A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

The Music Careers of the “Young Guns” from Guitar World September 1991

So I am flicking through an old issue of Guitar World that goes back to September 1991 and there is a D’Addario ad with the title “Young Guns II”. Pictured on the ad are the following guitar players;

Gary Hoey
John Axtel and Atom Ellis from Psychefunkapus
Tommy Bolan from Freight Train Jane
Gerard Zappa and Adam Holland from Valentine
Black Eyed Susan guitarists
Tristan
Matt Prudoehl

So what happened to these “Young Guns.”

Gary Hoey auditioned for Ozzy Osbourne in 1988, during the search for Jake E.Lee’s replacement. We all know that Zakk Wylde got that gig. He also auditioned for Def Leppard, which ended up going to Vivian Campbell. Then he teamed up with a few LA vets in “Heavy Bones” who released one album in 1992 and when it did nothing, they broke up shortly.

Good musicians never quit. He went solo and had a hit with “Hocus Pocus” a cover of the Focus hit. This led to some chart success, some soundtrack work and a monthly column in Guitar World called “Hocus Pocus” which I found informative and helpful to my guitar playing.

Although Extreme became famous for the funk rock in the early nineties, Hoey broke it down to a teachable lesson called “Get The Funk Out” from Guitar World June 1994 issue. But the best lesson for me was “Arpeggio Acrobats” that appeared in the November 1994 which involved playing string skipping arpeggios. Since then he has more or less released an album each year.

A true warrior of the music industry and a diversified artist. He doesn’t have the world-wide recognition but he has what a lot of musicians that had world recognition wish they had. A career in the music industry.

John Axtel (guitarist) and Atom Ellis (bass) from Psychefunkapus got together in 1986 and by 1992 it was all over. Two albums came out on Atlantic. 1990’s self titled debut and “Skin” in 1991. Then it was all over.

John Axtel has been around the scene with various projects and the same for Atom Ellis.  They also have shown their diversity and that is why they have been around in various bands and different genre’s.

Tommy Bolan was part of “Warlock” and then joined the solo band of “Black N Blue” vocalist Jamie St. James, which in the end became “Freight Train Jane”. “Mitch Perry” was the first choice however he was unavailable. Then Tommy Bolan auditioned and St.James had his “guitar guy”.

The band got together around 1991 as the ad for the “D’Addario” strings shows. The album “Hallucination” didn’t come out until 1994 and it did nothing.

Everyone is quick to blame “Grunge” however the decline of glam rock and hard rock bands has a lot to do with the songs and their messages just didn’t connect with the new generation of kids. For example, “You” from the album is great song musically but lame vocally. And when you compare it to another song called “You” from Candlebox, you would understand why connected and one didn’t. Tommy Bolan for all of his talent has been hit and miss. His most recent execursion was an instructional video/book out called “Metal Primer”.

This is one person that should have achieved more however for some reason didn’t.

Valentine started with Adam Holland (guitarist), Craig Pullman (keyboardist) and Gerard Zappa (bassist) in 1986. Once all the other band members joined they moved to LA and did some demos. Columbia Records came knocking only to see a record label re-shuffle put the band in a tough position which then turned out okay as their original A&R rep took the band with him to Giant Records who then released Valentine’s debut CD in 1990.

They they became Open Skyz, a new label deal with RCA eventuated and another self-titled album came out in 1993. Another label re-organisation meant no label and compounded with fatigue after almost a decade of music industry ups and downs, they called it a day.

However they have all remained in the music business and to this day continue to have a career in the music business. A new album called “Soul Salvation” came out in 2008 after a positive response to their Firefest appearance. Adam Holland is also the guitarist in the Steve Augeri Band (former Journey lead vocalist).

