Steven Rosen gets his byline on
By Steven Ward (September 2003)
Veteran rock writer Steven Rosen has been traveling with musicians and profiling them–mostly guitarists–since the early ’70s. He has written for just about every rock publication under the sun. Here, Rosen reflects on five magazines that stand out to him.
Maybe the crowning jewel in my literary kingdom. I pitched them a story on Bad Company. This was maybe the first time the magazine printed a story before the album was even released. I received an advance copy of the first album and knew it was going to be a monster. I was right. This was probably a 2,000 word story and I never pored over every comma and colon as much as I did on this one. I was proud of this–it took two years of phone calls ingratiating myself to the editorial staff–pitching them on ideas that constantly got turned down. I believe I dealt with Abe Peck. He was great–guided me through the process, helped me via telephone on re-writes. A story in Rolling Stone–I was cool!
From a distance, I dealt with Lester. I have one of his rejection letters written on a little piece of Creem stationery. I did several stories for them–Deep Purple and some others I can’t remember. Creem required an antithetical voice to the one I used with Rolling Stone. They wanted you to riff, improvise, toss out lines and insights like automatic gunfire. Rolling Stone required methodical, and perfect word use. I can’t remember the other people I worked with there–maybe Jaan. I loved the Creem beer can/car page.
My first major pieces. In fact, the first story I ever wrote for them became my first cover. A company called Gibson & Stromberg were ‘rock’ PR company at the time. They handled everyone from The Stones to Dr. Hook. They took a liking to me and opened up their roster. Lydia Woltag, one of the great women working at the office (that building just about on the corner where La Cienega rises up to meet Sunset Boulevard), liked me. She even found me a place to rent in Laurel Canyon–$75 a month. She asked me if I wanted to interview Jeff Beck. She should have asked me if I needed oxygen to breathe. Beck was God, he was king. I was a guitar player who’d played his licks–messily–for years. She set it up and I spent two days with him at the–then–Continental Hyatt House–talking and hanging. An hour into the interview, I happened to check my batteries and oh Jesus God, they were dead. I turn to him, my head hung in shame, my career over before it even began. “Jeff,” I muttered, sheepish, cowering, embarrassed, “My batteries …” Before I could finish he said, “Come back tomorrow, we’ll do it again.” I came back the next day and he was perfect. Everything I wanted him to be. I brought a guitar I had because I thought he’d dig playing it. He loved it and said he wasn’t going to give it back to me. I probably would have given it to him. And that interview became the first of 16 covers I’d do for Guitar Player.I dealt with editor Jim Crockett and after he left, Don Menn. They were my mentors, helping me to hone my interviewing skills–how to extract the most out of a guitarist. Guitar Player was the bible for guitarists and I became associated with them. Over the course of six years, out of 72 possible covers I wrote 16 of them. I owned that magazine. Many great experiences there–Frank Zappa, Ron Wood, Jimmy Page (I toured with the band in 1977 for 9 days), Ritchie Blackmore. This is probably my favorite time of writing. The money would have made a McDonald’s employee laugh–they paid me $150 for the Page cover and said this was the most they’d ever paid a writer. I didn’t care. I remember seeing Guitar Player in the library once–I read an article on Dickie Betts and I remember saying to myself, “I can do this.” I loved that period–1973 through 1979.
Began writing for them around 1984 and became known as the Edward Van Halen connection. Edward had become a friend and I always had access to him before anyone else. I did three covers on him and the second cover, July 1985–still stands as the definitive story on him. Noe Goldwasser was the overseer and a very insightful editor. I did seven covers for GW between 1984 and 1987. My writing was improving and the stories seemed to resonate with readers. But Noe got weird–he wanted other writers to cover Edward and this pissed me off. I wasn’t told about it. And the stories were simply rehashes of the pieces I’d earlier written. A great magazine nonetheless and a very fun time.
I tried for a long time to get a piece in Circus. I read their stories which were filled with metaphor and hyperbole and colorful description. I eventually did several stories for them–Jethro Tull, Robin Trower (for their sister mag, Circus Raves), and some others. Joe Walsh. Circus and Creem were pretty much the same periodical–they covered the same types of artists and the writing style required for both was the same. A very delightful ride.