song (“Fly Me On the Wings of Love,” by Celibee) that we extended by deejaying it and phasing and just doing what we could there… Henry heard what we did and he loved it and I started doing remixes for his company. So I would fly down to Hialeah, Florida, where he was, and I got to work in their studios and really started to get my chops as far as studio work was concerned… Because I was never in the studio before, I WAS SELF-TAUGHT. I LEARNED BY WATCHING EVERYONE ELSE. So as a result I started doing a lot of dance remixes… Oh, you’re in the UK. I worked on the song “Eve of the War” on Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds.”

Infront Artists/ Dana: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Steve Thompson: That was a big album back in the day.

Infront Artists/ Dana: Oh, yeah.

Steve Thompson: Actually worked at Advision Studios in London on the “War of the Worlds” project. I think it was around 1979. It was the first experimental 48 track system.

Infront Artists/ Dana: Wow, how incredible. How amazing. Experimental. I’ve got to get that.

Ozzy Osbourne and Steve Thompson (Source: Steve Thompson)

Steve Thompson: The death of disco happened around ’80, somewhere around there, so I remained deejaying in the clubs. Then in ’83, ’84, I started doing R&B artists and had my managers at that time, Andy Kipnes and Mark Bevin from AAM, explore different forms of music. From there I go into what they called New Wave. I started working with artists like Talk, Talk and Duran Duran, Ultravox (Official),Missing Persons, David Bowie all this alternative stuff… and then from there progressed into pop.

Infront Artists / Dana: Love your journey.

Guns and Roses session with Steve Thompson, Mike Barbiero, Slash, Axl Rose, Izzy (Source: Steve Thompson)

Infront Artists/ The Eggman: Steve, obviously one of the big bands you worked with back in the day and on tour now is Guns N’ RosesHow did that land in your lap after doing all that deejaying, disco, dance, R&B and pop stuff? How did you make that transition to rock, in other words?

Steve Thompson: Well I’ve always had an affinity from everything from James Brown to Led Zepplin, okay. I’ve always felt myself to be very diverse in my musical tastes and, probably about ’85, I was working with Madonna, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklinand all these artists and they were going #1 pop and I was actually getting bored. So I had my managers call up at Geffen Records to say, “Steve’s dying to do some rock artists… throw some his way.” And the first two bands were City Kidd which now is Tesla and Guns N’ Roses.

Infront Artists/ Dana: Amazing.

Steve Thompson: Laughs.

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Not bad.

Steve Thompson: But I did have some experience on the rock side before that, working with bands like WASP.

Infront Artists / Dana: Cool.

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Steve, just a little side note. You grew up around or near Donald Trump, who needs little introduction as the controversial likely Republican nominee for U.S. President. It’s a little off the music scales, but certainly big in the headlines. So, what’s the story on that?

Steve Thompson: Well, I grew up around the block from Donald and… this was in the ’60s… actually, my brother shovelled snow from his dad’s driveway.

Infront Artists / The Eggman / Dana / Steve Thompson: All laugh.

Steve Thompson: So it was kind of interesting. In the ’80s, I was at the Plaza Hotel a lot and Clive Davis would have his pre-Grammy parties there. So one year, I was there with my wife Joanne at Clive’s party with Clive at the table and Donald was at the table with his wife, Marla Maples; they were dating at the time.

Infront Artists/ The Eggman / Dana / Steve Thompson: Laugh.

Grace Jones listening to my mix Media Sound NYC with Steve Thompson and Mike Barbiero (Source: Steve Thompson)

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Steve, let’s jump back to music. You are one of the people who has worked in almost every musical genre there is. You’ve got Grammys from everyone from Aretha Franklin and George Michael to Whitney Houston to Korn, I mean, Cutting Crew Music, all of these, Ziggy MarleyPaul Simon Blues Traveler... How did you move from one genre to another and what advise would you give to people sticking to one genre who might want to expand?

Steve Thompson: Well, it’s on purpose that I work in many genres because I get bored pretty quickly and I always made it a point to know all styles of music. I’m always working on knowing the genre better than anyone else. I DO MY HOMEWORK. If I work on an EDM project – I worked on bands like Kraftwerk in the ’80s who probably started EDM – I’m going to look at the music being produced and played on radio in that genre… to see who my competition is and better it. Coming from dance music I think has helped me… because you like a lot of songs. You can be very creative with the music. There are no rules in dance music, while other genres of music can become formulaic. But with dance music, you can go off.

