guitar

#912: My First Guitar

RECORD STORE TALES #912: My First Guitar

Bob had a blue and yellow BMX bike, so I had to have a blue and yellow BMX bike.

Bob had a leather jacket, and so I had to have a leather jacket.

Bob had an electric guitar…so I had to have an electric guitar.

Early in 1988, Bob bought his first and only guitar.  It was a jagged, black Stinger with a whammy bar.   It had two double coil pickups.  He had strap locks so he could twirl his guitar over his shoulder if he wanted.  And I had to have all these things too.

Bob bought his guitar second-hand from a guy who said “it used to belong to the guy from Helix”.  Of course there was no way to verify this so we never treated it as fact.   The first weekend he had it, he invited me over to check it out.  How hard could a guitar be to play?  They used to teach sheet music in grade school, so I thought “piece of cake, I can play guitar”.

I told my parents that I was getting a guitar, and to them it was just another thing that Bob had, that I had to have too.  And since Bob was two years older and had a part-time job, they’d be paying for this guitar that I insisted I was getting.  Bob and I went out on our own one afternoon, to East End Music in downtown Kitchener.  We browsed, got the help of the man working (probably the owner) and I picked out a generic white guitar.  It had what I needed — the humbucking pickups and whammy bar like Bob had.

“The black and white guitars will be a cool contrast,” we both thought.

I really wanted that guitar.  I thought it was just meant to be.  Bob and I were going to form a band.  This was the first step.  We already had a few band names picked out.

“We’ll be back,” I told the guy as we left.  I was really excited.  Upon arriving at home, I proceeded with begging my parents for the guitar.  My dad wasn’t happy, especially when I explained to him that we already told the guy that I was coming back for it.

“Oh no,” he moaned.  But they agreed, as long as I took music lessons.  That seemed like a pretty sweet deal!  My dad got out his cheque book, asked the man, “What can you do for me here?” and bought me the white generic instrument that I couldn’t live without, at a slightly reduced price!  I was the only one who was happy with the outcome.

It was at this point that I discovered that guitar was really hard.

Look closely in this picture and you can see the black cardboard “air guitar” that I made, and our old Atari 2600 console.  

Sure, I could pick out the first six or seven notes of the “Detroit Rock City” solo, but not in time.  Bob and I figured out how to do a simple version of the “Wasted Years” intro, but couldn’t play the song any further than that.  I saw a kid at school playing acoustic guitar, and he did something with his fingers that I couldn’t.  He laid his index finger on the fretboard, and played multiple strings at once — the skill of chording that I had yet to learn.

My mom found a teacher that did housecalls.  It was perfect — my sister was learning keyboards from him.  Gary Mertz was his name, a keyboard player by nature but also able to teach guitar.  Bob would come over on Saturday mornings, and take his lesson after Kathryn and I had finished.  Gary could teach three lessons in one stop, and I believe there was a fourth kid in the neighborhood that he taught as well.  After lessons, sometimes Bob and I would hang out and listen to music, or go to the mall.

The first lesson I really learned about guitar is why you don’t want a whammy bar.  I spent most of my time tuning that thing, and replacing a set of strings was a nightmare.  “I’ll never buy another guitar with a whammy bar,” I said after buying a second guitar with a whammy bar.

The reason I bought that second guitar was due to an accident with the first.  I left it lying upright, leaning on a bench.  It got tangled in a cable, and when my sister got her keyboard out to practice, the cable yanked on the whammy bar.  The guitar hit the bench and the headstock broke in two.  It was made clear to me by both Gary and my parents that this accident was my fault.  But Gary found a guy who would fix it.

A broken guitar is never as good as it was brand new.  A couple years later I bought my Kramer flying V, which became my preferred instrument.  It too was a white guitar, and so I said to Bob:  “My gimmick is that every guitar I own will be a white guitar.”  He thought that was cool, because two of my favourite players, Adrian Smith and Phil Collen, frequently played white guitars.

