“I can’t piece a solo together. It’s like a machine gun shooting everything."
Having been raised on a diet of classic rock, it’s little surprise that Joel O’Keeffe holds the art of the guitar solo close to his heart.
Not only is he possibly one of the world’s leading authorities on the guitar solos of Angus Young (plenty more on that later), but he has also tracked a few belting lead lines in his time with Airbourne.
“There’s a solo in a song called Thin The Blood,” he says, dissecting his own back catalogue of solos.
“That’s a real fast mover with a lot of moving parts and little licks in there. That was one of my favourite solos to track because it was so fast-paced. I had to be on it and had a bunch of Red Bulls. It’s got a bit of blues in it so I was dabbling deep in the blues and then was bringing the crazy, fast rock ‘n’ roll stuff as well.”
Downing the energy drinks and going at it until he’s got it seems to be Joel’s approach of choice. He certainly isn’t one for creating the perfect solo on a laptop.
“I can’t piece a solo together. It’s like a machine gun shooting everything. I will record everything and listen back and go, ‘Okay, if I play the first bit of the third take and the middle bit of the fifth take and play the last bit of the 200th take that is my solo.’ Then I’ll sit and learn it.
“When we’re in the studio all of the vocals and music will be done and we do the solos last. I sit there and make it up on the spot. We’ll do 20 takes. Sometimes I get it on the third take and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know what you did there Joel, but we’re keeping that.’
“And I’ll say I can do it better and I’ll try but I’ll be thinking about it whereas on that third take I was just rockin’. Sometimes I’ll do 200 takes and have to go home and come back the next day.”
After discussing his own process of tracking solos, we’re eager to find out about some of the guitar solos that turned Joel onto a life as a hard-touring Aussie rocker. Here he presents his five life-changing solos, and we start with a very familiar choice.
Airbourne tour the UK this month, starting in Bristol on Saturday 11 November.
1. AC/DC - Let There Be Rock
“Live, this solo is always awesome but the album version is right on its edge. He’s really giving it there.
“It’s one of those things where when you hear it it makes you want to be better at playing guitar. Live on that one he goes all over the place, right around the stadium. It’s fuckin’ rockin’.
“He wrote a good solo that day. It’s a big solo and he has a lot of little in-between lead bits before he even gets to the solo.
“I love the mad energy that Angus has. It’s the frenetic energy. It’s like he has lightning in his fingers. It’s like he doesn’t really know what he’s going to do until it comes out and the rest of the band go, ‘Fuckin’ hell Ang, that one’s a keeper, you can go have a cup of tea now.’
“Mal and Phil, and of course with Cliff, that is the definition of an engine room with Malcolm as the band leader. If you look at the live footage of them playing together, watch who they look to when they finish the song. They look at Angus to see when he’s going to jump in the air, but they look at Mal for what they’re going to do next. He is the concrete, he’s the anchor. AC/DC today is a train that just does not stop. If you’re on the tracks you will get ran over.”
2. AC/DC - Whole Lotta Rosie
“Also from the Let There Be Rock album I have to choose the Whole Lotta Rosie solo. That solo is rockin’.
“It’s steaming all the way to the end when he brings it right out and finishes it. Angus is one of those guys that is right on the edge all of the time. There could be a bum note coming but he just skates through. He’s like Indiana Jones where he rolls under and reaches back under and gets his hat.
"It’s one of those moments where you go, ‘Fuck Ang, you nailed that one.’ That album is the definitive guitar solo album. I won’t pick any more off that album because I really could, I could pick a top five just from that album.”
3. Lynyrd Skynyrd - Freebird
“When they did Freebird, the ending of the song is like a five-minute guitar solo.
“They’ve got three guitarists up there and you can learn almost every cool guitar lick out there just from that one solo.
“I remember as a kid trying to learn to play it. I don’t know if I have ADD, but I have trouble focusing on things and I have trouble trying to read something to learn it; I’m much better listening and learning and that’s what I tried to do with that solo.
“The Lynyrd Skynyrd legacy is incredible. They have had some fantastic guitarists. It’s always so clean and the tone is always great. You can always hear the South in there. Skynyrd are one of those bands where are they country rock, are they rock ‘n’ roll, what are they?
“We played on the same bill as them a few years ago and they came out and did two hours, then they had this big bald American eagle draped in the American flag and they came out and did Freebird.
“It was like they saved half of the PA just for Freebird at the end. It was like having your ears sliced off, but in a really good way.
“I love Rickey Medlocke. He’s been there a long time. Being an Explorer man myself, him having an Explorer was something I picked up on as a kid. I learned those little licks that he played, he is very meticulous but also very laid back.”
4. AC/DC - Thunderstruck
“Let me see, anything guitar solo that I love… fuck, they’re all AC/DC!
“The solo in Thunderstruck is one of the greatest, and he does the duck walk when he does it live, but it is one of the greatest guitar pentatonic box shape solos in B. There’s not many solos that you find in B, it’s that kind of key.
“He does the duck walk live and that is awesome. That song changed my life. It came on the TV when I was a kid and I forgot about anything else I might have liked and going to school completely changed.
“I saw that in Grade One and from then on I just couldn’t listen to teachers. I know they were trying to help me and do a good job, but I really couldn’t listen; I just drew AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Metallica logos all over my textbooks.”
5. Metallica - The Unforgiven
“We should finish with Metallica. The Unforgiven solo where there’s the video of him in the studio with Bob Rock. Kirk finally gets that solo and nails it and it is a fuckin’ ripper.
“For a slow, ballad-y song, it is a real ripper, especially having seen the videos on the making of the Black Album. Kirk gets some of the respect he deserves as a guitarist because he’s the lead guitarist, but James Hetfield doesn’t.
“I think that’s because he’s the singer but he can slay. On that note of guys that don’t get their guitar cred, here’s a big one, Bruce Springsteen. Have a look at him slay. People see him just as The Boss, but when he starts playing he is a fast mover, man. You don’t think of him as a guitar slayer, but he is great.”