GOLDMINE: Your new guitar instrumental collection Electric Wire is so entertaining, which I have been looking forward to discussing with you, but first let’s talk about Steve Harley. I was thrilled to read your coverage of Steve’s music in our May 2020 issue of Goldmine. I reviewed his first solo album, Hobo with a Grin, in 1978, after being a big Cockney Rebel fan from their first album on. Steve said that you are one of the most stylish and melodic guitarists that he has heard.
JOE MATERA: That is such an honor because he has played with some amazing guitar players in the world like Jim Cregan in Cockney Rebel, who played that fantastic and iconic solo on “Make Me Smile,” and then went on to play with Rod Stewart. Steve and Rod know each other pretty well, so Jim’s transition to Rod made sense, when Cockney Rebel ended.
GM: In my Hobo with a Grin album review, I wrote that Steve was a profound lyricist, writing peaceful melodies with a poetic enclosure. On that album, there was just one cover song of my favorite Temptations song, “I Wish It Would Rain.” Now on Steve’s new Uncovered collection, that you wrote about in Goldmine, it is the reverse situation with all covers and then one original, which is an update of a Cockney Rebel song. I was excited that you highlighted his cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Emma.”
JM: I think the version of “Emma” that Steve does is absolutely fantastic and a brilliant version. I think the best cover versions are when someone can take a song and make it their own. Jim Cregan’s solo on that song is great, too.
GM: In the 1970s in the U.S., there were three songs by Hot Chocolate that did well. “Emma” was the first, then “You Sexy Thing” and a couple of years later was “Every 1’s a Winner.” Other Hot Chocolate singles charted much lower here. I remember my best friend John and I listening to “Emma” and enjoying that in 1975.
JM: Even now you can listen to that original version and it resonates with you. Some songs stay the distance and some songs, after a couple of years, just fade away.
GM: Also from 1975 was Steve’s “Another Journey,” not originally on Cockney Rebel’s The Best Years of Our Life album, like “Make Me Smile.” When I listen to that flip side, the guitar part immediately reminds me of George Harrison’s “Awaiting On You All” from his All Things Must Pass triple album.
JM: That makes sense. Steve is very much influenced by The Beatles and Bob Dylan too, who is one of his heroes. That album was done at Abbey Road Studios, so you are going to have that influence. I think that flip side is as strong as the A side. It has a great poppy sound to it and is a great composition.
Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel
Flip side: Another Journey
A side: Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)
Top 100 debut: February 28, 1976
Peak position: 96
GM: I agree. Even the production, with the background vocals, make for it to not be a throwaway song. Please tell us about playing the A side “Make Me Smile” live with Steve.
JM: It was such an honor. When that song came out, I used to play air guitar to it. Now, decades later, I was playing it myself with Steve Harley! It was an amazing experience. I spent quite a few weeks learning the guitar solo, note for note, and making sure it was fine. When Steve came to Australia, that is when I met him for the first time. I had interviewed him quite a few times over the telephone for various music magazines. Then he came to Australia and offered me the role to play guitar. I went to his hotel room when he arrived and he sat me down and said, “OK, let’s just play ‘Make Me Smile’ including the guitar solo.” I just went for it. There was silence for a couple of seconds and then he said, “Fantastic job. I look forward to playing with you.” Wow! That was amazing. He actually said to me, “There are only three guitar players who have ever played that correctly and it is obviously Jim Cregan, one more guitarist, and you.”
GM: Speaking of your guitar playing, your album Electric Wire is comprised of all guitar driven instrumentals.
JM: Yes. Basically over the past ten years I have released instrumental tracks. I went through my whole back catalog of six CD releases and I picked what I think are the best ten instrumental tracks, then put them all together. None of these tracks had been released digitally before. They were on CDs only.
GM: “Slave to the Fingers” sounds like driving down the road music, and Mick McConnell from Smokie is on it too.
JM: Yes. A couple of tracks feature guests who I have known over the years. Mick plays a twenty second guitar solo on the track and it is absolutely amazing. He also plays a guitar solo on the song “Outland.” Slave to the Fingers was my very first solo
CD release. It was released on an Austrian label and got me known over there and now it is ten years later.
