By D’Monic Boris Lee
Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad….
It has not been all that bad for me. Two years in and the third about to begin, writing content for Symptom of the Metalverse has been at times stressful, and overwhelming. While at other times simple and free flowing, just like most aspects of my life. Sometimes I could not decide who or what I wanted to write about first because of the content available, and other times I have wondered if I wanted to write anymore because everything seemed the same. Bands were not producing something I felt passionate to write about. Not to say there has not been magnificent music marching through streaming services or downloads into listening devices everywhere, but it is to say that I started finding myself losing the desire to write about music again.
With the difficulties of 2020 (we all had them, face your truth), I found my creative life uncertain because of how much attention my practical problems needed. As I type this, I still have that same shit going on. As positive as I have been thanks in part to the new path I have taken in my personal life, there is still no escaping that something is missing for me. Probably stability, but hey, who doesn’t like to dance on thin ice and find themselves sliding further and further out into the lake? Just me? Come on… live a little!
For one reason or another I am still here, writing material and submitting it to Metal Babe Mayhem, and wondering if anyone will read it. Do any authors ever find themselves truly past the point of wondering if what they put out there will garner an audience? Maybe Stephen King who can write about a how the smell of a beer fart is overtaking a small New England town, leaving the villagers terrified to breathe, and see sales for such a tale reach the best-selling list, putting money into his wallet for another retirement home. Yeah, he is past that thought process, but me, not yet. I am confident people read my material, just not sure what they think. Alison likes what I put out there. She keeps me around, so I say it’s a safe bet when I actually do submit something, Alison likes what she reads.
But no matter how I word something, writing reviews or interviews is a team effort. I am only part of the equation. I am the narrator to the creative genius of somebody else. I write about the music somebody else put their energy into. I take conversations with creative creatures and do what I can to hide weaknesses and highlight strengths. Without that, I am writing about myself, and that makes for a pretty self-centered conversational piece. I don’t enjoy talking about myself that much. Ask Alison. Well, don’t do that after all. She knows me pretty well behind the scenes (better than anyone if I wanted to argue the point further) and she’ll probably disagree with my statement on not talking about myself.
“Alison the Patient”. I dub her this since she has been patient with my submissions schedule, my bullshit, my coming to LA or not, and more things that I should not have tested her patience with. Especially my lack of knowing if this will be my final column piece or not. (That happens with nearly every submission from me.) Thank you, Alison, for opening door after door of opportunity for me. Year number three is here for me. I thank you for the memories and the future, waiting for new songs to be sung.
Recall my previous statement about how I am just a narrator and without the talent, there is nothing to talk about? One of the best conversations I have ever had published last year here on Symptom of the Metalverse. “Shred Master Smooth: A Conversation with Guitarist Jimmy Adcock.” I could not think of a more fitting way to kick off year three than with another great chat with Jimmy. Without further delay, welcome to Symptom of the Metalverse year three, and my conversation with…
… The Smoothest Shred in the West
D’Monic: Hello Jimmy, and welcome back to Symptom of the Metalverse. I am honored to have the chance to talk with you again about all things Shred Master Smooth. From Nytrate to the Texas Surfers, to what was once old becoming new, and of course, tech banter of all sorts. Let’s jump right in! Who do you think makes the best pedals? Boss, DigiTech, or another brand? What’s your thoughts on multi-effects boards VS building your own board?
J: Wow, I probably have three or four different answers for that question on board VS multi-effects. Hahaha! For stock, mass produced pedals, I think Boss overall has the best ones that cover most of the effects most people use. But then you can get into the various boutique pedals or the out layer companies that are known for one or two GREAT and Iconic ones. Like the Ibanez Tubescreamer, the pedal that I’ve used and owned longer than any other. It’s pretty much unmatched for both going into a clean amp for a biting, blues overdrive or running into the front of a cranked tube amp to give you that extra push of sustain and crispness to make the tubes burn even hotter. The old orange Boss Distortion is great to use that way too, but it produces more of a spongy feel than the Tube Screamer.