The fact of the matter is, some people can play instruments, and some people can’t.  I went the full distance before admitting that I can’t.   I modified my first axe with some cool stickers. Bob and I both bought “super slinky” guitar strings thinking it would help us play fast.   For my guitar strap, I chose a cool faux-snakeskin thing.  (I didn’t want animal print — too 1984.)  I had an electronic tuner, a suitably heavy ancient tube amp with a reverb pedal, and a collection of different picks.  Gary tried to make my mom feel better about my difficulty.  “It’s not as easy as the keyboard,” he explained.  “If I dropped an ashtray on this key, it’s still going to make the right note.  A guitar won’t.”  But eventually, I called it quits.  It turns out that my sister got all the talent.

Bob didn’t think he was learning anything from Gary, and he quit several months before I did.  He had a new interest now:  sailboarding.

“Oh I suppose you’re going to want a sailboard now!” said my mom with a warning tone in her voice.

But I didn’t follow Bob this time.  Sailboarding was the first thing Bob was into, that I had no interest in.  I toiled away at guitar a little longer, thinking now I could be a solo artist.  I wrote some lyrics and recorded some ideas on cassette.  Half of my ideas were played on the keyboard using the “guitar” voice, because I just couldn’t play guitar.

My first guitar, the one bought in February 1988 at East End Music in downtown Kitchener, with the repaired headstock, was sold to an older lady that Gary was teaching.  I’m sure she was able to get more music out of it than I did.

 

REVIEW: Accept – Too Mean to Die (2021)

ACCEPT – Too Mean to Die (2021 Nuclear Blast)

Tornillo-era Accept has been a pretty even field; a level grid of Sneap-sharp production and Hoffmann’s razor-riffs.  If you expected change just because there’s a new bass player for the first time ever, you’d be wrong.  Accept may be down to just one original member (Wolf Hoffmann himself) but it doesn’t matter much.  What Accept deliver on Too Mean to Die is the same as they have done for every album since 2010’s Blood of the Nations.  Reliable, like AC/DC…or a comfortable leather jacket.

Nothing wrong with this.  Accept found a formula that works in their post-Udo world and it works well.  It’s difficult to remember what songs are from what albums, but Accept haven’t stopped putting out solid quality metal.

There’s the song about zombies (“Zombie Apocalypse”), one about never giving up (“Too Mean To Die”), the mid-tempo one (“Overnight Sensation”), the one about the media (“No Ones Master”), the single* (“The Undertaker”), the one with the funny title (“Sucks to be You”), the classical influence (“Symphony of Pain”), the ballad (“The Best is Yet to Come”), the one about the state of the world (“How Do We Sleep”), the angry one (“Not My Problem”), and the instrumental (“Samsom and Delilah”).

The riffs keep hammering in the capable hands of Wolf, and Mr. Tornillo on lead vocals never stops givin’ ‘er.  Hooks on every track.  The energy is no less than their first together.  Wolf’s guitar tone remains as tasty as it has been for over four decades.  One more album to add to your collection, as the Tornillo era blends together like a monolithic five-CD box set.  Too Mean To Die could have been titled Disc Five, so if you need to complete your set, do it now.

4/5 stars

* The single for “The Undertaker” features a non-album live track on its B-side, of a non-album single called “Life’s a Bitch”!

 

REVIEW: Nita Strauss – Controlled Chaos (2018)

NITA STRAUSS – Controlled Chaos (2018 Sumerian Records)

Nita Strauss became a household name touring the world and playing lead guitar with Alice Cooper.  Her natural ability and charisma ensured that the next question would be “when is she putting out a solo album?”  In 2018 Strauss released her entirely instrumental debut Controlled Chaos, playing everything except drums and keyboards.

Her choppy rhythm on “Alegria” soon gives way to extremely melodic (and fast) lead work.  Strauss’ talent seems to be taking a melody and making it as exciting as possible with only six strings.  There are shades of Yngwie, Joe and other assorted big-namer instrumentalists without sounding like any specific one.  The weakness is unfortunately the drums (by Josh Villalta) which are robotic and flat.  “Our Most Desperate Hour” sports blurry fast drum blitzes that should be exciting but instead sound artificial.  Worst track:  “Mariana Trench” due to long stretches of bland double bass.  Fortunately this album is more about the guitar.  Lots and lots of guitar.

