In 2000, some three decades into his extraordinary multi-faceted career as a sideman, band founder/member and prolific songwriter, Steve Dudas – who had considered himself a lifelong rock and blues player – received a frightening cancer diagnosis that shifted his perspective and inspired him to expand his repertoire. Surviving the several year ordeal, he thought back to his formative years in the Pittsburgh area, recalling fond memories of playing classical guitar in his teens – and became passionate about taking up the instrument again.
This happened during a fascinating time in Dudas’ life, where he was in the midst of his dynamic stint as one of the “Roundheads,” an informal songwriting and studio group formed by Ringo Starr for his 1998 album Vertical Man. During his down time from sessions for Ringo Rama, the ex-Beatle’s 2003 follow-up to I Wanna Be Santa Claus, at the studio the legend built at his Rydinghurst Estate in Surrey, Dudas developed his classical chops anew on a Spanish guitar.
Feeling blessed that one of his musical heroes (and current collaborator) had loaned him such a treasured artifact, Dudas found the acoustics and reverb in the hall outside the studio perfect, and played while the others were in the room laying down vocals. Because of their solid working relationship – which over the years would ultimately extend to ten albums – Dudas, eager to showcase the classical side of his artistry, felt comfortable asking Ringo if he could record a set of originals and classical interpretations in that hall. His encouragement of the project led him to take the beautiful artistic photos on the CD insert of Dudas’ solo guitar album Music Down the Hall, which was originally released on Amazon and other retail outlets in 2008.
The beautiful 12-track collection never received its commercial due because at the time it came out, Dudas had just started his fruitful 10 year stint as a composer of library music for Extreme Music, a production arm of Sony Music Publishing that creates and licenses music for exclusive use in television, film, advertising and online media. Among Dudas’ early projects with Extreme was a series of four original full length albums (soul, gospel, cool jazz, blues) under the production guidance of Quincy Jones and two others with George Martin. Other legendary figures whose compositions populate Extreme’s libraries are Hans Zimmer, Snoop Dogg and Rodney Jerkins. Music Down the Hall is available once again on PSB Records.
Dudas’ collaborations as part of Ringo’s Roundheads were part of a wildly fertile era in the guitarist/composer’s career in the 90s and 2000s that included numerous collaborations with many legendary superstars, including Harry Nilsson (the title song to his last album, posthumously released in 2019), Alice Cooper (“Cleansed by Fire” on The Last Temptation)and Ozzy Osbourne, with whom he wrote 16 songs – two of which appeared on Ozzmosis (1995). Nine years later, Dudas played on Osbourne’s album of classic rock songs Under Cover, a studio experience the guitarist describes as “like doing a club gig with Ozzy.”
Dudas subsequently signed a deal with Universal Publishing, which got off to an auspicious start with “The Farm,” a track on Aerosmith’s #1 Billboard Album Nine Lives, written with Steven Dudas, Tyler and Joe Perry. In 2001, Dudas co-wrote the title track for Aerosmith’s platinum selling follow-up Just Push Play with Tyler. The song was used in a prominent Dodge Ram truck campaign. In 2000, Dudas became a tangential part of a pop culture phenomenon via a song on The Baha Men’s album Who Let The Dogs Out, whose title track became a global smash. Two years later, Dudas co-wrote and played guitar on famed Eagle Timothy B. Schmidt’s solo album Feed The Fire. Another unique gig was playing on the multi-talented Robert Downey Jr. album The Futurist and doing live gigs with the famed actor/singer on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Ellen” and “Good Morning America.”
Dudas’ association with Ringo led to further encounters with rock royalty, including Joe Walsh, who joined the drummer’s band for a segment on “VH1 Storytellers”; Eric Clapton, who contributed a solo on Ringo Rama’s George Harrison tribute song “Never Without You”; and David Gilmour, who added guitar solos to two songs, including Dudas’ co-write “Missouri Loves Company.”
