A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Vito Bratta: A Rock N Roll Technician That Got Lost In All The Noise

Vito Bratta is one of the most searched artists on the internet, especially around what he is doing right now. Like me, thousands of other people that visit this blog, can’t believe that a talent like Vito, just walked away from it all.

In order to understand why Vito Bratta walked away from it all and stopped writing music, I went back into the past and I started re-reading a lot of the interviews I have from him.

THE STATE OF SONGWRITING

In a “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito had the following to say on the state of his guitar playing vs. song writing.

“A weird thing happened to me this year I started thinking less in terms of guitar and more about song writing. I’ve never been the kind of player to showboat, but more and more I’ve been concerning myself with structuring and orchestrating.

On the last record, everyone commented on my playing, but hardly anyone said anything about the songs. That really bothered me. This year people have been saying. “Man, that song killed me.” which I prefer. When I heard the last Van Halen record, my comment was. “It’s not Eddie any more, but the songs sure are great.” That’s the way it should be.”

Vito thought he needed to change to accommodate the expectations of the fans and the label. In the end, the fans didn’t want him to change. We loved him exactly as he was. His guitar playing made the songs.

So Vito changes the way he thinks around songwriting. The results don’t generate into sales. In 1991, success in the music business was relative to the sales of the record. The confidence and the self-doubt that comes with disappointment is enough to kill a career.

Brad Tolinski, the person who was conducting the interview mentioned to Vito that it seemed that he made a conscious effort to play differently on “Mane Attraction” and that there are less broken arpeggios and other styling’s that Vito is renowned for.

Vito answered that with the following words;

“I don’t play like myself on this record. My sound is much heavier. For example, the lead break on “The Warsong” marks one of the first times I really explored what I call those “Zakk Wylde Pentatonic’s” and “Ace Frehley Bends”. It was just a mood I was in. While on tour with Ozzy last year, we started feeling like we weren’t the hard rock band that we used to be. On this record I just wanted to rock out.”

Remember back in 2007, when Vito appeared on the Eddie Trunk show. One of the comments he made on that show, was that he realised during the “Big Game” tour, that White Lion need heavier songs that worked more in a live setting. So instead of having a mindset about writing songs, Vito now has a mindset that he needs to write better songs, heavier songs, rockier songs and songs that work in the live show.

Vito’s whole thought process is now putting unwanted pressure on the song writing process, which to me should be natural and not forced.

In the “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito also said the same when Brad Tolinski mentioned, that he could understand why Vito is frustrated as the tonal subtleties of his best work, like the solos in “Wait” and “Little Fighter,” tend to get lost in an arena.

Vito responded with the following; “Yeah, I agree. But I think “The Warsong” will kick ass in any situation. The real subtle tasty stuff seems to get lost outside the studio, and that’s a real problem.”

This is an important distinction to make between bands that have gone through the stratosphere and bands that stagnated.

On the Justice tour, it was noted that Metallica fans were seen yawning during the longer complex songs from the Justice album. So what did Metallica do next? They released the monster known as the “Black” album. Shorter songs, less complex and songs that rocked hard.

All the Classic Rock bands used to perform their songs live before they recorded them. That is why all of those albums from the Seventies had songs that rocked hard in the studio and in the live arena. In the end a musician’s level of success depends on their ability to entertain. It is never about their level of technical proficiency. Bands like Kiss, Motley Crue, Metallica, Van Halen and Bon Jovi are mega successful in the business because they can entertain. Are they the most virtuosic bands out there. Of course not, however they have had a career at a level that the most virtuosic artist out there dreams to have.

THE PROBLEM WITH OVERTHINKING

Brad Tolinski mentioned that the “opening track, “Lights And Thunder,” is interesting. It’s epic in length and structurally complex, yet the solo is relatively simple and minimal.”

Vito responded with the following;
“The lead part is simple, but I think it fits. When I was listening to some of our old records, I noticed a few lead breaks that struck me as being inappropriate. It’s not that they were bad; in fact, most of them were melodic and performed well. But in retrospect, some of them struck me as being too busy or ornate. When I first played the lead to “Lights And Thunder,” I thought, “God, I can’t play that. It’s bullshit. It’s too easy.” But everybody in the studio loved it and told me to sleep on it and listen to it again when I was fresh. The next day I came in and thought, “It still doesn’t sound like anything I would play, but it sure fits the bill.”

He is not sure and he is doubtful. He is over analysing his past work. It is all counter-productive. The interview with Guitar World was in the issue from July 1991. By September 1991 it was all over. When you overthink things too much, you second guess everything you do and in the end, you lose your fire, the motivation that kept you hungry.

