Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Random Listening

Happy new year to everyone. 2018 is here, so let the listening begin.

I started off my working day with Yngwie Malmsteen’s “Trilogy” album. I really dig the songs “You Don’t Remember (I’ll Never Forget)”, “Queen In Love”, “Magic Mirror”, “Fire” and the instrumentals “Crying” and Trilogy”. So many great riffs and leads in those songs. Hell chuck in “Liar” and “Fury”.

Actually does anyone remember the plane incident with Malmsteen where he said to the flight attendant they’ve unleased the fucking fury?

I am sure there is an internet meme out there.

When the U.S record labels went anti shred in the 90’s, the Japanese and South American markets kept his career going. But there is no denying his 80’s output and it’s a shame that a rumoured collaboration with Ronnie James Dio never happened. Actually not sure how true that was as it was in the rumors section of Metal Edge or Hot Metal.

Then I moved to “Trash” from Alice Cooper. It’s been a long time since I heard the full album from start to finish and man I still dig it. I know its commercial sounding and that Desmond Child is producing, but man, its chock full of good songs.

And it’s Alice Fucking Cooper singing. How can it not be good?

The real gems are “Spark In The Dark”, “This Maniac Is In Love With You”, “I’m Your Gun”, “Why Trust You” and “Trash”. They are Alice all the way and when you add the pop metal tunes in “Poison”, “House Of Fire”, “Only My Heart Talkin”, “Bed Of Nails” and “Hell Is Living Without You”, you get to understand why it the album was so popular and moved a lot of units around the world.

Afterwards, “Operation Mindcrime” from Queensryche got a listen. This is a monster concept album. It’s funny how Mustaine once called em “Yuppie metal” and at the same time Metallica put them as openers on their “Justice” U.S trek. Maybe having the same management team in Q Prime helped. But there is no denying the power of the album and the lyrical message.

“Revolution Calling”, “Operation Mindcrime”, “Speak”, “The Mission”, “Spreading The Disease”, “Suite Sister Mary”, The Needle Lies”, “Breaking The Silence”, “I Don’t Believe In Love” and “Eyes Of A Stranger” all have excellent guitar playing and the album gave me a tonne of great ideas and phrases to use as influences in my own song writing.

It was only ten past eleven (just before noon) and I clicked on Spotify’s recommendations. “Flesh and Blood” from Poison was recommended. Even though I listened to the vinyl a lot in the 90’s, I haven’t cranked it on Spotify at all.

It starts off with the pointless “Strange Days of Uncle Jack”, before it goes into “Valley Of Lost Souls”, which to me is one hell of good song and the best on the album. “(Flesh and Blood) Sacrifice” comes next and it’s a one-two knock-out punch. The pointless “Swampjuice” (Soul-O) is up before “Unskinny Bop” starts rolling. I know it was a single and one of their big songs, but I wasn’t really a fan.

“Let It Play” could have been on a John Cougar Mellencamp or Bryan Adams album while “Life Goes On” is a good power ballad and CC plays a tasty intro lead to the song and in the main lead section. “Come Hell or High Water” is another underrated tune in the vein of the Classic Rock of the 70’s that doesn’t get its dues.

“Ride The Wind” is another sleeper, while “Don’t Give Up An Inch” is a bit derivative of “Come Hell or High Water”. “Something To Believe In” copies the “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” country bluesy vibe, however this time, the piano is the main driver instead of the acoustic guitar.

“Ball And Chain” is unfinished. “Life Loves A Tragedy” is another sleeper song that deserves more attention. “Poor Boy Blues” sounds like a drunken 12 bar blues jam which ended up on the record.

“Blow My Fuse” from Kix was up next. Now this album is a perfect example of the “progress is derivative model”.

It starts off with “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” which sounds very familiar like something from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. “Get It While It’s Hot” is heavily influenced by “You Shook Me All Night Long” from AC/DC. Actually it’s very heavily, heavily influenced.