Steve Vai used to have both on his board. They based his signature Jemini Pedal on both, and it has two channels. One is based on the tube screamer and the other on the Boss, and you can run one into the other (which I do in the Surfers since I use a clean Fender amp for that setup). When you run a tube screamer into the Boss Distortion, it gives you a Marshall like lead tone, but you definitely have to use a noise gate with it or its unbearable. Hahaha!
Also, a pedal like the MXR Phase 90. My favorite Phaser is an Electro Harmonix Small Stone. It has a stronger and deeper “Pulse” sweep to it that matches the 70s sound country guys like Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed got from their Peavey amps back then, that had a Phaser effect built in.
I bought three different Phaser pedals years ago trying to get that sound, and none matched it until a friend told me about the Small Stone. He said they had copied the exact circuit from the old Peavey amps for it and it works perfectly.
I think if you know exactly what you want, building your own board can be rewarding but if you are a more plug and play person who isn’t that concerned with the differences and details, a multi-effects board is fine and will give you all the main effects to work with. They both definitely have their place. For the Surfers, I need a full board, for Nytrate and the two tributes, I have been pleased using the little “Fly Rig.” It’s just easier to carry around and set up quickly for shows.
D: My first pedal was yellow Boss overdrive pedal. I think I chose that because it was on sale at Sam Ash back in ‘92 and more versatile to me than the orange Boss Distortion pedal. My follow up pedal was a Boss Chorus pedal. The sky blue chorus pedal that most guitarist liked back then. That I bought it used and have regretted ever parting ways with it. I never found an easier dial in for the chorus sound I like using when playing clean, or to make a riff sound a bit heavier, more brooding. Then I got my hands on the Boss Digital Delay pedal. That was a little metal package of silver, red and blue awesomeness!
My first multi-effects board was a Zoom 3030. I really liked that board. I found it perfect for me since I lacked space, wanted MORE effects than I could afford at the time on my budget, and it came with a Wah-pedal built in. Not a bad unit at all. But since I have gone back to simplicity in sound, I prefer pedals to multi-effects boards these days. You really don’t even need a multi-effects board with everything that comes in amplifiers now. The Boss Katana series is solid, as is the Fender Champion series that is out now. The draw back with them is usually the lack of tweaking you can do to an effect or what effects you can mix together.
Switching gears from tech to those who mastered the six-string shredder, Eddie Van Halen was a pioneer guitarist in my opinion. He could take the guitar, or any other instrument I have seen him play, and playing seemed as natural to him as a breeze flowing across the skies. His energetic imprint transferred into the instrument and the notes we all heard him create. To me it was like the guitar became one with him. What are your thoughts on EVH’s style, his influence, and just how much of a pioneer do you feel he was?
J: For me, Eddie will always be The King of Kings. Almost all of my major Rock influences on guitar (aside from Jimi and Beck) can be traced back to being influenced by Ed in one way or another. But all of those guys, regardless of how technical or maybe surpassing Ed on one level or another, somehow seemed more obtainable in being able to play like or mimic them for me. None could however take his place on the throne as an absolute untouchable.
Having taught Guitar for almost 30 years now, I’ve definitely learned and broken down my share of VH songs, but the mystery and mystique has never disappeared. I remember in my early days of lessons and learning myself, when reading tab and music in these mags; I could make sense of most things except when it came to the VH tunes. It was like looking at some geometry equation that I didn’t even know where to start in deciphering it. Weird chord voicings I’d never seen used by anyone else at that point. Scale runs that didn’t fit within any scale I’d learned or saw in any books. And rarely repeating anything the same way twice within a song. It was all I could do to just sit and stare at the music in awe and just reconcile myself to listening to it and absorbing what I could and quit trying to unravel the riddle for the time being, and maybe work on Poison or KISS songs. Hahaha!