GM: You mentioned “Outland.” I played that for my wife Donna and she liked it, which I thought she would. It reminds me of something that she would dance to, listening to the radio in the 1970s.
JM: I think it has that radio friendly feel to it and I think it is a very catchy track too.
GM: “Guilty Pleasures” is very melodic and reminds me a bit of Santana and Ted Nugent.
JM: Oh wow. Thank you. It is great to hear that. I grew up on those guys. Everything that I hear, I believe, does influence my music somehow. I loved Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” when it came out and I actually played in a band that did some Santana covers. I learned a lot of Carlos Santana’s guitar parts. It is not something that I do consciously. If people can hear these influences, that is fantastic.
GM: Let’s talk about some of your other songs over the decades. The entire range of years that our daughter Brianna was in middle school in Virginia, Gin Blossoms were popular on the music charts, and I hear some of that when I listen to “Fallen Angel.”
JM: Oh fantastic. Gin Blossoms are truly one of the great bands of the 1990s. I love them. I have all their albums and have been a fan since they first came out and I used to play some of their songs in one of my cover bands. “Fallen Angel” is very much a pop and classic rock song. It is one of those songs that just came to me twenty years ago. It was one of my very first vocal music releases. It did so well for me and got me noticed in Europe and allowed me to go there every year and tour, due to that one song. There is an American connection to that song. Tom Werman, who has produced Motley Crue and Cheap Trick, gave a lot of input to that song on how to arrange it and construct the vocal harmonies. I am so glad that it resonates with you.
GM: “Shining Star” is catchy and you’ve got Pete Lincoln, formerly of The Sweet on it.
JM: Pete plays bass on that track. I have known him for many years. I met him in Hamburg many years ago on my very first tour there and we remained in touch, liking each other’s music. I asked him to play bass and he obliged. That one is actually about a long distance love affair, which is a true story, about a person who I fell in love with and married, my wife Liz.
GM: You and I both interview many rock stars. 1978 was my first backstage visit and interview. Donna joined me, as the band Boston is her all-time favorite band, and we sat with Tom Scholz. When I listen to “Feel Your Love,” I am reminded of Boston’s newer songs.
JM: Oh wow. Thank you so much. That has made my day. I love Boston. Tom Scholz is one of my heroes and one that I would love to interview. Their whole first album is such a classic with “Peace of Mind” and “Hitch a Ride,” for example, I spent days learning the solo on that track. When I got my first twelve string guitar, I played “More Than a Feeling.” I write all of my songs on acoustic guitar so that they can stand on their own, which I feel is very important, as you need to have a song that you can play live in its rawest form and still catch its energy.
GM: The same year that I saw Boston live, at the same venue I also saw Black Sabbath, which was Ozzy’s last year with the group for the decade. When I listen to “Tell Me Why,” I hear a Black Sabbath structure.
JM: Oh wow. That’s fantastic. It is a powerful ballad and is pretty heavy stuff. It is one my darkest songs that I have written, so comparing it to Black Sabbath is a nice compliment.
GM: Also on the heavier side is “Louder than Words.” I love the harmonies on the song, too.
JM: Thank you. I have always loved vocal harmonies on choruses and there are guitar harmonies on the song too. I wrote it pretty quickly, but it took me about three months to refine the lyrical structure of it. I am really proud of that song, too.
GM: Let’s discuss one more of your vocal songs, “Semantics.” The remix makes for good exercise music, which is what I used this morning.
JM: It is. I wanted to do something different. I tried to tap into the electronic dance market and do a remix. I wanted to experiment to see how that song could work. I am quite pleased with it, too.
GM: Of the people we have interviewed, one that we share goes back for me to 1979. On his 40th birthday, I interviewed Ray Manzarek of The Doors, which was my first telephone interview. You interviewed him in person in 2007.
JM: Yes. He came to Australia. They were out here to promote a reissue of Doors music. I found him to be a very funny guy. He told some great stories. He was just a really nice guy and very intelligent. It was very sad when I heard a couple of years ago that he passed away. I have some great memories of spending time with him. He was quite open about sharing stories about the music and The Doors. It was a great experience.
