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“I would say my introduction to prog-rock occurred when I heard Yes,” says John Petrucci, Dream Theater’s guitar king. “When I was growing up and getting into music, I was listening mostly to rock – Zeppelin, AC/DC, Sabbath. It’s usually the older brother of a friend who introduces you to something new, and that’s the way it was for me. ‘You gotta hear this!’ my friend’s older brother said, and he held out a copy of Fragile."
According to Petrucci, Fragile ignited something in his soul, and he realized that rock could transcend the confines of blues-based structures. "Yes had so much going on," he says. "Their songs were longer than three minutes, and they went way beyond guitar, bass and drums. There were keyboards – lots and lots of keyboards! Things weren’t so straight-ahead with Yes; they didn’t have to limit themselves to 4/4. But the cool thing was, they were still a rock band – guys with long hair, tons of equipment, cool lights and all that good stuff.”
By the time he attended the prestigious Berklee College Of Music, Petrucci says that his musical tastes were pretty much set. Still, he admits, there were surprises. "I remember meeting a guy who was carrying a Chapman Stick," he says. "I had never seen such a thing before. ‘What is that?’ I asked him. And he was like, ‘It’s a Stick. You know – Tony Levin, King Crimson…’ I didn't know. So there were still some new things for me to check out on the progressive side of things."
At Berklee, Petrucci and bassist John Myung, a friend since middle school, met drummer Mike Portnoy, and the three students formed Majesty, the genesis of the group that would ultimately become Dream Theater. Although the band quickly became heralded in prog-rock circles, Petrucci says that the members never talked in those terms.
"We just wrote the kind of music we wrote," he states. "People heard the first Dream Theater album or some of our demos, and they’d be like, ‘So, do you guys listen to Kansas? You sound like some of those prog bands.’ It was surprising, in a way, because we were these guys from Long Island – big Rush fans, big Yes fans, big rock and metal fans."
But the prog-rock spirit, and the musical lessons he gleaned from his teenage listening years, proved essential to Petrucci's triumphs as a player and songwriter. "I followed my instincts," he says. "My biggest desire as a musician has always been to try to do something different, something nobody else has done before.”
On the following pages, John Petrucci runs down (in alphabetical order by artist) what he calls the 11 greatest prog-rock albums of all time. "All the records here are by bands and artists that achieved the goal of doing something new and exciting over and over again.”