If there’s one great thing about having a son old enough to have started getting into playing the guitar, it’s going back through some of the music I listened to and got inspired by when I was his age.
There’s a tendency to get snobby about flashy guitar histrionics, in the post-post-post-punk era, but once upon a time being able to actually play the guitar was considered essential to any aspiring musician—and those who could deliver adorned the bedroom walls of millions.
Where our parents generation had followed Townsend and Hendrix, Clapton and Page, we teens of the 80’s listened to some of the guys on this list and dreamed of one day “copping their chops”.
In no particular order, then, here’s some of the jaw droppingest widdly woo shredding this side of the biggest can of hairspray money can buy.
Francis Dunnery – Rose Marie
‘It Bites’ were one of those 80’s bands no one had any idea what to do with. They were heavier than Duran Duran, but more Pop than Rock, more Progressive than Metal. They sounded like a band for guys and looked like a band for girls.
While they weren’t falling between the gaps and never quite finding their commercial feet, getting on with the real business of making music, Frank Dunnery and his cohorts churned out three great studio albums, featuring an infectious blend of musical styles and Frank’s truly unique style of fret tap guitar playing style.
Steve Stevens – Soul on Ice
That trademark alien space invaders use of whammy bar dive-bombs, which famously featured on the Michael Jackson song ‘Dirty Diana’ and on the Top Gun Theme, which Stevens co-wrote with Harold Faltermeyer, is a clever combination of behind the neck right hand tapping (literally on top of the poles in the pick-ups) and some simple electronics, which having at-first used a child’s toy ‘ray gun’, he later had custom built into his guitars.
Vinnie Vincent – Baby-O
There’s shred monsters and then there’s Vinnie Vincent. When he wasn’t filling in for a seriously ill Ace Freely, in mid-1980’s Kiss, Vinnie also recorded some truly DREADFUL hair pop metal with ‘Invasion’. Don’t, whatever you do, listen to any of it! Just be satisfied that the clip below is all you need to know and move on. It really is for your own good.
Steve Vai – Big Trouble
If you’ve never heard any Steve Vai earlier than the last couple of albums, forget what you think you know about the modern electric guitar. Previous to becoming a multi-platinum producer and songwriter in his own right, Steve Vai was the right hand man to rock luminaries as diverse as David Lee Roth and Frank Zappa.
It was towards the end of his first stint with the Zappa band that Steve joined the DLR band with bassist Billy Sheehan and recorded the classic Ted Templeman production ‘Eat ’em and Smile’, featuring this impossibly beautiful guitar solo.
Jeff Beck – Led Boots
Picking just one solo from the man who never played a bad one isn’t easy—but this is probably the first Jeff Beck I ever heard (selectively blocking out ‘Hi Ho Silver Fucking Lining’) and so it’ll always be the best.
Featuring the talents of drummer Narada Michael Walden and keyboard player Jan Hammer (later of Miami Vice Theme) Jeff’s early work was an amalgam of Santana, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Sly and the family Stone with a generous helping of impossibly loud Fender Stratocaster, thrown in for good measure. How can you fail?
Joe Satriani – Lords of Karma
It’s easy to forget now, but when Satriani’s ‘Surfing with the Alien’ first arrived, it sent shock waves through the music business.
An instrumental rock album selling to a mainstream audience was almost unheard of at the time. Joe followed up on the success of ‘Surfing’ with the grammy award winning ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’ and the Andy Johns produced ‘The Extremist.’
True story: When he was an unknown musician, making ends meet by giving guitar lessons, one day a lad arrived at his door with a packet of strings in one hand and a guitar in the other, asking if he could learn to play like Jimi Hendrix. That guitarist was Steve Vai.
The Lords of Karma soon took the shine off this merry little tale, however, since Vai was soon followed to Satriani’s door, by a certain Kirk Hammet, who also came looking for lessons. So if it hadn’t have been for Joe’s desire to pay the bills, the world could have been spared of Metallica. Ah well, you can’t win ’em all!
Buy ‘Lords of Karma‘ on iTunes