The “Under the Influence” stuff you did in the July and August 2001 issues was incredible! Based on your enthusiastic words I recently added Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous and UFO’s Strangers in the Night live CDs to my collection. They’re both awesome albums, and Michael Schenker is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite axmen. Are there any current guitarists you like too? I’d really love to know, and I’m sure I’m not alone!
—Bobby “Red” McCullar, Long Island, NY
I’m delighted to read that my “Under the Influence” column got you into Michael Schenker—what a phenomenal player he is! In case you’re interested in exploring his playing more, when he left UFO he formed his own band called MSG (the Michael Schenker Group) and did some pretty amazing stuff with that band too. There’s a compilation CD out called Essential Michael Schenker Group that contains a lot of killer Schenker playing, including his instrumental tracks “Into the Arena” and “Captain Nemo.” The MSG live album, One Night at Budokan, is well worth checking out too.
Like I said in the “Under the Influence” column, I still listen to Michael’s playing all the time. In fact, I recently got this new laptop computer and it comes with this thing called
I-tunes, which is basically radio via the internet. It’s great! There’s this one internet radio station that just plays UFO, MSG and the Scorpions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and I love it!
As for your “are there any current guitarists you like” question, the answer is a definite “yes.” As I’m sure I’ve already pointed out in this column, I really like Tom Morello and his weird guitar sound thing. He’s definitely raised the bar a little higher for everyone. To me he’s the modern-day equivalent of Eddie Van Halen in terms of breaking new ground. I still can’t get enough of the last Rage Against the Machine album, The Battle of Los Angeles. Like a lot of Rage fans, I was really bummed out when [frontman] Zack de la Rocha split, but I’m pretty damned excited to hear what Tom’s going to do next, especially now that it’s official that he’s working with former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell.
I really like the rhythm work Dino Cazares does in Fear Factory. He’s just a monster. And speaking of monsters, Dimebag Darrell from Pantera is a killer guitarist and one of the few guys out there that still plays lead! I also like the guy in A Perfect Circle, Billy Howerdel. He’s not so much a great lead player as he is a great rhythm player. The way he orchestrates modern sounds on the album Mer De Noms is something he does really well. Another young guy who’s playing I respect a lot is Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He has a great sound and a great feel. He’s got that whole “heavy strings, high action, big frets and percussive attack” thing happening. I’ve heard some people put him down by saying that there’s no way he can possibly play the blues because he’s too young. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that whole “too young to play the blues” attitude is nonsense. Age has nothing to do with it. Playing the blues is all about tapping into emotions that we’re all born with, and that’s exactly what Kenny’s doing.
I’ve been a loyal fan of Metallica and your lead playing ever since I bought Kill ’Em All back in 1984. I’ve watched your lead style evolve with interest ever since then and am intrigued to know where you feel it’s going next. Any clues would be appreciated! Keep up the great work on the column. It’s my favorite part of the magazine.
—John Kirkland, Nashville, TN
That’s a good question, John. As you’ve no doubt noticed, my playing has changed a lot over the last 18 years or so. I started out playing very fast, flashy stuff that was very modal and also very metal. I did that throughout the Eighties, but when the Nineties came I got a little tired of that approach. As a result, my leads got a lot simpler—they became less modal and became more pentatonic, bluesy, laid-back and melodic.
When I listen back to albums like Kill ’Em All, Ride the Lightening, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All, though, I realize that I still really like the way I played in the Eighties. Also, when we were working on the covers album, Garage Days Revisited, going back and listening to all those bands I used to listen to in the early Eighties was a musical time-travel trip for me. It helped me tap back into that style of playing that I used to really enjoy and that I kind of lost track of. It really kicked my playing in the ass and woke me up again to that whole modal, three-octave scale approach (see FIGURES 1 and 2) that I abandoned for a while because I was listening to so much blues—you know, guys who played three notes per solo or per hour!
The thing is, I love the blues and I love pentatonics. I love major pentatonics and I also love minor pentatonics because I grew up listening to that sound. All my favorite guitar players used those scales—Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Perry, Pat Travers, and Brian Robertson. Having said this, I also like the modal sound of players like Michael Schenker, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Eddie Van Halen and Ulrich Roth.
So, ideally, what I would like to do is find a middle ground between those two approaches. I think it might be pretty cool if I can somehow blend my earlier style with my later style because I’m convinced that somehow, someway, something new and interesting will come out of it. So that’s what I’m working on now—melding the two approaches by blending my pentatonic obsessions with modes, three-octave scales and the blues. I’m also spending a lot of time with my new guitar teacher too. Yep, I’m still taking lessons; you can never learn enough!