Music, My Stories, Stupidity

Is Having Mike Portnoy in your band a good thing or a bad thing these days?

Mike Portnoy is a hard worker. There is no doubt about that. However, the question needs to be asked. With so many projects running, where is the quality control?

Of course, I know that quality is in the eye of the beholder and since Portnoy is just a drummer, the quality is in the music.

Music comes from the guitarists/keyboardists he chooses to work with. The guitar player in the band has the same value as a Number 1 draft pick for a losing team. You build a championship winning team around a great guitar player.

In Dream Theater, Mike Portnoy had the Michael Jordan of guitar players in John Petrucci. When Portnoy left the DT team, he committed career suicide in my view.

In Adrenaline Mob, he had the wild card roughie, Mike Orlando, who in my view is getting really close to the greatness of Iommi and I seriously believe this band is capable of producing a classic album like Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath.

In Transatlantic he has a minor league player in Roine Stolt on guitar and another minor league/division two songwriter in Neal Morse. (Anyone remember Morse, Portnoy, George project, it was a deadest joke). If you want to hear quality spread thin, listen to Neal’s solo albums.

In Flying Colors he has the veteran superstar in Steve Morse, who has done his victory lap already and is now also spreading himself too far and too thin with Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Flying Colors and the Steve Morse band.

And that brings us to The Winery Dogs. For this project to be special, it needs to bring something different to the table, so that it stands out amongst the noise.

Richie Kotzen is a good guitar player, however there is nothing special about him. If I keep with the sporting analogies, this player wouldn’t win any trophies for you. He wouldn’t be a bad player to have on your team, but he is not the champion that you need. As a draft pick he would be way down the order.

When Kotzen came out with his first self-titled solo album in 1989 and with Fever Dream in 1990, he was just another shredder on the Shrapnel label. I have both of those albums and I can’t really remember much from them. I even purchased the Mr Big album he played on after Paul Gilbert left and that was also forgettable.

Just like Hard Rock and Glam Rock killed itself by cloning itself over and over again, the same thing happened to the Shred Movement.

Kotzen was a clone of the shred heroes that came before him like Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Paul Gilbert and Jason Becker (who also produced Kotzen’s first album).

There was also a Jimi Hendrix/Stevie Ray Vaughan blues influence, however that part of his playing didn’t really come out until he joined Poison. Maybe he was told to conform to the shred sweep picking style. The point. He is a clone of the shred era. He got his deal, because he could shred. Yes, he had talent. Yes, he practiced. Does he have the songs? No.

Even in his vocal delivery he clones Chris Cornell. There is nothing different or special about what he does and he is the centrepiece of the band as the guitarist and vocalist.

The point I am making is that there is no signature sound from Kotzen and since he is the frontman and the main songwriter, it is a troubling fact.

Which brings me to Mike Portnoy. Dream Theater success is because of the music. The musical instruments in the band are the guitars, keys and bass. Drums are a percussive instrument. If Mike Portnoy had never met John Petrucci, he would be just another talented drummer trying to make it.

Is Portnoy a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to write a great song on his own? My answer is NO.

Billy Sheehan is the bassist, and as good as he is, all good bassists need great guitar players. With Talas, Sheehan was the man, and that band was a product of its time, where it was cool to be a different and a leader and that is what Billy Sheehan was, a leader. However that band never really had success.

Then he found commercial success with two supergroups. First with David Lee Roth and then with Mr Big. In both of those bands, he had two monsters on the guitar. With David Lee Roth, he had Steve Vai (at one stage Yngwie Malmsteen was considered for the DLR slot) and with Mr Big, he had Paul Gilbert.

However is Billy Sheehan a great songwriter? Does he have the ability to great write a song on his own?

In DLR’s band, he had one song writing credit in Shy Boy, which is from his Talas’s days. In Mr Big, his name is over a lot of songs, and they are okay songs, however the main hit songs (which gave Billy Sheehan a career) are not written by him.

James Hetfield once said that he is anti-side projects for a very good reason. It dilutes the quality of the main product.

And in the end it is quality that the people want. That is the reality.