THE STATE OF HARD ROCK MUSIC

In the June, 1989 issue of “Kerrang”, Vito states the following on his views of the current state of hard rock;

“I know a lot of bands who’ll write a song and their guitar players will say I’ve got to do a lead break here, I’ve got to let rip there. It’s an ego thing. When I write, I say well, the song will sound better if I have an acoustic here or a clear sounding guitar, maybe no lead. I think it’s really annoying when a melodic song is ruined by a guitar player blasting away, it grates on my nerves.”

In an issue of “Guitar World”, dated July, 1991, Bratta more or less stated the same view point as he did a few years ago.

“You can see the guitarist thinking. “Forget the song, forget the band, I just want to get my name in Guitar World.” That’s not where it’s at anymore. Everybody can play these days.

While I was living in L.A. last year, I went into a local music store to pick up an issue of your magazine, and I heard this incredible guitar player. It turned out to be some little kid with his dad! I mean, he had twice the chops I had. He came up and asked for my autograph, and I said, “Sure, one minute.” Then I snuck out the back door before he had a chance to ask me to jam.

I’ve run into kids that can play “Wait” better than I can, but what’s the point? Being a technician is only part of the equation, and I’m trying to study the other half: song writing.

I hate it when people say things like, “I know you write songs that are heard by millions of people, but are you really happy?” I mean, yeah. Don’t be absurd. I want as many people as possible to hear the band. I’m convinced that the reason people like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and the reason why they have endured is that they have composed memorable songs as well as solos.”

I have always said that Grunge didn’t kill the hard rock / glam rock movement. The rock movement killed itself. Hard Rock in the Eighties started off with the first wave of L.A bands. Then the second wave of L.A bands came along with the Classic seventies rockers who started to rebrand themselves to fit the scene. Then the third wave came and the fourth and the fifth further diluting the pool. Every two years, new cities got identified as the next big hub. So the Record Labels swarmed and so many inferior derivative bands got signed, that in the end, it all imploded. The real good acts couldn’t be heard from all the noise of the crap acts.

The current state of affairs in the music business bothered Vito. It played on his mind. He was a technician trying to find out how he fitted into the current climate. Should he write they way he also had or should he change and adapt so that he can meet expectations placed on him.

Unfortunately, Vito gave in to the expectations. He gave in to all the leaches that made multiple millions from his hard work.

VITO BRATTA RIG 1991

The “Mane Attraction” record was done with his trusty Steinberger guitar. In the “Guitar World” interview from July 1991, Vito said that he was planning on using something different when White Lion goes on tour as the Steinberger was starting to bother him because it was almost too easy to play.

“I’m not fighting for the notes anymore and I miss that tension. This may sound bizarre, but if you give me a Les Paul or a Strat I’m lost, and that bums me out. Lately I’ve been using an old ESP Strat that I’ve had laying around, just to get me back in shape.”

His amplification was basically the same system he has used for the last few years. The heart of Vito’s rack consists primarily of three units: an ADA MP-1 preamp, a BBE 422A Sonic Maximizer and a Digitech DSP 256 multi effects processor. The system is powered by a Carvin FET Series amplifier, and a Rocktron Hush keeps the lid on any excess noise.

“It’s a relatively simple rig, but it’s very effective. I put it together with Michael Wagener, who produced Pride and Big Game.”

THE GUITAR WORLD REVIEW

Mane attraction is Top 40 stuff, for sure. But not quite as gooey as the usual radio fare more like what the Baby’s used to do. Except White Lion has Vito Bratta. Though you have to wade knee-deep through patently clichéd arena rock-ioms for that Bratta burn, when he does cut loose it’s worth turning up the volume knob a decibel or three. But in bands where song writing is the chief concern, really exceptional guitarists always end up getting be shrouded like a lace covered end table. Your little sister is gonna buy it, so borrow it when she’s watching Dance Fever. And try to figure out how Vito manages to retain his credibility.

It’s funny reading the Guitar World interview first and then the review (They both appeared in the same issue). In the interview, Vito is talking about how he wants people to say that the song knocked them out, and then you have the reviewer saying that you need to “wade knee deep through patently clichéd arena rock-ioms for that Bratta burn.”

TRIBUTE TO SRV

In the same Guitar World interview from 1991, Vito commented on his tribute to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan.

