...Or "The Unsung Guitar Heroes of the Hair-Metal Era."
In the late 70's, a dude named Eddie Van Halen was developing some of the most revolutionary self-taught lead-guitar techniques. So much so, that before they had a recording contract, Eddie would play his guitar solos with his back to the crowd so nobody could steal his techniques. At one show, Gene Simmons of Kiss happened to be watching and immediately decided to fund a demo session for them. The demo quickly earned them a contract with Warner Bros. Records.
One day while Van Halen were recording their first album, their producer, Ted Templeton, happened to walk into the studio during Eddie Van Halen's 'warm-up drill', which he always did before a show or recording session. He asked, "Hey Eddie, what was that you just played?" "Nothing, really. I'm just warming up." he replied. "Can you play it again?" Ted asked, and pressed the 'record' button. Eddie replied, "Sure."
The resulting 1:42 of music was given a name (Eruption), and was made the 2nd track on VH's debut album in 1978. The world of electric guitar has never been the same since.
Eddie's revolutionary new sound & techniques quickly spawned a whole generation of guitarists that would fill the air-waves with a new sub-genre in rock & metal music. It has become know as Glam, or Hair Metal. Nearly every one of these bands had a phenomenal guitarist in their own right. However, when having an excellent guitarist is so common-place, not everyone ends up so well-remembered.
In the early 90's the Grunge/Alternative bands from Seattle hijacked the angsty hearts of the country's youth, and the Hair-Metal genre quickly had the floor drop out from underneath it. Flashy technical guitar solos were no longer 'in', and this whole generation of guitar phenoms was pretty much forgotten.
Here's a look at some of the better names from that era that may not be as fresh in your mind as Eddie Van Halen, but are still worthy of more respect than you might think. I'll let the music speak for itself, and recommend some songs from each artist that highlight their lead guitarist. So check them out. Here are the names you shouldn't have forgotten...
In roughly ascending order...
Warren DeMartini (Ratt) Ratt are best know for their only top-40 hit, "Round and Round". However, this band quietly had a lot of albums and singles through the 80's that filled rock-radio play-lists and video air-time on MTV. Some of Ratt's better songs that highlight DeMartini's skill as a lead guitarist are:
-Back for More
-Giving Yourself Away
-Way Cool Jr.
-All or Nothing
-Nobody Rides for Free
CC Deville (Poison) The first name that comes to mind from the band Poison is probably Bret Michaels. He's back in the headlines lately, via his many Reality TV show appearances (Nashville Star as a judge, and VH-1's Rock of Love 2). However, you should keep in mind that he was a lead singer for a Hair Metal band 1st, and that's still his original claim to fame. Many of his songs are made memorable by the great guitar solos provided by C.C. Deville. Here are some of the best examples.
-Every Rose Has its Thorn
-Your Mama Don't Dance
-Flesh & Blood
-Po' Boy Blues
Bruce Kulick (KISS) After Ace Frehley left Kiss in 1981, the band struggled to find a replacement who would fit. The first couple of replacements lasted for just one album with the band. Finally in '86, Kiss hired Bruce Kulick to fill the lead guitarist role... Even though the late 80's can probably be considered KISS' low-point of their career, Bruce made sure that most of these songs had at least a 30 second highlight... his guitar solos!
Bruce was a younger guitarist, bringing a fresh guitar style to the band. He was also a product of the Eddie Van Halen era. EVH's influence can be heard in Bruce's lead guitar style, most notably on the following songs:
-No No No (After hearing the intro to this song there's no denying Kulick was under the influence of Eddie)
-Love's A Deadly Weapon
-Crazy, Crazy Nights
-The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away
Stevie Blaze (Lillian Axe) Lillian Axe were one of the hair metal bands that really hit too late for their own good; their 1st major-label release coming in 1990 (at the tail end of the hair-metal era). While they quickly fell into obscurity after 2 semi-successful albums, those who took the time to discover them should have been impressed with Stevie Blaze's ripping guitar solos. If you missed out the first time around, check out these songs:
-Innocence (Awesome acoustic guitar solo on this one!)
