Guitarist Stevie Salas on the Bill & Ted film set with George Carlin.
“With the new Bill and Ted movie coming out, I’m getting a lot of messages from people,” says San Diego-bred guitarist Stevie Salas, who was only 23 when he played all the guitars and wrote the entire guitar score for the first film in the franchise, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989). “The end solo wasn’t in the script, it was added last minute.”
The opportunity came while Salas was a staff producer for David Kershenbaum (Joe Jackson, Tracy Chapman, Supertramp). “Well, one day David came into the studio and said he needed me to produce a new band called Warrant for a soundtrack for a new movie called Bill & Ted, and he also said it was about these two kids who loved music but couldn’t play, and then he showed me a script and told me I had to create a guitar score over the existing score to make it more exciting…. There was no blueprint for me to follow and no internet for me to explore, so I had no rules.”
Salas finished the score, or at least he thought it was done. “A few months later, I got a call. The end of the film was not testing well and they wanted me to come out and film a wild guitar solo for the end of the movie. So one night in the Palisades, at a garage dressed up like the set, we shot the whole guitar giveaway and wild guitar solo ending.”
When George Carlin’s character Rufus tears off a wicked solo, that’s former Oceanside high school student Salas playing the guitar. “That night, they dressed me and George Carlin up in identical outfits and shot me — and my brown hands — from the neck down and George from the neck up.... I didn’t try to make the end solo epic, I tried to make it funny since the film was a comedy.”
“So, in this scene we do the crazy solo, then for the very end, when Bill and Ted and the gals jump around, I had to score that as if I really couldn’t play. So I played the guitars left-handed and Winston A. Watson Jr. played the drums left-handed, and yes, that was me on piano too.”
“I hear there’s a tab of my wild solo, and it’s funny ‘cause I just made my hands move like crazy while filming, then later had to go back and score to my hands. There was no plan or anything worked out, I just followed my hands and that’s what you got.”
Salas has a photo of himself in wardrobe with Carlin. “Keep in mind it was 1987, 1988, that’s why my hair was bananas. George and I hung out all night and shared a trailer. He told me the most amazing stories all night long about his life. I’ve worked with everyone from Mick Jagger to Justin Timberlake since then, but that night with George was one I’ll always treasure.”
The film shoot was also the first (but not last) time he met the film’s stars Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. “Everyone talks about the end George Carlin solo, but I had the most fun creating the Wyld Stallyns sound when Keanu and Alex were in the jam room. Party on, dudes!”
Salas, a Mescalero Apache Indian who chose a music career over joining the Coast Guard, has gone on to score several more movies, as well as branching into film production. One of his newest projects with Seeing Red 6Nations, The Water Walker, was just accepted for screening at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. His documentary Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World received a 2020 news and documentary Emmy Award nomination.