Five Finger Death Punch's Jason Hook picks 11 essential guitar albums
Tight, tuneful, highly impactful songs have helped make Five Finger Death Punch one of the premier metal bands of recent times (their latest release, The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell, Volume 1, debuted at No. 2 on Billboard in July). And so it should come as no surprise that when guitarist Jason Hook sat down to compile his list of essential guitar albums, he had an overarching criterion in mind.
“You have to have good songs," he says. "Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to hear a good guitarist playing over shit songs. There’s certainly a lot of examples of that out there. If you don’t want to listen to an album, it doesn’t matter how brilliant the guitar player is. But cool guitar parts over fantastic songs – that’s the best of both worlds, and that’s what makes a an essential guitar album."
Hook is loathe to name names, but he does admit that certain records by some of guitardom's most celebrated players have left him cold. "People have said to me, ‘Oh, so-and-so is an awesome player, you gotta check this record out,' but the songs were such stinkballs that I just couldn’t jam to them," he says. "And really, why wouldn’t you have killer songs? Give me the whole package."
When it comes to his own guitar playing, Hook's influences, many of whom are represented on his list of essential guitar albums, are never far from his thoughts. "If you hear some of the bends that I do, that's from listening to Neal Schon," he says. "There’s bits and pieces of so many guys that I put into a juicer, and it all becomes my style. It's all based on the various elements of guys who came before me. Take from the best, you know?"
Five Finger Death Punch's next album, The Wrong Side Of Heaven And The Righteous Side Of Hell, Volume 2, will be released on 19 November.
Van Halen – Fair Warning (1981)
“A lot of guitarists think of Fair Warning as the ‘guitar record,’ even though Eddie had come out with other great albums, and of course, he did Eruption on the first record. It’s an amazing collection of sounds and great riffs, fantastic tones and killer songs.
“I like the experimental feel to a lot of the stuff. It’s edgier and darker than the records that came before it. Eddie does some brilliant tapping on Mean Streets. I think he really hits a new stride here. It’s a shit-hot album, and it fires me up every time I hear it.”
Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1972)
“Ritchie Blackmore is one of my top five guitarists of all time. I’ve jammed to a lot of Deep Purple over the years, and I can’t say enough good things about him and that band.
“He used a lot of dynamics, both in his own playing and how he’d work with Purple. He used to bring them down real low, and he’d do all of these really cool plucky things. Then he’d crank up the volume and bust out Burn or something else that was rockin'.
“Live, he was an amazing improviser. Made In Japan was one of the first Deep Purple albums ever heard, and I loved how it captured a really great band interacting with one another. Blackmore does something brilliant on every cut. You can tell that he’s very comfortable with the band at this point. That changed pretty soon after, I think, but here, he’s feeling it.”
Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)
“What was fantastic about him was, there was no theory or schooled background to what he did. He used the guitar as a way to communicate. It could be squeals or dive bombs or any kind of crazy shit. He wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, I hope that guitar players like me.’ He was just saying, ‘How do I yell at the top of my voice through this thing I’m holding in my hands?’
“The record is very free-form, very real and natural sounding. When Dimebag did a solo, he didn’t overdub rhythm guitars – like Van Halen, it was just him and the band. He didn’t have to fill up the space; his own pure playing was enough.”
Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears (1991)
“A lot of people would go for a Randy Rhoads record, but I didn’t really catch on to Ozzy Osbourne till the Zakk Wylde records. I know that sounds shocking, but I missed the boat on the Randy era. No disrespect, of course, but the fact is that in the early ‘80s, I only knew Eddie Van Halen. I sort of skipped over some other guys.
“Zakk Wylde hit me, though. No More Tears had great songs, great production, and it sounded like Zakk really took the time to construct his solos. The riffs, the chunky aggression and the melodic nature of the solos are all top-notch. The acoustic playing is fantastic, too. The record was certainly a big influence on me.”
Journey – Escape (1981)
“This record may not resonate with the metal community, but I don’t care – it’s my list. Neal Schon is in my top five, and what’s funny is, I think that many people might overlook how important he is as a brilliant overall guitar player, which is a shame because he's really made his mark.
