There was a time in my early teens when I was a fledgling guitar shredder in training. Part of the shred program’s core course was to study shredders that had graduated to record deals, club gigs, and notoriety due to coverage in certain guitar publications. They were the guitar Jedis, and we were the younglings yearning to shred with the best of them.
I was about a year into my training as a shredder. I’d just gotten my first electric guitar, a blue Fender Squier Stratocaster that had shown up for my 14th birthday, and I felt I’d received my Excalibur. That smell that emanated from the hardshell case stays with me to this day. It was the smell of power, speed, and dreams fulfilled. I wanted nothing more than to set that maple neck ablaze, drop jaws, and “cut heads” with the likes of Malmsteen, Vai, and Van Halen.
I can even remember the night of my birthday, after receiving my “sweet 14” six-string, I was riding into town with my parents for my 14th birthday dinner celebration(more than likely a Pizza Hut Taco Pizza with extra sour cream, chips, and a large Mountain Dew). I brought along my birthday gift from my big brother, a cassette copy of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force. “Black Star” played as I sat in the darkened backseat of the family’s 1984 Honda Accord. My mom said from the front seat, “Are you gonna play like this someday?” Barely audible I replied simply “Yes.”
Of course I never played like that. Not even close. Not even in the same galaxy as that Swedish super ego, but just having that dream sustained my 14-year old head and heart; that Midwestern shredder dream I stoked and kept warm through years of practice and frustrating attempts at perfecting arpeggio sweeps, speed picking, and four-note hammer-ons.
Most of the fun was the journey anyways; the training. Searching the Shrapnel Records roster ad in the back of guitar magazines in the late 80s looking for the next great guitar shredder that was going to make me good out of osmosis and my $8.40 purchase of said shredder’s newest release on cassette. There were plenty of guys to choose from, and I chose quite a few of them. Shrapnel was the place for fledgling guitarists to find their new favorite guitarist obsession. I bought albums by guys like Greg Howe, Marty Friedman, Jason Becker, Racer X, Tony Macalpine, Chris Impellitteri, Cacophony(which was Marty Friedman and Jason Becker together as the ‘Teen Titans’ of guitar shredding), and a guy named Vinnie Moore.
Vinnie Moore had an album with Shrapnel Records called Mind’s Eye. Moore was part of that whole neo-classical metal movement Shrapnel Records catered to. Malmsteen was the top of the heap where that style was concerned. From Malmsteen there was a drop in quality and talent, as these guys were all about lightning runs, sweeping arpeggios and hammed-up dramatics that bordered on self-parody.
But Vinnie Moore? He was different. Moore had all the chops, but he was also a guy that put melody over baroque posturing. You’d never see Moore on an album cover fighting a dragon with his guitar. Malmsteen got away with it because he was that good(and he’d tell you, even to this day, if you asked.) Vinnie Moore was quieter. He let the music do the talking, and it talked real good(err….I meant real well.)
Mind’s Eye was of it’s time. It came out in 1986 and it felt like a power metal album with all the ingredients for a neo-classical metal extravaganza; diminished chords, double kick drums, and all the drama and tension that could bring some fantasy kingdom to its knees. While still very much of the Malmsteen ilk, Moore didn’t over do it. His playing technically on point, while still offering up some melodies. There’s even a synth solo in the first track, ala Deep Purple.
These Shrapnel Records shredders owe a great deal to the duo of Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord. Those two are the DNA that created this genre. Their baroque, eloquent soloing and riffing in the early 70s are what the neo-classical metal movement was founded on. Just ask Malmsteen. Nearly every album he put out in the 80s he thanked Ritchie Blackmore, Hendrix, and Bach.
Two years later. 1988. I had just gotten my electric guitar and was heavy into the guitar world. Buying up shredder cassettes and listening to stuff I’d never emulate. Moore’s Mind’s Eye was one I picked up. It was liked but I didn’t obsess over it. Then I saw(not through my mind’s eye but an ad in Guitar World) that Vinnie Moore had a new album called Time Odyssey out on a new label, Polygram.
Time Odyssey sported more of that neo-classial flavor, but it wasn’t so in-your-face about it. There were some metal-like tracks, but this album felt more controlled and even more melodic. My ears then couldn’t pick this up, but I think there were even some jazz fusion and prog elements. There were two amazing tracks that grabbed my teenage brain right away, “April Sky” which was heavily influenced by Bach’s “Air On A G String” and “Piano Concerto No. 5(Second Movement)”. There was also the beautiful “As Time Slips By”, a song I’d play late at night in my bedroom when I would feel those teenage blues hitting hard. Time Odyssey also sported a cover of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, which in my eyes humanized Vinnie Moore. It brought this guitar God down to my level. I mean, I listened to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on my parents hi-fi as a little kid, and here was the guitar maestro playing this amazing rendition. It was like, “Oh, so he likes regular rock n roll, too? Not just Bach and fantasy metal? Very cool!”
Eventually I grew out of the Shrapnel Records crew. I wanted “song” songs. I wanted to hear epic tales of kings, space federations, concept songs about trees and albums dedicated to the hemispheres of the brain.
So at 15 I started listening to Rush.
Most of those Shrapnel Records and guitar noodling albums were traded in for the aforementioned Rush, as well as Bay Area thrash and this other guitarist named Joe Satriani. There was much chaff strewn throughout the wheat, so to speak. But Time Odyssey was one cassette I never got rid of. It remained in my collection all through high school. Eventually it too was traded when CDs took over the world.
Last weekend the wife and I were out and about in a nearby town shoe shopping. We stopped at the very cool Ignition Music. I perused the used section and lo and behold I find an OG vinyl copy of Vinnie Moore’s Time Odyssey. There was no question about it, I was leaving with that in hand. The next day I gave the album a good cleaning and put it on the turntable. You know what? It still holds up. The songs still hit me in that certain way, especially those Bach-heavy ones. And the Beatles cover still sounds pretty special to me. I don’t think my wife and daughter thought much of it, but then again they humor me on a daily basis so that’s okay.
It kind of made me feel like that 14-year old in his mom and dad’s Honda Accord, driving in for birthday pizza.
“Are you gonna play like this someday?”