Track after track, Nita blazes a tapestry of technique.  Her guitar creates moods — tension is in the air.  But she also does excellent ballads.  “Here With You” is the first.  Guitar instrumental ballads are a thing unto themselves.  She creates a powerful presence on “Here With You” with layers of guitars working together.

“The Stillness at the End” is a an examination of one of Nita’s techniques: densely layered guitars in harmony.  Here she mostly forgoes speed in favour of building up the melodies.  Keyboards are used sparingly, such as the intro to “The Quest” which goes full Yngwie in dragon-hunting mode.  But ballads like “Hope Grows” might give us a better look at Nita’s inner workings.  The sparse arrangement lets you really hear the feeling in her playing.  She has an excellent sense of composition, knowing exactly when to throw on some emphasis.  Indeed, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the ballads are the best tracks.

“Lion Among Wolves”, “Pandemonium 2.0” and “The Show Must Go On” all have their own guitar thrills to enjoy.  “Pandemonium” stands out due to an excellent outro guitar melody.  And if you’re wondering, “Hey, is ‘The Show Must Go On'” the old Queen song?  Indeed it is, featuring Nita sharing the stage with a cello (Tina Guo).  Great choice on which to end the album.  The cello solo is freaky.

Controlled Chaos is a good debut.  The drums are a sonic stumbling block.  As far as playing, composition and entertainment, Nita delivers the goods.  The songs could use a little more variety to give them album some texture, but there is plenty of room for Strauss to grow as her career is just going to get bigger.

3/5 stars

 

#794: “Hockey Sticks”

GETTING MORE TALE #794:  “Hockey Sticks”

Though Jimi Hendrix is responsible for the invention of the “hockey stick” guitar, it was my old guitar instructor Gary Mertz who coined the phrase.

In the 1960s, it was difficult for Hendrix to find good guitars for a lefty like him.  Ned Flanders’ Leftorium store was still decades in the future, so what was a young Jimi to do?  Like many things in his life, he got inventive.  He simply flipped a right-handed Fender Stratocaster over, restrung it for a lefty, and played it.

Flipping the guitar not only enabled Jimi to play a Strat, but also gave him some unique advantages in his quest for new sounds.  In this new orientation, the strings were now over the pickups in unusual locations, and had different tension than intended.  The long strings — the highest — were now the shortest strings.  Since the high E was shorter it didn’t have to be as tight, and this made it easier to bend.

This arrangement also had the effect of making Jimi look even cooler.  The iconic image of Jimi playing the upside down Strat became world famous.  With tuning pegs facing down, young righties were envious of this cool new look.

When those young righties grew up and signed to big labels themselves, they popularized the flipped headstock for righties — the “hockey stick” neck!  You can see it, can’t you?  Look at this photo below, of Criss Oliva from the band Savatage, and Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken from the movie Slap Shot.

That’s a high sticking penalty.  Incidentally, the character of McCracken inspired Marvel’s Wolverine.  You see that too, don’t you?

It wasn’t always players with the calibre of Oliva playing these hockey sticks.  For every Criss Oliva there was a C.C. DeVille.  You knew C.C. wasn’t doing it to gain any string-bending advantage.  He was doing it strictly for image, and that’s one thing my old guitar teacher hated about it.  I think he also hated the sharp jagged headstocks on those Charvels, Jacksons and B.C. Rich’s.  Turning them upside town made them to look even more ridiculous to him.  Like you were about to hit the street for a little two on two ball hockey.  Utterly ridiculous.

 

I always had rock magazines and videos playing in the basement, so when Gary came for lessons he would often comment on what I was listening to at the time.

“Oh no, you don’t like those hockey sticks, do you?”

Sheepishly I said that I did.  I thought they looked cool, like a weapon.

But a guitar is a musical instrument.  The subtle curves on a Fender Strat echo those of a classic violin, not a melee weapon or a piece of sports equipment.  Regardless, by 1989 both Criss Oliva and Christopher Caffery were playing hockey sticks in Savatage!  They looked lethal in the video for “Gutter Ballet”, wielding those implements of both rock and high-sticking.

