Interview with Guitarist Steve Lynch of Autograph

(This interview was originally published August 13, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)

When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I want to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.

This time that awesomeness is Steve Lynch. He is probably best remembered as the legendary lead-guitarist for the multi-platinum selling band, Autograph. Also known by many guitar players as “the two-handed guitarist”, Lynch was an early innovator of the hammer-on method as well as many other advanced guitar techniques. Considered by many to be one of the greatest guitar players certainly of our generation (and possibly of any for that matter). The band Autograph broke up as the '80s came to an end, but Lynch has continued to rock on and has even taken up teaching his craft to others. You will find out more about Autograph’s rise to fame in the early '80s, their biggest hit song and what he has been up to since then as we get on to some selections from my interview with Steve Lynch

Q: When did you first realize you wanted to be a professional musician? How did that end up becoming a reality for you? Please tell us what you did prior to the formation of Autograph.

SteveI realized I first wanted to be a musician when my sister brought home the first Beatles album in 1964. All her cute girlfriends came over to listen and went crazy when they heard it. I thought…hmmmm…I can do that! It didn’t become a reality until 1967 when I started playing bass, then switched over to guitar on September 18th of 1970 (the day Jimi Hendrix died). I played in several bands in Seattle and L.A. before Autograph. I also went to the Guitar Institute years before the band was ever formed.

Q: I read the following quote from you, “When [Jimi] Hendrix died, I made a promise to myself that I was going to commit my life to playing guitar and 40 years later am still committed to that promise.” Please discuss what Hendrix meant to you and why his passing caused you to make that commitment.

SteveI was really into listening to Hendrix and was trying to figure out how he was getting those wild sounds, even when I was still playing bass by borrowing my friend’s guitar. I was just fascinated with him and thought he must be from another planet because no one else sounded anything like him. I think his dedication to music made me want to make the same sacrifice.

Q: You are known for your legendary 2-hand tapping technique of playing the guitar. What is the origin of that technique and how did you develop it yourself?

SteveI was experimenting a little with it when I lived in Seattle during the mid-70s, but when I went to G.I.T. [Guitar Institute of Technology now better known as Musicians Institute] in 1978 I saw Emmett Chapman, the inventor of the Chapman Stick do a clinic at the school. Needless to say, I was absolutely amazed at the sounds he was creating. I asked him after the clinic to show me what he was talking about regarding how he had started the technique on guitar but had progressed to a point where he decided to develop an instrument that would satisfy the extent to where he wanted to bring the technique. He showed me a couple ideas using pentatonics with both hands in separate shapes. From there my mind exploded and I decided to do everything I was learning at G.I.T. and incorporate this technique. I wrote everything down so I wouldn’t forget it and this became my first book. The sounds I was able to create using this technique became a signature of my style which I had not heard before. Therefore, I decided to incorporate it in most all of my solos and publish my first book to share the theory behind the technique.

Here is an example of a Steve Lynch guitar solo featuring his “hammer on” 2-hand technique…

Q: How was the band Autograph formed?

SteveThe members from what later became Autograph were all playing in bands that were signed to different labels. We only got together on the weekends to jam because we were all friends who had played in previous bands together. One day at a rehearsal/jam, Andy Johns, the English producer, came to listen to us. He loved what we were doing so much he offered to bring us into Ocean Way Studios to do a free demo. Of course we all said YES!! The demo turned out very well and after completion, Keni [Richards], the drummer, played it for David Lee Roth, who he had been jogging with every morning during that time. David loved it and asked us to open up for the Van Halen tour in 1984. We put our other projects on hold and did the tour. From that point on, we started to receive numerous offers from major labels to sign with. We ended up accepting an offer from RCA and the rest is history.

In addition to Lynch on lead guitar, the band also included singer-songwriter Steve Plunkett, bassist Randy Rand, keyboardist Steve Isham and drummer Keni Richards.

Q: It is often reported that the band name Autograph was inspired by the Def Leppard song “Photograph”. What is the real origin and meaning behind the band name and how was it chosen?