Emerging from humble beginnings in suburban Pittsburgh, Dudas’ career got off to an auspicious start in the early 70s. As soon as he finished up his two year liberal arts degree, he hit the road with Saving Grace, playing clubs and ski resorts in the Northeast. Later in NYC looking for gigs, the group was hired as the backup band for Richard Nader’s Rock N Roll Revival Tour, one of the first national tours nof its kind featuring Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Bill Haley & the Comets, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Platters and The Shirelles. Dudas’ next band was the progressive rock outfit Pywackcet, which became popular in the Tri-State area (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia).
Long before the Los Angeles session scene called to him, Dudas scored some solid early side gigs in Pennsylvania, playing a year with local vocal legend B.E. Taylor (who sang a lot of Hendrix, Cream, Beck and Zeppelin) and then hooking up with international pop sensation Maureen McGovern (famed for her Oscar winning hit “The Morning After”) for a two year international tour that wowed thousands in Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Japan and the Philippines.
Using the six months of unemployment money he received after the end of the McGovern tour, Dudas hightailed it to SoCal with the hopes of breaking in to the bustling but competitive studio scene as a session musician. A successful audition for The Hudson Brothers led to his first steady gig backing them in Las Vegas and on the talk show circuit (“The Tonight Show,” Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas). Hudson Brothers producer Michael Lloyd subsequently hired Dudas to play on recording projects by everyone from Bill Medley, Barry Manilow and Leif Garrett to Shaun Cassidy, Helen Reddy, Solomon Burke and several movies and TV series.
Soon thereafter, Dudas met fellow guitarist and keyboardist Mark Hart, who later played with Crowded House and Supertramp. The two joined forces with drummer Billy Thomas (Vince Gill), bassist Rick Moors (Bone Daddies) and vocalist Randy Foote to form the new wave rock band The Combination. The group’s success on the L.A. club scene (Madame Wong’s, Club Lingerie, The Whisky) led to major label interest and they signed with Warner Bros., where Ted Tempelman (Doobie Brothers, Van Halen) produced their 1984 debut album Combination. The band also scored a publishing deal with Chapel Music, and their single “Girls Like You” received airplay via a video featuring actress Robin Wright. They later changed their name to The Dog and signed with Atlantic Records for a second album, which was produced by Mark Ross and executive produced by Arif Mardin.
Ever game for new musical experiences, in the late 80s, Dudas became the guitarist for the fledgling Fox Network’s “The Late Show with Joan Rivers,” which featured a 16 piece band that included some of L.A.s’ top jazz and pop musicians, including Vinnie Colaiuta, Jimmy Johnson, Jim Cox, Bob Shepherd, Brandon Fields and Rick Baptist. Dudas also co-wrote the theme song for the show. Rivers lasted only six months and was replaced by a variety of comedians until one (future talk show star Arsenio Hall) took over until it ended in 1988.
While immersed in this TV gig, Dudas became an instructor at Hollywood’s Musicians Institute, teaching sight reading, a classic rock workshop, a Steely Dan workshop and his favorite, improvising concepts – the latter featuring guest musicians playing and teaching their views on improvisation. His high profile guests included Joe Diorio, Howard Roberts, Scott Henderson and Mike Miller. During his 11 years at MI, Dudas wrote songs with and helped shop a deal for his student Curtis Skelton, whose band was signed by Mark Ross’ Abrupt Records in association with Universal Records. In addition to producing two Speak No Evil albums, Dudas produced the band The Churchills and 16 year old singer Angela Ammons for the label.
For the last ten years, in addition to his regular professional endeavors, Dudas has kept his skills sharp playing informal weekly three hour jams in the Silverlake section of L.A. with a rotating collective of musicians. In addition to opening up further creative horizons, his jamming with Fineman has given Dudas the long desired opportunity to finally learn how to play music by the giants of jazz.
“I feel really fortunate to have developed unique career where I didn’t have to beat the bushes for too long,” Dudas says. “I think that’s because I came to L.A. pretty early. If I had stayed in Pittsburgh, I could have worked but I wouldn’t have had any of the amazing opportunities to work with so many of the industry’s greatest talents. The best part has been meeting and working with some of the icons I grew up with, my years with Ringo obviously being the pinnacle of those experiences. In every generation, there are a handful of Mozarts – but for me, it’s all been hard work, and I’m still working hard at it. Nothing tops the feeling of getting into the zone and grooving, then playing a great solo that brings people to their feet.”