Although I wouldn’t fully confess my deep love of hockey stick guitars to Gary, I found drawings in my old school books that prove it beyond a shadow of doubt.  See below, this page removed from a grade 11 history note book.  I found three hockey sticks on one page alone!

I clearly liked the shape.  The proof is in the puddin’, or in this case, the 30 year old notebooks that I kept for occasions such as this.

Whammy bar, too.  Floyd Rose, no doubt.  Two open-coil humbucker pickups and a single coil in the middle.  Not a very common arrangement.  Was I trying to combine the best properties of a Fender and a Gibson?  Or was I just doodling?  The latter, most likely.  I screwed up the tuning pegs.  For all I remember, that mysterious top pickup might have just been for flash bombs like Ace Frehley’s.

The guitars do look a little silly today, but the 80s were a different time.  Every band had a shredder and you had to do whatever you could to look different.  Savatage’s dual hockey sticks complemented their jagged logo and looked damn cool being foisted in the “Gutter Ballet” video.

Raise a goblet of whatever you’re drinking, and let’s salute the hockey stick.  With all due respect to Gary Mertz, looking cool, young and lethal on stage used to mean something.  We all wanted to stand out, and a hockey stick was one way to add to an image.  I always wanted one!  Just watch your bandmates’ eyes when you’re swinging it around.  Taking an eye out is a lot worse than high sticking!

#791 GUEST SHOT – The True Story of Thuss’s Vince Neil “Dragon Guitar” (by Thuss)

I get a lot of hits from people hoping to buy my stuff.  This one popped up recently in my search terms:

“vince neil dragon guitar for sale”

Several years ago, the Vince Neil “dragon guitar” by Washburn was on sale so I picked one up.  So did my buddy Thuss — except he did sell his.  This is his story of how it (eventually) went down.


 

GETTING MORE TALE #791:  The True Story of Thuss’s Vince Neil “Dragon Guitar”

BY THUSS

Lebrain and I had matching guitars for a while, that we both bought at the now defunct Future Shop.   They were on clearance and we got them for a really good price ($70 plus tax, originally $300 each, limited to 2500 pieces).  They were Washburn dragon guitars which were “autographed” by Vince Neil.  The only real autograph in the package was Vince Neil’s actual signature on the certificate of authenticity.  After a couple years I decided to sell mine as I never really played it anymore and had moved onto different hobbies.  

So I did what everyone else did, and put it up on Kijiji.  I wasn’t in a hurry to sell it so I put it up for more than double what I paid for it.  I had a few bites, but nothing serious until one guy from Toronto wanted it.  He was desperate for it!  But there was only one problem:  he didn’t drive.  First he came to me with an offer of triple what I paid for it if I delivered it to his house.  As I said I wasn’t in a hurry to sell it, so I answered no. 

I didn’t hear from him for a week or so.  Then he emailed back, and asked if I would meet him at the bus station downtown for what I was asking for it.  Again I said no, because I hate driving downtown and I didn’t want to pay for parking just to make a sale.

Again a week passed, and he emailed me back.  He said “OK”.  He’d take about six buses and meet me at my house and he will give me what I’m asking for it.  I said sure, and not surprisingly he never showed up. 

At this point I had another offer from a dad wanting to buy it for his son.  His offer was below what I was asking, but still well above what I paid for it.  I accepted, and when they came to pick it up, the son was so happy to have a guitar.  He was really excited to start playing, so I’m glad I sold it to someone who would appreciate it.  

I thought this was the end of the story but come a month later, the original guy emailed me and said one of his friends was going to drive out to my house so he could pick it up.  “Sorry,” I told him, “but I sold it to someone else.”

Guitar-guy immediately emailed me back, and he was pissed!  He told me he said he wanted it, and was going to pick it up, so why did I sell it to someone else?  I said it was almost two months since he first contacted me and I moved on and sold it to someone else.  Finally that got rid of him and I never heard from him again.  You meet some “interesting” people on Kijiji.  At least I didn’t tell him LeBrain had one too!

