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

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Rising Above

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Guitarists like Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe and Vinnie Moore are all good guitarists, however they are still relatively unknowns outside of their niche market.

When I saw Steve Vai on the G3 tour, I saw that he had Tony MacAlpine as a backing guitarist. I knew it, however the other guitarists I was with, didn’t know it or know of Tony MacAlpine.

Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore played with Alice Cooper? Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore had Jordan Rudess play on his solo album called Mind Control and that he is currently in UFO?

In the end each artist needed the hits.

Steve Vai had Yankee Rose to launch him. Who can forget the talking at the start song, between Steve Vai’s Ibanez and David Lee Roth’s vocals? It was catchy, it was entrancing and it rippled through the mainstream. The music didn’t fit the format, however back in the Eighties you can say that Yankee Rose went viral.

Yngwie Malmsteen had sweep picking. That was his hit. A simple technique. He followed that up with songs like You Don’t Remember (I’ll Never Forget), On The Run Again and Queen In Love. However it wasn’t until the Joe Lynn Turner fronted Odyssey album that Malmsteen had mainstream hits. Who can forget Heaven Tonight?

Joe Satriani is the surfing alien. Enough said. The Surfing With The Alien song and album is perfection in instrumental circles.

Another piece of perfection is Eric Johnson and his piece d resistance, Cliffs Of Dover. Hear it and the let the goose bumps come.

Alex Skolnick took a big risk back in the Eighties leaving Testament just as they were getting traction on the thrash metal circuit. So what does he do, he goes all instructional and jazzy. He started taking standard rock and metal songs and re-doing them in a jazz format. Brilliant.

John Petrucci shredded when it was uncool to do so. He got popular at a time when it was uncool to be popular for the talent he is. Why? Images and Words. That is the DT victory lap. It is that album that gave them steam in the Nineties. When that victory lap was fading away, Metropolis II came on the scene. That took them into the Two Thousands and with the release of the very metal like Train Of Thought, a new audience was won over.

Paul Gilbert is an enigma. On the Racer X albums he was just another shred clone. Then came Mr Big and he showed what a great songwriter and what a great performer he is. When the world wanted vintage Van Halen in the early nineties, Paul Gilbert stepped up. When the world wanted a shredder of the Malmsteen sense, Gilbert stepped up. I remember John Petrucci referencing a Paul Gilbert instructional video as an important instructional tool for advancing his guitar playing. The quick lead break before the Pull Me Under chorus is all Paul Gilbert played by John Petrucci. Who can forget Technical Difficulties? Paul Gilbert at his best.

All of these artists created something so good that it sold itself. It could have been a song, a technique, an instructional video and instrumental album or re doing metal standards in a jazz format.

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A to Z of Making It, Music

Nuno Bettencourt – Guitar World, September 1989

The article was written by Andrew Hearst, and it appeared on page 17 of the September 1989, Guitar World Issue.

“Be sincere.  Whatever you do.  If its Lawrence Welk you’re into or if its Eddie Van Halen, just be honest about it and love what you’re doing.”   Words of wisdom from Nuno Bettencourt, guitarist for Extreme, a Boston – based hard rock band whose self titled debut album was recently released on A&M Records.

A guitarist speaking his mind.  How many people speak their minds these days?  Not a lot, and if they do, they are scared of the haters.  Well guess what, if you seek the limelight, there will always be haters.  Remember, not everyone will love you, but your audience will.  If you love what you are doing, the audience will be able to feel it, they will be able to relate.  Your fans are not stupid, they will know if you are faking it.  Like when Def Leppard delivered Slang, or Motley Crue delivered Generation Swine, or Bon Jovi delivered What About Now or Metallica with Load and ReLoad.  We know that these albums are about chasing some fools gold, chasing an idea implanted in the musicians head by a manager, an agent or a producer.  That is why the people didn’t respond.

Extreme’s first album was produced by the super experienced Reinhold Mack, aka Mack.  His resume is a list of who’s who of classic albums.  Some of my all time favorite albums like Scorpions – Fly to the Rainbow, Deep Purple – Stormbringer, Deep Purple – Come Taste the Band, David Coverdale – White Snake and most of the ELO and Queen albums from 1975 to the mid 80’s had Mack involved, either as sound engineer or as a producer.

Born in Portugal 22 years ago, Bettencourt moved to Boston with his family when he was four.  As a freshman in high school he heard Edward Van Halen and was inspired to pick up the instrument.  Soon he was playing covers and originals in a succession of casual local groups; he calls Extreme his “first really serious band”.

Back in the eighties, bands normally were formed, they would chop and change musicians until within a few months a stable line up was confirmed.  It was expected that once you had a stable line up, you would start to play shows, build an audience and write killer songs.  By doing that, you are creating a buzz, and with that buzz, the good old Mr Record Man Gatekeeper, would come along and make you famous.  What no one told these poor suckers, is that the good old Mr Record Man Gatekeeper will also make them sign contracts that where far from fair for the band.   To put this into context, Extreme, were formed in 1985, signed in 1987, assigned to work with a master producer in Mack so that they develop their songs and sound and their first album hit the streets in 1989.  That is what bands expected in those days.

It doesn’t happen like this anymore.  Labels in the old sense do not exist.  They do not spend money on artist development anymore.  Why? Wall Street.  Labels need to answer to a board of directors and shareholders.  Their memo is to make money, not waste money on artist and development.  Remember Warner Music is going into business with Kickstarter.

“The biggest lack in eighties’ guitar playing is rhythm,” he says.  “There’s a whole other three minutes of a song to be enjoyed.  I love playing solos, but there’s a time and place for that.  There’s a whole other world out there to play with and people are missing it.”

Such balls.  Here is a new up and comer hot-shot guitarist and he is blasting 80’s guitar playing.  To be honest, he is not wrong.  I cannot list the amount of albums i purchased where the songs are lame as, however the guitar solo spot is a song within a song.  Keel is one band that comes to mind.  Yeah they had a few good songs on each album, however the rest of the songs where shite with good solo spots.  MacAlpine is another.  This was Tony’s attempt at having a vocal oriented band around his guitar playing.  The only problem is, you need to have the songs to make it work, not just the guitar solos.  He did it well with Project Driver (the supergroup featuring Rob Rock, Tommy Aldridge and Rudy Sarzo), however that was with more accomplished musicians.   Not a lot of people show balls these days.  We all want to be loved, even by the people who only like to hate.

Extreme headlined a scheduled 15 city club tour in April and May.  The group now hopes to land the opening spot on an arena tour.  “We just want a fair shake,” says Bettencourt.

That is what every band wanted back in the day.  Their careers where in the hands of the people who controlled them behind the scenes.  The label, the manager, the booking agent and so on.  They had to rely on all of the above to get a fair shake.  Seriously how fair was that shake to begin with.  All of the above mentioned people, take a generous cut from what the band makes.

These days, the fair shake is up to you.  You determine how high or how low your career goes.  You determine your definition of success.  Adam Duce got fired from Machine Head, because his heart wasn’t in it anymore.  His definition of success was different to what Robb Flynn’s was.  He felt like he toiled for over 25 years and still hadn’t made.  He wanted to be like Metallica.  But there is only one Metallica.  And since he wasn’t as famous as them, he didn’t see the point in continuing.

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