SteveIt wasn’t chosen from the song “Photograph”. While en route to the first Van Halen opening, we still didn’t have a name for the band so we decided that each of us will write down five names we liked and then pass the lists around to have the other members cross out the ones they couldn’t live with. The only name left was Autograph…we picked it for our “signature” sound.

Q: What is the back story of how “Turn Up the Radio” was conceived and written? I read that “Turn Up the Radio” was a last-minute song that the label didn’t even want on your album.

SteveI was up on stage at rehearsal and started playing a riff I had made up. Everyone asked, “What is that?” I said, “I don’t know, let’s try something with it.” So everyone got onstage and started playing around with it. Next thing you know, within a half hour we had a complete song…lyrics and all. It just happed so naturally and felt right. RCA hated the song and refused to let us put it on the album. Well, we did it anyway…and then when all was said and done they claimed it was their idea to put it on the album…yeah right!

Turn Up the Radio” was Autograph’s first single released in December of 1984 from their debut album, Sign In Please. The song would go on to be the band’s biggest hit receiving lots of airplay both on the radio and on MTV as well as reaching #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. In 2009, VH1 included it at #93 on its list of “The 100 Greatest Rock Songs”. Not bad for a song that was a last-minute addition and that the label thought had no commercial value. Here is the video for “Turn Up the Radio” by Autograph

Q: When you have a mega hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it? What are your feelings about the song today?

SteveI never got sick of playing it because of the audience’s reaction to it. When you play a song that brings down the house and you hear the thunderous applause and screams that accompany it…well, you just never tire of it. When I hear it today, I think….wow! I remember that song! It was great…who did it?

Q: Was radio airplay something you really craved for at that time? What was the feeling the first time you heard the song played on the radio? What was the feeling when you began to hear your song get heavy radio airplay?

SteveWe would have been happy if we just would have heard it once on the radio. When we did for the first time we were all together and were extremely excited! We thought…WOW!!!…That’s us!! We did that…how cool! When we started to get heavy radio play I think all of us were in disbelief….”You mean we may make money from this too?!?!”

Q: What memories do you have about filming the video for “Turn Up the Radio”? Who came up with the concept?

SteveIt was a lot of work…two 16 hour days! Olly Sassoon was the director and had most of the concept already in place. We added our tidbits along the way, while filming and in editing.

Q: Music videos really became important at that time and could make a song successful just by getting shown often on MTV. Discuss your feelings regarding the impact that MTV had on popular music back in the 80s.

SteveI absolutely loved the fact you could put a visual to the bands that were playing your favorite songs. It gave it so much more depth and gave you an idea of what the individual personalities of the bands were like….from two dimensions to three.

Q: Please discuss what you think the “Headbanger’s Ball” show on MTV meant to the genre. It really seemed to give mainstream exposure to heavy metal and hard rock. Please tell us about the episode which Autograph co-hosted along with Ozzy Osbourne. How was that experience? Please tell us a good story or two about Ozzy from that show.

SteveI loved “Headbanger’s Ball” and used to watch it all the time! When we did the episode with Ozzy he had just got out of the Betty Ford Center just a few hours earlier. When he sat down in front of the teleprompter to do the introduction he was so nervous he was stuttering and couldn’t make it through the first few lines. After many failed attempts he yelled at Sharon to go get him a six pack, in which she replied by saying, “Ozzy, you’ve only been out a few hours”…in which he replied, “Go get me a F’ing six pack Sharon” in which she did. He downed it in about 20 minutes and said, “Roll tape!”….he got it perfect the first take! We all laughed so hard it took a while to regain our composure to resume taping!

Q: As you mentioned earlier, Autograph opened up for Van Halen on tour in 1984 for 48 shows. How was the experience of touring with Van Halen? I have heard they put some restrictions on you. Do you still appreciate the opportunity and exposure that it gave you and the band?

SteveWe very much appreciate the opportunity but despised the restrictions. No other bands we opened for put those on us, nor did we ever with the bands that opened for us.