“”Blue Monday” was my way of paying tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan. I’m not really a lyricist, but I figured I could try to express my gratitude to him through my guitar. To this day I can’t even figure out why Stevie meant so much to me. He was just a guitarist, but his playing destroyed me. He was probably my favourite. You don’t really hear him in my playing, but I could listen to him night and day. I wasn’t trying to show off my blues chops. It was just a simple memorial to someone I admired very much. I don’t care if people think it’s the worst thing they’ve ever heard. It was my tribute to a great man.”

FINAL WORDS FROM MIKE TRAMP

Mike Tramp had the following to say on Vito in an interview with the website Metal Sludge; http://www.metalsludge.tv/?p=36727

“I had made a public statement that I was not willing to talk about all this anymore, and I don’t know what he is doing, but as far as Vito the guitar player and Vito the songwriter and musician, he was in a calibre all by himself. It shows in his great solos, and so many people love the way he played like Eddie with the hammer-ons and all that stuff like the Van Halen solo on “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love.” I just love the way Vito played solos on “Wait” and “Little Fighter” and some of the others. He was like Mozart.

We tried to do new White Lions with Warren DeMartini and Paul Gilbert and all these others, and no one wanted to do Vito. He was unlike anyone else, he had his own way of doing thing, and plus he was a great songwriter. Had he remained in the business, Vito would have been bigger than Steve Vai and all those types of guys. With him the melody came before anything else, and that’s nothing but the highest praise. I loved the sound of his guitar and I loved writing songs with him and stuff like that, but we had nothing else in common, unfortunately. There isn’t any bad blood between us. It’s just frustrating that I’ve had to carry on White Lion all by myself 100 percent. I just want to set in on record once again: We were White Lion once, but never again. But as for Vito, I am surprised he isn’t a million percent bigger in the music business. I don’t have an answer. No one ever will.”

Could you imagine White Lion with Warren DeMartini on guitar or Paul Gilbert? Great players, however as Mike said, they wouldn’t touch Vito. He was better then all of them and the above words from Mike prove that. The difference between them is the mindset. Vito confused thought process with what was expected of him, instead of what he expected of himself. That is the difference between followers and leaders.

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Influenced, Music, My Stories

The Enigma That Is Vito Bratta – Will He Write New Music?

It’s 1991 and Vito Bratta is doing the rounds for the Mane Attraction album. White
Lion needed Mane Attraction to be rock solid, as the previous effort Big Game was classed as a disappointment by fans and critics. In order to understand the pressure that Vito placed on himself, we need to go back to 1989. This is what Vito Bratta said in the June 1989 issue of Kerrang magazine.

“I hate recording. I can’t stand it. I cant stand the pressures of writing and recording a record. If they told me tomorrow that i was going to go out on tour for fives years, i’d say, fine, i love it. Playing every night is what i love.” 

When Vito did the Eddie Trunk show in 2007, he had this to say about the expectations placed on them by the Record Label;

“So the record company’s saying we need another Pride.  I say, Ok, so what exactly does that mean?  The label goes we need the hit singles… I go listen the songs we gave you, on “Pride” weren’t hit singles written purposely to be to be hit singles. They were just songs that became hit singles and they were just songs we wrote.  Now you’ve got somebody telling you now you have to purposely write a hit single.  Now how do you do that?  How do you purposely write a hit single, I mean there are people out there that do that…”

It is clear that Vito hated this extra pressure layer that now existed in White Lion. So for Mane Attraction, Vito and singer Mike Tramp locked themselves in a small apartment and held marathon writing sessions. The idea was to escape all the distractions of managers, record labels and MTV.

In a Guitar World interview from the June 1991, Brad Tolinski asked Vito if Mane Attraction was difficult to make.

“In a way it was.  It was the first time I ever felt real pressure. When we recorded
our first record, Fight To Survive, we were real naive and just happy to have a deal. Our next record, Pride, was also very relaxed. It was written over a period of three years, so we had plenty of time to compose and experiment. Pride went double platinum, which was both good and bad. When we went to record the follow-up. Big Game, everyone told us, “Don’t worry, whatever you write will sell a million.” 

The feeling was too good on Big Game, and I think the album was soft. There wasn’t
any real fire or hunger on that record. We were playing arenas, getting big checks in the mail, getting calls that we were going platinum, and so on. The vibe was too relaxed and it showed. On top of that, we had convinced ourselves that we had to write hit singles in order to maintain our popularity, and in the end. Big Game was too contrived. It didn’t sell as well as Pride, because people knew something was lacking. It was a valuable lesson to learn. 

White Lion and Dream Theater had similar time frames for their breakthrough second albums. When you have time to fine tune the arrangements without any pressure, greatness will ensure.

