by MythofRock

He has devoted his life to rock music, he belongs to the prominent figures of the music industry, he is a real myth in the world of music journalism! We are talking about the distinguished music journalist and author Steve Rosen, with whom we had the privilege of engaging in a truly captivating conversation. Everyone who digs rock, shall read this interview and understand many significant things about the world of rock music. Rosen’s book on Edward Van Halen, “Tonechaser”, is just the beginning.

by Dimitris Zacharopoulos

You are one of the most famous, prolific and well-respected music journalists/authors, having a long career of over 50 years. How did it come and you became a journalist?

Thank you. I wrote a music column for my high school newspaper. I then went to UCLA for one year (university) and wrote for the paper there. I began sending out lives reviews to various publications and slowly was able to get stuff published. Over the years, I wrote for more and more magazines and eventually wrote books including my most recent Tonechaser book.


Explain to us please, how did you specialize in music as a journalist? How difficult was it to become a music journalist back then?

I loved music and collected records. I also played guitar. So I thought music journalist would be a way to combine the two things I loved. It was very difficult. There were a lot of rejections along the way but I kept pushing forward. It is critical to create a community of people around you who will help you and guide you.


How much important is music for you? Which are your favorite music genres? Your favorite groups and artists?

I love music and always have. I can remember being 11 and 12-years old and listening to a little transistor radio. I loved the sound of the guitar. Classic rock is my favorite type of music. The Beatles, Stones, the Who, Spirit, Jethro Tull, Kinks, Animals, Procol Harum, Traffic and others.


When did you start listening to music? Which were your first music heroes? And when did you start writing about music?

I began listening to music when I was around 10 or 11-years old. I loved the Seeds, Kingsmen, Beach Boys. I began writing about music when I was a senior in high school. I had a music column and I would review shows and stuff like that. I loved doing that.


You have worked for music magazines like Creem, Circus, Guitar Player, Guitar World etc. Please tell us how it was writing for all these historic magazines.

I began my music journalism career in the early 1970s where rock magazines were first coming out. There were a lot magazines and they needed writers. I loved that early period. I remember my first story in Guitar Player (Jeff Beck) and writing for Creem and Circus. It was an amazing time. Guitar World came a bit later in the mid-1980s and that was incredible as well.


How much difficult were things for a music journalist in the 70s? Why?

Everything in life is difficult. I had to accept rejections and failure over and over until I was able to break into the music journalism market. But I met some people along the way who opened a lot of doors for me. Lydia Woltag was a very important person in my life. She worked for a company called Gibson & Stromberg who were one of the very first rock music publicists. They helped me so much and set up interviews for me with Jeff Beck, Steely Dan, Black Kangaroo, and many other bands.


Your very first interview was with Joe Cocker. What do you remember from this interview, more than 50 years later?

I was terrified. I had never interviewed anybody in my life. I could barely remember how to hit record on my cassette player. That was an amazing moment. Though I was scared out of my mind, the idea that I was truly sitting across the table from the legendary Joe Cocker was surreal. I knew I wanted to experience that feeling again…and again.


Can you tell us please which other artists you interviewed? Which interview was your favorite and which interview was the most difficult, and why?

I have interviewed hundreds and hundreds of amazing artists: Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, Brian Wilson, Steve Winwood, Steve Vai, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, ZZ Top, Bad Company, Free, Black Sabbath, the Who, Supertramp, Spirit, and many more. Interviewing Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Brian Wilson, Pete Townshend were amongst my favorite interviews. I interviewed Jimmy Page twice and he was exceedingly difficult to interview. He hated journalists. He could get very angry for no reason. He was moody and sarcastic but he was Jimmy Page and so taking all that abuse was worth it.


In your opinion, what kind of questions should a music journalist ask the artists? About technical stuff? Music in general? The artist’s opinion about common/current issues?

That’s a tough question because it really depends on the type of magazine the interview is for. However, I think a journalist should try and think of questions an artist has never been asked before. Or at least pose the question in a way that may be new to the artist. When you ask a guitar player, “What kind of guitar did you play on the first album?” he’s probably been asked that question a thousand times and really doesn’t want to hear it anymore. So try approaching it in a different way. “Why did you use that guitar on the first album? Were you looking for a specific kind of sound? Did you think that particular kind of instrument worked best with the band?” Approach it in different ways. I don’t think you should ask a musician about current issues unless he gives you the impression he wants to talk about that.


Which are the skills that a professional music journalist must have?

Patience; the ability to listen; the ability to set the artist at ease. This is not easy stuff. You have to work at it. Especially now since most interviews are done on the phone or on a Zoom or something, you can’t really look the subject in the eye. You have to always be thinking ahead so there is no lull between questions. An interview should flow as if it’s a conversation and shouldn’t sound like a lawyer interrogating someone. Obviously you need to know about the person to whom you’re speaking. Listen to their music; do your research; read other interviews. Then come up with something entirely new and intriguing interview-wise.


Should a music journalist be objective or should he support his opinion mainly?