#712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

GETTING MORE TALE #712: Does Paul Stanley Get Enough Credit for Writing Killer Riffs?

Think for a moment about the greatest guitar riffs of all time.  “Smoke on the Water”, “You Really Got Me”, “Iron Man”, and “Whole Lotta Love” might make your own personal favourites.  Indeed, these songs usually show up on any decent list of great rock riffs.  Planet Rock did a dubious list in 2017, featuring the classics and questionable choices like The Darkness.  It also featured a number of hot licks by Hendrix, Ozzy, and Van Halen.  The usual suspects.  They do get points for including Budgie’s “Breadfan”.

I once read a quote by a guitar player* who said he hated Jimmy Page because “He already wrote all the greatest riffs, and I’m jealous.”  Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, the Young brothers and even the young fellas from Metallica are often credited as the greatest riffmasters in rock.  They’ve all done their part to enrich our lives with memorable, chunky and headbangin’ guitar riffs.  But so have others.

Consider Kiss’ Paul Stanley.  Once upon a time, the singer was considered one of the best with very few rivals.  You’d often see his name on singers’ lists with guys like Freddie Mercury and Ronnie James Dio.  Paul must, absolutely, be considered one of the greatest frontmen in history.  That is hard to dispute.  On the other hand, few give him credit for his guitar.

“I’m no slouch,” said Paul of his guitar playing.  He’s even responsible for some Kiss solos.  But as a riff writer?  We rarely think of Stanley, yet behold the songs!  Looking only at tracks with lone Paul Stanley writing credits, the list of monster riffs is impressive.

  • “Black Diamond”
  • “Hotter Than Hell”
  • “C’mon and Love Me”
  • “Rock Bottom”
  • “God of Thunder”
  • “I Stole Your Love”
  • “Love Gun”
  • “Tonight You Belong To Me”
  • “Magic Touch”

Paul had some pretty awesome riffs on co-written songs like “Mr. Speed”, “Makin’ Love” and “Creatures of the Night”, but since other writers may have contributed, we’ll exclude those.  This list also doesn’t include his catchy acoustic riffs like “Hard Luck Woman”, or lesser-known later material like “Modern Day Delilah”. If you wanted to delve further into Sonic Boom and Monster, there’s plenty of Paul’s guitar thunder without co-writers.  This is strictly a list of the most impactful material:  the 1970s.

So Stanley doesn’t get enough credit.  Does this make him a riff master, up there with the other guys?

I’m going to go out on a limb:  Maybe, leaning towards yes.

“God of Thunder”, “I Stole Your Love” and “Love Gun” are monolithic enough to stand next to an Iommi or Blackmore riff.  Just like a Deep Purple fan knows there is more to them than just “durrh durrh durrh!”, a Kiss fan can recommend a number of rock solid riffs from their albums.  A huge number of those are Paul’s, although certainly Gene did just fine with “Deuce”.  “Deuce”, admitted Gene, is just a Stones lick played backwards.  Paul’s best stuff is less derivative than that.  “God of Thunder” is just that — “God of Thunder”.  You can say it sounds vaguely Sabbathy, but it doesn’t sound like anything specific.  Same with “I Stole Your Love”.  As for “Hotter Than Hell”?  Much like a great Sabbath song, it boasts two killer riffs in one track!

Elitists like to scoff; make fun of adults in makeup and spandex.  Fair enough.  Tony Iommi never needed makeup or particularly tight pants to be a rock star.  Sabbath played with the “Satanic” gimmick but didn’t rely as heavily on image and flash.  Kiss wouldn’t have made it in the first place without the makeup and costumes, but as they developed, they had the music to back it up.

Do yourself a favour and go back to listen to Paul’s classic guitar riffs.  They are often highlights of the song, little rock solid gems that are ready for air guitar.  He really hasn’t received the credit due for coming up with a number of simple, solid and dynamic riffs on his own.  Should his name be spoken with Page, Blackmore, or Young when talking of riffs?  We’ve made our case, so get Kiss’ed on these classics.