“No Ring Around Rosie” is a beefed up “La Grange” from ZZ Top in the verses. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is taking its cues from “Home Sweet Home” and “Dream On”. “She Dropped Me The Bomb” is again heavily influenced by AC/DC with a touch of The Who.  “Cold Blood” is a very similar to “Long Way To The Top” from AC/DC in the verses.

“Piece Of The Pie” is very heavily influenced by Aerosmith. “Boomerang” is influenced by Led Zeppelin. “Blow My Fuse” is such a good track where the influences are not as obvious as the other tracks. “Dirty Boys” is influenced by “Let There Be Rock” by AC/DC.

Finally, Winger is up, with “Kip Winger” becoming a face on a dartboard when Metallica was recording the “Black” album. All in all, Winger (the band) was a powerful unit of brilliant musicians. If you purchased Winger for earth shattering lyrics, this wasn’t the band. But if you wanted to hear great music and good melodies and arena rock choruses, well you wouldn’t be disappointed.

The groovy “Can’t Get Enough” kicks off the album and it’s followed by “Loosen Up” which probably should have been lost from the album. When “Miles Away” came on, I wasn’t sure if it was Bad English or Def Leppard. It’s one of those slow tempo melodic rock songs. “Easy Come Easy Go” has a cool groove and I dig the horn section in the verses.

The next two songs are two of my favourite songs. “Rainbow In The Rose” is an interesting song, a cross between Toto and Journey. It’s very mature musically. “In The Day We’ll Never See” is another mature song and to be honest it’s a shame that these kinds of songs get lost behind the generic MTV songs that each band recorded.

There are a few misses and then the title track bookends the album, which again is another mature track lost behind the more commercial tunes.

I must say, not a bad day at work.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy, Stupidity

Guess What: Not A Lot Has Changed

“In 1981, there was a crackdown after the big payola scandal of the late 70s. Right at the beginning of the 80s, the record companies were being safe. They were not handing out advances. They would advance your recording budget, but that was it.”
Brian Forsythe – Kix

So what has changed in 2015.

The record labels are still being safe and with recording costs so low, the recording budget is even lower.

Yeah, of course, we all know that the record labels had a massive boom that started with “Thriller” in 1984 and that allowed them to take more risks. And for some reason it looks like musicians and the labels are only looking at the boom when they compare now vs then. Typical revisionist history.

“None of us knew what we were doing. We were just so excited to have a record deal. There are writer’s royalties, and the mechanical royalties that go to the band. The record company gets paid back through the mechanical until the bill (advancement) is paid off. Donnie was the main songwriter, so he was still getting his (writers) money. By the time we got to “Blow My Fuse” – our biggest selling record – we were two million dollars in debt.” 
Brian Forsythe – Kix

Even in the era of information, with everything is at our fingertips, artists are still unaware of their entitlements. And when they do find out, it is the crux of every argument. Especially between band members because every band has a person that just writes better songs than the others at certain points of time, or in some cases always. Kix’s bass player Donnie Purdell, was another Nikki Sixx. He was crucial to Kix.

It should act as no surprise to anyone that bands in the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties, ended up with such large debts to the label. That is the label creative accounting machine at its best. And the shameful part of it all is that current musicians still look at the past to gauge what success means in 2015.

“Go pull up the sales for 1985, 1986 for heavy metal bands. I guarantee you it’s ten times what it is now. That doesn’t mean there’s ten times less fans — in fact, I think there’s more heavy metal fans now than possibly there ever was. But the bottom line is the numbers show that metal bands are not selling what they did back in the day, and that’s because of Internet piracy. I don’t wanna get on that subject, because it always turns into a depressing, negative subject, but it is a fact. So the answer to the question, ‘Would that record sell more in 1985?’ I would say the answer would be yes.”
Shawn Drover – Act of Defiance

Shawn Drover, wishes it was 1985 and 1986 because for some reason, he believes that he will have more money in his pocket and if his new band “Act Of Defiance” sold a million copies of an album, they would be mega rich and popular. Brian Forsythe from Kix, lived that period and ended up with a $2 million debt, even though they had albums that sold in excess of a million.

And guess what venues they are playing right now?

Clubs and theaters.