I remember I was working with Madonna on a song called “Open Your Heart,” ten minutes and 30 seconds long. You have to be creative to keep the interest going. I also remember when I did Korn.After the record went through the roof I would get 50 to 100 other bands who wanted to be KORN and wanted me to work with them. And I wouldn’t take them on unless I felt they could add something that KORN didn’t do. I WANT TO BE THE BANDWAGON, NOT FOLLOW IT. I’m always aware of all the new trends in music… It was important for me… people have a tendency to get locked into one genre and do the same thing every time and to me it becomes an assembly line. I never wanted to be that way because I take each artist and make them unique, different, and make sure they stand out against everything else that’s out there.

Kenny Gamble, Clive Davis, Steve Thompson at Grammys (Source: Steve Thompson)

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Steve, you’ve told me in the past that you’ve learned a lot from Clive Davislong-time President of Columbia Records, CEO of RCA Music Group, founder of Arista and J Records, Chairman and CEO of BMG Music Group North America, credited for discovering and creating Whitney Houston, among many, many other things, truly one of music’s biggest icons. In a nutshell, what was his impact on you, and how might you pass that on to other young and rising producers, mixers and the like?

Steve Thompson: I feel Clive is a great song man. He knows what a great song is. And to me that is the most important thing for anyone who makes music today. It’s writing a great song. I don’t care what genre of music you’re in… And I remember… Quincy Jones, who has 79, 80 Grammy nominations and some 30 Grammys as a producer and songwriter and such… telling me: “Steve, if you can listen to the same song for 27 hours straight… you know you have something special.”

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Laughs.

Steve Thompson: Clive always got the best songwriters together, whether it be Diane Warren or others… whoever were the best songwriters of the time. He would really A&R his songwriters. With Whitney HoustonI remember the story… I remember telling Clive one time, “you know what, how I’d like to hear Whitney? I’d like to hear her stripped down. Get rid of all that big production stuff… Almost like, “Saving All My Love for You.” Strip her down at this point in her career and get rid of the big production and let her vocals speak. And then about eight months later, he calls me and tells me to check out Whitney’s new song, “I’ll Always Love You,” from “The Body Guard.” I heard that song and I had so many goosebumps on my arms from the range she sang in… it was absolutely gorgeous. Clive knows what a great song is and taught me the value of a great song. And that’s what I feel lacks in music today for the most part… And I do understand the pop generation. You know I think it’s important to know that kids always want to go against their parents. So what better way than to have all these crappy lyrics. Because they know their parents aren’t going to like them. I get that. Like with EDM. I’ve always liked EDM, but what I think they need to do is step up the songwriting.

Infront Artists/ Dana: Yes, absolutely. Steve, if you’re an artist starting out today, where would you begin?

Steve Thompson: Well, artists today have the luxury of being able to do a lot of stuff on their laptops that could not be done in the past.

Infront Artists / Dana: Yes.

Steve Thompson: So, it depends. Are you talking about a solo artist or a band?

Infront Artists / Dana: Infront Artists is aimed at artists of any kind. If you were going to go out and that’s what you want to do, be an artist, where would you start? I mean, listening to you, I’d say in the music field getting your song right is probably the most important…

Steve Thompson: Okay, let’s take a band, for instance. Basically, obviously, HONE YOUR CRAFT. In the old days it was playing in the garage, but today get on your laptop on GarageBand… WORK ON SONGS… and the most important thing… is to get out there and PERFORM AND BUILD AN AUDIENCE.

Infront Artists / Dana: Yeah.

Steve Thompson: In today’s music world, especially record label A&R, they’re going to go to Youtube and see not just how good you are but make sure you have a great audience. They want you to do the groundwork before they will even think of signing you. And that to me is shameful because there’s going to be a lot of great talent out there that doesn’t have that ability… to do that… but have great music.

Infront Artists / Dana: Yeah, absolutely.

Steve Thompson: As far as… a Beyonce or single pop artist, that’s a totally different picture… A lot of times with pop artists they have a voice and they have a look, but they don’t necessarily have songs.

