Some musicians value subtlety over flash, simplicity over complexity - preferring to let the music speak for itself.
Thankfully - for audiences and guitar students everywhere - Michael Angelo Batio is not one of those timid musicians. He is a bold virtuoso whose guitar shredding at times seems to defy the laws of physics.
No wonder Batio's fleet-fingered fretboard acrobatics have inspired the likes of the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera and also motivated six-string superstars like Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave) and Mark Tremonti (Creed, Alter Bridge, Tremonti) to seek him out for lessons.
As if all that hasn't already been enough, Batio is the guy who invented the Dean Double Guitar and then mastered playing its unique twin necks simultaneously. Stuff like that is what continues to position him a top guitar magazine and online polls alike - and why, in 2003, he was voted the No. 1 shredder of all time by "Guitar One Magazine."
The Chicago-born-and-raised Batio earned a music theory and composition degree from Northeastern Illinois University before making a name for himself in the 1980s with metal bands Holland and Nitro. Meanwhile, he was releasing instructional guitar videos, and is recognized as one of the first rock guitarists to share his craft so vociferously.
Now, more than 30 years into his stellar career, Batio is issuing his first best-of compilation, appropriately titled "Shred Force 1 (The Essential MAB)," on April 14. The 13-track album is a cross-section of Batio's compositions and boasts some big-name guests from the heavy metal world such as George Lynch (of Lynch Mob and formerly of Dokken), Michael Wilton (of Queensryche), Rudy Sarzo (formerly of Ozzy Osbourne's band, Whitesnake, Quiet Riot and Dio) and Chris Poland (formerly of Megadeth). Batio also chose to include three tracks that pay homage to a trio of his favorite guitar players - the late Ozzy guitarist Randy Rhoads, the aforementioned Dimebag and Eric Clapton.
Making its exclusive worldwide premiere on Headlines & Global News today (HNGN.com) is "8 Pillars Of Steel," a track from "Shred Force 1" featuring a whopping eight guitar shredders: Batio, Lynch, Jeff Loomis (of Arch Enemy), Craig Goldy (formerly of Dio), Italian guitarist Andrea Martongelli, Dean Guitars CEO Elliott Dean Rubinson, Rusty Cooley and Dave Reffett. The song premiere coincides with HNGN's interview in which Batio discussed "Shred Force 1," the development of his double guitar and why he turned down an opportunity to audition for Ozzy's band.
HNGN: How did you go about selecting tracks for "Shred Force 1?"
MAB: Rat Pak Records did that. And I wanted them to do that, because I think a lot of times artists can't even tell what's going to be the hit song. Rush hated "Tom Sawyer." The list goes on and on of songs that became major hits that are like track eight or nine on the CD.
HNGN: In addition to highlighting your own career, you included some unique tributes to Dimebag, Eric Clapton and Randy Rhoads. Why are those guitarists special to you?
MAB: Dimebag I knew and I met him at a concert when he was absolutely unknown and playing at a rock club in Orlando. There were 20 people there, and 10 were the band and their crew and their friends. He actually went on the mic and said, "Is that Michael Angelo Batio?" and Pantera dedicated a set to me. Before he got murdered he was going to be on my "Hands Without Shadows" CD. It's very personal when I play Dimebag's music.
Eric Clapton, I just love him. He's known as "Slowhand," and I am not [laughs]. He's a really good singer. I did a medley of some of his songs. I was not so much influenced by him, but as a guitar player I just loved how slippery he played. When I heard "Crossroads," I figured that out note for note because I loved how smooth he played. I've always admired him and what he did.
Randy Rhoads was pretty special to me. I actually got to meet him a couple months before he died. I was actually asked to audition for Ozzy's band, not by Sharon (Osbourne), but his management said "no double guitar, no over-the-neck." At that time I was already 99 percent signed to another major label in another band, and I thought, "Why do they want me if it's not me?" So I didn't do it. I probably should have. But when it came to Randy, I did a tribute that's radically different from him; he does tapping and I do arpeggios and sweep picking. It sounds very similar but guitar players know the difference. And I have Rudy Sarzo and Bobby Rock on drums. The Rhoads family really likes the tribute.
HNGN: Tell us about the double guitar.
MAB: I saw Rashaan Roland Kirk, the blind saxophone player, who ended concerts playing two saxes at one time, and in some shows he played three. I watched him play and said, "I'm going to do that on guitar." Jimmy Page had his double-necks, but they were both right-handed. I'm left-handed and I learned how to play righty. So it was Kirk that inspired me to come up with it.
I watched Eddie Van Halen playing a concert and I realized that a human doesn't hold a guitar perpendicular to his body. So I took a piece of tracing paper and traced an image of Eddie. I took a protractor to figure out the angle of a second guitar. It came out to about 115 degrees.
HNGN: The double guitar is part of your showmanship, and there is certainly a visual component to your performances. How would you describe your approach to that aspect of your act?
MAB: I have a degree in music, and it doesn't make me smarter than anyone, but I studied. If you look through history, Paganini was a rock star, Beethoven was a rock star. They start out with great music, but they also had something that set them apart visually. Picture Beethoven with that wild hair. He had 5,000 people come to his concerts. Paganini was a showman and was the highest paid musician of his era. So you have the common denominator of great music first and a unique show that makes people want to come see them. And then the other side of that is there are always going to be some critics that say, "He plays too many notes," or "Led Zeppelin can't write songs." These are the common denominators.
What I did is, I said, "What's so different from Jimmy Page using a bow or Jimi Hendrix smashing a guitar than Paganini making animal noises or stomping on the floor or wearing wild clothes?" I tried playing behind my back, and behind my neck like Ritchie Blackmore - the over-under (the neck) is mine. People copy me but I don't copy them. Just like Slash wearing his top hat and Hendrix smashing his guitar, and after he did it and Kurt Cobain did it, what am I going to do? I said I want to be like my heroes and be myself. And I've done so many shows, playing live has developed my stage show. And I've gotten encouragement from the audience. I'd play over the neck and everyone would go wild, and it encourages me.
HNGN: What type of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?
MAB: I've always been "the iPod generation." I love great songs. I love great players. But I don't necessarily need to hear a great song with a bunch of great players. Keith Richards is not going to play "Flight Of The Bumblebee," but I still listen to "Sympathy For The Devil" or Stravinsky or Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." I listen to Lamb Of God, Led Zeppelin. I shuffle it around and listen to a lot of jazz, and I like Black Sabbath's latest album. And sometimes I listen for musicians, I'll put on like Brad Paisley, who is a great guitarist and singer and writes really funny, clever songs.
HNGN: Lastly, you have taught lessons, put out some popular instructional videos and continue to conduct guitar clinics. Why did you pursue that path, and what does that component of your career mean to you?
MAB: I really cared about guitar and wanting to see the level of guitar playing get better and better and better. An advantage that I had studying music and having my degree is I studied every instrument in the symphony orchestra because I had to be able to write on it. Tom Morello was my student when I taught privately. And it's an amazing thing when Tom Morello comes up to you and says it was a musical epiphany to see me play - even Joe Bonamassa saying he watched my videos. I made - in my own way - a really big impact on the world of guitar.