90s Masters


[ Buckethead ]  [ Brett Garsed ]  [ Guthrie Govan ]  [ Rob Johnson ]  [ Shawn Lane ]
[ Mario Parga ]  [ John Petrucci ]  [ Milan Polak ]  [ Mike Romeo ]  [ Derek Taylor ]

The following is an introduction to some of the more interesting players of the 90s. Quite a considerable range of styles is represented. Though some of the choices are idiosyncratic, players have been chosen either for their significant technical advances or for their up-dating of previous players' ideas. As with most books of this nature, the massive scope of the subject entails imposing limitations on selection; as a result, many fine players are absent. However, if your interest has been piqued by these entries you'll no doubt wish to further explore the scene and discover your own 'new guitar masters'.



'...clad in a butcher's apron and a featureless white mask with an inverted KFC bucket on his head ...Buckethead, raised by chickens in a coup (was) mute, his only passions practicing guitar and killing people who ate poultry.' (Guitar Player, December 1992, p.25)

So this is the enigma known as Buckethead. A strange character whose guitar playing exceeds even his talents at raising poultry. His early ventures include playing in the band Deli Creeps, after which Mr. Head worked on several experimental projects with the likes of Henry Kaiser, John Zorn and Derek Bailey. His first big break came when he joined forces with bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardist Bernie Worrell to form Praxis, the brainchild of producer Bill Laswell. Three studio Praxis albums have since been released -- Transmutation Mutatis Mutandis (1992), Sacrifist (1994) and Metatron -- as well as the Buckethead solo albums, Bucketheadland (1992), Giant Robot (1994) and Colma (1998). Buckethead has been much in demand recently. As well as the aforementioned releases, the 'Head has played on: Hope You Like Our New Direction (1991) by Henry Kaiser; The Opening of Doors (1992) by Will Ackerman; the Last Action Hero soundtrack album (1993); PsyberPop -- What? So What? (1993) by Intro Ver D.D; Ambient Dub Volume 1 by Divination; Octvae of the Holy Innocents by Jonas Hellborg; Dreamspeed (1993) by Anton Fier; Zillaton -Lord of the Harvest (1993) by Bootsy Collins; Pieces of Woo by Bernie Worrel; Company 91, Vols. 1-3 (1994) Various Artists; Dressing for Pleasure (1994) by Jon Hassell & Bluescreen; Dreamatorium by Death Cube K; and Collective Emotional Problems by MCM & The Monster.

All of which suggests a player out of the ordinary -- and then some! Buckethead's style incorporates many bizarre solo concepts covering everything from weird intervalic tapping to super-fast chromatic passages with strange octave dispersion. He once took lessons from Paul Gilbert and is a huge Shawn Lane fan (rumours are that he runs Lane's fan club). At times his solos certainly resemble Lane's more outlandish leads. Bill Laswell describes him thus:

'He has a completely original voice ... Everyone talks about how great he is and how fast he plays, but I'm more interested in the fact that he doesn't play clichés. His music is less about the guitar than about him. There's a character there.' (Guitar Player, December 1992, p.25)

Indeed there is. His music is as much a result of his interests -- Disneyland (Bucketheadland is presently under construction) and horror movies such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ('Head never plays without wearing a Leatherface-style mask over his features) -- as it is his musical influences. Completely insane and unpredictable, his records should carry a government health warning: Vegetarians only!

Brett Garsed (and T.J. Helmerich)

Australian born Brett Garsed began playing the instrument that would make his name at the age of 12. He first came to the attention of the public when he was featured in Mike Varney's prestigious 'Spotlight' column in Guitar Player magazine (July 1985). Mike's positive critique included these remarks:

'Brett is one of Australia's top talents, possessing a wide vocabulary of hot licks and scales, which he performs with incredible feel and soul.' (p.134)

Since making that auspicious first impression, Garsed has gone on to play guitar for AOR band Nelson (on their After the Rain (1990) LP). In 1991 he recorded a series of solos for Mark Varney's MVP CD, entitled Centrifugal Funk. Playing alongside the likes of Shawn Lane and Frank Gambale, he laid down a number of very individual-sounding solos that contrasted superbly with the varying styles on the album. Tracks like 'Hey Tee Bone' and 'Love Struck' especially pinpoint Garsed's assured legato technique -- one where the interruption of the pick is barely noticeable.

