Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Three Kings

I entered the Kingdom of Metal through the Hair Metal Gateway.  Back when I was falling in love with music, hair metal was the biggest music in the world, and I loved it.  It was loud, melodic, and my parents hated it.  And like Lemmy said, if your parents don't like your music, it's good.  All these years later, I very rarely pop in the hair metal.  Most of it is lame, vapid music with too much fluffy production and not enough guts.  But there are a trio of bands that stand out to me today: Ratt, Dokken, and Extreme.  These three bands have one thing in common, an incredible talent on guitar.  After all these years, Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, and Nuno Bettencourt can still take my breath away with their mind-bending licks and get my head banging with their hard-rocking riffs.

DeMartini came out of the same San Diego scene that birthed former Ozzy shredder Jake E. Lee.  DeMartini even replace Lee in Ratt.

DeMartini stood apart from the poodle-haired shredder crowd with his gutsy, bluesy lead style.  For evidence of that, check his wailing leads on "Way Cool Jr.".  But, Warren was no one-trick pony.    He could shred with the best of them.  Listen to his blazing solos on "Round and Round" or "You're in Love" for proof.

DeMartini rocked out with Ratt until the band's break-up in 1992, then served short stints in Dokken and Whitesnake.  He also put out a couple of solo records.  He briefly played with Dio before leaving due to musical difference with Ronnie James Dio.  He returned to Ratt in 2007 .

For the best taste of Warren DeMartini's skills, I recommend searching for Out of the Cellar or Invasion of Your Privacy.  The man wails with guts and soul that few guitarists possess and he may well be one of the most underrated rock axemen of all time.

George Lynch is another great hair metal axeman.  Lynch played with a graceful, fluid virtuosity that can be jaw-dropping at times.  Ranked as one of Guitar World's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, Lynch twice auditioned for Ozzy and even won the opportunity to join the Ozz man after Randy Rhoads' death, although he only lasted a very brief time.

Dokken is where Lynch's talent really bloomed.  Lynch wrote some of the most iconic riffs of the 80's metal era.  Stuff like "Tooth and Nail", "It's Not Love", "In My Dreams", and "Heaven Sent" has Lynch's finger prints all over it.  His soloing fused graceful speed with a tasty sense of melody.  He also employed a wide vibrato that shakes the soul.

Lynch is also the first player to show me that how you sound is as important as the notes you play.  Lynch's tone is downright scary.  He also was very skilled in employing harmonics in his playing.  Put it together, and you've got a tangy hard rock mixture with a bit of a bite.

For Lynch's best work, I'd recommend anything from the Under Lock and Key record.  Lynch's signature tone and riffage is in fine form there, and his soloing was never better.

Finally, Nuno Bettencourt, who for my money is the coolest hair rock shredder of all time.  The dude can do anything on the axe.  He shreds like an unholy fusion of Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, and Joe Perry.  His playing had a genuine funk edge, an emphasis on rhythmic feel, with muted riffs and dead string hits.  As a soloist, Nuno played with a semi-classical feel and fluid, breathtaking speed.  He could leaven his licks with bluesy grit or blazing, technically metallic skill.

Bettencourt came to the forefront with Extreme.  Though they hit the big time with acoustic hits like "More Than Words" and "Hole-Hearted", Nuno's skills are best displayed on tracks like "Mutha (Don't Wanna Go to School Today)", "Warheads", and "When I'm President".  That's "Play with Me" playing over top of the mall chase sequence in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

If you want to hear Nuno's best work, try Extreme's second record, Pornographitti.  And Three Sides to Every Story shows the range and scope of his skills.  Nuno even wrote the score for the movie Smart People.  As I said, the guy can do anything, but his stuff with Extreme is what I like the best.

Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, and Nuno Bettencourt all wrote and played stuff that made me wanna pick up a guitar.  For me, these three dudes legitimized a whole decade full of silly, loud, big-haired rock.  If you want to hear some excellent guitar playing, do yourself a favor and find some music by these three dudes.

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