February 2011 (phone)
Since the age of 13 New Yorker Nick Doukas has been honing his high energy rock guitar chops in numerous NY area bands, such as Half Angel & Full Circle (aka Head Case), playing covers & originals. He has studied music theory & guitar at Five Towns College & Nassau Community College &, according to this interview, in one-on-one lessons from guitarists John Petrucci of Dream Theater & Al Pitrelli of Trans-Siberian Orchestra & Megadeth. This was as a teen before either were superstar guitar heroes. Presently, Nick is expanding his musical palette through studying classical guitar with Dr. Nelson Amos, the head of the guitar dept of Eastern Michigan University, where he has been accepted to study for a degree in Music Education. Outside of music he has studied nutrition & life sciences, with extensive experience in the bodybuilding-weight lifting world. This interview focuses on his teenage years as a student of Pitrelli before his career took off via touring the world with Alice Cooper.
For some years I dedicated a lot of energy into researching the musical biography of Al Pitrelli, who might be one of the most under-rated melodic lead players of the last few decades. Nothing ever came of the effort, except new friends & a wealth of new music & musicians I might not have discovered otherwise. I became a fan of Megadeth & post-Wetton Asia because of Al's contributions to these bands, let alone discovered Savatage & Joe Lynn Turner, amongst others via his extensive studio work. Not having any central location for Al's musical output I searched far & wide for whatever I could find. I don't remember how I came across his guitar student, but Nick was happy to spend nearly an hour with me sharing memories of learning with Al before fame arrived & they were essentially 2 young bucks just playing & sharing music they loved. We've remained in contact via Facebook & I've had the opportunity to see Nick post guitar playing videos online, return to music school & play in local bands in his new home of Michigan ... still as passionate about playing those old Van Halen riffs as ever. This interview has never been heard or shared or even excerpted until now. Starting this blog I knew this interview would finally get a home & I only regret it took so long.
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AJ: I started researching Al over a year ago & trying to find his place in the musical world. You are the 1st person I've encountered who knows the non-performance side of Al's music career & the early days when he was still a teacher.
NICK: Do you just want me to tell you about my experience?
AJ: Why don't you give me a timeline. I know only a little bit about his teaching years.
NICK: Al used to teach out of a store called Focus II Guitar Center, which was in North Bellmore, Long Island, NY. It was kinda like the guitar shop at the time. I had started playing guitar about 1984 or so & I had studied with another teacher there. I studied for over a year & then I went off on my own & did my thing. I wasn't studying for awhile, but then I started looking for a really good teacher, like a hot rock player. I was into Eddie Van Halen & Randy Rhoads & all those players. I remember going into the shop & going 'Yeah, I'm looking for someone to study with. I don't just want to get any teacher.' The owner is like 'We've got this guy, Al Pitrelli. He's an amazing player.' He told me all this stuff about him. I was like sign me up. I started studying with him late '86, maybe early '87.
AJ: Before he went off on tour with Alice Cooper.
NICK: Way before that. I think that was '89.
AJ: Yeah, that was '89. So, at that point when you met him he was the guy that played with Michael Bolton & had studied at Berklee.
NICK: It was after he'd came back from touring with Michael Bolton. It wasn't long after that. I had heard of him, too. You know, he's a local boy. He was in a band called MAGIC many years ago. Before Michael Bolton, before he went off to Berklee. They used to rehearse in East Meadow & I grew up in East Meadow. They used to rehearse in this ... I can't remember the name of it, but there was video game arcade there. I remember being a young kid, & this was a couple years before I met him & started studying with him, & going to play games there & hearing some music from downstairs. So, anyways, when I first started studying with him it was right after he got back from the tour with Bolton. He was just hanging out & teaching. I remember my first couple lessons with him & as soon as you heard him you knew he was an amazing player.
AJ: Even back then.
