Music

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

It’s a different experience when you open a Guitar World issue from September 1989 and re-read it in 2013.

It’s a who’s who of where are they now.  Marty Friedman and Jason Becker are hot off the press with their Cacophony releases and are endorsing ADA Amps, Jeff LeBar from Cinderella is endorsing Ernie Ball Strings, Richie Kotzen is endorsing Ibanez, Kip Winger is endorsing Peavey and Brian Forsythe is promoting Kix’s fourth album Blow My Fuse, before it exploded with the song Don’t Close Your Eyes.  Johnny Diesel  is well known in Australian circles and he is in there promoting Johnny Diesel and the Injectors that went on to make a big splash on the Australian scene during this period.  To a kid starting out playing guitar it just looked like one big hard rock, metal party was going on in the U.S.  I wanted to be part of it.

Marty Friedman went on to join Megadeth and found success.  Then he left to follow his muse writing Japanese pop music.

Jason Becker’s story is a sad one.  He went on to replace Steve Vai in David Lee Roth’s band only to be struck down with a rare disease at the age of 20 called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  From recording the A Little Ain’t Enough album in 1989 to being given three to five years to live.  He is still alive now and communicates via eye movements.

Richie Kotzen has had a varied career.  Apart from being a solo artist, he went on to replace CC Deville in Poison.  The album Native Tongue was a brilliant album funk, blues rock album and it is a shame it didn’t get the recognition it did.  He also replaced Paul Gilbert in Mr Big between 1998 and 2004.

However, the reason for this story is Vito Bratta.  He is on the cover.  The hot shot guitarist and songwriter from White Lion, promoting their latest release.   Big Game was the follow up album to the mega successful breakthrough album Pride that spawned the hits Wait and When the Children Cry.

Since then White Lion went on to release Mane Attraction in May 1991 and by September that same year they called it a day.  Vito Bratta hasn’t released anything musical since Mane Attraction in 1991.  Brad Tolinski interviewed Vito.

“Guitarist Vito Bratta’s work is immediately distinctive for its strong sense of melody, thoughtful use of dynamics and pick attack, as well as a graceful near-metronomic sense of time that sounds neither forced nor rigid.  Although he’s definitely not from the Malmsteen School of high baroque, Bratta’s liquid phrasing is in spirit reminiscent of certain passages from Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin.  The elegant trills over the A chord in the ninth measure of the solo in “Wait” and the call and response of the alternating legato/dettache phrasing in “Don’t Give Up” suggest a player who understands music in a classic, rather than classical sense.”

To add to that, Vito’s grasp of melody and modes to me was at a very high level.  Songs written by Vito cover a lot of different musical styles.  His choice of notes, different chord voices and harmonies was a pleasure on the ear palette.

“I’ve been developing a more personalized approach to chord voicings and inversions.  The problem is these voicings don’t always sound good through a distorted amp.  So instead of using more conventional inversions, I’ll arpeggiate the chord.  This allows me to mute certain notes within the chord, eliminating some of the ugly overtones you get when you play close harmonies with distortion.  Al DiMeola once said his muting technique was a result of not wanting to wake anyone when he was practicing late at night!  Sometimes good things come out of compromise and determination.”

Apart from being a guitarist in a successful rock band, he was also an artist.  To Vito it was all about the music.

The mention of Al DiMeola and how he came to have an unbelievable muting technique shows that he knows his stuff, he has listened widely, he has studied what others have offered before him and incorporated it all into what he does.

Vito also talks about the limitations of playing through a distorted amp and how he circumvented those limitations, by changing the way he plays.  Instead of standard power chords, he is arpeggiating inversions of that chord and muting the strings at the same time.

GW Brad Tolinski:  Another unusual aspect of your rhythm technique is the extensive use of fingerpicking, particularly on the new record.   How did that evolve?

Bratta: That was another outgrowth of my song writing.  I usually write songs by myself, then play then for Mike so that he can write lyrics.  Because I want to give Mike the most accurate picture, I’m forced into creating a fairly complete sketch with my guitar alone.  I know an easier way would be to use multi-track tape machines, but I’m not into that.  So when I start thinking of the basic feel, I’ll come up with a bass part and play it on the low strings with my thumb.  Next, I’ll try and create a chord progression and try to coordinate the chordal movement so that I can play the bass line simultaneously.  Finally I’ll add a suggested melody line on the top.  The only way to have all three things happening at once is through some form of fingerpicking. 

Since this approach really excites me, I didn’t want to drop it when we went into the studio.  That’s why my rhythm guitar parts have a lot of movement.  If I was going to use the typical heavy metal approach on something like Little Fighter, I would just chunk away on the low E and A strings.