It’s great to still see a similar reaction with younger students when they ask about a Van Halen song. It’s more often than not “Panama” they want to learn first. And just working them thru that intro is like a flashback to me 30 years ago. They usually have learned their basic open fingerings and barre shapes by this point, but a few minutes into walking them thru that fast barrage of broken chords, suspended notes, whammy dips and harmonics, there is that same glazed overlook of fear and confusion in their eyes that I had of like, “What the hell did I just get myself into.” I’ve even had some younger advanced students whose guitar idol they hold in highest regard currently are guys like John Petrucci comment this past week upon learning some VH riffs for the first time that they didn’t sound as difficult until you see it written out and try to play it. There will never be another innovator with the impact on the instrument like Eddie. I’m grateful to have lived in his time and seen it firsthand.
D: That fear and amazed confusion that hits the guitarist senses when seeing the tab for a Van Halen tune, oh yeah! I remember that very well. It was when I looked into learning to play “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” I learned a stripped down basic version to the opening riff and then the main riff running through the first part of the song. Then I saw the tab in Guitar World if I recall correctly, and I said to myself, “WTF is this?! I’ll just stick with my way for now and come back to the right way to play this in 20 years.” Hahahaha!
What are your top 5 EVH guitar riffs of all time, and what got them on the list? Favorite Van Halen albums?
J: So My favorite Eddie riffs would be a separate list than my favorite songs. There is so much to love about Van Halen, and I am a fan of both the Dave and Sammy eras!
As far as riffs, I’d say for me, the ones that stand on their own for just the main riff alone that encapsulates all that is and was EVH are:
- I’m the One
- Somebody Get Me a Doctor
- Mean Streets
- Atomic Punk
- Summer Nights
My favorite “Songs” lean more toward the Sammy era, all with great riffs too!
- Cabo Wabo
- Best of Both Worlds
- Summer Nights
- Mean Streets
- Somebody Get Me a Doctor
My Favorite Albums would be:
Probably not the most popular opinion for the top 2, but it was my High School years, and I got the 5150 cassette the same day I got my first guitar and amp. OU812 was my senior year of High School and it has always been the perfect summer album to me and I love Ed’s tone on that record as much as the classic stuff with Dave! I spent many a night watching the Live Without a Net concert video. I had yet to go to a real concert prior to that, so I would pretend that I was there and imagine what it would be like to see something like that in person!
D: I recall buying the 5150 cassette and as soon as I played it, I was blown away. Different band with the same energy and blow you away musical mastery. I like Van Hagar as much as I like David Lee Halen, and I am of the opinion that the Sammy style of the band was really born on Dave’s last record, 1984, which was my introduction to Van Halen. It’s my favorite Dave era album in totality. I can’t really come up with a favorite riff list by EVH, but if I were to choose the first thing that comes to mind, it would be the “Atomic Punk.” “Everybody Wants Some” follows up, with “Drop Dead Legs” and “Finish What Ya Started” coming into mind too. I’ll change that list after we publish this I’m sure, but the point is EHV created an endless supply of music that has stood the test of time, and can be considered a blueprint for how to create music that simply WOWS the world.
Ritchie Blackmore VS Yngwie Malmsteen. Who was better at taking fairly complicated riff and making it sound flawlessly simple and smooth?
J: I love both, but I came of age on the guitar during the Yngwie period and I definitely went thru a year or two of Malmsteen obsession! There is no doubt Yngwie “borrowed” a lot from Richie from both playing and image aspects, and Blackmore’s impact is huge for rock and metal guitarists as far as incorporating elements from classical music into the guitar solos. But during Yngwie’s heyday thru the mid-90s, he was hard to beat and had the complete package of tone, technique, feel, and passion that was unmatched! There are and have been a lot of clones but there is will always be only ONE Yngwie and no one does Yngwie better than Yngwie!
D: Would you say the king of making a complicated riff sound simple is actually EVH over Yngwie?
J: I would definitely say so! Yngwie is a monster soloist, but I think of him more for that aspect of his playing than memorable riffs. Eddie made EVERYTHING look and sound so effortless and did it all with that signature grin on his face, which made it look like it was all that easier for him! There is complexity in even the simplest of riffs for Ed. “Ain’t Talkin ‘Bout Love,” is a great example. To him, that riff was so embarrassingly simple that he originally didn’t want to do it but everything about it is so perfect. The notes, the articulation and palm muting, the rhythmic feel of it….it tells the whole story of the song within those 3 chords in how he plays it. And he plays them slightly different within each section of the tune! Genius on every level.