Blackeyed Susan had Dizzy Dean Davidson on vocals/guitar, Rick Criniti on guitar and Tony Santoro (RIP) also on guitar. Critini and Santoro both did time together in the band “Rage” while Dizzy Dean Davidson was fresh from his “Britny Fox” stint. Criniti also worked as a live keyboardist for Cinderella.   This band was talented and they had pedigree, however it wasn’t to be. The band split after their label Mercury pulled the plug and stopped the touring support dollars from filtering down in late 1991. However all three have had a career in the music business that lasted decades, even Santoro until his untimely death at 40 due to a heart attack.

Tristan and Matt Prudoehl I haven’t even heard off. Not back then and not now. Probably a reason why they failed to have a music career.

 

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories

It’s all MIRRORS and MISDIRECTION: Tilting Against Windmills with Protest The Hero

That vocal section in “Tilting Against Windmills” from about 2.28 with the lyric “Father Forgive me for I have sinned” sounds huge. It’s epic and it just comes out of nowhere. Isn’t it funny how a small section totally makes the song. The whole “Volition” album is full of great sections.

“Without Prejudice” has the base line that comes out at about 3:10 which just builds to a mad climax. It also has an awesome lyric line. “Jump from the nearest tallest building and reach new heights.” What a brilliant way to say the clichéd and overused Reach For The Sky term.

“Clarity” has the excellent lyric line of ‘This drought is relieved with acid rain”. Love the lyrical statement.

“Yellow Teeth” has a mad chorus guitar melody.

“Plato’s Tripartite” has a tough progressive bit from about 2:54 to 3:32.

“A Life Embossed” has an awesome progressive guitar lead that starts at 3:44.

“Mist” has the major key ending with the dark lyric line of “You’re as deep as the grave, marching to the heartbeat of the land.” It just comes out of nowhere and after a chaotic math metal interlude.

The last song “Skies” is the perfect closer. It feels like it’s got some subliminal message that says, “play me again… play me again… play play play….”

Every song on “Volition” has something that just stands up and slaps you in the face with awesomeness. I am starting to sound like Bill and Ted. And what about the drumming. It is a tragedy that Chris Adler isn’t touring on the back of this release. Everything just sounds more powerful. From the double kick to the hitting of the skins.

I decided to do some Google searches on Protest The Hero because that is what we do these days. I was at first interested to see what kind of gear they use which is a pretty basic set up. Then in my searches I came across some YouTube clips of them giving tutorials for some of their songs.

All I can say is Whoaaa….

First off, I wanted to break my guitar, just because they make what they are playing look so easy. What I am finding out is that by “trying” to take on some of their stuff it is opening myself to a whole new world of composition and it is breaking me out of my rut.

I also watched some interviews with the guys as well and they talked about their influences especially Paul Gilbert and John Petrucci. What was funny to me is that they actually aren’t major Rush fans at all, which I thought was bizarre as they are Canadian and Rush is Canadian. Rhythm guitarist Tim Millar said something like “I have like a Greatest Hits album but that’s about it”.

Even before the Ron Jarzombek connection on “Drumhead Trial” I was always saying to anyone who listened to me that Protest The Hero remind me of Watchtower, a technical thrash band from the Eighties. Watchtower released a brilliant album called “Control and Resistance”. I remember picking it up for $2 in a second hard record store around 1989. What a bargain?

In relation to Watchtower and their album “Control And Resistance” this is what Guitar World said about it in a list of Top Ten Shred Albums of the 80’s.

“Sounding like the twisted scion of Metallica and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, WatchTower was the most brilliant weird band of its time. Guitarist Ron Jarzombek, with his complex harmony solos, strange scales and furious staccato lead bursts, performs tricks on his guitar that will leave you more than sufficiently breathless.”

Their 2nd singer Jason McMaster was tapped to join Pantera before Phil Anselmo joined. Then he left and formed a hard rock band called Dangerous Toys and had some mainstream success. The original guitarist Billy White also went all hard rock and joined Don Dokken for his solo project (and was also the main songwriter on it). Remember the album “Up From The Ashes.” The bass player Doug Keyser was asked to audition for Metallica after Cliff Burton died. Watchtower has a history man with so many different MIRRORS and MISDIRECTION.