These days, artists would multi track everything in the demo stages.  Hell, I do, it’s easy.  Vito developed a fingerpicking style that combined what classical, blues, country and bluegrass players do however he applied it in a pop sense.   Imagine being the singer and you get given a demo that has the bass parts, the chords and the melody lines all on one track as an acoustic guitar piece.  To me this is what made Vito different to the other players.  He was a guitar nerd and I mean that in a good way.  He knew his shit, but he wasn’t textbook.  I know that the 90’s served up the argument against players with technical ability not playing with feel.  Bullshit I say.  Just because a technical player can step on the gas when they want to and drive at 200km per hour, it doesn’t mean they have no feel.  I was doing something similar like Vito, however as soon as I got my multi track recorder, I stopped doing it and took up the technological alternative.  Looking back, I do regret it, as it is a skill now that has been relegated to beginner’s level again, instead of remaining at an advanced level.  Technology has made us lazy, and it has made us cover up how bad we really are.  If we can’t sing, we auto tune, if we make mistakes, we fix up the note/s.

GW Brad Tolinski:  Many of these concepts were evident on Pride, but the execution was more rigid.

Bratta: The reason for that is kind of complicated.  I wrote the whole Pride record on acoustic guitar.  Then I went into the studio and started playing all these wonderful chord inversions through a Marshall, and it came out sounding like shit.  So instead of rewriting the whole album I kept the voicings, but did a whole lot of muting.  Big Game on the other hand was written on my Steinberger in dressing rooms across the U.S., so I had a chance to audition all my ideas on an amp way ahead of time.  As a result, I was able to create sympathetic voicings so I didn’t have to mute the strings as much.  The overall sound is more legato and less staccato, and the pre-production made me more at ease in general.

I can totally relate to that.  I write every song on acoustic guitar and when it comes time to electrify it, I end up changing it a lot of it and it loses its soul.  Just by replacing an arpeggiated part with a power chord, it is enough to lose the feel you are trying to convey.  I then try and fix this problem by adding multi guitar lines which could either muddle the song even more or bring clarity.  It’s a hit and miss game, and previously when I have been in studios where time is money, it’s being more miss than hit.

One thing that Vito shows is that he is a persistent artist.  He is prepared to persevere for his art.  Not many artists these days, have those attributes.  To use an analogy, a lot of artists will dig away in the mines for years on end, only to stop a few centimetres dirt short from the gold or diamonds waiting on the other side.  And then you have one artist that just keeps on digging and they reach it.  Never give up on your dreams and walk away.  If there is a lesson to be learned here, persevere and keep on getting better.

GW Brad Tolinski: Your latest work doesn’t sound as heavy as it did in the past, yet it does sound more aggressive.

Bratta: After touring with AC/DC and Aerosmith for a year, I felt a little more aggressive.  Some nights I would come up with something pretty, but after seeing Angus bash it out, I would say “Fuck pretty”.

Again the fan in Vito comes to the fore.  He is letting the bands that White Lion is playing shows with influence him.  He is watching what they do, he is seeing what songs and riffs work in a concert atmosphere, because in the end, bands sink or swim based on the live show they deliver.   He is letting their sound, their aggression influence him.  Song writing isn’t just about musical notes and words.  It is about attitude and feeling.  What sound is needed to convey love or hate?  Minor key songs are sadder, major key songs are happier.   Crazy Train from Randy Rhoads is a perfect example, where major and minor combine in a glorious display.  The intro is F#m, the verses are A major and trippy, the chorus is back to F#m as the root.  The song is both pretty and aggressive.   Vito was a master of both.  Like Randy Rhoad’s he was bigger than the band he was in.

Part 2 will be a review of Big Game, plus more from the interview where Vito also talks about Big Game.

 

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Guitar World – January – 1986

Guitar World – 1986 – January

I was unpacking boxes and I came across all of my Guitar World magazines, Guitar for the Practicing Musician which morphed into just Guitar, Guitar School, Guitar One, Guitar Player, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Australian Guitar and Guitar Player.

This was the first Guitar World magazine I purchased.  I remember purchasing it from the newsagency, bringing it home and slowly taking it out of the plastic.  I remember turning the pages over as delicate as a heart surgeon.   This was all I had back in 86, apart from a tape of Twisted Sister’s Stay Hunger, Van Halen’s 1984, Bruce Springsteen’s – Born In The USA and Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil.  I also had some seven inch singles from my brothers that had Kiss – I Was Made for Loving You and Hard Times as its B Side.

It had Yngwie Malmsteen on the cover.   I don’t know why I purchased this edition as at that time I didn’t even know who Yngwie was or how he sounded.  However I was starting to get into guitars and the magazine was called Guitar World.