 

 

 

Might have been Nuno Bettencourt

Sunday Chuckle: M-Pee-3

REVIEW: Steve Vai – Naked Tracks (2008 5 CD set)

STEVE VAI – Naked Tracks (2008 Light Without Heat)

I’m not a guitar player so my review of this box set will be limited to non-player knowledge. Steve Vai designed this set for guitar players to improvise over. He removed the lead guitar from selected tracks from the following albums:

  • Passion & Warfare
  • Sex & Religion
  • Alien Love Secrets
  • Fire Garden
  • Alive in an Ultra World
  • The Ultra Zone
  • Real Illusions: Reflections

He encourages the players to improvise rather than learn the original solos, and make loops of songs in order to play away as long as they want.

As I said I’m not a real guitar player, just a wanna-be, but I love Steve’s music and I enjoyed hearing his songs deconstructed. You can hear a lot of keyboards and backing guitars that you can’t hear with the lead guitar mixed in up front. Some songs, as a listener, don’t work at all like this such as “The Audience Is Listening” as there’s not much backing music. Again though, this wasn’t really designed for listeners like me.

I had fun playing a few simple melodies over some of Steve’s slower songs.  Some of these stripped-down tracks will also make good beds for voiceover recordings.

At this price, guitar players are getting a lot of music for their dollar. They might never play or use some of these tracks but you can’t argue with the value (about $20 Canadian).

For players, you’re going to get a lot of use from these CDs especially when you download the sheet music from Vai’s site. Vai writes arrangements that will give you a lot of challenges and fun options to play over. For the average listener such as myself, you will only play this occassionally. It will definitey give you insight to the songwriting and recording talents of Steve Vai, and maybe you can use the tunes to just chill out as background music at home. At this price maybe that is enough reason for non-players to buy it. Only a guitar player will truly get maximum use for this box set, and I think they will use it a lot.

3.5/5 stars

Note:  Steve has available on iTunes two more discs from this series:

  • Where the Wild Things Are/Sound Theories
  • Story of Light

REVIEW: Ace Frehley – “Cherokee Boogie” (1996)

A little bonus review, part 5.5 in my series of Ace Frehley reviews!  Just a single track today.  Missed the last installment?  Click here!

ACE FREHLEY – – “Cherokee Boogie” (1996 Attic)

From Guitars That Rule the World, Vol 2: Smell the Fuzz – The Superstar Guitar Album!

I was a big fan of the first installment of the Guitars That Rule the World.  It had a really eclectic and diverse list of guitarists, including Zakk Wylde (doing chicken-pickin’ for the first time on record), Albert Collins, Richie Sambora, Yngwie Malmsteen, Paul Gilbert, and many others.  This volume (with a stupid cumbersome title) is geared more towards alternative artists such as Billy Corgan, J. Yuenger, and Kim Thayil.  There’s also John Christ of Danzig, Alex Lifeson, and Robert Fripp.  Hell even Billy Sheehan has a track, and he’s a bassist!  (But, you can already get the Lifeson and Sheehan tracks on albums by their side projects Victor and Niacin.)

CHEROKEE BOOGIE_0002To me this album is only worth buying for the brand new Ace Frehley track.  It’s an instrumental called “Cherokee Boogie”, and while it doesn’t boast too many particularly strong catchy melodies it is still the Ace.  Ace’s soloing is (as always) note perfect for the song.  The riff is quintessential Ace, thick and chunky, albeit not one of his best.  It’s still nice to hear his distinct Les Paul squeal on a new track.  I especially love when the song gets fast and thrashy just past the halfway mark.  At this point Ace is burning rubber, and it’s a real rush.

I’m not familiar with the backing musicians on this recording.  They are Saul Zonana (bass) and Phil Richford (drums).  They get the job done without getting in Ace’s way.

I would say that “Cherokee Boogie” would have made a strong instrumental interlude on any of Ace’s post-Kiss solo albums.  It’s 4:00 of solid rock guitar.

3.5/5 stars

Very poor audio on this

CHEROKEE BOOGIE_0004

REVIEW: Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991)

Classic Kotzen! For a look at the new album by his new supergroup The Winery Dogs, check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review.

