One innocent day after school in 5th grade forever ossified my bond with music after hearing Iron Maiden's 'Live After Death' and Metallica's 'Master Of Puppets.' While the opener, 'Battery' from the latter album was a bit too much for my virgin ears, Maiden's 'Aces High' made an immediate impact which resulted (much to my father's chagrin) in me purchasing my own cassette copy that very weekend. The intensity generated by the galloping rhythms, soaring vocal delivery and menacing cover artwork created sensory overload. Although the proverbial seed was undoubtedly planted, this life-changing moment did not yet convince me of picking up a guitar, bass or begin drumming. With their larger-than-life persona, Iron Maiden was something I believed that no mere mortal would be able to create, let alone play.
Although completely unaware, my brother (and only sibling, four years my senior) was the next person to have an impact on my musical journey. He became the primary influence for my affinity of '80's Hard Rock...Hair Metal, Glam Metal, Sleaze Metal...whatever you want to call it! His first summer job collecting carts and bagging groceries provided him a paycheck where he promptly spent his entire parcel on music. With assistance from a co-worker, the cassettes he proudly returned home with (of which I will never forget) consisted of the following: 'Long Cold Winter' (Cinderella), 'In God We Trust' (Stryper), 'Back For The Attack' (Dokken), 'Skyscraper' (David Lee Roth), 'Fighting The World' (Manowar), 'Crazy Nights' (Kiss)...it is remarkable that I can still recall those albums! While he was at work, I would trespass into his bedroom and explore each and every one of these recordings. I enjoyed everything about them: the upbeat, party-like vibe, the image, the musicianship and the memorable songs. What's more, I could see all of these bands on MTV's Headbanger's Ball which aired every Saturday Night and further confirmed that larger-than-life image that started with Iron Maiden.
6th grade was a watershed in two significant ways. The first was that I started attending a new school where my classmates all seemed to possess a superior intellect and second, one of my first newfound friends (who happened to be the youngest of seven children) became the ancillary catalyst that inspired me to pick up the electric guitar. His older, guitar playing brother possessed perfect pitch and could play most popular songs with amazing accuracy after only one or two spins of the record. Additionally, the family had their own band, a trio consisting solely of his older brothers! I was absolutely transfixed by his talents and when invited over for a (what is now known as a Play Date), all I wanted to do was go to upstairs to their rehearsal space and watch them play! Being that my friend took that situation entirely for granted (and had no desire to pick up an instrument himself), it was torture to be in his room playing video games while his brothers rehearsed! Shortly thereafter, my Father purchased me a Hondo electric guitar (a cheap copy of a Fender Stratocaster) and I was off to the races...or so I thought. However, when I started to hang out with other guitar-minded people (mostly older), I quickly saw that my axe was sub-par and came to the infantile conclusion that it was not an instrument that could really help me be a better guitarist. That belief, coupled with the intense workload at school certainly deflated my initial attempts at becoming an accomplished guitarist in all its grandeur.
As music became more significant in my life, my impressionable nature and exploratory tendencies opened my ears to a multitude of musical styles that ran the gamut from Hip Hop (back then, it was known as Rap), the aforementioned 80's Hard Rock/Heavy Metal (i.e. Hair Metal), Instrumental Rock (i.e. Shred), Industrial, Alternative/Post Punk, Jazz/Fusion, Ska, Hardcore, Progressive, Bluegrass, Extreme Metal...with the exception of modern Country music, there are very few genres that I did not investigate and/or embrace. However, the melodicism that I originally heard in Iron Maiden proved to be a grounding force throughout my entire musical journey.
I grew up in an overwhelmingly Caucasian neighborhood and am ashamed that my appreciation for African American Hard Rock/Crossover bands like Living Colour and Fishbone took as long as it did, but I am thankful for my voracious appetite that allowed for any 'color barrier' to vaporize and make Living Colour's 'Vivid' and Fishbone's 'A Reality Of My Surroundings' such influential albums during my teenage years.
The era encapsulating late Primary and Secondary school were very important, not only in my structured education, but with further forays into music exploration. The following (and truncated) list details those moments that changed me as a person, musician and my ultimate obsession with the guitar (semi-chronologically):
Unfortunately, engaging in a musical performance curriculum was eschewed by my parents in favor of something more technical and ended up enrolling in the Music Technology program at NYU (New York University). Although I would engage in some insipid excursions in jazz performance, my primary focus was learning and exploiting the latest developments in digital audio technology. My ensemble work suffered, but I excelled in the technical program. Therefore, I became the quintessential frustrated musician, torn between my desire to play and the satisfaction in earning top grades.