“I’ve based a lot of my melodic approach to playing from him. The way he holds notes and creates beautiful melodies is pretty incredible. And, obviously, he’s a world-beater of a songwriter, so he creates incredible compositions for him to play over.
“I was tied between Frontiers and Escape, but I chose Escape because I stole one of his melodic licks from the song Still They Ride. It’s something else. Neal Schon is a master.”
Yngwie Malmsteen – Rising Force (1984)
“Here’s the truth: I was never a huge Yngwie fan, but the first song on this record, Black Star, is something that I still jam on my backstage playlist. His playing on that track is so awesome that I had to include it.
“I was talking with [Five Finger Death Punch drummer] Jeremy [Spencer], who was like, ‘I don’t know. Maybe you should put in Trilogy instead.’ Like I said, I was never a huge Yngwie fan, but I absolutely love Black Star, so that’s why the album is on this list. It’s a well-written song, and the playing is brilliant.”
KISS - Alive! (1975)
“I’m a huge Ace Frehley fan, and I think that the live record really captured him in a special way – and the whole band, too, before they went kooky and corporate. You’re really hearing the KISS play, you’re hearing Ace all the way, and the material is terrific.
“The band was almost kaput until they did this record. Their studio albums were good, but they didn’t really show off the true magic to what they were doing. The live record was one for the fans – it wasn’t overthought – and that's why it worked.”
Dokken - Tooth And Nail (1984)
“I always loved George Lynch’s playing. He’s very smooth and graceful. In the ‘80s, I gravitated towards bands that had that ‘special’ guitar player, somebody who was just the star, and that was George Lynch.
“Under Lock And Key is a pretty serious album, but for me, Tooth And Nail is the one. It’s densely packed with good songs and great guitar performances. The band is raw, and they sound like they don’t have money, whereas things got a little glossy and overproduced pretty soon after.”
Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
“What a fucking amazing record! The first time I heard it, I got so jealous. The sound was so heavy, and the songs were so cool and hard-hitting, but the most incredible thing was how simple it all was. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; what I mean is, everything is pared down to the essential elements, and that’s why it hits you right in the chest.
“Each riff is single-note brilliance. Here I was, trying to write all of these complex, Van Halen-esque parts, and there’s Tom Morello whipping out three-note riffs on the E string that rocked like crazy. I was like, ‘Fuck! Why didn’t I think of that?’
“The energy and aggression from such simplicity really bummed me out. The record was pretty much them jamming in a rehearsal studio with a mobile recording unit – that’s all it was. But there was such intelligence behind it all.
“Tom Morello pushed himself to come up with sounds that nobody else had. He reminds of Eddie Van Halen in that regard. It was like he said, ‘I’m the only guitar player, so how can I come up with a variety of sounds on one instrument?’ I love that – I really do.”
Mr. Big – Lean Into It (1991)
“I can’t deny that I loved this record when it came out. Awesome songs, great vocals, and then you have Paul Gilbert, who is a giant.
“This might not have been the coolest band at the time, but people were sure digging the songs. Alive And Kickin’, Green-Tinted Sixties Mind and Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy are huge. Take My Heart is massive. The thing that Paul plays at the top of that song is just killer.
“This is the record that gave them a Billboard Top 200 song with To Be With You. Writing-wise, you can’t touch it. And, of course, Paul is stunning throughout. The record has commercial power and unbeatable guitar playing.”
Jason Hook – Safety Dunce (2007)
“I’m picking my solo record, so suck on that, everybody! [Laughs] This is an instrumental record that I put out, and the title is a play on words of The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats.
“I’m not trying to be an egomaniac by including my own album, because the truth is, I don’t even like guitar instrumental records. What I did was, I set out to make something like Pantera minus the vocals. I did it with Jeremy Spencer, who is now in Five Finger Death Punch. We were both very frustrated, having put together several different band projects that all collapsed.
“Out of those experiences, I just said, ‘Fine, I’ll do my own record. I’m tired of trying to find the right team.’ I made a Jason Hook record that I could be proud of, something that showcased my recording and playing chops.
“So it’s just a guitar player and a drummer having a blast, but it worked. I ended up winning an LA Music Award for Best Instrumental Record, and then I got a small distribution deal for it. This thing I did for fun actually helped me get into Death Punch. So there you go.”