Also another band that Protest The Hero always reminded me off is Leviathan, another progressive technical metal/rock band. Their album “Deepest Secrets Beneath” is essential listening.

I’ve cranked “Volition” to death already, so yesterday I decided to go through some other progressive bands. I played the new Dream Theater, played Periphery II and played Tesseract “Altered State” and then went back to “Volition”.

Progressive music is in a good place as far as I’m concerned.

All four bands mentioned above have different and unique sounds but yet are undeniably progressive. Protest The Hero is by far the most intense, and I think that’s why they stand out above the rest.

Listening to the new Dream Theater and then going back to “Volition” was a real eye opener. I hold Dream Theater in high regard from a technical point of view, however the stuff that Protest The Hero do is technical to the max and it’s the tempo they do it in that gives this overwhelming impression.

It just made listening to Dream Theater sound so slow and old. Speaking of old bands, the new Fates Warning album is better than Dream Theater’s self-titled album. I really dig what Fates Warning is all about, merging hard rock, with Tool/Porcupine Tree/atmospheric Pink Floyd like movements and Iron Maiden style lead breaks. Plus as a Dream Theater fan, Fates Warning get Kevin Moore to contribute with each album.

When I was going through the booklet I noticed that their producer Cameron McLellan was involved a lot in the song writing process. It’s no surprise that he is filling in for bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi. Like how un-metal is that. He pulled out of the U.S tour because he is involved in a stage play and because the recording ran over the tour dates conflict with the dates of the stage play. So of course for the US tour Cameron McLellan is filling in for him.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Is Guitar World Still Relevant?

Once upon a time getting on the cover of a magazine was a sign of success or of dreams coming true. For the musical fan, the magazine was the only way that we could get any information from our favourite artists. The heyday for the metal and rock movements was the Eighties. Hundreds of different magazines appeared that covered certain genres and information was plentiful.

I started purchasing Guitar World magazines from January 1986. Any magazine that had content of bands/artists that I liked I devoured. Circus, Faces, Metal Maniacs, Rip, Metal Edge, Hit Parader, Guitar For The Practicing Musician, Hot Metal, Metal Hammer, Kerrang, Guitar School, Guitar One, Total Guitar, Guitar Player and Guitar.

So when I saw my favourite artists or guitarists on the cover of magazines I saw it as a sign of them making it. In all of the interviews, most of the guitarists said it was a dream come true to be on the cover of a Guitar magazine.

So how important is it to an artist to be on the cover of Guitar World today? I still subscribe to this magazine and I had all the issues for the year mapped out in front of me.

This is the cover roll for 2013.
December – Nirvana – In Utero Anniversary
November – John Petrucci
October – Synester Gates / Zacky Vengeance
September – Ultimate Prog Roundtable/Asking Alexandria
August – Jeff Hanneman Tribute
July – Tony Iommi and Ozzy Osbourne
June – Dave Mustaine / Chris Broderick
May – Brad Paisley
April – Orianthi
March – SRV “Texas Flood” Anniversary
February – The Who / Pete Townsend
January – Led Zeppelin Rides Again

Looking at the covers, I started to realise something.

Guitar World likes to play it safe. Sort of like a record label in the current environment. They are going for the sure bets, going where the money is. There is no onus on going out there and taking risks. They are looking for the hits, so that they can sell advertising.

If the “legends” have something happening or an anniversary of an album, it is a good bet that they will get a cover. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Tony Iommi with Ozzy Osbourne and Nirvana. 5 issues out of 12 devoted to “legends”.

Then you have the tribute piece, which in this case it the Jeff Hanneman issue. Expect one to come out for Lou Reed soon.

Then it is focusing on the stars that have been proven successful previously in the magazine, like John Petrucci, Dave Mustaine and Avenged Sevenfold, who of course wouldn’t even be considered unless they have new releases coming out.