So the buzz from Pride is dying down and the label wants another album. They tell the band that whatever they write, it will sell millions. It was a false reality. To me Big Game is a good progression from Pride, however I understand the comments that Vito made about the album and how the songs didn’t translate will in the live arena. In the end, all rock bands are live performers. This is what Vito had to say on the Eddie Trunk show;

““Big Game” was a setback for the Label. It didn’t sell as many. We were doing a headlining tour of Europe by ourselves for the Big Game album and they (the Label) said, “wouldn’t it be great if we played at Wembley with Motley Crue and Skid Row?” 

Skid Row went on and they were just killing the place. And Motley Crue had a great show and here we are sandwiched in between.

We realized, that night, on stage at Wembley that these songs from the Big Game album aren’t translating well in the live show because when you’ve got tens of thousands of angry British rockers out in the audience and if you don’t have a certain type of music; it just wasn’t working. So we all looked at each other on stage and said we need to throw in some of our better stuff in here. I was like what better stuff. We need to write more for who we are because these songs are not translating.  

Then we went back to the States and we told the record label, no more tours on this album.  We are going to do the album that we want to do.  And they said well considering how the last album went, they said “go ahead”.  They gave us unlimited funds.  Mane Attraction was a half a million dollar record.  They just said go and do everything that you want.”  

In the same June 1991, Guitar World interview, Vito goes onto say that the real pressure on Mane Attraction didn’t come from trying to write hit singles, but from wanting to find their original source of motivation and creativity.

“By coincidence we write songs that can be singles, because we’re still big fans of bands like Boston and Journey. But we wanted to let that other side through, the more experimental side that his its roots in music by Robin Trower, Frank Marino and Rush.

Right when we were finishing this album, the record company came to us and said, “Can you guys write another single for us?” Mike and I got so crazy that we wrote “The Warsong,” which is about as far away from a single as you can get. “

Vito put everything he had into Mane Attraction. He believed in it. He created the songs that he wanted to create. He made it clear that the band’s creativity wasn’t stifled in any way by the record label. So when it failed to connect with a large audience, I believe he threw his hands up in the air and just gave up. There was nothing more that he could give.

Going back to Vito’s comment about trying to recapture the original source of motivation and creativity.

When bands come out with ground breaking albums, they do so because of motivation. Motley Crue got sober and detached themselves from the LA scene, by moving to Vancouver. They were motivated to make a big statement. The end result was Dr Feelgood.

Metallica had a reputation as a live band and they were motivated to make an album that captured that live energy. The end result was the biggest Soundscan album.

I am not sure that music is the same if you’re popular. With success and money, comes baggage. The baggage adds an extra layer of pressures.

Music was once everything to Vito and somehow music become a pressurized boiler room that he couldn’t stand anymore.

That is why I don’t believe that Vito will write any new music. 

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C.C. DeVille Guitar World – September 1989 and Persistence (Quitters Never Win and Winners Never Quit)

GW – What was the best piece of advice ever given to you as a guitar player?
“Be your own man,” which carries into every aspect of life. Listen to other people, but realize your opinion counts as well. There’s always someone to tell you how bad you are, but not always someone to tell you how good you are. So you have to depend on yourself not to quit. In the words of Body By Jake Steinfeld, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Remember, rock n roll was invented for people who can’t play regular music.

Learn from others, but never forget who you are.  Don’t let the haters win.  As pointed out by C.C. there will always be someone there to tell you how bad you are.  C.C. is a perfect example.  The Shrapnel Guitarist Elite dished him.  Why? It’s because he made to multi platinum status and they didn’t.  Rock N Roll was always meant for the outcasts, the ones that where not professional and did not practice 15 hours a day.

GW – What would you like your epitaph to read?
My epitaph would read: “Here lies the music worlds best kept secret.” When I go to bed at night I’m very hurt that people consider us a joke band. We concentrate on writing good pop songs, so I have to be careful not to overplay. I guess one of these days I’ll have to sink to the level of playing a “jack off” solo featuring hammer on pyrotechnics and flying whammy bars. Ain’t Nothing But A Good Time is a brilliant summer song with a good solo. It fits the song very well. That’s what I’m preoccupied with, rather than showing off.

It’s okay to show emotion, to feel hurt when people dish on you.  That is expected behaviour.  Pretending to be fine is fake behaviour.  The gospel is above, CONCENTRATE on writing good songs, play for the song, not for the hype.