Standard
Music

Mike Portnoy

I am a Dream Theater fan. If you look at the original pressing of Lifting Shadows, my name is in that book. I am one of those super fans. If you look at all the bootleg Ytse Jam recordings released, I have them all, the CD’s and DVD’s. I have all of their albums, all of their video releases, DVD releases, as well as single editions. I even purchased their fan club editions from EBAY for $50 a pop. I saw Dream Theater in Australia on the two tours they did and I saw John Petrucci (with Mike Portnoy on drums) on the G3 tour with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.

I am a fan of Dream Theater because of the songs. That is why I purchased their products, their merchandise and that is why I paid to watch them live. It is a well-known fact that all the band members have technique and chops. Other bands have come out with greater technical abilities, however if the songs are not there, then no one cares.

It was Pull Me Under that caught my attention. It was the music. Music comes from the guitar, keyboards and the bass. Drums don’t create music. Drums provide a beat. So I have no idea why Mike Portnoy thought he was the star of Dream Theater and bigger than the band. He is just a drummer. That’s it. When is he going to realise that people do not come to watch him drum. People come to the show to hear music. Strip away all the music, all you have is a beat. Dream Theater is a sum of its parts. Together, they created stand out genre defining progressive rock/metal albums.

I don’t really know what part Portnoy could have played in writing the music. I am sure his ideas where more about arranging or approving what riffs made it and what didn’t. His lyrics didn’t hit the mark either. Regardless, he is just a drummer. Even someone as big as Tommy Lee, can’t go out alone. It’s not the same. He tried it and he realised that his home sweet home is Motley Crue. An exception to the rule is Phil Collins and Dave Grohl. They are artists, not just drummers.

I really like what Adrenaline Mob does. It’s just good old heavy metal/rock. It sounds pure, it sounds nostalgic, it sounds fresh and it sounds epic. More importantly, the songs are there. They have the riffs that stand out, and the catchy vocal melodies provided by THE DON. It is a great package. To me Adrenaline Mob is a big thumbs up. Even the recent Coverta EP, had a cover of High Wire from Badlands one of the all-time biggest underrated bands. Badlands featured the talents of Jake E Lee post Ozzy and the masterful voice of Ray Gillen.

However, Flying Colors was complete garbage. Is there any chance I can get my money back on that one? I don’t know how they sat around in the studio, creating that album and looked at each other saying, these songs are great. I understand, Portnoy is trying to sow the seeds on a few different projects, however this one just didn’t grow.

So I get in my inbox the latest news from Mike Portnoy, another band he is kicking off , post his departure from Dream Theater. This one is called The Winery Dogs, featuring Billy Sheehan on bass and Richie Kotzen on guitars/vocals with Portnoy on drums. This is the project that was supposed to feature John Sykes. The song was called Elevate. I checked it out on YouTube. I don’t mind it, but I don’t like it.

First, Richie Kotzen can’t sing. He can mimic other voices made popular by real singers. In this song he sounds like Chris Cornell during the Audioslave era.

Secondly, as a guitarist that writes music Richie Kotzen hasn’t written a good song. Okay I lied. I liked what he did with Poison on Native Tongue, giving Poison a very bluesy soul feel, however his solo albums (the ones with the singing) are lame, and the work he did with Mr Big after Paul Gilbert left was also lame.

Thirdly they are all trying to show that they are skilful, that they can shred, that they can play. Hello, its 2013. Everyone can play these days. The grunge and nu metal days are over. Hell you have a six year old playing Sweet Child O Mine on YouTube, where even the songwriter was blown away.

New bands starting off these days have killer guitar players. Look at the stuff that Synester Gates and Zacky Vengeance come up with, the Trivium guys, the Bullet For My Valentine guys and so on.

Mike thought his career would skyrocket and that he was the man. Guess what Mike. You are just a drummer. You best bet is to go back to Dream Theater however from the press that happened when you left, I don’t think that will happen.

So your next bet, is to focus on Adrenaline Mob and deliver to the world, an album that can rival Black Sabbath’s – Heaven and Hell, Metallica’s – Black, AC/DC’s – Back In Black, Led Zeppelin’s – Physical Graffiti, Whitesnake’s – 1987 and Aerosmith’s – Get A Grip. The musicians are there and the talent is there. Stop spreading yourself too thin. Focus on one and get it right. I know you can. It takes time. Look at how long you persisted with Dream Theater. It’s back to those days again

Standard
Music, Uncategorized

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.

Standard