Then it has the obligatory issue with a woman on the cover. I actually liked how they covered Orianthi however the interview was a mish mash of information found on Wikipedia and PR rewrites. There was nothing there that couldn’t be found on the web.

The only issue that involved some ‘originality’ and some risk taking was the Brad Paisley issue however again after reading the interview piece, I was left wondering if the final printed version was re-written by a PR person of the artist.

Robb Flynn’s recent journal about the Through The Ashes of Empires anniversary, mentions the following in relation to mainstream media;
“The American metal media blacklisted us, magazines like Revolver told us, “we can’t cover you, but if you get to 50,000 copies we’ll give you an article.” When we got to 50,000 they said, “Well, when you get to 70,000 we’ll give you an article”. When we got to 70,000 they said, “well, the record is too old now.” The metal media of the time continued that blacklist well into “The Blackening” album cycle, when after that, they just didn’t matter anymore.”

So taking Robb Flynn’s comments and putting them up against the Brad Paisley cover issue, the originality comment I mentioned earlier doesn’t seem to fit. Brad Paisley has four pages of certifications on the RIAA Gold and Platinum database. His sales are well over the 50,000 and 70,000 ranges quoted, hence a cover.

Don’t get me wrong, each issue is still enjoyable and the lessons, plus the tabs are the reason why I still subscribe to it. However, with user posted tabs on the rise in greater numbers on the internet (along with peer reviews and edits), plus YouTube videos of guitarists covering their favourite songs, in addition to the artists themselves delving deep into the “how to play” department, does a magazine like Guitar World still have a relevance in today’s market?

It all depends on what Guitar World wants to achieve. People still like to read a nice interview however over the last decade all the interviews seem like they have been written by a PR team for the artist. Furthermore, artists can go straight to their audience today. The journals that Robb Flynn is producing are pure GOLD. So why would artists wait for the chance to appear in a magazine which could or could not happen.

Guitar World is in the business of selling advertising. It is using music and artists as it’s tool to sell advertising.

So if you are an artist, what does the mainstream press mean to your career?

In my point of view, no artist should equate mainstream press with success. Artists are on the front page for a day, and in most cases they are gone.

Has anyone read anything on Dream Theater’s or Black Sabbath’s new record the last few weeks? Dream Theater and Sabbath made a mistake. Their marketing campaign was better and larger than the music on the album. At the end of the day it’s what goes into our ears that matters. No one cares about the interviews or the press.

The publicity campaign worked once upon a time, however it doesn’t work any longer. If artists want to be around forever they need to understand that they need to grow slowly. If you peak, you should want it to happen deep into your career.

The only press that Megadeth is getting about their new album recently is that the Metallica Black album is outselling it on a weekly basis.

So what have we learned?

A cover on a magazine does nothing for your career. If you want to last in the music business, you need to earn it.

A scorched earth publicity campaign could see an increase in sales NOW. However, fans don’t want to be beaten upon the head every time you release music. In the end, great music will find its way to an audience.

The recording business is about listenability and repeatability. People could say that a track is good or bad. However will they play that track over and over again. That’s the reaction you want. If you plan to record, you need that track.

The goal of an artist is to write great songs otherwise say hello to obscurity. That is what gets people interested. Great music, great songs.

If you are not passionate about what you do you’re never going to make it. You need to be more into it than we are. You need to live for it.

For comparisons here is the list from 2012.