D: I could not agree more. The smile he always had on his face when playing on stage, with the few exceptions Dave pissed him off with his antics, aside from that, EVH always made things look effortless while having pure fun at work on stage.
Being a solo shredder in Nytrate, what are your thoughts on bands with guitarist who are equally talented shred lords, such as Judas Priest KK Downing and Glenn Tipton? Which dynamic shred duo would you say does it best?
J: Megadeth is my all-time favorite band, and each lead player Dave has enlisted has brought their own uniqueness to the table and been a great counter to Dave’s bluesier and more reckless style of soloing.
And Priest… I gotta say, there are few guitarists that I respect more than Glenn Tipton. He came from a late 60s and 70s bluesy background. He never rested and became complacent, and in the late 80s, when all the shredders were king, he completely reinvented himself over the span of Ram It Down and Painkiller. That’s hard to do for someone who’s already been playing for 15-20 years. He came out of the gates on that one doing sweep picking! However, my favorite “Twin Guitar Attack” has always been Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet from Racer X! It was so outrageous and over the top! “Scarified” is my favorite instrumental ever.
D: There is not a solo by Glenn Tipton and KK Downing that I do not dig. From their early days on Rock a Rolla through to the reunion with Halford, they always worked like perfectly greased cogs in the metal machine. Dave Mustaine can sit next to just about anyone and have a shredder duel that brings out the best of them both. There is something about being able to trade-off solos with a fellow guitarist who can fill in the blanks, send the edited and upgraded tune back to you, so you now get to do the same, and more.
I’m a fan of instrumental songs by bands that are not really known for that style of music. Metallica’s “Orion,” “Transylvania” by Iron Maiden, “Mr. Scary” by Dokken, to name a few. What are some of your favorite instrumental works by bands that don’t do instrumental tunes as their main forte?
J: What a cool question! Man, there are some great ones in the hard rock/metal realm. It’s hard to top, “Mr. Scary” for me. Back For the Attack is my favorite album, and Lynch was just on fire for every track. Mr. Scary just laid waste to almost anything I had heard up to that point!
Some other killer ones would be Scorpions, “Coast to Coast,” AC/DC, “DT” (from the Who Made Who album), that one just grooves so hard, Ted Nugent had some awesome ones with “Home Bound” and “Hibernation.” The closing track to the second BulletBoys album Freak Show, a song called “Huge.” Mick Sweda is another favorite of mine and he is smoking on that tune. Megadeth with the classic opener to So Far, So Good… So What, “Into the Lungs of Hell.” Can’t forget to also mention “Christmas Eve 12/24,” by the mighty Savatage. The song that led to the birth of the empire that is now Trans Siberian Orchestra!
D: All great tunes! I was turned onto instrumentals by the same guitarist responsible for me picking up a guitar, listening to metal, making it through my teen years, and all that jazz, Tony Iommi and Black Sabbath. I always liked songs such as “Laguna Sunrise,” “Fluff” and “Rat Salad.” I dig “Caviar and Meths,” from the mighty Priest. “Genesis,” by Ghost, hits my modern list, along with “Dismal,” by Ritual Moon, and who can leave out “Cathedral,” by Van Halen. There are videos of Eddie playing that song and when I learned it was just him making all those sounds from one guitar I said, “What sorcery is this?”
Sizzle to Your Soul is a fantastic flight into the Aspen Sky of “Riffage.” What can you tell me and the readers about the album and its creative diversity? I hear country, rock, and blues across the board on the album. What was your writing process like for the record, and how much influence did this creative period for you have on what you are doing now with guitar sound, shredding solos and energetic transfer from fingers to notes played? Aside from “Aspen Sky,” do you see yourself performing these songs more with the Texas Surfers when the band hits the stage, or perhaps throwing a song into the Nytrate mix if Alli needs a break?
