I started playing the guitar at about age 8, massively influenced by my older brother, my grandfather, and my uncle (who were all players) – I started the same way as everyone else my age did. Listening to the radio and going through my, and my friends, parents record collection. Here are the songs/riffs/solos that throughout my playing life have completely turned me upside down, influenced me or in one case, bought a little tear to my eye. (Note: I’ve intentionally left out Hotel California as it’s too obvious)
Sunday Bloody Sunday – Edge (U2)
Live at Red Rocks version, obviously. My first experience with Eb tuning, It wasn’t until I saw the video I saw that he was playing it “there” so it meant the guitar must have been downtuned. I remember being blown away with Edge’s right hand and his aggressive nature of playing rhythm, the riff was cool but the playing was better.
Phantom of the Opera – Dave Murray and Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden)
I first heard the song in an advert for Lucozade, just he intro and a little of the main song riff – it was of course the studio version with Dennis Stratton playing with Davey instead of Adrain. It took me months to track the song down (ahhh… the days before the internet) and when I heard the version on Live After Death (unfortunately that performance was never videoed) Iron Maiden became my life’s obsession!
Comfortably Numb – David Gilmour (Pink Floyd)
I think this one is pretty much a no brainer for most players. I first became aware of this when a band played it in a pub one time and the guitarist got pretty close to the original. Loving what I had heard I went out and bought the album, loved every second of it but when that first solo of Comfortably Numb passed I was utterly floored. Literally shaking with emotion and joy. I’ve spent years dissecting the phrasing – how it just seems to fall out of his fingers still blows my mind to this day.
Answers – Steve Vai
My introduction to Mr Vai was at the Monsters of Rock Festival at Donnington in 1988 with DLR. They shared the bill with G’n’R, Kiss, Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Helloween. It was really hard not to take notice of him, apart from the extremely raucious G’n’R (with the exception of their outstanding professionalism when the crowd started to go absolutely mad) he stole the show for me. Passion and Warfare was the seminal guitar instrumental album for years, and Answers shows the one thing that is NEVER talked about when discussing Steve’s playing. Phrasing. It’s sublime. This video is the first time I saw him play it live, you can even hear the loud “Yeeeaaahhh”s from me at the start! I would give almost anything I own to be stood between Dave and Steve playing the third harmony line at the end of this song!
Blowin’ Smoke – Brent Mason
I have total and complete clarity of the first time I became aware of Brent. It was 1998 and every Monday night my local pub had a jam night that was hosted by a country/blues band (Country is rare in the UK). The bass player, a great friend of mine called Rick, was always on top of music and had all the latest and greatest imports from across the pond. One Monday I was stood in the pub, having a quiet pint before the jam and Rick put the CD on over the PA. I noticed the tone and note choice instantly. Then the next tune came on and it was just beautiful… I walked over to Rick and asked who it was, he said “Some session guy from Nashville, Brent Mason – keep listening, you’ll love the next track..”. Blowin’ Smoke came on and you could say it was the riff that changed my life. I turned the dirt off, grew a couple of nails on my right hand and I was off… And no, 17 years later, I still can’t bloody play it like he does!
You can listen to Blowin’ Smoke on Brent’s Soundcloud, for some reason it won’t embed here.