Episode 21: Steve Khan

Guitarist Steve Khan was born and raised in Los Angeles in a house of songs. His father, lyricist and songwriter Sammy Cahn, made countless contributions to the American songbook. As a young boy, Steve was surrounded by his father’s friends and collaborators; Dean Martin was a regular at the house.  But as he describes it, his father’s world was not particularly attractive to him, and he felt a real distance between himself and his father’s world.

Coming of age in LA in the 60’s, Steve was drawn to music for somewhat more social reasons. His friends played in garage bands, and he wanted a piece of the action. His first instrument was the drums, while still in high school he ended up playing in a surf rock band called the Chantays, who had a hit called Pipeline. Oddly enough, it was the guys in the Chantays who turned Khan onto jazz, the music that truly inspired him.

At 19, Steve made the switch to guitar. In 1970 he relocated from the West Coast to New York. He quickly became an integral part of the studio recording and fusion scenes – in the 1970s he recorded on dozens of records, many of them important statements for artists ranging from the Brecker Brothers to Billy Joel, Kenny Loggins to Freddie Hubbard, Ashford and Simpson to Blood Sweat and Tears, Chaka Khan to Steely Dan. During the period when he was most active on the scene, Steve started recording as a solo artist for major labels. He has recorded over 25 albums as a soloist.

One particular project, called Eyewitness, was clearly a watershed moment for him. It featured Khan, bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Steve Jordan and percussionist Manolo Badrena. This project seems to have opened a door for him creatively, and since the early 80s he has pursued his love of Latin music.

When I started this podcast, sometimes people would ask me what I’m interested in talking about. I would sometimes answer that I’m looking for the intersection between personal experience and art – where life meets craft. Of course, that’s not always what happens in these conversations, and it’s certainly not any kind of mandate. But it does feel appropriate to wrap up the first year of these conversations with Steve Khan, because not only is he a great storyteller full of anecdotes, but he also is deeply aware of how his life and his music overlap. 


This was a long conversation and for the first time, I’m including some pieces that didn’t make the final cut available here. So if you’re interested and would like to hear more, specifically about some of the technical aspects of Steve’s playing, there’s another 20 minutes of the conversation available below.

Stream it here or download it from the iTunes Music Store.