Dokken albums achieved Platinum awards and the band today plays clubs and theaters. Stryper and Ratt albums achieved Platinum awards and the bands today play clubs and theaters.

A sale of a record never equaled a fan. It’s the usual comparison between;

  • a person that purchased a record, heard it once and hated it
    vs
  • a person that purchased a record, heard it, loved it and listened to it every day
    vs
  • a person that purchased a record, heard the popular songs and then moved on to whatever else was popular

So why do artists still see sales as important today?

Metal and rock artists still sell. There is no doubt about that. Especially the ones that connect with audiences. But sales is not the only stat that artists should be basing their careers on.

With all of the streaming services out there, the most important stat is how many listens an artist is getting and in which cities they are getting those listens.

The second most important stat is how many illegal P2P downloads an artist is getting and in which cities they are getting these illegal downloads. These listeners/downloaders need to be monetized in different ways.

Otherwise if you are an artist and you are waiting for profits to come in from recorded music sales, then you need to change your business model.

“I’ve never seen a check. Donnie probably still gets writer’s royalty checks. The rest of the money is going back to the record company. Donnie was such a better songwriter. For every 20 songs he would write, I would write one. We were working on his songs all the time and we never even had time to write our own stuff. Back in the early days I may have gotten a couple checks. The biggest one was maybe $350. One time I remember getting one for $1.99. I could count the amount of checks I’ve received on one hand.”
Brian Forsythe – Kix

Remember all of the stories that have come out over the last five years from artists complaining about their low royalty payouts from streaming services. Guess that in 30 years nothing much has really changed. For the small amount of 1% artists that have broken through to mega status, it’s all good.

For the rest, it is still the same story.

“The standard stat given is that 90% of major label deals “fail.” That does not mean they are not profitable for the label. The way RIAA accounting works, the labels can make out like a bandit on many of those record deals, while the artist gets hung out to dry.”
Mike Masnick, Techdirt

Nothing has changed on that front, even with the rise of the internet, Napster, P2P illegal downloading and so forth. The 90% stat was relevant even in the golden years of recorded music sales and it is still relevant now.

“We never expected to get rich, but we certainly didn’t expect to be millions of dollars in debt.”
Jared Leto – Thirty Seconds To Mars

No artist expects to get rich. The need to create is the calling card. However, when they start making money and they see the recording executives living it up while the actual creators are not, then money becomes an important conversation point.

The recording industry has always been known for its creative accounting.

Remember when Tom Petty declared himself bankrupt to get out of a recording contract because he had no money to show after two very successful albums in the seventies.

It all goes against what Gene Simmons said about rock music in general being murdered due to internet piracy. It’s a very narrow-minded and hostile view to have to all of the change that has happened in music. It also mimics, the view that the record labels have held.

A hostile one.

However as Tim Westergren, the Chief Strategy Officer – Pandora (until last year) states;

“I think we’re moving out of an era where the music industry is looking for enemies and into one where it’s now looking for allies.”

The record labels have been dragged kicking and screaming into cassettes, mp3’s and then streaming. Guess what happened. It increased their bottom line on all occassions. Guess that not much has changed in the era of change when it comes to record label abuses.

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Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Tom Werman

I have read a few rock bio’s and man, these rock stars go to town on the producers that were involved with their hit albums. Mike Portnoy from Dream Theater goes to town on Dave Prater who produced “Images and Words” which to this day, is Dream Theater’s most successful album. Dee Snider and Nikki Sixx go to town on Tom Werman, who for Twisted Sister was involved in “Stay Hungry” and for Motley Crue, he was involved in “Shout At The Devil”, “Theatre Of Pain” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”.

Let’s look at Tom Werman. The facts are out there. Most of the bands that he produced, achieved great commercial success. The majority of these successes happened during the heyday of hard rock music on MTV and when the recording industry abandoned hard rock acts to chase alternative grunge acts, Werman was part of the collateral damage.

Which is a shame as Werman is a rarity.

He forged a successful career as a heavy metal and hard rock producer because he was able to identify and feature the pop elements in the music of the bands that he was producing. Coming from an A&R background his whole set up was to get the band onto radio. He knew the game. If a band he worked with could get a hit single, it would translate into sales of millions of albums.