NICK: Just really special. I know a lot of hot guitar players & have been around the scene for like 30 years, but as soon as you heard him play it was just a level of professionalism that was above & beyond most people that I heard. I remember that he taught in a little room downstairs in Focus II Studios. They used to have their lesson rooms down in the basement. He had this little 4 track set up with a couple of studio monitors & he used to run a couple of pedals into an old Tom Scholz Rockman amp. I, of course, had to emulate him. I was 19 or so & he was about 23. So, I bought the 4 track & the Rockman. It actually had a great little sound. What he used to do, is he used to record. Actually, I still have a bunch of those old cassettes. I came across them not that long ago in my attic. He used to record for me on the 4 tracks. He'd record for me on one track a clean guitar & then he'd record a hot lead over there. Then he would tell me to take it home & pop it in my player & just play over what he played & try & work with it & stuff. That was like a really really cool thing. Like I said, I still have a bunch of those tapes with a bunch of his jams & stuff, just playing leads. He would just play like different rhythms in different keys & different modes.
AJ: Real basic stuff.
NICK: Yeah, basic stuff but everything he played was cool. Even the basic stuff just sounded great. I always remember that. That was really cool. He'd give me stuff to work on. I'd ask him to show me leads from Eddie Van Halen or Randy Rhoads or George Lynch. We'd take stuff apart. I remember he had a lot going on during those 4 years I studied with him. He was good friends with Steve Vai. Vai wanted him to play with David Lee Roth after he left. So, I remember when he had the audition. He had a cool picture of him & [Roth's bassist] Billy Sheehan hanging out. Then he was playing with [bassist] Bruno Ravel [of DANGER DANGER] for awhile. He was also playing with [bassist] Randy Coven [later of Yngwie Malmsteem & Steve Vai's band] quite a bit. He did some really cool instrumental stuff with him. I remember going to see him with Randy a couple times. I would try to go round & see him in whatever he did locally.
AJ: Of course.
NICK: I remember he played in a band HOTSHOT with singer named Mike Pont [who also sang with DANGER DANGER]. I remember seeing him in all the old NY clubs in the 80's. That was such a great time for original bands on Long Island. I remember he was such a great player & he had a good amount of opportunities, but it never really took off, you know. Then after I'd been studying with him for awhile he started teaching out of his house.
AJ: In Long Island?
NICK: He was in North Port, Long Island, probably around '88 or so. As I said to you, too, I also studied with John Petrucci in King's Park, Long Island, when John was teaching out of his parents house.
AJ: It was a small world out there in Long Island.
NICK: I didn't go out there for too long, but I'll never forget the point right before Al got the Alice Cooper gig & he literally said to me, 'I don't know what I'm going to do.' He was talking to his father-in-law at the time about going into carpentry, because he didn't know what was going to happen to him. Which is crazy, because the guy is so talented.
AJ: But, that's the world of music. It really is.
NICK: Sometimes it doesn't matter. Sometimes the most basic players become the most famous, while the people are more technically talented don't really get noticed. But, you're right, that is the world of music. I assume you're a musician, too.
AJ: I play a little bass & guitar & I also work in a record store in the East Village here in Manhattan. I know the scene. It's the luck of the draw almost.
NICK: Absolutely. That was the thing. I remember he didn't know what to do. You know the thing is, he had success. It's not like nobody knew who he was. He had toured with Bolton.
AJ: But, it was a bit regional.
NICK: Yeah, not enough.
AJ: It was smaller stuff.
NICK: Then he got the Alice Cooper gig. I remember when he told me he got hired to be Alice's musical director & go on the road with him. That was that. That was the last time I saw him. I went off to study with Petrucci at that point for awhile. I was a music major in college. I remember starting to see ads & interviews in mags with Al. Then ASIA & MEGADETH. I've followed him over the years the best I could. It's a lot easier with the internet & I started to hear more about him, particularly via youtube, which is a great resource.
AJ: Have you ever watched the video of the tour with Alice, the Trashes The World video?
NICK: No, I never did.
AJ: Because, if you did I wanted to ask what it was like seeing Al on stage, suddenly catapulted from guitar teacher to touring at all the big venues with the legendary Alice.
NICK: Let's put it this way: I still play. I'm a professional musician. I still play guitar every day, play in bands, record. But, I've always said who my guitar teacher was. I remember seeing on the internet a video of Al. It was from that what you told me about. It was a video of him doing a guitar solo going into the song "Poison".
AJ: That was Al's big spotlight moment.
