Evanescence guitarist Troy McLawhorn: 10 albums that changed my life

(Image credit: PR Brown)

Evanescence guitarist Troy McLawhorn took a little time and weighed this list up. Sometimes this list is but a collection of albums, their significance in how they shape the way we look at playing electric guitar, or how we look at music.

But there are other times when the songs do all that and more; they figuratively hoist us out your life’s trajectory and remake you anew. These albums are like chapter markers in a life. McLawhorn’s list was compiled with those chapters in mind.

The early influences perform their role as expected – the Beatles, EVH, and so on… All quite universal experiences. Then, when music becomes a serious deal for him and it’s time to hit the road, McLawhorn affords the songs that follow an almost existential significance. Should the mood take him to write a memoir, you could well chapter it with these.

“At first I was thinking of the music and hearing something and thinking, ‘wow!’, but these are from albums that were milestones in my life and took me in a different direction,” says McLawhorn.

As for Evanescence, right now they are like every other recording artist in the world right now – biding time until this thing is over. But they had been writing before the pandemic and there is new music.

In February, they hit the studio in Nashville and recorded four tracks. We’ve seen the release of The Game Is Over and Wasted On You. Use My Voice has been issued as part of the Headcount campaign to increase voter participation in the US. The videos were shot at home and edited together using iPhone footage.

(Image credit: PR Brown)

Back to the list, the through-line is imagination. All of these piqued McLawhorn’s, making the world bigger, stranger, different. There is a lot of rock, a lot of metal. Nirvana comes up in conversation, but doesn’t make the list. Theirs was a sound that McLawhorn didn’t get at the time. He does now.

It is the same with a lot of bands. But being into metal served a purpose. “I guess it would be hard to find yourself if you were just soaking up everything and you liked every kind of music at a young age,” he says. “You need some kind of focus.”

1. The Beatles – Abbey Road (1968)

“That album came out the year I was born, 1968. My mom was a big rock fan… She was big on all the British Invasion bands, and Abbey Road was one that I always gravitated towards. I think it was just that musical journey on that album. It’s kind of quirky; there are songs on that album that are not even songs; they are just weaved into this journey.

The Beatles didn’t just stay in one box. They did everything. They did kids’ songs. They would go from heavy to this super-country song! That’s why I loved the Beatles so much. They didn’t get trapped in some formula. They were always growing and experimenting. Even back then, they had some super-heavy songs. Paul McCartney’s voice was just crazy when he would go for it. It was amazing.

“But the reason this is on the list is because when I met my wife, Amy, when we started dating, she had a loft apartment down outside of Little Five Points, in Atlanta, and we spent weeks hanging out in her apartment listening to albums, drinking wine, getting to know each other, and I turned her onto Abbey Road. We fell in love to that music and got married, so that album really did change my life!”

2. KISS – Destroyer (1976) 

“I did want to be a drummer. I was a huge fan of Peter Criss. I was a huge fan of all them when I was a kid. I thought Ace and Gene’s makeup was the best. They were my favourite to be on Halloween. I would assume it was around ’76 when Destroyer came out, I got a portable record player for my birthday and KISS’s Destroyer. My mom got me that and it was my first album. I wore it out.

“A couple of years later, on Halloween, they had a live movie on television, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, and it was our favourite holiday. My mom loved Halloween. We dressed up and went out trick-or-treating early so we could get back home and watch the KISS concert and the movie that night.

“KISS was scary. I remember watching Gene Simmons doing his bass solo, and he is hitting this low note, and it is all distorted. He starts convulsing and blood starts coming out of his mouth. It was like Slipknot for 70s kids.”

3. Van Halen – Van Halen I (1978) 

"Once I heard that, I took it way more seriously and started having dreams of being a musician"

“That was the album that I heard and knew immediately that I definitely wanted to be a guitar player. It was like an alien came to Earth and suddenly changed everything. It was so different. I am still a huge fan of Van Halen.

“When Van Halen came out, I had been playing guitar but not serious about it. Once I heard that, I took it way more seriously and started having dreams of being a musician. I thought it was amazing when I found out that, as a kid, Eddie had wanted to be a drummer, too. Like, ‘I am just like Eddie!’ Except I can’t play like him. I got to meet him on the last tour we did. He came to the show. He was really down to earth.”

4. Def Leppard - Pyromania (1983)

"It was really my first hard rock concert"

“The reason this is on my list is because it was one of the events that altered the course of my life. They were on tour for that album and they came through my town, Fayetteville, North Carolina. A friend of mine had a couple of tickets and he was like, ‘Hey, you wanna go to this concert with me?’

“We went and it was really my first hard rock concert. I had been to one rock concert before that – Heart, with Eddie Money opening – but that was nothing like the Def Leppard concert. It was high-energy. It was super-loud. They had the light show, pyro, it just changed everything for me. 