1992 saw Garsed joining forces with T. J.Helmerich -- an 8-finger tapper whose track 'Horizon Dream' was a highlight of the first Guitar on the Edge album -- to record the debut Garsed/Helmerich CD, Quid Pro Quo. Here both players eschew 'shred' conventions, writing songs that concentrate on mood and theme, interspersed with beautifully thought-out guitar parts. The same was true of 1994's Exempt CD. This time not only were the compositions well thought out but also full of MVP-style leads. On the subject of his partnership with T.J., Brett says: '...I really feel no one is writing material like us ... you find me two rock guys with more chops, better phrasing and ability to blow through changes like us!'.

For the moment Brett views his position as, 'Struggling, yet determined'. It will be interesting to see what the next decade holds in store for two of the most expressive voices in modern guitar playing.

Guthrie Govan

Harking from Chelmsford in Essex, England, Guthrie was born into a household which featured guitars in abundance; it was only natural that he should pick one up and start playing, which he did at about age five. Govan received musical sustenance in the form of Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, and by the age of nine had appeared on a Thames Television programme called 'Ace Reports', singing and playing guitar alongside his rhythm guitar-playing brother. Guthrie played at a few local gigs with various school bands before discovering Frank Zappa (the Them or Us album, with Steve Vai) at age fourteen. Like others before him, the impressionable young guitarist went on to discover the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, and the neo-classical movement in general.

Govan attended Oxford University for a year to read English, but soon discovered that his first love was music. After sending a tape to Mike Varney and receiving praise from the man himself, he decided to take a year off from university to write and record some new tunes. He then sent a tape to Mike's brother, Mark who included him on his Guitar on the Edge CD series.

Guthrie's demo tape includes four carefully constructed compositions, each displaying strong melodic ideas and thoughtful phrasing along with the application of a highly developed technique. The likes of 'Bad Asteroid' and 'Waves' demonstrate this perfectly, with their Satriani-like tone and southern rock influence reminiscent of one of Govan's favourite guitarists, Steve Morse. His style includes very fast runs, combined with a tasteful arrangement of taps, slides and sweeping sequences, all played in short bursts that leave the listener wanting more.

In 1993, he won Guitarist magazine's 'Guitarist Of The Year' competition (won the previous year by Dave Kilminster). Beating hundreds of highly competent entries, Guthrie's journey along the road to success was, if nothing else, given a boost in the right direction. On his position as a musician of the 90s, he says: 'It's quite a daunting prospect -- almost a responsibility!' One he seems to take very seriously.

Rob Johnson

Rob Johnson is a 23 year-old guitarist from Ohio, USA He began playing guitar at age 12 or 13 and has since developed an impressive style within the context of his high-energy blues/country compositions. Rob's influences include Mike Stern, Paul Gilbert and Ronni Le Tekro. He appeared in Guitar for the Practicing Musician's 'Resume' column in June 1992, and made an appearance on Mark Varney's Guitar on the Edge Vol. 3 with the track 'Down Home Cookin''. Rob Johnson Rob's demos display a raw energy which is channelled into his forceful compositions, the likes of 'Rug Stompin'', 'Groove Zone' and 'Lava Shower'. Whether he's composing an instrumental or playing lead with his bands Saddleback Shark and Magnitude 9 his compositions never become tired or stale. Witness the 'stand up and shout' attitude of 'Soul Chuckles' or the virtuoso leads in 'Lava Shower'. One thing you can say for his music: it's never boring!

Rob spends his time teaching, writing and, of course, performing live. He has released three solo CD's, Rob Johnson (1994), Peripheral (1996) and Guitaritecture (1997), as well as two band project CD's: Saddleback Shark and a prog. rock album, recorded with Magnitude 9 (Chaos to Control {1998}). With recommendations from the likes of Ron Thal, Todd Duane and Jason Becker, he certainly has a bright future in front of him. And what of his aspirations for the remainder of the decade?:

'I hope to bring a more rhythmic approach to soloing in the 90s. I'd also like to be in a successful band and to be recognised as a good songwriter.'