GW – Pick the C.C. DeVille “Dead or Alive Dream Band” excluding members of Poison?
John Bonham on drums, obviously. Paul McCartney on bass, because he’d help me write some great songs. I’d live to hear Paul Rogers on vocals and Max Middleton from the old Jeff Beck Group on keys. Jeez, what a weird combination of people. You probably couldn’t even get a jam going, but somehow mentally it works for me.  T
o tell you the truth, I quit thinking about ultimate bands because synergy in rock is a strange thing. Superhero bands like Blind Faith and Asia never seem to work out. On the other hand you can put together several average musicians and create something special.  Hell we did our first album in 12 days!  It was raw, but there was a chemistry that people seemed to like, and that’s all that matters.

David Coverdale has played with a lot of musicians, but when John Sykes came into the picture, they created hard rock, blues rock / metal history with the Whitesnake 1987 album.  Coverdale then wrote Slip of The Tongue with Adrian Vanderberg and got Steve Vai to play it, however he never got the same magic, and within 18 months Whitesnake was no more.   That synergy is like lightning in a bottle.  The Beatles where four average musicians that created something special, Sabbath was the same, Deep Purple and the list goes on.  Ritchie Blackmore found that synergy again with Rainbow, however once Dio left it was all downhill from there.  You never know with whom you will have chemistry with.

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VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 2

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 2

GW Brad Tolinski: One of the things that distinguishes your approach to soloing is your thoughtful use of pock dynamics like on Don’t Give Up and Little Fighter.

Bratta: I like to balance out the creamy hammer on passages with staccato lines.  The pick suggests real aggression and I really enjoy hearing players like Gary Moore who use the pick well.  However it’s not one of those things I analyse closely – it comes naturally.  I just try to play the things I wish I heard in other players.

If anything my playing tends to be too smooth, but I was never into that Ted Nugent sound.  Ted’s sound is great, but it’s too harsh.  I’ve always understood Van Halen’s description of getting a brown sound, and that warm round tone is what I’ve looked for.  When I went on tour with AC/DC I was running 2,700 watts of power and you still stand in front of my amp. Angus was using the same kind of amp I was using, running pretty close to the same power, but you couldn’t even get close to his system because it was so biting.

All musician’s are fans.  We are a sum of our inflluences.  Any musician that tells you that the create music in a vacuum, that they are so original and free from the influences of life is full of shit.  We develop our own styles as a result of studying what other musicians do.  I own a 5150 combo, so I can relate to the smooth sound that Vito is after.  You can study another person’s style and be influenced as to how you play.  Here Vito is studying the person’s style for how it sounds.  Angus and Ted have aggressive pick attacks which result in harsh – bitter sounds.  There is so much thought going into Vito’s art. 

GW Brad Tolinski: You seem to be using a little more midrange.

Bratta: That happened at the mixing board.  For years I played in a band that didn’t have a bass player, so I created a sound that would appear as a “V” shape on a graphic eq.  In other words, lots of bass and lots of treble.  But when I went into the studio Michael our producer, said “Listen to your sound.”  I asked, “Where is it?”  You could barely hear the guitar.  He explained that the cymbals were eating up all my high end and the bass guitar was masking the low end.  Because my set up lacked midrange frequencies, my sound was being swallowed up.  I started to realize that it was the midrange that cut through.  I was forced into creating a new sound – one that more mids, yet remained creamy, round tone.  The real trick was to avoid that “hinky” midrange.  Some people like that weird “wah-wah pedal that’s halfway down” sound.  George Lynch uses that a lot, but I never really liked it. 

I owe a lot to my Steinberger as well.  When I used to play Strats, I’d play one note and get a bunch of bizarre overtones.  I’m not quite sure what it is, maybe it’s the graphite neck, but when you hit a single note on a Steinberger you hear just one note very cleanly – even when it turns into feedback.  It’s just a great guitar and it helps me get the smooth tone that I look for.  Everything is still evolving.  I don’t think I’ve really developed a distinctive sound, tone wise.  If I sound unique, it’s more in my fingers.  When we did Big Game there was no attempt at duplicating the sound of Pride. 

I have been in bands that don’t have a bass player for a long time.  So you develop a certain style to suit, exactly as described by Vito.  All of the rhythm tracks I write these days incorporate a root note with a revolving melody line played in unison.  It’s very rare that I just chug away on a power chord or on a pedal tone.

One thing that a lot of guitarist don’t get recognised for, is that all the music comes from the guitar and because of that, they are the main songwriters.  They are the main contributors sound wise.  So apart from knowing how to play your instrument, the guitarist needs to know their equipment and their sound.