It is reported that one of the restrictions that Van Halen put on Autograph was that Steve Lynch was not allowed to do his two-handed guitar solos. This was due to not wanting anyone to upstage Eddie Van Halen who is an iconic guitar legend himself.

Q: Autograph would later tour with Heart and Motley Crue. Please compare the experience on that tour to the previous Van Halen tour. Please tell us your thoughts on Ann and Nancy Wilson.

SteveAll the other bands we toured with showed us equal respect…a far cry from the Van Halen experience. We had such a great time touring with these other bands! Ann and Nancy were extremely down to earth and made us feel like we were touring with old friends…which is kind of true considering I had opened up for them in Seattle when I was playing in a group called Silverlode back in the mid-70s. They were consistently awesome every night on stage!

Q: Please tell us your thoughts on Vince Neil and the boys from Motley Crue. Any good stories from partying with them on tour?

SteveWe had known them from being in the local scene in L.A. so it just seemed like we were touring with our buds from home. We would wake up on their tour bus and they would wake up on ours…everything else was kind of blurry…LOL!!! We were WAY over the top on that tour…luckily we all survived…barely.

Q: You deservedly won “Guitar Solo of the Year” from Guitar Player Magazine for your fine work on “Turn Up the Radio”. Please tell us about the circumstances around that award. When and how did you receive it? Was that a coveted acknowledgement back in the '80s?

SteveThat award was very coveted back then and I was extremely honored to have won it. I was on the road when it was announced so I didn’t have much time to relish in the moment…but will always be grateful.

Q: How did Autograph end up appearing in the 1987 film Like Father Like Son? What memories do you have about that experience?

SteveThat was our manager Suzi Frank along with RCA that landed us that gig. We ended up playing live on recorded equipment for the taping and the film crew was absolutely amazed at how fast we got the perfect take. We were very seasoned at that time and were always very professional when working in a high profile environment. It was really great hanging out with Arthur…I mean Dudley Moore at the premiere.

Q: Please describe the circumstances surrounding the band’s break up in 1989.

SteveThe '80s were over…what else can I say? We were in rehearsal writing new material for Epic Records who wanted to sign us for another three-album deal. We had put so much into this project over the last six years we all felt a bit burned out and also felt the music was changing and we were probably not going to be a part of it any longer. I decided to throw in the towel first at our last rehearsal and, to my surprise, everyone else followed suit rather quickly. It was the end of an era…but it was a very nice ride.

Q: Are you proud of what you created as Autograph?

SteveI’m very proud of what Autograph did. Anyone should be proud of their achievements…especially if it made other people have a good time.

Q: After nearly four decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?

SteveThe music industry has changed…it is still focused on the almighty dollar but what I see as a saving grace is personal studios, independent labels, the decline of the major labels as we know it (thank God!!) and the attitude of musicians to not follow the status quo….which means freedom of artistic expression.

Q: Some '80s superstars “run away” from the '80s and some embrace the success and fans from that decade. (If at all) How do you personally deal with and keep the '80s alive and in perspective?

SteveI love what happened then and always will! I also look at it from the point that I am not done…and what I create and express from this point on is just another adventure.

Q: Please tell us about what you did after Autograph broke up.

SteveI took a lot of the songs I had been writing outside of the Autograph style and signed a deal with a label that had great international distribution through CEMA. Unfortunately, while completing the last tracks of that solo CD, the label went bankrupt…such is life in the music industry. I shopped the CD to many other labels but the rockers of the '80s had a stigmatism attached to them. You were an '80s rocker and it was now the '90s. That’s it, plain and simple.

Q: Please update us all about what else Steve Lynch is up to now? Musically and otherwise?

SteveI live in Seattle now, my home town, and own a music school here. I like teaching very much because I have a lot of information to share with others along their musical journey. I also have a new online teaching site and a new YouTube channel where you can view a lot of my solos. I’m still writing and recording all the time….can’t seem to shake the passion!

I am honored that Steve took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can find out lots more at his official Facebook pageI want to take this opportunity to again thank Steve Lynch for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through Autograph’s “Turn Up the Radio” and, even more, for going back to the '80s for a little while with us here as well.

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