Holiday – Joe Perry (Legend)
December – The Beatles (Legends)
November – Billie Joe Armstrong (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
October – Billy Gibbons (Legend)
September – Steve Vai & Tosin Abasi (Legend and Newcomer)
August – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
July – Slash (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
June – Slipknot (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
May – Joe Walsh (Legend)
April – Van Halen (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
March – Lamb of God (Safe Bet + High Sales Numbers)
February – Pink Floyd (Legend + High Sales Numbers)
January – Billy Gibbons (Legend)

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Question Everything – Inspiration From Killswitch Engage and Jesse Leach

After overdosing on the new Protest the Hero album “Volition” for some reason the last song “Skies” got me thinking about Killswitch Engage. So out come the headphones and on goes the new album “Disarm the Descent.” I haven’t listened to it since about July. Our favourites don’t last long in the times of today. With so much new music coming out, we move on very quickly. As Jesse Leach pointed out recently in an interview with Lithium Magazine, the title is a creative way of saying redemption or rising again.

“You’re in a state of your life where you’re approaching rock bottom and you find a way to pick yourself up again before you hit the floor.”

I came to Killswitch Engage late. I didn’t listen to their first three albums. The only song I heard was “My Last Serenade” back in 2004 and that was via a bass player friend. However at that time, nothing really connected with me and that was it. There was no urge to commit to the band for me.

Fast forward a few years and the “Guitar World” issue arrived in the mailbox. I don’t recall which month; however it was a magazine from 2007. At that time the magazine still came with a DVD of bonus content. One of the bonuses was a lesson from the Killswitch guitarists on how to play “My Curse” and after watching it, I was hooked.

So I asked my bass player friend to burn me all of their albums, which he did. At the time, I had no idea that vocalists changed, which after hearing “Alive or Just Breathing” in 2007, I realised that the tones of the vocalists didn’t match up. So what do we do when we need information? We Google. We click on Wikipedia. In addition, “My Last Serenade” suddenly mattered. The song sucker punched me and I was hooked. The timing was right in 2007, for Killswitch Engage to enter my life on a full time basis.

By the time, their 2009 self-titled album came out; I was purchasing it without even listening to a single note. As a bonus their back catalogue was on special at the time, so I picked them up as well and added the official releases to my collection. That is why I always say that no metrics can ever measure the reach or pull of a band at the time of a release.

Of course, sales data can show what is in demand at a certain point in time; however the reach and the popularity of a certain band or a certain album cannot be properly measured until years later. Remember that history is written by the winners. In music, the winners are the artists or bands that outlast the competition.

Going back to the different singers, since Jesse’s split with the band, he kept busy with other projects, like the stoner-rock outfit “Seemless” and the metalcore/hard-core influenced “The Empire Shall Fall”. During this period, he also appeared with Killswitch Engage, performing the track “My Last Serenade” alongside Howard Jones at the Roadrunner United concert in 2005.

Then in 2011, I was blown away by “Times of Grace”. Everything about that album connected with me on so many different levels. I saw “Times Of Grace” open up for “Machine Head” at the Uni Roundhouse in Sydney in February 2012. Adam Dutkiewicz had his leg in some form of a support cast and he still went ballistic on stage, commenting frequently that “Aussie girls are hot.”

In relation to “Times Of Grace”, I could hear the regret in some of the songs. When Jesse jumped ship from Killswitch he was fighting a pretty serious depression. He had just gotten married and he couldn’t deal with being on the road all the time and away from his new family.

Songs like, “Fall From Grace (my best song on the album)”, “The Forgotten One”, “Hymn Of A Broken Man”, “In The Arms Of Mercy” and “Where The Spirit Leads Me” capture the more personal side of Jesse Leach. I remember reading in an interview in the “Revolver” April/May issue with Jesse mentioning that at the time of leaving Killswitch he was “broken and unconfident”.

So when Killswitch Engage announced that Jesse Leach is the vocalist again, I was more than pleased. His redemption was complete. When Jesse left Killswitch Engage the album he worked on “Alive Or Just Breathing” was just another album in a burgeoning metalcore scene that helped to kick start the New Wave of American Heavy Metal movement.

Today, “Alive or Just Breathing” is seen as a classic. I always state that music is all about creating great music now so that it is recognised later for its greatness. As an artist grows their body of work takes on a new life of its own. It takes a while for something to be assimilated. Artists or bands have to hang in there long enough until they get their turn, getting better while they wait and releasing quality music.