He also was a producer that didn’t really have an engineering background like Ron Nevison, Andy Johns, Jack Douglas, Bob Rock and so forth which freed him up to focus on other tasks like refining the songs and getting the artists to decorate the songs accordingly. To be a Producer is a tough gig. You are there to realise the bands musical vision. The producer is basically a hired independent consultant, paid by the band through a label advance and the band is perfectly free to replace the producer at any time, which is why the stories against Werman lack authenticity.

Werman is probably best known these days for producing Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” (4x Platinum by 1997), “Theatre of Pain” (4x Platinum by 1995) and the “Girls, Girls, Girls” (4x Platinum by 1995) albums. Werman has gone on record to claim that Nikki Sixx was a friend until he revised history and created a work of total fiction in the “Heroin Diaries” book. John Corabi even questioned the authenticity of “The Heroin Diaries” along with Dee Snider.

However, Werman worked on other projects as well.

“Tooth N Nail” was released on 1984 and the album reached PLATINUM status in the U.S in 1989, after the mega successful “Back For The Attack” album along with MTV, got people interested in Dokken’s back catalogue. Tom Werman produced the “make or break” album and according to Don Dokken, Werman, almost came to blows with George Lynch during the recording. It got that bad, that at one stage, Lynch said to Werman that he will kill him. The issue arose when Werman asked Lynch to play a more substantive lead break for a particular song, which Lynch objected to.

Twisted Sister’s “Stay Hungry” came out in 1984. In that same year the album went GOLD and then PLATINUM. Twisted Sister was everywhere, largely thanks to their clips doing the constant rotation on MTV. Dee Snider was a star who was also everywhere. Finally after paying his dues for 10 years, he was in the mainstream. By March, 1985, the album achieved 2 x PLATINUM status March 19, 1985. Then 10 years later, in November, 1995, the album achieved 3 x PLATINUM status.

Werman has stated in interviews that he feels that Dee Snider was unable to share credit for a hugely successful LP hence that is the reason why Snider has spoken negatively about Werman.

Snider has a different view. In his book “Shut Up and Give Me The Mic”, Snider goes into detail about his relationship with Werman.

First, Werman wasn’t their choice at all for producer. He was pushed onto them by Atlantic Records.

Second, in a meeting, Werman was asked a question by Snider that if Werman was to put his A&R hat on, would he had signed Twisted Sister. Werman answered NO.

Then there are further stories on the recording process and how Dee Snider had a routine to write songs for the next album, while the current album was getting mixed and finalised. However this didn’t pan out because Mark Mendoza who normally handled all of the production and sound duties refused to get involved due to friction with Werman which then left Snider to deal with it, which in turn meant, no new songs got written.

A point to note about Werman is that while he was at Epic Records his specific job was to get the bands on the radio. In order to get bands onto the radio, they needed to have singles. That is why Doug Morris (while he was president of Atlantic Records) called Werman to make a hit with Twisted Sister. That is why Doug Morris refused to hear Snider’s pleas to remove him. A general rule of thumb for Werman was to ensure that each record had at least two “singles” as he knew that hit singles would sell several million albums.

Kix released their self-titled debut album in 1981 and it wasn’t until their fourth studio album “Blow My Fuse” released on September 12, 1988 that they broke through.

By November 2, 1988, seven weeks later, the album was certified GOLD by the RIAA. In May 1989, the single “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was released and by February 5, 1990, eight months later, the single was certified GOLD by the RIAA. Finally, on August 28, 2000, the “Blow My Fuse” album was certified PLATINUM by the RIAA. Yep, that is almost 12 years from when it was released. Don Purnell of Kix (who was the main songwriter) distrusted Werman, however as others have mentioned, that was who Purnell generally was.

For Kix the success of “Blow My Fuse” came from a change to Tom Werman, a change to a better and aggressive manager in Mark Puma who got Atlantic to get behind the record and promote it, a natural progressing in the songwriting department and perfect timing.