J: Thank You! I recorded all the songs on Sizzle to Your Soul between 2003 and 2006 but never gave it an official released it until now. As apparent from the previous questions, I’m a huge fan of instrumental guitar music! Most of the 90s I spent listening to all the Shrapnel Records artists; Gilbert, Greg Howe, Michael Lee Firkins, Richie Kotzen, Joey Tafolla, Scott Stine, Derek Taylor. Blues Saraceno was a huge inspiration as well! His vibrato is unmatched!
During that period between ‘95 – 2004, I was full time devoted to my original band; Seventh Veil, and even though we had a pretty diverse style, there really wasn’t much room to do any “self-indulgent” instrumental songs. But over that time, I had gone all over the map with studying and practicing various styles that I didn’t really have the outlet for in the band. Blues ala SRV and Robben Ford, Jazz Fusion like Greg Howe, Frank Gambale and Mike Stern, country pickers like Vince Gill, Jerry Reed and Marty Stuart and Rock guys like Eric Johnson. I had also just gotten a Roland VS880, 8-track recorder and dove headfirst into learning how to use that. It gave me the tools and opportunity to finally explore all of those styles. Many of those songs were really just an experiment for me to see if I could write and play a song in all of those genres and apply all the techniques, licks and theory I had been studying over the past ten years.
Aspen Sky was the first instrumental I wrote. It started off as a song for Seventh Veil, but now that I had my own 8-track, it was easier to jam over a rhythm track and the melodies and harmonies almost wrote themselves. Had that song not happened so easily, I may not have gotten to the others! Some started off as exercises, particularly the country song, “Breaker, Breaker to the Bandit” (an ode to the greatest Texas Lawman ever, Buford T Justice). The intro picking pattern was the first “Banjo” style hybrid picking roll I learned, and I just expanded on it into a chord progression and then started adding some open string runs in G and it went from there. Once I had the main verse and chorus, I just started inserting all the cool Albert Lee and Marty Stuart licks I had been learning, and it also lent itself well to the little “Orange Blossom Special” breakdown in the middle.
The Bluesy songs, “Mo Butta’ Flapjack” and “Smokestack Lightnin’” were similar. I wanted to capture the feel of Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan on a piece with no shredding whatsoever and trying to play as authentically as possible for the style. Sometimes you can get so consumed with theory and technique that you forget what made certain players and styles so special. Also, you want to avoid getting the “Stink Eye” from the purists, which is what can happen if you throw in too many “jazzy” notes or start adding “Shreddy” picking patterns in a blues song, haha! “Smokestack,” was my tribute for two of my favorite blues slide players, Johnny Winter and Eric Sardinas.
I also do a cover of Jeff Beck’s, “The Pump.” Several of his songs I had heard as a kid or early teens before I knew who it was. This one was in my favorite scene in the movie, “Risky Business” when they take the Porsche out for a spin and I always dug how it sounded. It was several years later after I had started on the guitar that I discovered it was Beck. I tried to keep it as authentic as possible for the main parts but throw in some jazz/fusion ideas that I had gotten from guys like Frank Gambale during the solo section. There’s the same approach on the track “Con Fusion”. That’s actually a backing track from a cassette I got at the National Guitar Summer Workshop in Connecticut in 1991. I was there for two weeks and it is still hands down the best educational learning experience of my life! It was 8 hours a day of non-stop guitar for 14 days. Each week was like cramming years’ worth of knowledge into my head! One week I studied jazz/fusion guitar with a great instructor, Jeff McErlain. He really opened my eyes to all the different modes and approach of jazz guitarists, but in the context of playing with a rock guitar tone. I learned about guys like Mike Stern, Robben Ford, and Scott Henderson over the week in his class.
The second week was a Master Class with Frank Gambale (Chick Corea’s band) and it was so intense! Luckily, I recorded every single class on cassette and went back and listened to them over and over for years after that. My brain was so fried after the very first day that I would have remembered nothing had I not done that! I still go back and listen to them occasionally. It will be 30 years this July since that experience and I still remember it as vividly as if it had just happened a year ago and look back on it as one of the best times of my youth! Back to the song “ConFusion,” that was me incorporating many of the theory and soloing ideas I got from that experience.