Infront Artists / Dana: Adele is unique in that she writes a lot of her own songs… My other question I have, Steve, is how important to the artist is self-belief, you know, believing in yourself as an artist?

Steve Thompson: Oh, it’s always important but most artists are insecure to begin with.

Infront Artists / Dana: Yes.

Steve Thompson: And it’s my job to get them secure… and make them feel confident in what they do… and I like to make them overachieve. That’s important to me.

Infront Artists / Dana: Nice answer. Thank you.

John Lennon session with Yoko Ono, Roberta Flack , Harry Neilson, Sean Lennon and Steve Thompson (Source: Steve Thompson)

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Any thoughts you’d like to share on Infront Artists News, or general advice on people going to a site where they can collaborate?

Steve Thompson: That is a good question. Because there are a lot of sites out there… and a lot that won’t do anything to further your career… A community is always great to share ideas… if you can find a professional site that really just focuses on the artists and careers, which I understand is Infront Artists’s concept… and I can’t wait to try it out after the launch… engaging such a site to get to the next level… that’s what’s needed.

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Any final words, thoughts for artists, that come to mind that you might want to share?

Steve Thompson: What, as far as helping careers along?

Infront Artists / The Eggman: Yes, on the lines of helping careers and collaborations and things.

Infront Artists / Dana: And also any news that you’d like to share, that you’re up to as well.

Steve Thompson: As far as artists and people that want to make it in this industry, it’s all about a great song first. I’ll say that until I’m blue in the face… But I would tell people not to give up and to also work very hard and bring everything that’s out there. There’s a great band I love, The Struts. Have you ever heard of them? An English band.

Infront Artists / Dana: Yes, I love The Struts. From Derby.

Steve Thompson: Yeah, I love The Struts. I think the kid’s a star… You know, if your influence is like Muse or U2… and that’s who you want to be, guess what? That’s going to be your competition. What are you going to do to best U2’s latest and make their fans focus on you? You’ve got to bring your game up. And don’t be discouraged. I mean, everyone’s going to say, don’t do this and that. And to me, it’s just HAVING STRONG CONVICTIONS on what you’re doing. You know, when I go into the studio and work with an artist, I want them to make their best album ever. I’ve done that my whole career. THAT’S MY GOAL: MAKE THE BEST RECORD EVER AND MAKE IT TIMELESS.

Infront Artists / The Eggman: And on that note, let’s call it a wrap.” Thanks, Steve, and we’ll see you on the streets of rock n roll… and pop… and rap & R&B… and blues… and reggae… lol

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Infront Artists Writers

Steve Eggleston, aka The Eggman, is founder/CEO of Eggman Global – Music, Film, Sports and Fashion for years. He has he covered, reviewed and written on 100+ shows/artists, from The Killers and Imagine Dragons to Slash, the Who and Slipknot. He is a published writer, his most recent being critically-acclaimed legal thriller, CONFLICTED. And he is a law school Valedictorian and former law professor who now works between San Francisco/Napa and Somerset, England, though he’s lived the life in Hollywood and Las Vegas. His currently manages 7 x Grammy-winning producer Steve Thompson, and is also a former Adjunct Professor in Copyright, Understanding the Music Business, Communication Law & Ethics, Ethics and Portfolio.

Dana Amma Day is co-founder, CEO, journalist and presenter of Positive TV, a global on-line news agency that reports on positive, solution-based news. She has: interviewed The Dalai Lama, HRH the Prince of Wales, Vivien Westwood, Lynne Franks, the Global Peace Index and Stephen Killelea and his film Soldiers of Peace; held events with Satish Kumar and his Resurgence Magazine and the Honda Challenge at The Royal Albert Hall (charity); co-produced films and/or worked with The Ecologist, Zac Goldsmith, Patrick Holden of The Soil Association, Elon Musk and Tesla motorcar, Vandana Shiva and Occupy the Seed, Polly Higgins and her fight against Ecocide; and reported from the House of Lords and Global Climate and Peace Summits around the world. She is also President of the Club of Budapest UK, and an associate of Emergent Communications, a consultancy that specialises in PR and Marketing in the sustainability and NGO sectors, with recent works including consulting with Eden Lab, Eden Project and the UK Charity Awards.