At a recent recording I did, I normally use the 5150 live, however the engineer at the studio had a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier head going through a Marshall Quad that gave me the dirty harsh sound I wanted for the recording, and then for the clean, I used a Hughes and Kettner Head through the same Marshall Quad.  I had to go that way as the 5150 sound was getting lost in the harsh drum sound and the 5 string bass.  We need to compromise and we need to do it quickly.

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White Lion – Big Game + killer Vito Bratta moments

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The music to Big Game was written by Vito in dressing rooms during the Pride tour.  It was important for the label Atlantic Records to get a new album out so that they could capitalise on the success of the Pride album.

It was released in August 1989 and it was produced by Michael Wagener who also did the successful Pride album.   The album turns 24 years this year.

Coming into this album – the White Lion story was as follows; play as many club gigs as you can with the hope to get signed.  They got signed by a major (Elektra Records) and then got dumped by that same label.

They released Fight To Survive independently, which then led them to another major label (Atlantic) and the multi platinum Pride album with the hit single Wait that was on MTV rotation every six minutes.

They where promoted as pretty boys in tight leathers however amid all the catchy hooks and technical riffs, where some serious themes.  El Salvador appeared on Fight To Survive, the anti war ballad When The Children Cry appeared on Pride and now on Big Game, you have the band talking about apartheid (Cry For Freedom), religion (If My Mind Is Evil), Greenpeace and the Rainbow Warrior (Little Fighter) and violence in the family (Broken Home).

Stand Outs

Goin Home Tonight – The first thing that you hear is that wonderful 12 sting A major arpeggiated intro moving from A to E to D like Randy Rhoad’s Crazy Train.  As an artist I really appreciate it when other artists bring in the major key to rock and metal music.  It’s easy to remain in the dark sad, minor key.

I’ve been in this hell forever
I don’t even know how long
And there were times I thought I never
Would hold you in my arms again

Life on the road is like hell.  You are living with four to five guys that you may or may not like.  It’s hard enough holding a relationship without having any issues.   Eventually you just want to be home, with your missus and your family. 

And you will keep me warm at night
And you will make me live again
Yes I’m going home tonight and
You’ll be waiting

The history of music is littered with songs about the road.  The most famous ones are Turn The Page, Home Sweet Home and Wanted Dead Or Alive.   The solo is breathtaking to say the least.  Solo’s when done right, enhance the song.  I compare this solo to what Randy Rhoads did in Crazy Train.  Again its over similar chord progressions and it has the tapping/legato feel that Randy Rhoads achieved.   

Little Fighter

In this track Vito Bratta used the Steinberger TransTrem so the song is in the key of F# instead of E.  This is a great song.  The issue that a lot of people could have had with the band is that they where not sure if they where a party band or a serious band.  Musically the White Lion music is serious and in a way technical, however Mike Tramp’s lyrics can really let the song down.  On this track it is all spot on.  Even though the song is about the Rainbow Warrior Greenpeace ship, anyone can relate to it.  Any person that has been down trodden, abused and down and out for the count can relate to it.

You were one of a kind
One who’d never give it up

Any musician out there trying to make it you need to be the one that never gives up.

Rise again little fighter and let the world know the reason why

That’s all we are in life, fighters.  We fight from the day we are born to breathe, to grow, to learn and to be somebody.  Andy Warhol said that every person will experience 15 minutes of fame in their life and that is what so many strive for these days.  Fame. 

Broken Home – Broken Home is a song about violence in the family.   It’s another serious topic Tramp is tackling. 

The acoustic guitar playing from Bratta is brilliant and smooth and you don’t even hear his fingers shifting like you do on more amateur guitarists like me.  I hate recording acoustic guitars. 

Lyrically the first 4 songs deal with life on the road, sex, Greenpeace and violence in the family.  I like that variation in a band. 

Cry For Freedom is like Little Fighter, another political song, this time about apartheid in South Africa.    The below is from the September 1989 Guitar World interview.

GW Brad Tolinski: The strains of folk music in Cry For Freedom are suprising.

Bratta: It wasn’t really calculated, but what I wanted to create was something like a compilation record where every song sounded like a different band.

GW Brad Tolinski: Because of the dramatic nature of Cry For Freedom it would have been easy to play a corny clichéd solo in the upper register.  You show a lot of maturity and restraint by inserting that bruising low end riff instead.

Bratta: If I wrote an entire record and didn’t hear a solo in my head, there wouldn’t be one.  In Cry For Freedom I wanted to lull the listener into a daydream then shake them up and punch them in the nose.  It’s hard to create the tension found on Cry For Freedom.