Poison’s “Open Up and Say Ahh..” was supposed to be produced by Paul Stanley however due to schedule conflicts, Stanley was unavailable and Tom Werman was in. Keeping with Werman’s credo ensuring that each album he works on will have at least two hit singles, “Open Up And Say Ahh…” had three. “Nothin’ but a Good Time” is still a party anthem decades after its release, “Fallen Angel” is the clichéd moving to the big city to chase your dreams and the timeless classic “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”.

The album sold over 5 million copies in the U.S and Werman has stated that it was not an easy record to make. According to Werman in an interview with the Legendary Rock website, “Bobby was the brains behind Poison, while Brett was the single most important individual in the band. CC did give the band its personality and its sound, but was so distracted by the recreational side of rock that he didn’t realize his potential. He was a lovable guy, but suggesting musical directions and recording his leads were formidable tasks.

Other albums that Werman worked on during the eighties are LA Guns “Cocked and Loaded” (their most successful), Junkyard’s self-titled debut (a cult classic), Love/Hate “Blackout In The Red Room” (should have been more successful), Babylon A.D “Nothing Sacred” (a very underrated album that deserved more attention), Steelheart “Tangled In Reins” (a solid follow-up that did well just before the Grunge movement), Lita Ford “Dangerous Curves” (she was on a downward career trajectory) and Stryper “Against The Law” (their least successful in sales however the album is chock full of fan favourites and live staples).

In the end his hit ratio was on average 1 out 3. Which means that one album out of three reached at least a GOLD status in the U.S. That is a respectable stat and if there is a history of Glam / Hard Rock, Tom Werman will and should be part of it.

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

So What Is It With Bands And Producers Not Liking Each Other After An Album Explodes?

What is it with artist’s dishing out hate on a producer that was involved in producing their greatest triumph?

A good producer is meant to be tough and opinionated. They are meant to challenge the artist, so that the artist delivers the goods. Look at what Bob Rock did to Kirk Hammet in Metallica, especially around “The Unforgiven” solo piece. If you look at Kirk’s legacy that will be the solo that he will be remembered by. I remember in the “Classic Albums” documentary of the “Black” album, as well as in the video, “A Year and A Half With Metallica”, Bob Rock said something similar like, “it is a great song and it needs a great lead. What Kirk is playing at the moment is not great. He has to live and breathe this solo.”

Bob Rock got the guys to slow down the tempo on “Sad But True” and detune everything down a whole step. He told Lars Ulrich to take drum lessons before he started to record his parts. Which producer does that? Lars Ulrich is coming off 4 definitive thrash albums and there is Bob Rock telling him to take drum lessons. He questioned James on his lyrics and his melodies, something that hasn’t been done before. He recommended vocal lessons as well to the formidable front man.

Lars even said that once the Black album was finished, he couldn’t talk or see Bob Rock for over 12 months. Bob Rock has even gone on record saying that it was a tough album to make. The end result is every bands dream coming true. The biggest selling album of the SOUNDSCAN era with a total of 16 million sales as at December 2012. The Black album still to this day moves 2,000 units per week in the U.S. A a lot of websites pointed out that it outsold, Megadeth’s new album “Supercollider”.

As much as Nikki Sixx dishes on Tom Werman, the facts are out there. With Tom Werman, Motley Crue had three multi-platinum albums in “Shout At The Devil”, “Theatre of Pain” and “Girls, Girls, Girls”. Each album has sold 4 million copies plus in the U.S. That is a total of 12 million plus sales in the U.S market. Furthermore, the bulk of the “Decade Of Decadence” album is made up of songs from these albums, and that album also sold over 2 million copies in the U.S. In addition, the “Music To Crash Your Car” box sets also had the three albums produced by Tom Werman on them.

If all the stories about the drug use from the Motley Crue members are to be believed, then Tom Werman deserves special recognition for getting anything musical onto tape.

Dee Snider also doesn’t have many kind words for Tom Werman. If anyone has read Dee’s bio, “Shut Up and Give Me The Mic,” you can connect the dots and come to a conclusion that Dee is also blaming Tom Werman for the failure of Twisted Sister’s next album even though Tom Werman never worked on it. The routine used to be that Dee Snider would be working on songs for the next album, while the current album is being mixed.