NICK: I remember coming across that on youtube & commenting that 'I was very fortunate to study with Al.' You'd see a bunch of people responding that this was amazing & could you tell more about it. It was always nice to say that was my teacher, somebody who was that famous. Then the TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA thing came around & I didn't really know at first that that was him. My wife had heard the stuff & thought it was really cool. She was telling me 'You'll love it. It's orchestral Xmas music but with great lead guitar.' Then I realized who it was. I looked into the background of it & saw he'd been working with Jon Oliva & SAVATAGE. I have all the TSO albums. We bring them out at Xmas. I've figured out some of his licks. It's great stuff.
AJ: I'll confess I'm a big 80's rock guy, so I'm more of a SAVATAGE fan as I like things grittier & heavier.
NICK: I'm a little more on the melodic side. I like my music heavy, but I like the melodies. The stuff TSO plays really appeals to me.
AJ: To me the album just before TSO, SAVATAGE's DEAD WINTER DEAD, Al's debut with them, is one of the best melodic prog rock albums out there. That's the album that bred TSO.
NICK: Yes, it's very prog rock with its concepts. It's all very cool stuff.
AJ: Before Al SAVATAGE was very different. TSO would be very different without him, too.
NICK: That's the other thing about Al. He's not just a guitar player. He's so much of a musician. Obviously, guitarists are musicians, but its his composition skills, the way he composes. I remember when I was studying with him he had written that song "Temptation." I thought it was a cool pop rock song. Then all of a sudden he told me Y&T was going to record it. I thought that was really cool. I remember him telling me he'd been back & forth with frontman Dave Meniketti. I remember when the album Temptation came out with the song. I remember Al playing me the original demo in the rehearsal room, just popping in the cassette. Just this little basic version of it. To me, whatever the guy played, just everything he played just sounded huge & authoritative & just really cool. I mean, I was a young kid & obviously very influenced. But, even to this day when I hear him play I know I was very lucky to have a great player like him teach me.
AJ: Obviously it's been like 20 years, but when you listen to him now & you think back, do you notice an observable difference in his playing? Does anything jump out?
NICK: I can hear how much he's matured. I think he's less ... First of all, the guy is a great shredder. Technically, he's an amazing player with the speeds & chops. But, he was always more melodic. That was something that he taught me when I was a kid. In fact, Gary Moore just died recently.
AJ: I know.
NICK: He was a big Gary Moore fan. I was never that into him, but Al turned me on to his cover of the YARDBIRDS' "Shapes Of Things". The solo on that is really cool. I remember back in the day Al saying to me he was going to teach me that lead because it was the perfect combination of chops & feel. That sort of summed it up for me on what he was about. Yeah, he's about the chops & the flash, for sure, but at the heart of it he's got a lot of melody. I can say his playing today is the same, but yet it's not. I hear today the same guy, but he's really matured. Not even that, as he was a great player back then.
AJ: I understand.
NICK: The guy was a technical wiz even 25 years ago. But, I think about what he always tried to show me back then about being melodic & about making sure whatever you were playing still fit the tune & wasn't just a bunch of flashy licks. He was very modal. He was really into the modes & how each one has its own mood & how it works against whatever the chords are. He would always show me that stuff. I came across his Star Licks instructional video & he's kinda doing the same thing. It was very similar. It reminded me of being in lessons with him where he was very into how stuff works melodically & modally & how things works against particular chord constructions or particular chord progressions. Another thing about Al that was pretty cool was that he had a really cool personality. A very cool laid back guy. Very funny. He was always very encouraging to me, too. Like I always felt, when I went to have lessons with him ... like I know there are people out there who would accuse him of having an ego or whatever, but I never found that with the guy. He was always so encouraging to me. He always made me feel like I was important, not just some other kid he was teaching. He'd always give me compliments. Not just some blanket bullshit compliment. He would notice things, like "You played that passage really well because of this or whatever. I notice your picking is really coming along. You can pick like the Yngwie kind of thing." I'd really appreciated that. He was always very encouraging & very nurturing as a teacher. That's why I stuck with him for so long. As I said, it was a good 4 years I was with him & I had a lot of other teachers in there besides Al & John Petrucci. I had several other people that I studied with it, but it was always Al that was my main influence. He was also really into everything I was into. You could sit down with him & talk about Randy Rhoads, talk about Eddie Van Halen, talk about Paul Gilbert of MR. BIG, talk about Yngwie. He got it. He was that kind of guy. He was always really cool & always willing to talk about anything to do with guitars. You know the guy loves the instrument & I was the same way. I was always very excited to go to my lesson & always very motivated. I can't even tell you how invaluable his instruction was & how much I learned from him.