GM: Brianna and I saw him around the time of your interview, when he came to Reno, under the band name Riders on the Storm with Robby Krieger on guitar, so we got to see half of The Doors, plus Ian Astbury from The Cult on vocals.
JM: I caught them in Melbourne, and I thought that Ian did a great job. He looked and sounded the part. He obviously has his own vibe, but I thought it was a good match.
GM: When Donna was away at college in the mid-1970s, The Bay City Rollers’ “Saturday Night” was a No. 1 gold single in America, something she certainly heard a lot. Please tell us about opening for that group.
JM: That was one of the highlights of my musical career. They came to Australia in 2017 and did fifteen shows, including sold out concerts. I played at the sold out shows in Melbourne and about 99% of the audience were women. They were the biggest crowds that I had played to and they enjoyed my set. I was nervous going out in front of all those female Bay City Rollers fans, but they really took to my music and it went down really well. I garnered a whole new fan base, which is really cool. The women in the audience were reliving their childhoods, which was really wonderful to see.
GM: Brianna recently played me “Pity the Child,” written by Bjorn Ulvaneus and Benny Andersson of ABBA, from Chess, a musical you have performed.
JM: What a great song. At the end of “Pity the Child” there is a guitar solo in the production. Playing that was one of the most fantastic moments and was so surreal. I did that show and Les Miserables and each night was a remarkable experience. Les Miserables was all acoustic guitar performance, with heavy sight reading. It was a totally different experience for me, as I came from a rock and roll background. I learned a lot working in a theater format. It was wonderful to do something different.
GM: You have been working with the fellow Australian guitarist Martin Cilia and Sweden’s Janne Schaffer recently. Let’s start with Janne. When I was in college, I worked at a record store with six long aisles of music on each side of the aisle. The place was at least three times the size of other record stores in the area and we had several full size speakers overhead. I think the best sounding song we played in 1978 was “Eagle,” the opening track on The Album by ABBA, who we just mentioned. Janne’s guitar work was so creative on “Eagle” that you could imagine an eagle flying around the store.
JM: Yes. Janne is one of Sweden's premier guitar players who many know from ABBA records. Janne is also a successful solo artist in his own right, so I am very honored to have him play lead guitar on one of my tracks. It is also the first time that I've taken a back seat and not played lead guitar on any of my songs. I only play rhythm guitar and lead vocals on this particular track. It is one of three songs that I have recently recorded during this COVID lock down, which sees me going back to my all electric guitar and full band rock roots. The new solo material is planned for release later this year and the new tracks were again co-produced by me and Swedish producer Tomas Skogsberg, who co-produced my single “Overload” which was released late last year.
GM: Like in Australia, a bit south of us here in Florida we also have a Melbourne, which is the birthplace of Jim Morrison. I have seen many national acts there and in the prior decade I saw a regional surf instrumental band called The NovaRays, somewhat similar to what you have in Australia with The Atlantics. It had been a while since seeing a surf band like that. Donna and I caught The Chantays in 2003 in an outdoor show in Nevada. After enjoying The NovaRays I started searching for more of that style of music online, and at the time, from The Atlantics, Martin Cilia had released a wonderful solo song “King of the Surf Guitar.”
JM: Martin is Australia's No. 1 surf instrumental guitarist. I've co-written and recorded two new surf instrumental tracks with Martin, which will be released in future under the Martin Cilia/Joe Matera moniker.
GM: I learned about the ad-free creative artist online site Patreon from you recently and tried to determine which of three subscription levels would best enable Goldmine readers to learn more about you and enjoy your interviews.
JM: The lowest dollar level is all that is needed. My Patreon site features lengthy posts each week about my experiences and meetings with some of the world's biggest music artists. I interviewed over 600 artists from 2000 through 2010, going behind the scenes, spending time with them backstage, on the road, at soundchecks, and at concerts with artists ranging from The Doors, Queen, Metallica, Motorhead, John Mayer, Joe Satriani, Keith Urban and more, and I share never before seen photos, too. Thank you for mentioning the site and for letting me be on the other side of the interview process for Goldmine. I hope that people will check out my articles and my music and that one day I hope to make it to America.