Native American guitarist Stevie Salas has worked with the world’s biggest rock stars; Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Michael Hutchence, Steven Tyler, Tony Bennett, Tommy Lee, Justin Timberlake and Yothu Yindi – to name just a few.
Salas has just been in Australia where he sat down to speak exclusively with Living Black about being one of the world’s top a musicians, not allowing your Indigenous heritage to become the only story and making a movie about American music history.
“My resume looks like a big lie. And yet, I can walk down the street and nobody knows who I am, except for every musician in the world knows me. That’s the coolest thing! Why did Steven Tyler talk to that guy? Cause nobody knows who I am unless you’re a musician,” Salas tells Living Black.
Salas, who is one of the best guitarists in the world today, says working alongside some of the world’s most famous musicians has been a privilege.
“Those guys are truly great. Like watching Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa.”
Salas singles out the work ethic he saw on display while touring with Mick Jagger as an inspiration for his own career.
“Mick had a work ethic that was mind blowing, here was Mick in his 60s and I never saw a guy work so hard, he’s the biggest rock star in the history of rock and roll and he was working harder than anybody that I had ever seen, pushing every detail, every detail. He’d call me five times a day and I was like ‘God all he’s got to do is be rich and be Mick Jagger’ and he fussed over every detail and it really inspired me that greatness isn’t just ordained, he still worked for that greatness.”
Being Native American Indiana is an obvious source of pride, but Salas baulks when people present it as his whole identity.
“My goal was I never wanted to be a Native American rock star, I wanted to be a rock star, and I was a Native American,” he says.
“There is a difference, right. Who I am as a human being is who I am. I wanted to be best guitar player I could be, not the best Native American guitar player — that would always be my philosophy.”
Salas has also just released a documentary on how Native Americans have influenced the history of modern music. Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World is already getting strong reviews.
For this proud Apache man, the film has been an important way for him to give back.
“During the time I don’t remember to enjoy the experience, which I’m trying to get better at. Like I’m trying to enjoy the experience with the film Rumble now, because I see it’s making people cry, it’s making people crazy at these screenings and I’m like feeling a good sense from it.”
“I want to see people have the opportunity to be successful. And being successful is really hard, and I don’t believe that you can’t be successful purely because of racism. I don’t believe that. I believe that a lot of times people don’t have the opportunity to make the great record; maybe they can make a good record, but not the great record. I wanna help them have the opportunity the can to be successful. But it's important for me to help people be the best they can be.”