Shawn Lane

'It's (Shawn's playing) one of those things where when you hear it, you fall to the ground with your teeth chattering.' (Paul Gilbert on Shawn Lane, Guitar World, May 1988 {p.37}).

The above comment from a noted 'shred-demon' is similar to the reactions of most guitarists and guitar fans upon hearing one of the truly astonishing players of our time, Shawn Lane. The thirty four year old musician (in every sense of the word -- Shawn is equally proficient on keyboards, bass and drums) hails from Memphis, Tennessee, and began playing guitar at the age of ten. After winning competitions at the age of 12, Shawn toured with Black Oak Arkansas, before going on to study classical music and jazz whilst learning the rudiments of the aforementioned instruments. He has played many sessions for the likes of Willie Nelson, Jonas Hellborg and David Ormonde Thomas, as well as appearing on the MVP album, Centrifugal Funk (1991), where he played solos alongside Frank Gambale and Brett Garsed. Lane has also performed in Top-40 cover bands, and in 1992 recorded his first solo album, a surprisingly relaxed affair which saw the maestro playing all the instruments as well as handling the production duties.

Shawn's playing -- at its most outrageous, heard on early demos and live recordings -- is characterised by flawless speed and licks which have a strange, other-worldly resonance. All his impossible-sounding sequences are accomplished either via picking (sometimes finger-picking), legato or string-skipping with no reference to two-handed tapping techniques -- the type of unrestrained playing which results from Shawn's influences and love of fast music, pianists like Simon Barere, Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson. His classical influences include composers like Liszt, Chopin and Beethoven, whilst his favourite guitarists are Allan Holdsworth (Shawn was 14 years old when he first saw Holdsworth with the band UK -- it was to change his outlook on the instrument), Frank Marino, Pat Metheny and Eric Johnson. Shawn Lane

One of the most impressive things about Shawn Lane is his adaptability. As a pianist, for example, he can play classical, jazz and pop; as a guitarist he has played on Top-40, hard rock, country, rap and soul tracks. This diversity is just as evident on his solo album, Powers of 10. Check out the tuneful fusion of 'Gray Pianos Flying' and 'Not Again', or the jazzier 'Paris'. Other tracks include a cover of Ray Gomez's (ex-Stanley Clarke band) 'West Side Boogie', with further contrast in the shape of two highly atmospheric numbers, 'Powers of Ten: Suite' and 'Piano Concerto: Transformation of Themes', both of which result from Lane's admiration for film scorers like Vangelis, Jerry Goldsmith and Ennio Morricone.

Shawn, who might arguably have appeared in either the 70s or 80s parts of this book, has thankfully at last gained the sort of reputation he has so long deserved. Nowadays, players such as Bruce Bouillet (Racer X/The Scream), Vernon Reid, George Lynch and Eric Johnson praise him from the rooftops. His bootleg tapes and live shows are avidly collected and traded. His name is no longer greeted by a bemused, 'Who?'. Shawn Lane, the musician who in Guitar Player, October 1992 (p.106), attributed his playing thus:

'I just have an unusual nervous system, and I like things real fast sometimes'

Make that REAL fast.

Mario Parga

Mario Parga is a young British guitar player who has taken the creative stylistic likes of Paul Gilbert and Vinnie Moore and clipped, twisted and expounded them to suit his own chaotic musicianship. Mario was brought up on classical music -- Bach, Vivaldi, Mozart -- and was intrigued by the arrival of Eddie Van Halen and his successors. His initial demo recording, made in 1989, was called Fretstalking. He followed this with the more mature 1990 demo full of exciting solos, plus an energetic updating of '89's 'Jane'. It further explored his sometimes neo-classical, sometimes straight rock pretensions and was an important signpost for his 1991 instrumental CD, The Magician. The Magician It is the latter which is most of interest to guitar fans. The Magician featured truly astonishing guitar work which complemented the strength of the compositions themselves and highlighted Parga's dextrous style, which included extremely fast picking and tapping, and, most notable of all, an advanced command of sweep-picking techniques. Unfortunately the label, President Records, were not large enough to give Mario the publicity he deserved. Here was a guitarist who had injected an element of excitement back into British guitar playing (the last being John Sykes of Blue Murder fame). Anybody who enjoys the more rumbustious side of 'shred' will love this album. Instrumentals like the title track and 'Silent Seduction' should give many younger players pause for thought.