There was a small piece in a section called The Whammy Bar, which stated that Billy Sheehan will be joining David Lee Roth on his new solo project and that DLR is also trying to get Yngwie Malmsteen in there.  Here is the connection for me as I knew who DLR was from Van Halen.  This alone made me interested in seeking out the music from Malmsteen.

Who would have thought how interconnected Malmsteen and Steve Vai where at that time.  Talk about six degrees of separation.  So Malmsteen came to America and played in a hard rock band called Alcatrazz.  When he left that band to do Rising Force, Alcatrazz hired Steve Vai as his replacement.  DLR is looking at putting a new band together post Van Halen and Malmsteen is sought out, however it is Vai that gets the job.

Then I read the Malmsteen interview.

“I’d rather have people dislike my style than change it,” he says. “If someone says, ‘Hey, Yngwie, you play too damn much’ –- I don’t care. The way I play is the way I like to play. If people like it – great.  If they don’t, it’s still fine with me.”

I think 27 years on; it’s safe to say that Yngwie didn’t conform to any record label standard.   I have listened to every album he has produced and while quite a few became a yawn fest and a waste of time I will never get back, he never gave in and he never sacrificed his ideals to please the  corporate empires.  For any guitarist or musician coming out, this should be your motto especially when you have musicians from ‘successful ‘ groups departing and issuing comments like this (from Adam Gontier – ex Three Days Grace vocalist);

“The music BUSINESS.  Remember this people…, in my/our case; it’s always been about the “business”.  The money.  What about the love for creating real music from the heart?  Where did that fit in? Pretty much nowhere.  No room for music from the heart, when it’s just about music for the radio.”  

You can safely say that Malmsteen has always been about the music.

It’s okay to have haters.  You cannot please everyone.  However as soon as you lose what made you special in the first place, you are the same as everyone else.

“I’ve always sacrificed things in order to become the best musician I could be. “

Malmsteen dropped out of school at 15, got a job working in a guitar shop which further developed his skills (being able to play is one thing, however knowing your equipment and knowing how it all hangs together is another).  How many kids these days drop out of school at 15?  Why would they?  Isn’t it better to get an education and even go to Uni/College so that there is something to fall back on?

“If guitar players just listen to other guitar players it’s almost impossible to avoid sounding like them,” says Malmsteen, who acknowledges only Jimi Hendrix and Ritchie Blackmore as guitar influences.”

Isn’t that so true.  Look at all the metal guitarists around today, they can do all the guitar tricks from so many different styles, all packaged into one.  Malmsteen sweeps, Van Halen taps, Al DiMeola alternate picking, Steve Morse string skipping, John Petrucci legato, Randy Rhoads modal theories, and so on.  The ones that truly stand out are the ones that do it a touch differently.  Disturbed is a prime example that comes to mind of this where guitar and drums where one.  The guitar acted like a percussion instrument.  Great music can be born out of the syncopation of drums and guitar.

“It’s also important to me that what I play fast will also sound good if the same notes are played at a slower speed. I play classical runs, arpeggios and broken chords that if played at a slower speed would sound very nice as well. “

Has anyone ever done it?  I have.  I remember taking Trilogy Suite and playing it at 100bpm instead of the 200 bpm it is supposed to be.

“Anyone who’s witnessed Malmsteen on stage knows he is an intensely exciting performer. Most guitarists with mind-boggling technique are actually quite boring in concert, but Malmsteen manages to impress as well as entertain. He is always in constant motion, whether playing his Strat with his teeth or effortlessly twirling it around his body.”

This is a general rule for every musician.   The definition of musician also takes in the definition of performer.  You need to deliver the goods live and make it exciting.  You need to make the kids want to be you, you need to inspire the almost there musicians to be you and you need to leave the mouths wide open of seasoned musicians.   Otherwise the million plus other musicians will come along and push you aside.

“Much hard work, of course, has gone into honing his style.  “I’ve been playing constantly since the age of eight,” says the twenty-two-year-old guitarist.”

Yes that’s right, Malmsteen was 22 in 1986.  He came to the U.S in 1983 as a 19 year old.   This is what kids need to realise.  It takes time.  Nothing happens overnight.  You need to be in it for the long haul.  In the case of Malmsteen, he came to the US and joined Steeler and then Alcatrazz.  Both bands where stepping stones.

Would Led Zeppelin have been so great if they formed in 1964 or 1966?  Would Jimmy Page write the songs he did if he didn’t do time with the Yardbirds and the British studio scenes.

Would Metallica be where they are if they kept their original bassist and never hired Cliff Burton?   Would they have written Master of Puppets if Dave Mustaine was still in the band?