Cliched Songs with Great Bratta Moments

Dirty Woman – again the major key intro, this time in the Key of F, moving from F to G, then the minor key sexual boogie in the key of Dm and back to the majors for the Jazz influenced verses.  So many different styles fused so effortlessly. 

The Jimi Hendrix E7#9 bridge/solo/bridge/solo progression references the good old 12 bar blues vocal and response.  In the second solo, where it’s got the six notes per quarter, John Petrucci used the same style of lick for Caught In A Web.

Living On The Edge follows a similar theme to Goin Home Tonight, but in this case, it’s the start of the journey.  It looks Mike Tramp was referencing his life, by packing his bags and heading over the US to start his RNR dream.  I see it as just hitting the road and playing show  after show.  As is the case with Bratta, he delivers a super melodic solo section for a mediocre song.    

Don’t Say It’s Over has a killer solo section from Bratta, however its hard to get into this song.  The album is all over with its mixed messages to everyone, Goin Home Tonight is about returning home to a loved one, Dirty Woman is about getting down and dirty, this one is about a break up and Baby Be Mine is about keeping the romance together.    If you want to listen to break up songs, listen to Phil Collins – Face Value album.

If My Mind Is Evil has a killer heavy riff and is one of the heaviest songs White Lion has recorded.  It just doesn’t do anything lyrically for me.  It sounds ridiculous to be honest.  Then the solo comes in, all classical and smooth for 10 seconds and then all sinister and evil.  What contrasts. 

Album Filler Songs

Baby Be Mine, Radar Love and Let’s Get Crazy 

Final Word

Its always hard to follow up an album that goes gangbusters.  White Lion delivered a more mature album in Big Game, however the fans that got into White Lion via the Pride album didn’t really resonate with this album.  They wanted the sugar pop hits like Wait however the band didn’t even come close to writing a song like Wait on this album.

 

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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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White Lion – Mane Attraction

Vito Bratta – White Lion – Mane Attraction Review

Back Story

After the success of Pride and Big Game, Bratta and Tramp took time out to demo songs for Mane Attraction. All up the writing and recording process took two years. To me this is the most mature White Lion album. Mane Attraction was more thought out compared to Big Game, which was an album that was recorded and released in a very quick fashion as the label wanted to cash in on the band.

1991 – The Year of Change

1991 was a funny year. It has been written that all the labels and radio stations jumped on the grunge explosion and totally ignored the rock audiences during this time. That may be true; however other factors also played a part in the fall of hard rock, glam rock, glam metal, etc. The Metal Evolution series and its episodes on glam more cover this area in depth. Even Mike Tramp summed it up in an interview during one of his solo tours.

“Grunge didn’t kill commercial metal. Rather, commercial metal committed harakiri by copying itself so much that there was nothing original left. The eighties killed the eighties. In the end, every band cloned each other and copied each other so many times and there was no originality left at the end of the eighties and people just wanted an alternative. “

It happens with every scene. It starts off as a niche scene, one artist breaks out to the masses and then the labels are all chasing similar artists so that they can cash in. The market then becomes over saturated. Seriously how many bands started with the term White. Whitesnake was the original and then you had the rest. White Lion, White Tiger, White Cross, White Heart, White Diamond, White Eagle, White Russian, White Sister, White Trash, White Vision, White Widow and Whitefoxx.

The Competition

Mane Attraction was released in April 1991 as well as Temple Of The Dog’s tribute album to the Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood who died of a heroin overdose. In March Mr Big released Lean into It with the number 1 hit To Be with You. Skid Row released Slave To The Grind in June and Lollapalooza is launched in July. Metallica releases the Black Album and Pearl Jam releases Ten in August. Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion I and II and Nirvana’s Nevermind are released in September.

You can see that the album was already up against some stiff competition in the rock circles with Skid Row, Metallica (the biggest selling album of the SoundScan era), Mr Big and the GNR circus releasing big career defining albums and the rise of the Alternative Seattle Scene.

The Album

I remember borrowing the CD from a school mate as I was short on cash. Back in those days, people in my area where not sharing their music as the people that purchased the music felt cheated as to why they forked out $30 for a CD (yes that is how much we paid for CD’s in Australia) and the copier would fork out $3 for a blank cassette and dub it.

Regardless after much persuasion and promises that my mate could copy my Motley Crue collection, he coughed up the CD and I took it home. I remember putting it on my Sony CD Player, plugging in the headphones and just laying back.

Stand Outs

Lights and Thunder – It kicked things off. This was written as a fuck you to the label that was pushing the band to write hit songs. Coming in at 8 minutes long it’s far from a charting song. The album is produced by Richie Zito who is a guitarist himself, and in my view is the reason why Lights and Thunder sounds so heavy.

