Archive for January, 2011
In the early ’80s, much of the music that I consumed came through the television. MTV was a revelation and a revolution, and me and my friends could not get enough of it. We all lamented their long, slow slide from a music video channel, to something else, something less, something unworthy of their initials.
I think no other video defines that era for me than Bon Jovi’s stylistic, black & white, band-on-the-road video for Wanted Dead or Alive. The incredible irony of the video is that the song lamented the trials and loneliness of life on the road for a megaband, while at the same time made me as a teenage boy yearn for that lifestyle. As an adult, I think of how incredibly whiny the sentiment is — poor Bon Jovi and his international success. How hard that must have been.
But as a kid, I accepted it without cynicism. Yeah, it’s hard and lonely on the road, but it’s worth it to see a million faces and rock them all.
If Jon Bon Jovi is the driving force behind the song, then Ritchie Sambora is the linchpin that holds it all together. His ethereal and melodic 12-string riffs give the song its backbone, and his unexpected and raunchy solo that acts as the turning point to the song. Finally, he’s the voice behind the unforgettable one-word backing vocal, the soulful “Waaaan-ted!” that no one can resist singing along with.
In the video and on tour, Ritchie plays this iconic dual-neck Ovation. His solo is filled with what are known as “pinch harmonics” or “squealies” — they give the solo it’s hard edge and reckless feel, and they are not easy to create. The technique involves hitting the string with your thumb at the same time as the pick, causing a harmonic tone. I admit that I’m not very good or consistent at it, and that’s the one thing that might cause this solo to take longer than usual. We’ll see if I can get better quickly.
Whole song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oot0GtjQuxQ
Lesson 2, part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FaJMzuGU18
Lesson 2, part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INOxBN-Jeuc
Music Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRvCvsRp5ho
The really hard part about this solo was trying to perfect the recklessness of the original. When Tommy Shaw plays it, it seems like it’s about to come off the rails at any moment. It has to sound both precise and rough at the same time, and that’s a hard feeling to capture.
I performed this with a little more energy than I have in the past, partly because I needed to really lose myself in the solo to achieve the sound I was going for, but ultimately I feel like it came out pretty well.
I apologize about the strange sounding backing track — there were no backing tracks available on-line, so I had to make my own by using an equalizer to pull the solo down as far as I could, while still leaving the bass and drums intact. I think it turned out OK, but it’s a bit strange at the beginning and end.
In the late summer of 1981, I had just turned 14 and was about to enter my sophomore year of high school. My brother was almost 17 and going to be a senior. My favorite band at the time was Styx — I played the grooves off my copy of Pieces of Eight. I never thought they could top that album with all of it’s classics: Renegade, Blue Collar Man, Queen of Spades. Their next album, Cornerstone, was kind of a disappointment despite having the coolest album art and disk jacket ever created. But when Paradise Theater was released, and I bought it from Sundance Records on release day, I was blown away by the opening track.
The timeless piano and rich vocals that led surprisingly and seamlessly into one of the coolest guitar riffs to open a song. Despite some admittedly cheesy lyrics (“Let’s get together and futurize our attitudes”), the song absolutely rocked. By the time Tommy Shaw’s solo kicked in, I was sold. It’s always been one of my favorite opening album tracks, and I think it holds up pretty well over time.
That fall, right before school started, my parents amazingly let me and my brother drive down to San Antonio to see Styx in concert during their Paradise Theater tour, and A.D. 1928/Rockin’ in Paradise was the very first song I saw performed live by a rock band. I was mesmerized.
The whole show was revelatory to me, and watching them perform was the first seed of my desire to play guitar. Tommy Shaw strolling down the aisles during one of his extended solos as audience members reached out and touched his clothes was such an iconic rock star moment that I couldn’t help but want that for myself. Of course, I never got to that level, but I certainly got close enough that I can know how he felt.
The solo in Rockin’ the Paradise is not Shaw’s most difficult work, but it’s got a great bluesy feel that I feel will be fun to try to match. I admit that I’ve already been practicing it, so I don’t think it will be too long before I have a recording done.
Here’s Tommy Shaw’s Gibson Explorer that he played in that concert (maybe not the same one, but the same style). He’s since switched to a Les Paul, but I’ll always remember him as the skinny kid with the David Cassidy haircut and the black and white Gibson Explorer.
Tabs: http://www.hot-tabs.com/download.asp?Tabid=10533 — this is a PowerTab tab, which requires special software. I could not find text-base tabs that included the solo. These tabs are not 100% accurate, and I ended up buying a Styx songbook that included tabs for the song, including very detailed tabs for the solo.
I could not find any instructional videos or backing tracks — I made my own backing track by EQing down the lead guitar, which works ok but is not ideal.
Here’s a video of Styx in 1981 performing Rockin’ the Paradise in concert (in Japan) — this is the closest to my memory of the San Antonio concert.
I love the way Neil Schon puts his solos together. They have a lot of range and a variety of styles that mix together within the same solo to take the listener on a little ride. There’s a lot going on, but it never feels haphazard. It always seems to flow perfectly from one section to the next. I enjoyed learning this one, especially since it required me to improve my speed playing and precision. I’m happy with the way it came out, but let me know what you think in the comments.