-Dying to Live (Shades of Blue)
-She's My Salvation
-Stop The Hate
-The Needle & Your Pain
Vito Bratta (White Lion) White Lion thrived in the hair-metal era, and if their excellent lead-guitarist Vitto Bratta is guilty of anything, it may be sounding a little too much like Eddie Van Halen (Heck, he even looks alot like Eddie!) He was, however, vital to making many of Mike Tramp's catchy songs stand out from the hair-metal-crowded air-waves in the mid-to-late 80's. Some of his best guitar solos can be found on the following songs:
-Let's Get Crazy (Listen to this song, then pop in Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" and tell me you don't hear the influence of Eddie!)
-Radar Love (I know the true highlight of this song is the drum solo, but Bratta's guitar soloing throughout is pretty cool too!)
-When The Children Cry
-All You Need is Rock N' Roll (Live)
Reb Beach (Winger) Winger are a band that were cursed by the hair-metal era, for underneath the glammy appearance they had in their early years, they were great musicians. Their best material is found on their least popular 3rd album, "Pull". This effort fit into neither Hair-metal, nor the up-&-coming Grunge era of the time, but if you give it a fair chance you'll probably find you like it quite a bit. Kip Winger continued a trend of excellent songwriting into his obscure solo-career, but its the phenomenal talent of lead guitarist Reb Beach I'm keeping in mind with the following suggestions:
-Headed for a Heartbreak
-Purple Haze (Just attempting to cover a Hendrix song is risky, but Reb has the talent to both pull it off, and give it his own twist.)
-Baptized by Fire (It's the intro of this song that merits the recommendation, I wouldn't blame you if you stop it when Kip starts to rap)
-Spell I'm Under
-Junk Yard Dog (Tears on Stone) (This one is my all-time personal favorite from Winger)
-No Man's Land
-Black Magic (Reb's true masterpiece isn't found on any Winger album... To listen to this one you'll need to track down an old compilation CD by Guitar World magazine: Guitars That Rule The World. Others included on this great collection include Yngwie Malmsteen & Zakk Wylde, but I think "Black Magic" is the best track from the album, and certainly the best example of Reb's skill.)
George Lynch (Dokken) Dokken were one of the first hair-metal bands, but their members fell victim to the clash of their own personalities too soon to make it through the entire 80's hair-metal scene. Who knows how different their legacy might have been had they stuck together? All things considered, no one can deny Lynch's excellence as a lead guitarist. For some of the best guitar solos that sound somewhere between Eddie Van Halen & Marty Friedman, check out George's solos on these songs:
-Paris Is Burning
-Tooth & Nail
-Into The Fire
-Mr. Scary (For this one I mean the live version from the album "Beast From the East". Lynch's extended guitar solo precedes the band's performance of Mr. Scary. George does so much in this solo that in some ways it's unfair to compare him to any other guitarist!)
-Unchain the Night
-Kiss of Death
-Cry of the Gypsy
-Night by Night
Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) ...And last but far from least... Nuno! It's perhaps the biggest tragedy of all rock guitar history that Extreme couldn't salvage some success after the decline of the Hair-Metal Era. They're most well known for their hit ballad "More Than Words", but Nuno truly was the greatest player of 6-strings since Eddie Van Halen. Its a crime that more people aren't aware of this fact. That's what this post is for. If you choose only one of these artists to track down some of their music after reading this post, I hope its Extreme. You deserve to hear some of the fastest, coolest, shredding-est electric guitar showmanship there ever was in the 80's/90's. Some of the best guitar solos you may never have heard of before, simply because they were either never released as a single, or because they were hidden among many other great solos from this underrated era. For the best of Bettencourt, find these songs & listen to them:
-Mutha (Don't Wanna Go To School Today)
-Rock A Bye Bye (Though you may find this a slow & boring ballad, stick it out to the end where you'll find a great melodic electric guitar solo!)
-Play With Me (Made famous from the movie, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure: where Genghis Khan & co. ravage the San Dimas mall while Beethoven jams on electric keyboard; this is also the finale song from the game, Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's)
-Get The Funk Out
-Flight of the Wounded Bumble-Bee (this is an intro to the song, "He-Man Woman-Hater", and for all intents & purposes, this is Nuno's "Eruption")
-Song For Love (careful not to leave a half-full wine glass on you speakers during this song's guitar solo, the final note of the solo has shatter glass goblets.)
Enjoy these re-discovered guitar gods!