RICHIE KOTZEN – Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991 Shrapnel)

Albums by Richie Kotzen were impossible to find in Canada.  My only exposure to his music was “Dream of a New Day”, from his second album Fever Dream.  Fever Dream was his first vocal album, but Kotzen returned to instrumentals on his third, Electric Joy.  I’d seen his picture in dozens of guitar magazines, but hadn’t heard his tunes until “Dream of a New Day” was included on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.

His debut album was a hit with the shredders, but three albums in, Kotzen had already delivered three completely different pieces of work.  Electric Joy has some of the playfulness of the debut, but is mostly a jaw-dropping collection of intricately composed pieces that skirt multiple genres including funk, country, bluegrass, jazz, fusion, and blues.  If I had to pick out an influence, I would say that Electric Joy sounds like Richie had been listening to a lot of the “two Steves”:  Vai and Morse.  His technique is top-notch.

I first got this on a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My parents made a point of going there every spring and I started tagging along, and then later on my friend Peter joined us as well.  We’d stay at the Bavarian Inn and on the way back to Ontario, we’d stop at the stores in Port Huron, where I found this as well as old rare Savatage cassettes.

“B Funk” opens the album with some light-speed bluegrass-y licks, but it keeps changing, from a funked up rocker with shredding, to a melodic “chorus” section.  Then it’s back to the bluegrass from space.

At this point I’ll point out that Kotzen plays all the instruments except drums, himself.  That’s Richie’s standby Atma Anur on drums.  What this means is, that incredibly dexterous bassline you’re hearing on “B Funk” is also performed by Kotzen!  And it’s almost every bit as stunning as the guitar!

“Electric Toy” begins ballady, with some lyrical Vai-like moments.  Of course, Kotzen can’t help but do what he does, so there are different sections, some at lickity-split tempos.  This is followed by “Shufina”, which is essentially a blues jam.  Kotzen’s deep bends are appropriate, but before too long he’s harmonizing with himself on some unconventional melodies.

A smoking hot riff ignites “Acid Lips”, little lightning licks flicker in and out, but this one has a solid groove.  (It can’t be easy grooving with yourself on bass.)  “Slow Blues” contains some of Richie’s most lyrical lead work.  If you can imagine the lead guitar taking on the role of a singer, then “Slow Blues” is probably the most accessible song on the album.

The next song “High Wire” is uncatagorizable, suffice to say that like all of Electric Joy it combines quirky notes with shreddery, funk and groove.  My favourite song is “Dr. Glee”.  It sounds like it seems it should – gleeful.  I find this pleasant melody to be very summery.  Kotzen guitar has so many different sounds and shades, even just within this one song.

“Hot Rails” is another one that sounds like advertized…a train racing down the track.  Kotzen’s slide work is anything but simple.  This one’s so fast it’s hard to keep track of all the cool different guitar parts.  It almost sounds like Kotzen wrote a blues shuffle, and then decided to hit fast forward on his tape deck and learn it at that speed!

Electric Joy closes with “The Deece Song”, which thankfully is mid-tempo allowing us to catch our collective breath.  It’s another great performance, similar in style to “Dr. Glee”.  It has its sweeping Satriani moments as well.

The production on the album is very dry, which is different from what a lot of the other instrumentalists were doing at the time.  While this means it might take some more time to penetrate an album that is loaded to the brim with dense ideas already, it is a worthwhile endevour.

In a bizarre turn of events, Kotzen briefly put his solo career on hold.  He received a phone call from Bret Michaels.  The Poison frontman was looking for a replacement for the departed CC Deville.  The fact that Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, not already in a band, and wrote and sang original material caught Michaels’ eye in a magazine article.  Having a shredder, but one with some feel too, might garner Poison some respect in the tough 1990’s.

Kotzen did succeed in co-writing (and in some cases, writing entire songs himself) their most accomplished album, Native Tongue.  Of course, it did not sell.  The Poison relationship imploded because of another relationship: the one that Kotzen was secretly having with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance!  Kotzen eventually married her, and he was replaced in Poison by another shredder, Blues Saraceno (who was in the running with Kotzen in the first place).

As for Electric Joy?

4/5 stars

ELECTRIC JOY