"We walked out and we couldn’t even talk to each other because we couldn’t hear each other. We were screaming, ‘THAT WAS AWESOME, MAN!’ We were all deaf but it was amazing.”

5. Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard Of Ozz (1980)

"I had some friends who were jamming a lot and we put together a band for the school talent show and we played I Don’t Know from Blizzard Of Ozz"

“When I was in ninth grade, our school had a talent show. By that point I was playing guitar seriously. I had some friends who were jamming a lot and we put together a band for the school talent show and we played I Don’t Know from Blizzard Of Ozz.

“The band that won the talent show had a teacher playing guitar in the band. We were screaming foul. That’s not fair! But they won, we lost, and we were very pissed off about it but who’s laughin’ now! [Laughs]

“I don’t think the production is great. But at that point they were lucky to get Ozzy in the studio at that point. We were all lucky to be hearing it.”

6. Queensrÿche – Rage For Order (1986)

"I loved bands that had two guitar players in them. I was a big Judas Priest fan, Iron Maiden, anybody that had two guitar players in their band and were doing harmonies"

“Queensrÿche had a moment right before everything changed in the '90s. Operation Mindcrime was a big album for them. I was a fan of them from their EP. 

I loved bands that had two guitar players in them. I was a big Judas Priest fan, Iron Maiden, anybody that had two guitar players in their band and were doing harmonies. In all my bands, I always wanted two guitar players so I could do that.”

“When you are playing live, when someone goes to take a solo, the bottom doesn’t fall out. I think it always sounds better when there are two guitar players – unless you are Randy Rhoads or Eddie Van Halen. They knew how to make it work.”

7. Nine Inch Nails – Broken (1992)

“It’s hard to pick an album. I’ll say Broken but it was on the Downward Spiral tour when I was in a band and we were playing CBGBs in New York. It was the first time any of us had been to New York. 

"Somebody hooked us up with a couple of tickets to see Nine Inch Nails at Madison Square Garden. Me and my guitar player at the time, Clint Lowery from Sevendust – we go way back – went, and it is the best concert I have ever seen in my life to this day. I have never seen anything like it.

“They had these screens that they would raise and and lower, the backlight… It was like going to a heavy metal theatre or something, and the production was amazing. They sounded perfect. I have never seen a better concert. When I go to see a concert, I wanna see something.”

8. Pantera – Cowboys From Hell (1990)

"It changed the way we all thought about heavy music"

“I remember that album came out and I was in a band, touring the States. We did a lot of driving and I just remember it being in the cassette player in our van forever! We listened to it over and over. It really changed that band. We started going in a heavier direction immediately. We beefed our sound up and started writing heavier riffs. It changed the way we all thought about heavy music.

“One thing I loved about Dimebag is that he loved all the same music that I loved growing up. He just took it somewhere completely different. The riffs were crazy and heavy. That first album really bridged the gap; they had the high singing and the crushing riffs but still that 80s production, then they carried it to the extreme and changed metal.”

9. Sounds To Make You Shiver – various (1974)

“It has all these sound effects on it, like a mad scientist’s laboratory, a haunted house, ghostly sounds, werewolves howling, all this stuff. I used to listen to it all the time when I was really young! It was one of my favourite albums.

“Years later, just a couple of years ago, I bought a turntable, and I’m walking around in the square in my town. There’s this antique shop, and in the window is this record. Oh my God! I was like, ‘I’ve got to buy it!’ It was 30 bucks, really expensive. I put it on and it was exactly as I remembered it. 

"It gives me the best feeling when I listen to it. It makes me feel like a kid. I would just sit there and daydream listening to that record. I am a big fan of Halloween, the holiday and the movie, and I am drawn to the spectacle of it, and the imagination that goes into it.”

10. Evanescence – The Open Door (2006)

“I got the phone call during that tour to play guitar for Evanescence, just as a fill-in musician because John LeCompt had left the band and they needed someone to come play guitar so they could finish the tour. That was my introduction to Evanescence and I’ve been going 14 years.

“I wasn’t so familiar with Evanescence. I knew their singles. I heard them on the radio. But at the time I had another band that I was in called Dark New Day and my head was buried in that.

“I remember learning the songs and finding out that they had all these different tunings. Terry Balsamo, the other guitar player at the time, was helping me, telling me the tunings for the songs, but I was a child from the '80s and I remember learning the songs and thinking they were really easy to play because there were hardly any guitar solos.

“It was all just rhythm guitar stuff. Then I got to this song called Your Star and that was the most difficult one. It has got this crazy riff in it. That one took me a while. But all the other ones, it was like, ‘Wow! This is gonna be easy!’ …Then I had to learn two albums in two weeks – that wasn’t easy. That was a lot of music.”

Evanescence's new single Use My Voice  is out now. For more info on the band, head over to evanescence.com

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.