Again, it really depends on the type of magazine he/she is writing for but I’d say nobody gives a shit about your opinion. Keep it to yourself. There are ways of expressing your opinion without writing, “Well, I think …”


You belong to the music journalists, who didn’t write only about music, but also lived music (spent time with artists, accompanied artists at their tour etc.). How much significant was that for you? With which artists were you close friends?

That’s a good question. As I mentioned earlier, when I was writing in the 1970s, there was a real community of record company people, publicists, management and the like. Everybody helped everybody. So if a label wanted a story and an artist wasn’t coming to town, they’d fly you out to interview the artist and see the show and hang out a little bit. This makes a world of difference in the type of story that eventually gets written. I was lucky enough to be friends with Edward Van Halen for 26 years; I was pretty good friends with Billy Gibbons, Steve Lukather, and Steve Vai.


Can you share with us some interesting experiences you had with some famous musicians, please?

Billy Gibbons came over to my little Hollywood Hills guesthouse and went through my album collection. I gave him a ton of albums. I drove with Bad Company on their tour bus during their first tour in the States in 1974. I took Paul Rodgers to an Elvis Presley concert. I was on the road with Led Zeppelin for 11 days in 1977 – I stayed at the same hotel and flew on their private jet.


What do you prefer more as a music journalist, to write articles about music or to interview musicians?

I much preferred doing interviews. I loved interviewing bands and especially artists who meant something to me. I met so many of my heroes and that was infinitely more satisfying than writing an article about the history of rock or which guitarists used Fender. That didn’t interest me much though I did write those types of stories.


How were things for rock music in the 70s? How do you remember these days?

It was an extraordinary time. A lot of bands that would go on to become huge – Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, et al, were just starting out and were releasing their first or second albums. So your history would grow with their history.


What do you think of music websites? Do you read online articles or do insist in printed magazines? Why?

It is difficult for me to read an article on a website. There is nothing like holding a real paper magazine. Back in the day, you had to buy a copy of Guitar Player magazine if you wanted to know what kind of an amp Mick Ronson used or what types of strings Robin Trower used. There was a mystery in that and when that new issue of Guitar Player or Creem or Circus came out, you couldn’t wait to get the issue in your hands and read it cover to cover. Reading online just doesn’t seem very exciting.


What do you think about digital distribution of music (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.)? Do you insist in buying records? Why?

Again, I’m an old school dude so vinyl is the only thing for me. I used to have a massive record collection – somewhere between 8,000-10,000 albums – and there was nothing like it. Now, a band comes out with singles and you rarely hear an entire album. Also, all those download sites are digital and compress and stuff and that is not the way the artist meant for his music to be played. They were analog recordings, which were recorded on tape and meant to be heard on a vinyl album on a record player. No digital remix or remaster can come close to the original analog recording.


Did you also write record reviews?

I wrote a few but not many. That didn’t interest me. I loved what I loved and I really didn’t think what I had to say would mean anything to anyone else. I can tell you why Who’s Next is one of the greatest albums ever made but it probably wouldn’t mean much to you even if I told you.

You have written some fascinating music books. Can you tell us about these books please?

I wrote biographies on: Jeff Beck; Randy Rhoads; Black Sabbath; Prince; Bruce Springsteen; Free/Bad Company; and Edward Van Halen. I also wrote a children’s book on the history of rock music, which was a lot of fun.


Your latest book was “Tonechaser”, about Eddie Van Halen. Why should a young rock fan read this book? What makes it an interesting book?

I was friends with Edward for 26-years and no other writer ever had that type of relationship. I hung out with Edward at 5150 and at my place in the Hollywood Hills. Most people only know Edward as that person onstage with the big smile or hearing him on record. I describe what he was like offstage just hanging out. My book has received extraordinary praise from Van Halen fans and musicians alike.


Have you seen the movie “Almost Famous”, which tells the story of a young music journalist in the 70s? Did you like it? Why?

I did see “Almost Famous.” Good movie. I sort of knew Cameron Crowe (he wrote the movie) who was an excellent writer. Cameron wrote about his life in that movie, which was not too different than mine (except Cameron was more famous than me).


Which are your plans for the future? Another book?

At the moment, I am just concentrating on Tonechaser. Writing the book is only half the battle. Everyday, I reach out to musicians for their support on social media. I am constantly putting up posts on my own social media pages. It is a ton of work but at the end of the day when I hear back from fans who say to me, “Thank you for writing this book,” it is all worthwhile. I am also always working on my webpage where Tonechaser can be purchased: tonechaserbook.com Maybe another book someday.


Send your message to all the young people, who want to become music journalists and authors in the year 2024!

If you really love writing and really love music, just keep working at it. There are magazines out there. Come up with an amazing idea for a story or track down some famous musician and talk to him. You have to find your own little niche: What is it you do better than anyone else? Reach out to other writers and ask them for help. Join all the Facebook communities of writers and journalists. Create your own blog or podcast and be unique and be creative and be insightful. I wish you all the best.

♦ photo credits:
Steve Rosen and Edward Van Halen: Neil Zlozower
Steve Rosen and Angus Young: Glen LaFerman
Steve Rosen and Jimmy Page: Neal Preston





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