In between recording the demos and The Magician, Mario played on 4 tracks on Forcefield IV's Let the Wild Run Free album (1990). He has also worked with fellow British guitarist Dave Kilminster with whom he recorded an -- as yet unreleased -- acoustic album; and toured with renowned drummer Cozy Powell on a series of world-wide dates. No doubt Mario's acclaimed skills and experience will be much sought after by musicians, young or old, wishing to employ a highly motivated and inspiring British guitar player.

John Petrucci

John Petrucci plays guitar for perhaps the best known of the newer progressive rock bands, Dream Theater. He started out in a similar vein to many would-be instrumentalists by learning Al Di Meola and Yngwie Malmsteen licks. After attending the prestigious Berklee College Of Music at age 17, John went on to refine his extensive technique by learning from such greats as Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani and Steve Morse. The core of Dream Theater was formulated at Berklee where John met bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Portnoy, both equally talented musicians. The initial demo tape, under the band moniker Majesty, proved to be an excellent indicator of what their next incarnation was to offer.

The first Dream Theater LP, When Day and Dream Unite was released in 1989. Its main characteristics included numerous chord changes; fluid legato (note the Steve Howe-like opening solo on 'Status Seeker'); fiery picking (Petrucci's solo on 'The Ones Who Help To Set The Sun' bringing to mind Norwegian guitar hero Ronni Le Tekro {TNT}); and effective counterpoint trade-offs with keyboard player, Kevin Moore. Much of this pattern was repeated on the incredible 1992 release, Images and Words, which saw the band gel into a cohesive whole. Perfect performances, unrestrained arrangements and improvised sub-sections made Images and Words an incomparable musical experience. It also highlighted Petrucci's rhythmical vocabulary, with use of intricate voicings that extended the range of the music. Three Dream Theater albums have since been released: 1994's Awake, another excellent and varied release, a live CD A Change of Seasons (1995), which contained the superb, 23 minute epic, 'Change of Seasons', and 1997's less satisfying Falling into Infinity. Petrucci also contributed his not inconsiderable talents to the recent progressive instrumental CD, Liquid Tension Experiment (1998).

In Guitar for the Practicing Musician's readers' poll (March 1994) Petrucci was voted: 'Breakthrough Guitarist Of The Year' and 'Most Underrated Guitarist', and Dream Theater won the accolades of: 'Breakthrough Band Of The Year', 'Album Of The Year' and 'Songwriters Of The Year'.

Few guitarists can match Petrucci's mastery of the progressive form. One or two similar players exist -- Ron Jarzombec (Watchtower), Josh Christian (Toxic), Michael Romeo (Symphony X) -- but Dream Theater have received the most attention, in part due to the incongruity of their music: the fact that their complicated arrangements work conversely well alongside the repetitive nature of the central melodies. John Petrucci and Dream Theater are, without doubt, the future of progressive hard rock -- for the 90s and beyond.

Milan Polak

Austrian Milan Polak was born on May 10th, 1970. As well as lending his considerable talents to studio band Exhibition for an album -- to date unreleased -- Milan has recorded a number of well-played and constructed demos, notably 1992's Method to Madness demo -- a progressive, Cacophony-style shred-fest -- and 1993's Medicine Man (The World We Created), a vocal-oriented recording in the Pantera-vein. Amidst such rousing endeavours he has found time to record a track for Guitar on the Edge (Vol.1, No.3) called 'Where Were You Tomorrow'; an instrumental demo Absolutely Positive (1993), five new numbers (plus a solo) that witness the guitarist moving into country/blues territory in exhilarating fashion; and, most recently, two CD's, one with his band New World (Changing Times {1994}) and one solo CD, Guitar 2001 (1994). Milan Polak Milan's influences include Yngwie Malmsteen, Vinnie Moore and Paul Gilbert. The latter is occasionally prevalent in his style, but for the most part his appeal derives from awareness of traditional rock and blues structures, which allows him to develop memorable riffs and hooks upon a solid musical backdrop. Polak has recently experimented with country licks, and occasionally plays parts that bear similarity -- in concept, at least -- to that perennial favourite, Shawn Lane. However, his intrinsic feel for melody, plus strong rhythm playing distinguish him from others. He possesses a first-rate musical knowledge and understanding of the wider context of music, an aspect often lacking in some of today's 'technique for the sake of it' players. His musicality and comparative technical mastery make Polak a guitarist to watch in the future, of which he has the following to say: 'I'll try to combine my old stuff with the new stuff and be technically more awesome and musically more fusion, with more odd-meters and weird harmonies.'

