Interview: Stephen Housden

Dan McAvinchey: Stephen, what were some of the things that influenced your musical tastes and originally led to your interest in the guitar?

Stephen Housden: I wanted to play the guitar since I was five. I remember hearing "Rock Around The Clock" on the radio when it first came out. I think that time was the start of guitars stepping to the forefront of popular music. The other thing was that 'Westerns' were really big at the time with kids in the UK. There always seemed to be a guitar somewhere in those movies.

I finally got a guitar on my 10th birthday. We had moved to Australia by then. Soon after I learnt my first few chords. Then I heard "Apache" by the Shadows. The sound of a Strat through tape echo into a Vox AC 30 was life changing. I got a cheap electric guitar and a 5 watt amp and tried my best to sound like Hank Marvin (Shadows' lead guitarist).

I soon made the decision that I wanted to play guitar for a living.

Growing up in Australia we were exposed to music from the USA and Europe as well as the local acts. When I was 12 my band played mainly Shadows' and a few other bands' instrumentals but we were soon doing Beatles' and Stones' stuff. Around that time I bought a copy of Chuck Berry's greatest hits. As I was learning "Johnny B Goode" I realised that Chuck was improvising the solos. I figured I could have a go at that.

I started making my own solos up after that and just copying bits and pieces from my favourite guitarists. More to strengthen my musical vocabulary than actually play the solos. I listened to all the usual stuff of the late 60's, Hendrix, Clapton etc but even though I was influenced by them I was aware that the only way I would get anywhere in music was to develop my own style.

The next big inspiration for me was Wes Montgomery. He is still my all-time favourite guitarist. I have written an article about my influences and it is at my web site.

A big turning point for me was hearing Amos Garrett's solo on Maria Muldaur's "Midnight At The Oasis". Aside from the great sound and double bends I was amazed at how he could come up with such a melodic solo over such difficult chord changes. I realised that if I wanted to take my playing any further that I needed to know a bit about music theory. I did a bit of study and figured out a system to learn Melodic minor, Harmonic minor, Half tone whole tone scales etc. I went through a period where I just listened to Jazz and worked on trying to play all what I could hear in my head. At that time I seem to remember thinking all pop music was crap.

Then the punk and new wave thing came along and put concept of fun back into pop music. When The Police hit the scene they proved that you could even get away with being a good player and join in the fun. I decided to put a band together and start writing pop music again. At the time I had been in other people's bands backing singers and doing some session work. The Imports was formed with my old friend, Malcolm Wakeford. We had been in bands together since we were at high school together. The band was 3 piece just like when we had started many years ago but the new music of the time required a totally different approach. Solos were almost scorned upon at that time so they had to be almost sneaked in as part of the arrangement. Have a listen to Police and you won't hear too many solos but the guitar parts are really creative.

Dan McAvinchey: What guitars, effects and amplification do you use to get your sound on your solo CD "New World Groove"?

Stephen Housden: On most tracks I used a Kinman Icon Series Guitar (the one on the CD cover) and a Peavey Classic 50 amp with 4x 10s'. It's not easy to remember it all now but I'll have a go. Starting with the amps:

Aside from the Classic 50, I did a lot of overdubs with a Peavey Classic 20 amp. They seem to have stopped making that model. It is actually 15 watts and really has an incredible tone. We used it for the lounge room overdubs. A big sound without the volume lever that entices neighbours to drop by to beat you up. All of "Celtic Warrior" is played through that amp. The solos in the title track, "Seaspray" and "Soul Surrender" are also the Classic 20.

On "Skyline" I played into an ART preamp direct into the mixer. I can't remeber the model, but it came out in the early 90s and is solid state with no effects built in. Very creamy sounding. Perfect for the track. I also used it for the distortion parts of "Siobhan".
On Spanish Castles I used a Peavey 5150 for a full very sustained distortion but the clean solo is back to the Classic 50. The only other amp I used was a Fender Twin Reverb on "Some Kind Of Strut".


Aside from the Kinman Icon I used A Gibson 345 and a mid 60s Fender Stratocaster on "Seaspray". I also used the Strat on "Some Kind Of Strut" and "The Bounty". "The Bounty" has the most guitars of any track and a lot of doubling and different textures. I think I used a Telecaster, Les Paul Jnr and...

On "Emerald Blues" I used my Maton CW-80. Maton is Australia's biggest acoustic guitar manufactures. I think the electric stuff is played on the Les Paul Junior.


I tried to keep the feeling of back to basics - guitar into an amp - concept. Just about all of the delays (except for some occasional real tape echo) and reverb was done at the mixer. Even compression and tremolo was done like that. However I made good use of my old 70's Morley Wah pedal in "Soul Surrender" and most other 'toys' were used on other guitars that were played in an orchestral support role to the lead guitar. I treated the lead guitar as I would a lead vocal on a 'normal record'.

On the last verse of "Seaspray" I used harmonised E bow guitars for the ascending line behind the main melody. On the outro of that song I reversed the role that vocals usually take and had them backing the guitar.

I used a fuzz sound from little half rack ZOOM for some of the counter lines like the riff behind the melody of "Some Kind Of Strut" and an old MXR distortion+ for similar parts on the CD. As a general rule I wanted those parts to sound smaller than the 'lead' guitar. Anther effect we used was a real Leslie cabinet for some of the parts in "The Bounty".

