Guitarist Stevie Salas appeared last Wednesday at the Sports Arena, fulfilling his role as musical director for American Idol finalist Jordin Sparks (on tour opening for Alicia Keys).
Salas first appeared on the scene in a North County new-wave band called This Kids. Founded in 1980, the band broke up when Salas moved to L.A. Since then he’s toured with Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, and worked as guitarist/musical director for Terence Trent D’Arby and Soul II Soul lead singer Lamya. The Lamya gig drew the attention of 19 Entertainment, the management company that controls American Idol.
“I got a call from [19 Entertainment founder] Simon Fuller. He wanted me to work with Chris Daughtry as musical director.” Salas was asked to help select Daughtry’s backup band two years ago. He recruited Carlsbad guitarist Josh Steely for the gig, but Salas says it almost didn’t happen.
“I’ve known Josh for 15 years. He used to play in this band called Sandjacket. He is an amazing guitarist, but I could never get him to audition for anything.… Finally, when I told him about Daughtry, he said, ‘I love that kid,’ so I got him to come up to audition.”
Salas says other guitarists trying out included musicians who had played in Everlast and Suicidal Tendencies. They were all told to play their version of Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.”
“So Josh shows up barefoot, with his guitar but no pick. He plays this hippie Grateful Dead stoner music. It was not Josh’s best moment.… I pulled Chris [Daughtry] aside, and I told him Josh is kind of weird and different but he’s cool. I didn’t tell him he was my friend from Carlsbad.”
Salas says because Daughtry warmed up to Steely, Steely was asked back the next day as one of the three finalists.
“I told him, ‘You gotta play it Midwest rock style.’ He came back the next day with his guns loaded: he wore shoes and he didn’t bring his piece-of-shit Japanese guitar.”
But then Salas got a call from 19 Entertainment’s point man, Stirling McIlwaine.
“He called up and said, ‘Your fucking friend is 37 years old,’ click. I was told to only have people between 22 and 26 audition. Josh looks 25, but he was 37 at the time. One guy was kicked out because he lied about his age. Stirling told him, ‘I hate liars. Pack your shit and leave.’ ”
Salas says that Steely wrote his true age on a sheet that all the tryout musicians filled out.
“For some reason they missed his age. If they had discovered it, he would have never been allowed to audition. But by then it was too late. Daughtry wanted him in the band.”
Of the five musicians backing Jordin Sparks last week, three are locals, including Salas, drummer Mike Bedard, and bassist Jara Harris.
– Ken Leighton