It was during this time that I learned of a tour-de-force (and insane in his own right) known as Buckethead, whom I saw perform at The Wetlands in downtown NYC. Coincidentally, Shawn Lane (along with Jonas Hellborg and Apt. Q258) opened the show, but I didn't know who Shawn was, and didn't take much notice. However, my curiosity with Shawn was immediately piqued when I had a moment to speak with Buckethead (i.e. Brian Carroll) backstage who said "That guy over there..." (pointing at Shawn Lane) was a huge source of inspiration. It took me a few years, but Shawn DEFINITELY had a huge impact on my musical direction.
Upon completing my studies in the Music Technology curriculum, I immediately embarked on a guitar performance major at California Institute Of The Arts in Valencia, CA. However, my world was capsized by the next exposure to the late, sorely missed and legendary Shawn Lane. Although I had developed significant technique, what I saw watching his instructional videos was something that was truly God-given. The moment I saw those performances on video, I somehow knew that my marginal talent would never amount to his excellence. This experience shook my foundations to its core and was never the same again. All I could do to keep me motivated was to execute, with utmost precision, my senior recital which consisted of a set of Frank Zappa compositions that I transcribed and arranged for a 5-piece ensemble.
The coup de grâce that led me to desert the instrument altogether was a failed audition for Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal's band, 'Bumblefoot.' Being that he has gone on to be the primary guitarist in Guns N' Roses, he is not only a wonderful person, but his talent is remarkable and deserving of such a highly visible position. Although devastated at the time, I clearly did not possess the talent and nerve that was needed to properly add to the band's chemistry. Thankfully, I have made peace with myself regarding that unfortunate event, leaving me open to reprising my relationship with the instrument in the future.
Although studio recordings have largely shaped my musical vision, witnessing live performances have certainly been influential and what follows is the short list (top 10) of exceptional performances for which I was thankful to be in attendance:
After compiling this slapdash Top 10 list, it is quite interesting to see how devoid of '80's Hard Rock bands it is and how the performances between 1993 and 1994 (my last 1-2 years of secondary education) have been the most enduring. However, this was when I became of age and maturity where attending shows became more-or-less permissible with my parents and that heyday of '80's Hard Rock bands was simply nonexistent. Although the overwhelming majority have little to do with the practical definition of Melodic Rock, this list might offer some insight as to the depth of my muse (I really like that band as well!). It was not until sometime in 2004 that I had discovered the brilliance that was Kevin Gilbert, a multi-instrumentalist who worked with everyone from Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow (who dumped him around the time of her Grammy Award Winning album 'Tuesday Night Club'). He was an exceptional talent and apexes his brilliance with not one, but three recordings: the eponymously titled 'Toy Matinee,' 'Thud' and 'The Shaming Of The True.' Another soul sorely missed in the music community, he is another legendary artist that deserves recognition at every turn.
Circa 2005, I had largely forgotten my roots in (what is now labelled as) Melodic Rock. However, when I was given a copy of 'Crunch' by a group called Adriangale, that album singlehandedly reminded me of everything that I loved about that era: a great childhood/adolescence, high-calibre musicianship (not to mention guitar solos featuring prominently) as well as well crafted, memorable songs. I was once again immediately hooked (pun intended) on this music. Although it took a considerable amount of effort, it was not long after my introduction to that Adriangale recording that I connected with Vic Rivera (founder and primary songwriter) and forged an immensely strong friendship. Not only gaining a great friend, our connection led me to work with him creatively, earning co-production credits for 'Only Human' from Poley/Rivera (the collaborative effort between Vic Rivera and Ted Poley).
As fate would have it, Vic and Adriangale were awarded a slot on the bill for Firefest IV (2007) in Nottingham, UK. My then wife (who was an immense fan of Def Leppard as well as Adriangale's modern take on the '80's Hard Rock theme) and I quickly decided to celebrate our 2nd anniversary by attending the Firefest IV extravaganza. While at the show, my connection with Vic proved fortuitous, as I was introduced to Editor In Chief of Fireworks Magazine, Bruce Mee. After the memorable time (both with the music and the British culture), Firefest instantly became an annual pilgrimage. During my time at the next (and aptly titled) Firefest V, I approached Bruce with my desire about getting involved with the magazine (as well as the newly launched website). Well, I got my chance when I attended Melodic Rock Fest 2 in Elgin, IL (May, 2010) where I not only covered the performances, I found time to conduct interviews with Jean Beauvoir, Bombay Black and John Kivel (all available on the http://www.rocktopia.co.uk website). Although my published debut came in the form of a truncated version of this event in issue #41 (Cover: Slash), the unabridged, 10,000 word report was posted on Rocktopia and experienced over 3,000 hits in the first week! I have been writing for Fireworks ever since then and have enjoyed some epic interviews: Robert Säll, Jim Peterik, Jimi Jamison and Bobby Kimball to just name a few. I hope that Bruce and the rest of the Fireworks staff continue to enjoy my submissions and my relationship with the magazine continues unabated.