Basically it was a long road to success once upon a time and that hasn’t changed in the current internet era.  Even someone like PSY had put in time before he went viral.  His first album was released in 2001.  It wasn’t until 2011 that the world knew who he was and that was achieved without the traditional mainstream press and radio.

Even though the news carriers publicise the one in a million stories of people found and made into overnight sensations, there are still a billion of other artists still paying their dues.

“I’ve always been aware of recording techniques,” he says, “and I’ve always felt I could do a better job than an outside producer because they obviously don’t know the songs as well as I do.  I mean, I don’t think a painter would do the background and let someone else finish the rest of the painting.”

The musician definition just keeps on growing.  You create, you perform, you know your gear and tweak it to suit, you practice your art, you record your own music, you produce it and release it.  With the internet and advancements of technology, every musician should be doing the above.

 “Malmsteen’s desire to do it all obviously puts a lot of weight on his shoulders. Will he keep a clean head and progress? Or will he get caught up in the rabid attention he’s been getting and stagnate? The answers to these questions will prove if Malmsteen becomes the legendary guitarist he is so capable of becoming.”

The magazine came out in January 1986.  Malmsteen was promoting Marching Out which came out October 1985.  In September of 86 he released Trilogy.  Three albums in three years as a solo artist.  In total if you include Steeler and Alcatrazz releases that is six releases in four years.

Remember Malmsteen’s motto, it’s all about the music.  Keep on pumping the music boys and girls, that is how it was done back in the day so that artists could get traction and that is how it should be done in this day and age.  Six album releases in four years.  A total of 50 songs over a 48 month (as one Alcatrazz album was a live release).

A song a month should be the aim of every artist as a minimum.

Did Malmsteen become the legendary guitarist?  My view is YES.  He released Odyssey in 1988 with Joe Lyn Turner which became Malmsteen’s most successful album of his career and the one where you could have questioned if he was becoming another record label slave.  Remember his motto, its all about the music and the very commercial sounding Joe Lynn Turner was fired.

Did he maintain his legendary status?  My view is YES.  When shredding and neo-classical became out of fashion in the record label controlled U.S Malmsteen still forged a successful career in Europe and Japan during the 1990’s.  He never gave in to suit a flavour of the year style.  He remained true to himself and that to me is the sign of a legend.

Yes there are stories of his ego, his erratic behaviour, his fury (remember the plane incident) and his controlling manner however he never gave away himself, he never sold out to cash in.  As soon as he became commercially successful, he fired the singer and started a new again.

I remember reading in Metal Edge or another music rag sometime during the mid 90’s that Malmsteen and Ronnie James Dio ended up getting together to write some songs or where going to get together to form a supergroup.  I don’t know how true that is and what happened to the music they created.

Other guitarists mentioned in the magazine where Spacey T. from the band Sound Barrier, Kazumi Watanabe, George Thorogood, John Martyn, Lonnie Mack, Steve Stevens, Dave Meniketti and Al Di Meola.  But that is for another day.

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Vito Bratta – White Lion – Fight To Survive Review.

1985 – Fight To Survive

File:Fight to survive cover.jpg

Stand Outs

Fight To Survive – musically brilliant.  Lyrically it’s good as well about street life and fighting to be alive each day. Great tapping intro that breaks down into the bass groove for the verse, with the volume swells and then it picks up for the big chorus.  Love the delay in the solo section.

All The Fallen Men – Very Neil Young Rocking in the Free World influence in the verses.  Then again this came before Neil Young.

El Salvador – The best song on this first album.  The flamenco intro moving into the distortion riff is brilliant.  You can hear Al DiMeola’s Mediterranean Sundance.  And once the song kicks its all Thin Lizzy.  Phil Lynott would be proud.

Clichéd Songs

Broken Heart – Mike Tramp’s lyrics where typical of the 80’s.  Bratta shreds in the solo section with tapping and tap bends.

All Burn In Hell – reminded of Twisted Sister’s Burn in Hell.  Musically is typical of the 80’s.  Love the syncopated interlude before the solo.  Very modern alternative rock metal vibe there.  Solo section to me is a song within a song.

Bad Songs with Great Bratta Moments

Where Do We Run – reminds of a 100th rate AC/DC song in the verse.  Tramps lyrics and melodies are lame.  It’s a shame that it has a killer solo, very much in the vein of Randy Rhoads – Flying High Again and George Lynch – Tooth and Nail.

In The City – up until the interlude and solo section, where Bratta wails, the song sounds like a Y&T rip off lyrically.  Firehouse also did a song, where the vocal melody was similar.  Does anyone remember The Dream?

Filler Songs

Cherokee – again the lyrics are tacky, “Cherokee, riding free”.

Kid of a 1000 Faces – the less said about this song the better.

The Road To Valhalla – with that title I was expecting something epic.

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