A lot of guitarists talk a good game when it comes to versatility, but few players can match the chameleon-like diversity of Alex Skolnick. Whether it's walloping thrash with Testament, expansive rock-jazz with his own Alex Skolnick Trio or symphonic prog-metal with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Skolnick's quick-change acts could make even Clark Kent green with envy.
Growing up, the guitarist's listening habits leaned heavily towards The Beatles and KISS, but he was also enamored of ‘50s rock 'n' roll – Chuck Berry being a particular favorite. "I remember seeing the movie American Hot Wax," says Skolnick. "Chuck Berry played himself, and he completely knocked me out. Seeing him live in that film lit a spark under me and got me thinking about lead guitar."
Van Halen's 1978 debut album was the forest fire. Skolnick calls the record "that thing that made me really understand the impact of true virtuosity. There's no question that my world changed dramatically when I heard Eddie Van Halen play."
By the late '80s, Skolnick was being hailed as one of the most technically proficient and gifted metal guitarists in the world, and it was around this time that he saw Miles Davis on TV playing with one of his electric-period bands. "I didn’t even know it was jazz," he says. "I just liked it. The Miles stuff from that era got me into checking out more jazz players, and my ears opened up in a whole new way."
On the following pages, Skolnick runs down his choices for what he considers to be 10 essential guitar albums (listed alphabetically by artist). “There are gems that show up over the years, and they’re very special," he says. "They appear less frequently as you get older, so you tend to go back to them... and they become even more important."