AJ: Well, all these years later you're still playing guitar & still making music. There's the proof. Is there anything Al has taught you that comes out a lot today when you're playing?
NICK: Yeah, just the melody. Just being able to get in there & not only play a bunch of notes, but to put something melodic together. Something that just sounds musical. That's kinda how I am. Whenever I'm improvising something or listening to a chord progression to play over that's what always comes to mind. Yeah, I could throw in a bunch of flashy licks & I do, but I always remember the most important thing is the melody & the feel & having a really good vibrato. Things like that. Those are the things that he taught me that are just invaluable. Like teaching me appreciation. I like guys like Yngwie & Paul Gilbert, but teaching me appreciation for somebody like Neal Schon of JOURNEY, whose also a great player, but you listen to his licks on "Faithfully" or the solo on "Don't Stop Believin'" & its the not the most technical thing ever, but it just sounds beautiful, authoritative & melodic. To me, that's what Al was all about, how important that is. I can't tell you how many shredders I hear that just sound like a frickin' typewriter.
AJ: I know what you mean.
NICK: There's just something lacking. Also, I think that constant shredding, its almost like all emphasis equals no emphasis. I prefer to hear, like in a 10 or 16 bar guitar solo, a build. That's another Al taught me. A guitar solo itself is its own little composition, you know? You're really thinking about where you are going to go with it, building on it, dynamics, melody, speed, how you're going to end it. Al taught me to think very compositionally as a guitarist. I think that was probably one of the biggest things I got from him.
AJ: I'm reminded that a couple days ago it was George Harrison's birthday. I'm a big fan of his & always loved his solos. His solos, to paint it broadly, were like 10 notes. The most sparse solos in the history of music, but you always felt like every note was important. Versus a lot of the shredding or whatever that's out there now where it's just notes for the sake of playing a lot of fast notes. Speed is the most important thing, not the melody or anything else you mentioned. You know, Tony Iommi didn't play fast, but melodic & that's what made BLACK SABBATH so untouchable. But, we don't follow his lead enough.
NICK: Absolutely. I hear a lot of bands nowadays with what I call those Cookie Monster vocals. To me, if you're going to have heavy heavy music you need some sort of melodic edge over that or else it all starts to sound the same. It all starts to sound like noise. That's what I have always like about that 80's metal or even the classic rock bands like QUEEN or JOURNEY or LED ZEPPELIN. You had this heavy music, but you had a melodic vocal over it, because you need something beautiful to go with the heavy pounding ugly. You know what I mean?
AJ: I listen to a lot of heavy metal, but honestly so much of it bores me for the reason you're saying. It's all riffs with no contrast. The melody lifts a heavy riff into something else. The technical playing isn't enough. I'm bored with it.
NICK: That's the thing! When I was a kid it was always like whose technically the best, whose the fastest, who this or that. As I got older I started to realize that its not really all about that. It's about individual style. It's about tone. Like I said, your vibrato technique. I'd rather hear a guy like Eric Johnson who has beautiful tone & vibrato & the note choices, then somebody like ... not that I don't have a lot of respect for METALLICA, but it's not my type of guitar playing. It think its kinda shrill. I don't like the note choices. But, that's just personal preference. To me, Pitrelli is exactly what I'm talking about. The speed & technique is there & he's flying, but then he just drops one note & just makes it sting for some seconds. That's the type of playing that I dig & what he was always all about. Like I said, from the very first time I heard him play & the very first time I had a lesson with him, I was impressed. There's something intangible about what he does, but it speaks to you, you know what I mean?
AJ: Absolutely. Let me ask, how did learning from Al compare to someone like John Petrucci?
NICK: Petrucci was very cool too. He was a really nice guy. He had a similar personality to Al, just very encouraging & a very good guy, but he was a little more technical. John was a little more about the exercises.