Mike Romeo

A New Jersey guitar hero whose music perhaps best represents a resurgence in Cacophony-style theatrics in a 90s setting. Mike is an all-round proficient musician who plays guitar, bass and keyboards with equal assurance; his 1997 CD, The Dark Chapter, brings to mind such wide-ranging guitarists as Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Steve Vai and Tony MacAlpine. It's therefore no surprise to learn that his influences include the above, along with Frank Zappa, Yngwie Malmsteen and Allan Holdsworth. Mike's music, as expressed on the album, makes very successful use of odd meter and progressive chord changes, alternating the dark themes with intense neo-classical passages and delicate acoustic nuances. The resulting music is first-rate progressive neo-classical, deserving of its revivalist pretensions. Mike Romeo

Mike has also played with Gothic progressive metal act Phantom's Opera; but his popularity is almost entirely due to four superb progressive metal albums recorded with techno masters, Symphony X (Symphony X {1994}, The Damnation Game {1995}, The Divine Wings of Tragedy {1997}, Twilight in Olympus {1998}). Of his future recording aspirations, Mike has this to say:

'It seems that a lot of players rely too much on technique; they don't bother with composition. I believe both elements should be given equal consideration ... would you rather listen to a guy playing an A minor scale as fast as he could over an A minor chord, or would you be more interested in atonal four-part counterpoint 'shredding' over an odd time signature and changing keys over a bass and drum poly-rhythm?'

The second choice, I think, Mike. It will certainly be intriguing to hear the realisation of such an ambitious musical odyssey. Let's wish him luck in his endeavours.

Derek Taylor

Inspired by Malmsteen's first solo album, Derek Taylor set about developing an original, highly technical approach to guitar playing. Derek's goals so far have been to create inspiring melodies and to compose and play his own music. His influences are Steve Vai, Jason Becker (with whom he received a private lesson, during Becker's Cacophony period), Charlie Parker and Frank Zappa.

On his initial demo tape, Derek demonstrates a fascinating command of diverse styles, resulting in bizarre melodies and stop-start arrangements. Not only does he personalise his compositions with wacky ideas, but also presents them via a series of highly competent technical manoeuvres. Taylor makes excellent use of the tremolo arm, taps with assurance, and executes very fast legato sequences, all of which distinguish him from less adventurous players. Guitar for the Practicing Musician's 'Resume' column (January 1990 {p.152}) had this to say of Derek: 'Eighteen-going-on-thirty in the maturity and restraint of his playing and composing.'; G-Force (issue 2 {p.21} of the British fanzine) described his demo as follows:

While some of the tracks are reminiscent of the Friedman/Becker school of exotic progressive neo-classical metal, the majority of the music on offer brings to mind the odd rhythms and captivating atonalities of Zappa and Holdsworth.

Taylor has also recorded an impressive track for Ominous Guitarists from the Unknown ('Mercury Bath'); one for Guitar on the Edge (Vol.1, No. 2 ) called 'Hey Vato!' (with Scott Stine); formed a band, Tommy Lamey with Stine which recorded an excellent instrumental for Guitar on the Edge ( No. 3), 'We Couldn't Find The Singer'; plus guested on Scott's 1994 release, Broke. Derek's first solo album is called Dystrophy (1994). Furthermore, he's responsible for Shrapnel University's 'Advanced Legato Phrasing' and 'Ensemble Ripping' courses.

Despite his youth, Derek's influence has manifested itself in Scott Stine, and his equally talented guitar-playing brother, Brett, not to mention one Daryl Gable (with whom Derek has worked in the past, and who appeared on George Lynch's Sacred Groove album). Derek's very individual approach to playing and writing will, no doubt, continue to inspire a whole generation of emerging 'shredders'

From - The Modern Guitarist: A History of Rock Guitar Since the Seventies, Mad Matt Music Publishing 1995

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