According to Dee, in his bio “Shut Up and Give Me The Mic” due to Werman being difficult to work with and Mark Mendoza doing his best to sabotage everything that Dee was working on, he couldn’t take the time out from the studio to work on songs for the next album. So when it came time to write the songs for Come Out And Play after the hugely successful “Stay Hungry” tour, Dee’s mindset was in a different place. He had money, he had fame, he had success and he didn’t have the same hunger, anger and motivation that he had during the Stay Hungry recording. If he wrote the songs during the “Stay Hungry” sessions, the output could have been very different. Super producer, Bob Ezrin even passed on working on “Come Out And Play”, because he didn’t hear any great songs.

However, the facts are there. The Tom Werman produced “Stay Hungry”, sold over 3 million copies in the U.S alone. The singles, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” also sold by the truck load and they sounded great on radio, due to special radio mixes that Tom Werman did for them. It’s funny that the song “The Price”, didn’t get the same radio mix and it tanked as a single, even though it is the strongest of all three songs.

In relation to Nikki Sixx and Dee Snider, Werman said the following on Popdose.com;

“There were two individual musicians who had a problem with me in the studio out of about 200 musicians I produced. Nikki Sixx was a friend until he revised history in his book. Dee Snider was a friend, until the Twisted Sister album became a hit, and he couldn’t deal with sharing the credit for its success. Both of these guys were literally back-slapping glad-handers; years later, they soured badly. I had fine relationships with all the other members of those two bands.”

Kix was another band that was critical of Tom Werman. Bassist and band leader, Donnie Purnell hated and distrusted Werman.

George Lynch from Dokken also had a problem with Tom Werman, when Werman requested that he play a better lead break on a particular song. If you believe Don Dokken, George Lynch has an uncontrollable ego. If you believe George Lynch, Don Dokken has an uncontrollable ego. Regardless who you believe, when Lynch was asked to play a better lead break, he had a dummy spit.

And now here are the facts for Dokken’s “Tooth N Nail” and Kix’s “Blow My Fuse”. Both albums on release went to GOLD status within a year. “Tooth N Nai”l was released in 1984 and ended up reaching PLATINUM status in the U.S in 1989 (yep that’s right, four years after its release), after the mega successful “Back For The Attack” album, got people interested in Dokken’s back catalogue. “Back For The Attack” reached PLATINUM status within 2 months of its release date.

“Blow My Fuse” was released on September 12, 1988. By November 2, 1988, seven weeks later, the album was certified GOLD by the RIAA. In May 1989, the single “Don’t Close Your Eyes” was released. By February 5, 1990, eight months later, the single was certified GOLD by the RIAA. Finally, on August 28, 2000, the “Blow My Fuse” album was certified PLATINUM by the RIAA. Yep, that is almost 12 years from when it was released. This is what the artist of today need to take into account. Great music will live on and it will keep on selling for a long time.

However, so many artists and record label executives want the platinum sales with the first release. Dokken’s back catalogue sold well after the mega successful “Back For The Attack” album (their 4th album). Metallica’s back catalogue sold even more, after the mega successful “Black” album (their 5th album). Motley Crue’s back catalogue sold well again after the mega successful “Dr Feelgood” album (their 5th album). However in today’s mindset of profits before creativity, most bands will not get to the fourth or fifth album. Most bands will not have a comeback like Aerosmith or Alice Cooper did in the Eighties. I digress.

Dream Theater, especially Mike Portnoy blasted Dave Prater on the “Images and Words” sessions, however with Prater at the helm, Dream Theater had their biggest album to date. Read the book “Lifting Shadows”. The interviews with Prater are brilliant. The rebuttals of the band members are in some cases subdued but fiery at the same time. Somewhere in between all of the stories is the truth.

Of course, Dream Theater with Dave Prater at the helm have had their most success in relation to album sales. “Images And Words” is the album that Dream Theater is still doing victory laps with in 2013.

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Music

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

VITO BRATTA – Guitar World September 1989 – Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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