AJ: What about any of your teachers? You mentioned you had a few over the years.
NICK: My first teacher was a great player & nice guy & really into southern rock, ALLMAN BROTHERS & classic stuff. I remember he had a brown Les Paul. He used to come to my house. I was about 15 when I first started taking lessons. By the time I started studying with Al I was more on the intermediate level, although when I went in with Al I still wasn't that hot. Over the couple years I studied with him that's when I first started to blossom.
AJ: How's your playing now, Nick?
NICK: I think it's pretty good. I don't practice the way I used to. But, I built such a foundation as a kid that at this time its sort of self-propelling. I sometimes feel like I'm a little stagnant. But, it doesn't really matter, because if I play for you or someone, you haven't heard me for the last 15 years to compare. I would like to have more time to be able to study again & progress a little. But, I think I built such a good foundation back then because it was my whole life. From the age of about 15 to about 25 music was all I did. I was so inspired by reading about guys like Paul Gilbert or Van Halen. He used to practice 8-10 hours a day & that's what I did. I remember it came to a point that I would play things & almost feel like how did I do that? Like it sounded authentic, you know. So, as far as how does Al compare to other teachers, I had a few other guys. I studied with this guy named Peter Green.
AJ: I'll assume not the Peter Green, the founder of FLEETWOOD MAC.
NICK: No. Actually, this guy used to have ads in all the guitar magazines. He used to have a thing I think was called Metal Method. He basically had a series of instruction tapes of lessons he did. I studied with him for awhile. He was a nice guy & good player, but not particularly inspiring. There was a point where I was studying with him & Al at the same time, because I was so hardcore I had to have 2 teachers. The other thing was Al would sometimes go out on the road. He wasn't always around, so I'd go off & find somebody else, but I'd always come back to him. He was always my favorite teacher. Of all the teachers I had, Al & Petrucci were obviously the best.
AJ: Was John in DREAM THEATER at the time?
NICK: Absolutely. This was about 1989. He was in DREAM THEATER & they had a couple of records out, but it was in the time when their original singer Charlie Dominici left. They were auditioning guys. I remember him telling me they brought a guy out from Seattle & he was staying in his house. DREAM THEATER was around & doing their thing, but they had not become ... they were still local. They hadn't quite had their chance.
AJ: Did Al ever instruct you any when it came to gear, like what guitar or strings or amp?
NICK: We talked about that stuff. I mean, I was at the time ... you have to remember, too, in the '80's you didn't have the Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier amp.
AJ: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
NICK: I've got a 15 year old amp I'm running right now that sounds great. I'm pretty basic in the effects dept.. I don't like having a lot of processing devices.
AJ: I understand.
NICK: I like that Eddie Van Halen brown sound. But, I remember always looking for the tone. At the time I had a couple old Marshall amp heads. That was probably like a 1985 or so & I had a head from the 70's. It was an old one with the blueish-gray kinda panel on it. It was like the black ones like they have now. I had them modified actually a bit. Back in the '80's all the rage was having the extra gain stage. He used to tell me that's kind of a good thing to do. I don't know if he hooked me up with this guy or if I might have found him on my own, but I took my head to this guy & had them modified. It sounded great. Al & I used to talk gear & stuff. He used to have this awesome old black Schecter guitar.
AJ: I don't know what that is.
NICK: It's like an ESP. It's a brand name. He had this really cool black Schecter Strat. I just remember its action. I like my action low. I like my action right on the fretboard. He was the same way. I remember playing that guitar. We would trade. I had this blue ESP & I would give it to him. I remember how nice that Schecter was. It had super low action & felt really nice to play. So, we talked a lot about that sort of thing, about the guitars & the amps & stuff. We definitely got into a lot of that.
AJ: I want to know, what are you doing now? What's your music gig now?