Another that I really love from the album is “Radio Free Jazz.” I met a phenomenal finger-style acoustic jazz player online back at that time named Steven Ravitz. Our styles were so completely different but we both admired each other’s playing, and he sent me this acoustic track he wrote and asked me to add a complimentary electric part all the way thru it. It was such a challenge and an absolute blast.
I have performed some of these songs off “Sizzle” with the Surfers back around 2005 when I was asked to do a local Dallas/Ft. Worth “3 show tour,” doing instrumental guitar songs similar to Joe Satriani’s G3 tour called String Trilogy with a couple of other local guitar greats; Michael Harris and John Inman. Songs like “Aspen Sky,” “Blind” and “Breaker to the Bandit,” have been regulars in my set since. I re-recorded the first two of those for the Texas Surfer CD in 2010.
We have discussed the idea of Nytrate writing and performing an instrumental track (ala Mr. Scary) but I don’t know if that will end up on the next album or down the road.
D: I just got schooled on talents I never really realized were out there, and the excitement I felt from you talking about guitar lesson memories, the 8-track recorder, and creativity put into Sizzle to Your Soul, sent me on a nostalgia trip to 1993 when I had my TASCAM 4-track recorder. It was such a creative stimulation to have the ability to save ideas on tape and build them from there. I even remembered about my FIRST live jam session at a place called Underground Studios in Queens, NY. The band I jammed with did a live demo recording of some cover tunes and other noise. That excitement still hits me when I pick up the guitar (I should say when I did since I don’t anymore), and plugged into GarageBand, which the older version operated similar to the old-school 4 and 8-track recorders.
From learning about guitarist and what they have created, to your summer workshop experience, to being a teacher of the guitar art yourself, what would you say is the secret to the success of the Arlington School of Music, since it is the longest running music school in Arlington? What were the biggest adaptions to the teaching system of the school with the Pandemic Panic of 2020, and how have you found a new groove with teaching to give the same amount of energy and attention to your students that you had previous to about a year-ago?
Have you ever used your own music as a teaching point/lesson breakdown for students? If I (or anyone) were to take lessons from you, and wanted to learn how to play some of your original music, would you teach the tunes and how do you go about teaching somebody your music while leaving ego out of the equation?
J: Absolutely! 2020 was quite the year for obstacles for all of us. Within a two-week span, I and all of our instructors had to become fluent with doing lessons online via Zoom. It was a learning curve for sure, but thankfully, most of our students adapted and continued with lessons until we could re-open.
As far as the success, I feel we are more of a family environment at the school and each of our instructors strive to teach the students songs they want to learn. That has always been my approach. I can usually find something in any song that is lesson worthy whether it be a new chord, strum or picking pattern or theory related. For my more advanced students who are into writing their own music and soloing, I definitely break down examples of my own solos and songs to show how I incorporate all the techniques I teach them, and how I apply them musically. I do the same within the context of songs or solos they want to learn as well. I think it’s much more important to learn and understand the “Whys” and “Hows” of what someone played than just learning the solo for the sake of learning the solo.
You can then take ideas from that solo and apply it to your own way and have a better understanding of where that player may have been coming from when they recorded their part. This September we will celebrate 20 years for the Arlington School of Music. I am very thankful and humbled that we have been able to be a part of the community for that length of time and I am still just as excited to go there every day and help students become who they aspire to be on the instrument!
D: I’m willing to bet ten pounds of Texas smoked brisket that the biggest key to the Arlington School of Music’s success is your patience to show students young and old, new and experienced, how to create their own Magick on the six-string Siren. (Hi Alli!) Your passion for music translates in our conversations, the lessons I have had with you teaching me how to play the Coven classic, “Wicked Woman,” and with every performance I have observed of you on stage with any of your bands. There is no doubt the success of the school is deserved. May you have another 20 years of spreading six-string songs and symphonic sweetness to those waiting to fly with the notes!
(Check out part one of my conversation with Jimmy Adcock, The Smoothest Shred in the West, in June, right here at Symptom of the Metalverse, on Metal Babe Mayhem.)
To learn more about Shred Master Smooth, Jimmy Adcock, his musical projects and The Arlington School of Music, check the links below:
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