Dan McAvinchey: How did you originally land the gig with the Little River Band?

Stephen Housden: I was in a band called The Imports and our manager was Little River Band's tour manager. He got us a few gigs as their opening act. They would come early and watch us play and we all became friends. A few months later I got a call from Graham Goble asking me if I would be interested in joining the band. As it turned The Imports were disbanding so the decision was easy. I had put a lot on energy into that band and if the question had been asked a few months early I am not sure what answer I would have given.

Dan McAvinchey: When you gig with the Little River Band, how does your live setup differ from your studio gear?

Stephen Housden: Up until recently I had been using a Peavey tube-fex and a Digitech GSP 2101 into a couple of Classic 50s. I could get all my album sounds as well as the LRB sounds through those two processors but they have both been discontinued. After a great amount of research (especially by Pat Ryan, my guitar tech) I have settled on a Groove tube Trio Pre amp and a lexicon MXP-G2 into a Peavey Classic Stereo 50watt power amp. This all goes into a Marshall 4x12 cabinet, which is wired in stereo. I also use a Nadi wireless.

I have retired the Kinman for awhile and relaced it with two Fender Statocasters.
For all the details the stage gear I use with LRB see this web page.

In the studio I'll use whatever does the trick. I recently bought a Boogie Formula pre amp that I really love. I sometimes use that for jamming at the local pub although I generally just plug my old 60's Strat into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you get a chance to perform the music on "New World Groove" live?

Stephen Housden: I have performed the music a few times but the LRB schedule hasn't left me with much time lately. LRB has just recorded a DVD and on it we played 'Spanish Castles'. The DVD should be released early 2003.

Dan McAvinchey: What process do you go through to compose and record your original music?

Stephen Housden: I might come up with a chord pattern that has special feeling about it and then a melody will come. There are no real rules. Just recently a friend sent me some lyrics and I wrote a melody to them. I really enjoyed doing it that way because reading the words immediately gave me a sound in my head of what the song would sound like. The hardest part is getting something totally finished. If I have a song that I think has real potential to be great I don't like to just finish it with any old thing.

The tune "Siobhan" from my CD started with the verse part. I waited about 8 years for the middle section to come to me. It was worth the wait because I am really happy with it as a piece of music. The bottom line for me is making music that I am proud of.

Dan McAvinchey: What went into the decision to release an independent solo record?

Stephen Housden: I had always wanted to do a solo album, but it was all talk. One day I mentioned it again to my wife and she said don't talk about it, do it. So I did. As soon as the real decision was made things started to fall into place, as they often do. The next day I bumped into Anthony Fossey, a keyboard player friend who I had never worked with but knew was good at programming. I asked him if he could help me to get some demos together. We had some fun putting a couple of demos together and he ended up co producing the album with me.

Dan McAvinchey: Are there any other artists out there whom you would love to collaborate with someday?

Stephen Housden: I would love to play with more artists outside the rock genre. Playing with Paddy Keenan was great (see next question). There is a native American flute player called Carlos Nakai. I have never met him but would love to do something with him. He has a beautiful feel to his playing.

I really like the idea of combining styles. I love all kinds of music and I am open to opportunities to play in all kind of situations.

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Dan McAvinchey: How do you feel living in Ireland contributes to your career as a musician?

Stephen Housden: I first visited Ireland in 1983 and really got into traditional music. The first album I heard was a band called The Bothy band. They did a tune called "The Butterfly". We ended up doing it with LRB and running it into "Night Owls". I would say that the Irish music has influenced my writing a lot. "Seaspray", "Emerald Blues", "Celtic Warrior" and "Siobhan" all have a bit of that flavour in them. Also, there is an interesting use of fast triplets in Irish jigs and reels. I seem to be using that occasionally when I am doing a solo in a normal rock situation.

Living here also gives me the opportunity to see, write and play with Irish artists. A highlight for me recently was playing on a "The Long Grazing Acre" CD by Paddy Keenan. ( He was the pipes player with The Bothy Band. Listening to The Bothy Band all those years ago, I, never in a million years, thought I would be playing with Paddy and living in Ireland.

Dan McAvinchey: In this day and age, how do you get instrumental music noticed?

Stephen Housden: It is very difficult. In the '60s there was a market for everything and, of course, there was much less music available. Looking at the number guitarists with CDs out on the Guitar Nine site is daunting. I think getting a piece used in a successful film is one way of getting heard. Another is just going out and working and selling at gigs.

These days there is so much music around that everything needs a format. I am not sure where my album would get filed in a record shop. In the '60s The Shadows or The Ventures would just get put in amongst the other pop stuff.

Dan McAvinchey: What are some of the upcoming projects you'll be involved with?

Stephen Housden: Little River Band will be recording a new CD soon. I would also like to do some producing and writing with younger acts, if time between tours permits.

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Guitarist Stephen Housden is currently recording and touring with the world-famous Little River Band, but is also a keen instrumentalist, as he proves on his solo CD "New World Groove". An album chock full of tasty licks and melodic themes, Housden couples a relatively diverse collection of arrangements with soloing that smokes, yet is marked by a tasteful sense of phrasing.

Dan McAvinchey asked Housden about his start in music, his landing of the gig with the Little River Band, and invited him to share his gear list and compositional approach with Guitar Nine's information hungry readers.