NICK: Honestly, right now I don't have too much time. What I'm doing right now is just working on some original stuff. I have my Marshall set-up down in my basement. I went & got myself one of those nice little pod forms that plugs right into the computer. So, I can plug my guitar right into the computer. I got myself a little recording program. I try to do some instrumental stuff. I'm not really sure if I'd like to be in a cover band again. I actually have a good time playing rock covers with a really good band. I was in a band called FULL CIRCLE for many years. They're still around, but they have a whole new line-up. I played with them throughout the '90's. It was a was a cover band doing all kinds of stuff, everything from VAN HALEN to AEROSMITH to Pat Benatar. We had a female singer. We did '80's & '90's stuff. You know, I love the '80's music, but I try not to be too rooted in the past. I like a lot of new stuff, too, but, there isn't really that much out there for me. It's either that nu-metal shit or ... There's a band called HALESTORM that I just discovered. They've got a girl singer, but they're straight up 4 piece hard rock. It just sounds like '80's rock.
AJ: There's a few of them out there.
NICK: There's just not that many bands with the sound I like. I jam with some friends locally. I'm thinking right now my options are maybe either looking to join a really cool cover band or I'll put together one. It's really got to be something good. It's got to be top-notch. I'm not looking to do dance music or pop. I'm looking to do JOURNEY, VAN HALEN, HEART. That's the thing. Not always hard to find a great bass player. Not always hard to find a great drummer or keyboard player or whatever. But, when it comes to vocals, you know.
AJ: That's the worst.
NICK: Plus, you're doing cover stuff. Find me a female singer that can sing like Ann Wilson of HEART or Pat Benatar spot on. It's hard to find.
AJ: That can kill the band before it gets started.
NICK: Absolutely. I was in this band & we had this chick singer. She was okay. She could sing some stuff well. We were doing a couple Benatar songs. She just couldn't cut it. You could hear it. She didn't have the pipes. She didn't have the power. That was the thing that always burned my ass. The band sounded great. The music was perfect, but the vocals didn't quite cut it.
AJ: I had that in a band I was playing in. We had both a guy & girl singer. She didn't know what it meant to count into the song, but she had a good voice.
NICK: It makes you feel like you're putting in extra work.
AJ: Her tone was great, but it wasn't functional. Then the guy was so caught up in being a singer he would never show up or do any writing. We ended up playing instrumentals until we died. Without a good singer we didn't have all the pieces, though we had some good riffs. It was the Achille's heal, you know?
NICK: Absolutely. That's how I feel. So, if I could find the right situation with someone who could hit that stuff. Doing stuff like JOURNEY & BOSTON I would say it's even harder to find a male singer. At the very least, if I can find a good female singer she can do Benatar & we'll let her try her hand at JOURNEY.
AJ: She can hit you with her best shot.
NICK; That's one of my favorite tunes, that's why I mention her. That's me. I don't pretend to be a jazz player. I'm a hard rock guitar player. That's what I put all my time & energy into being. I love that stuff. I never get bored of that stuff & these type of guitar players. I mean, you listen to some of Schon's licks in JOURNEY. It gives me chills.
AJ: So many of those bands are being rediscovered, too. I'm hearing that older influence more & more in music now.
NICK: I agree with you. I see a lot of youtube videos with young kids playing Randy Rhoads, Joe Satriani, Van Halen.
AJ: A lot of that music vanished & now it's back.
NICK: You know what they say, man, you can't kill rock'n'roll. That's the thing. Maybe not so much anymore, as things have changed so much with the internet & the ability to put your own music out & be heard, but when I was a kid you were paying thousands in dollars for studio time for a shitty little demo. Now you can have the tools at home to make professional quality recordings that you can instantly upload to the internet to be heard by thousands of people. To me its changing, but the music industry is very cyclical. It goes on a 10 year cycle. You had the '80's stuff between new wave & hard rock. Then you had the grunge bands. It's almost like the decades start out with really talent bands & then all the shit comes along with worse & worse versions of this music. It's so watered down & people get so sick of it that they kill it. That's what happened in the '90's with Kurt Cobain in his old dirty sweater looking like he just got out of bed with a shitty guitar. He single-handedly killed all those pretty boys with the hair & make-up.
AJ: I totally agree. Though, I was never into NIRVANA until after the band ended, as I was still listening to TWISTED SISTER.
NICK: I remember SISTER even before MTV. I saw them play at a local roller rink. Their really old stuff is really some of their best stuff, when they didn't really have any albums out.