“In Due Time” was the lead-off single.

“All that we suffer through leads to determination
The trials we all go through gives us the strength to carry on 

Something within us burns, desire feeds the will to live
A reason to believe I will see redemption”

As the chorus lyrics go, in due time, the shadows will gave way to the light. You just need to be patient and resilient. The words could even reference Jesse’s redemption to Killswitch and the knowledge that he had to go through all these trials so that he could come back a better person.

“A Tribute To The Fallen” has that hook that resonates. In my view this song should have led the album.

“With a new dawn we rise in renewed strength
Knowing we’ve just begun to fight this war within”

Think about all the crap that is going on in our democratic nations. Governments are spying on their own people. The Corporations and their lobby groups drive legislation. Government granted monopolies like the copyright industry are doing their best to kill innovation and when that fails, insert the corporations and their lobby groups. Transparency is promised however it doesn’t exist. Every communication is suddenly classified. Enables of pirated goods get more jail time than actual criminal offenders.

“New Awakening” has the legend behind it about how Jesse blew his voice while he was recording it in the studio. After the Doctor told him about the strain on the vocal chords, Jesse saw it as a badge of honour.

“There is more to life than this
We are more than just this flesh
We are alive and our time has come
For a new awakening”

It’s the Killswitch revolution. Killswitch wants you. Where do i sign? I’m all in.

“You Don’t Bleed For Me” connects with me because it more or less sums up our politicians and how even though they are voted in by the people, they do not work for the people. Of course there are the rare ones who do their best to speak for the people but in the end money wins the game.

“Fly your flag of righteousness
When underneath it is deviousness, it is greed and lies
Don’t pretend to know me you martyr of disgrace
With your plastic smile
I don’t believe a word you say
You don’t speak for me
You don’t bleed, you don’t bleed
You don’t bleed for me”

The closer “Time Will Not Remain”.

“None of us should be thought of as anything less than a potential to change the world”

What a lyric and what a statement. That is the reason why Jesse Leach’s return means so much to Killswitch Engage and to metal fans in general. He never stopped being who he was. He was not corrupted by the modern era. He questions social norms and ideals. He questions the crap our politicians and news outlets throw at us. He questions everything. The great vocalists always have something to say.

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Copyright, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Going Back to 2005 with the City Of Evil

The new Avenged Sevenfold album got me into a A7X mood, so i went back to 2005 and cranked “City of Evil”. The “City of Evil” album from 2005 was my first introduction to A7X and it became one of my favourites back then as I only had a few albums that I really liked from 2005 like Disturbed – Ten Thousand Fists, Dream Theater – Octavarium, John Petrucci – Suspended Animation, Coheed And Cambria – Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Thirty Seconds To Mars – A Beautiful Lie, Alter Bridge – Alter Bridge, Trivium – Ascendancy, Cog – The New Normal and Bullet For My Valentine – The Poison

Then came the self-titled 2007 album and after that it was the 2010 album “Nightmare” and now I am into another listen of “Hail To The King”.

That lead break on the song “Afterlife” from the 2007 album is insane x infinity. Synester puts so many different styles into it and those sweeps are killers. It is a far cry from the neoclassical sweeps of Yngwie.

“M.I.A” from City of Evil is another great tune. Great music on it.

I sure miss the Dream Theater and the cabaret progressive influences from “The Rev” (RIP).

I was reading a lot of articles on A7X last night and I even went back to some of the Guitar World issues I have. Man, talk about polarizing. They are either loved or hated. There is no in between.

Even from way back in 2006, there are articles on the web that call A7X, Guns N Roses and Metallica rip offs.

Then Black Veil Brides are accused by A7X fans of ripping off “Unholy Confessions” for the BVB song “Knives and Pens”.

I couldn’t stop laughing. This world has gone to hell….

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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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