Let me take you to a place
Where everybody knows your face
There¹s no King and there¹s no Queen
And everything is like a dream
You can live in harmony
With those who were your enemy
You can do just what you want to
No one here will ever hurt you

No one bothered telling the above to all war mongers that kicked off the Gulf War and the Balkan War.

War Song – Again this is the band writing for the band and not listening to their label about writing ‘hit songs’. This song has many different styles into one 6 minute plus song.

What are we fighting for?
When the price we pay is endless war
What are we fighting for?
When all we need is peace

As Axl Rose sang in Civil War, “I don’t need your Civil War; it feeds the rich while it buries the poor”.

It’s Over – It blasts out all sleazy and bluesy from the speakers with its 12/8 feel. Fans of Ready N Willing and Saints n Sinners era Whitesnake would be happy with this song. To me it shows Bratta at his blues pop best if there can be such a term.

Blue Monday – gives Vito a chance to show off his Jeff Beck/Eric Clapton/Gary Moore blues muscles by paying tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan who died in a helicopter crash while the writing process was happening.

Clichéd Songs with Great Bratta Moments

Broken Heart – Maybe they saw how Whitesnake got traction by reinventing Here I Go Again, Fool For Your Loving and Crying In The Rain, maybe they thought the same thing would happen with this song. Maybe the record company thought the band handed in a weak record and wanted a single for it. Either way, the song is catchy, I just wish that Mike Tramp re did the lyrics.

Leave Me Alone – One thing that captures you is the Rocket Queen meets ZZ Top meets Van Halen groove. The whole intro goes for 1min and 10 seconds. The label would have been pulling their hair out with that whole minute intro. It’s a shame that Tramp had to ruin the song with crap lyrics and crap melodies. Like many White Lion songs the lead breaks from Vito are songs within a song, and this is no different. The 7#9 chords also work well.

In a Guitar World issue for September 1989 after Big Game came out, Vito was giving a lesson and had the following to say;

‘In my early years as a guitarist, another thing I found helpful was making up a chord book. I wrote down every chord, from triads to thirteenth chords. Then I sat down and worked out every possible fingering and inversion. It took me a year and a half to do – there must have been about six to seven thousand handwritten chords. Then I played through each one of them and removed the chords that sounded like shit. It would have been easier to buy a Mel Bay Chord Book or something similar, but I didn’t believe in that because I was really learning a lot in the process.’

Originality is summed up there. He could have just purchased a Mel Bay book, and learnt from that, but he did it his own way and that is how an artist can find their true voice. Books could give you the guide or the tools; however you need to take what is out there and apply it in your own unique way. I especially like the part where he played through each chord and crossed out the ones he didn’t like, keeping the ones he liked until those chords became a part of his style.

Love Don’t Come Easy – The song is a good progression from Wait. The chord inversions sum up Vito’s style. He starts off with a D5 power chord, then that moves to the 2nd inversion which is D5/F#, then D5/G and finishing it off with an Asus4 chord. In the second verse he plays an arpeggiated part.

And did anyone pick up the Journey – Don’t Stop Believin’ vibe in the intro where Schon does pull offs, Vito does tapping with hammer – ons and pull offs. That idea would have to have come from Zito as he was working with Bad English and Neal Schon in 1989.

‘Do you want it, do you need it, because love don’t come easy’.

You’re All I Need – This is Love Don’t Come Easy part 2 as the chords are identical except in a ballad format. It could have been left off the album in my view and then that magical classical trill a thon lead break appears from Vito.

She’s Got Everything – The song itself is pretty weak, until the Peter Gunn blues boogie kicks in to close the song, and then it goes into an Air on G String style guitar solo unaccompanied.

Till Death Do Us Part – the Phil Collins I Wish It Would Rain Down for pop metal. They did a good job with it. This is the full blown wedding waltz song.

Out with the Boys – ‘Out with the boys, to make some noise’. The song is average, again killer Bratta lead break. I like the bass and drum groove after the lead break.

Farewell To You – closes the album and the lyrics tell me that Vito and Mike knew that Mane Attraction was going to be their last album together.

Vito Bratta is easily the most overlooked songwriter/guitarist of the 80’s. Brad Tolinski in a Guitar World issue from September 1989, described Vito as a guitar player who understands music in a classic, rather than classical sense after commenting on his leads in Wait and Don’t Give Up.

Since White Lion called it a day, Vito has stayed away from the music business and as a fan of his style, I wish that he will be back to create music the way he likes it.

 

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