AJ: Speaking of which, after you stopped learning from Al Pitrelli, I think, that's when he went to WIDOWMAKER with Dee Snider? That was '91, after his gig with Alice Cooper.
NICK: Yeah, that was after. I remember hearing about it & I remember they played at a local club. I didn't see them. I don't remember why. I remember hearing Al was with Dee for awhile.
AJ: They're really good albums. Very heavy, very much not TWISTED SISTER hard rock, but more heavy metal. Al had a big influence writing the second album. Did you ever see Al play with bassist Randy Coven?
NICK: When I was still studying with him I saw them do a gig together locally. It was amazing. Absolutely awesome. So much great instrumental stuff from their albums.
AJ: Sammy Says Ouch! & Funk Me Tender.
NICK: Randy was just an amazing bass player. I'm a big fan of those style of bassists & even a bigger fan of those bands where you a guitarist & bassist doing that kind of crazy shit together, like MR. BIG.
AJ: I was just going to suggest them.
NICK: That's exactly the kind of stuff that I love. So, I loved seeing him with Randy Coven. I thought those couple albums were very cool. Another bass player buddy of his was Bruno Ravel.
AJ: From HOTSHOT and DANGER DANGER.
NICK: Andy Timmons took over from Al in DANGER DANGER. Another great guitarist.
AJ: Yes. I actually have the HOTSHOT album featuring the early demos by DANGER DANGER with Al & recorded in his grandmother's basement. Vocalist Mike Pont released that stuff in 2005. You listen to this stuff from '88, but they're playing as good as ever. Just young kids in their 20's & already up there on the top of their game.
NICK: That's the thing. You asked me how much did I notice Al changed or whatever. Aside from maybe some stylistic choices, he was as hot as he was going to be at 23 years old. Al was already amazing.
AJ: There are a lot of guitar players who you can hear change over the years, like Eric Clapton from the YARDBIRDS to his most recent solo stuff it's almost not the same guy.
NICK: You're right. Some guitar players are like that. To me, when I hear Al now he doesn't really sound that different. His style & licks now sound very similar to the past. If anything, I think he's even more melodic than he used to be. His chops are in there, but he keeps the stuff in the pocket. It just sounds so good when he goes from like a nice sound melody very smoothly into a fast lick & right back into some melody. He's probably more adept at that now. He was probably a little more shred back then. Not that he can't do it now, but I bet he chooses to be a little more laid back.
AJ: There's something I read on a lot of fan blogs & forums about his one album with MEGADETH, The World Needs A Hero, that he never fit in exactly because he wasn't thrashy & wild enough.
NICK: I can see that.
AJ: I don't know if you've heard that album.
NICK: You know, I really didn't listen to it much. I've heard him play with MEGADETH via some videos, but I've got to admit I've haven't really listened too much to the album. Al took over from Marty Friedman. Marty is a really good thrash player, but he was always a little bit too technical for me. I can see how Al might not ... I think he can fit into anything he wants & I haven't heard enough, but I can see how folks might criticize it a little bit.
AJ: It's not a criticism of his playing, just the context.
NICK: Especially from the hardcore thrash fans who might not appreciate his melodic playing as much.
AJ: I'm a big MEGADETH fan. I prefer them over METALLICA.
NICK: I'm not a big fan of either band. I have a lot of respect for both of them. Just because I don't like something that much doesn't mean I don't respect the musician or the music. With METALLICA you just take one look at the band & you know what a good band they are. As far as me, I'm very poppy. I like my hard rock. I like it hard. I like that hard flashy guitar playing, but that's why I always like VAN HALEN. With VAN HALEN you still had melodic tunes & the riffs are still catchy, like "Dance The Night Away." It instantly catches my ear.
AJ: But, then, you're talking about Eddie Van Halen, who at once was called the world's greatest guitar player.
NICK: The thing about Eddie is he's a massive innovator. He single-handedly brought a certain sound to the guitar world. He also changed the instrument itself, as before him you had the Les Paul players or whoever. I have a custom built guitar made by a local guy inspired by Eddie. The right tone, the right sound. That's the thing for me. It's kind of effortless to play.
AJ: You find that guitar or set-up you really like & that's it.