Airbourne's ten greatest riff-makers
Cast your mind back to 2003, and you'll remember good old-fashioned riff-heavy rock was in a sorry state.
Nu metal and lo-fi garage indie had swept through and taken over the world, with first Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit et al and then The White Stripes, The Strokes, The Vines, and, well, The justaboutanythings clogging up the airwaves. While The Darkness sowed the seeds for a classic rock revival in the UK, over in Australia it was Joel O’Keeffe and Airbourne who were flying the flag for massive, chest-beating, leave-your-brains-at-the-door riffery.
Joel recalls: “When we started it was one of the hardest times for rock ‘n’ roll, we were just standing on our own for a long time just doing what we were doing.”
Ten years and three albums later, the Aussie barnstormers show no sign of slowing. Their particularly potent cocktail of AC/DC’s riffs and er…more of AC/DC’s riffs shows that O’Keeffe and co have a keen ear for a killer guitar lick, so it made perfect sense to ask the Airbourne mainman just who he pins as the finest riffers on the planet...
“A definitive number one for me would be, and this is hard because I have so many definitive number ones, but there is a guy in Australia called Billy Thorpe.
"He’s a great rock ‘n’ roll guitarist and he was one of the guys that started the Aussie rock sound. It was the Easybeats before him, then it went to Billy Thorpe and Lobby Loyde and then it went to AC/DC, Rose Tattoo and The Angels.
"Then there were a few bands in the ‘80s like The Poor and the Baby Animals and Midnight Oil. I’ve got to say Billy because he is one of the greatest. The song Most People I Know Think I’m Crazy has this riff where the song kicks into double time at the end and it just plays this great riff. It’s like a G, A, G, A, C, D thing. It’s just great.”
Malcolm and Angus Young
“Billy was a guitarist that made me want to pick up the guitar, and so was Angus Young, but also Malcolm Young equally.
"I really admire Malcolm’s rhythm. That was one of the first thing I noticed about AC/DC, Malcolm’s rhythm. Of course, his brother Angus and he have such a guitar interplay that is something completely unique to them.
"It’s like four guitars the way that they play. I would say Angus and Malcolm, for sure. Malcolm is pretty bloody special. Every single riff is great, particularly Riff Raff. That is fantastic, it is like one of those legendary right hand riffs and then when it kicks in it’s a rocker.”
“He’s got that cool swagger and I’ve always been into that. I love the way that he does the thumb over the shoulder and he always has his guitar low.
"I bought a Tele based on Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards. That was way back in the day. My favourite riff from Keith would be Jumpin’ Jack Flash. We’ve done that at gigs and it’s always a good one. Keith has it all, and he even has his own tuning!”
“Even now when I watch a video of Hendrix playing, whether it be Woodstock or when he came over to England playing the Marquee or somewhere, he is just so wild.
"There is no scripting what he does. He’s unpredictable and he is just what he is. If Jimi Hendrix surfaced now, if you could get a teleport and put him on the main stage at Donington and nobody knew who he was, it would still be like that moment at Woodstock where people were just gobsmacked, with their jaws open going, ‘What is this? I’ve never heard this sound.’
“Even those sounds that he was getting back then, they have never been emulated today. You get all of this Line 6 kind of stuff, which I personally don’t like. Guys that use it, they are using the same tone as the other guy. If you go buy yourself a real Marshall amp you have the ability to make your own sound because every Marshall amp is different. Every profiler is the same. I’m not down with things like that.
“Hendrix at the time, he made things sound the way they did without anything but feedback and a wah pedal, along with his ability to be who he is. Then you’ve got the size of his fingers, when you see him playing guitar it’s like seeing a giant playing a little virgin girl.
"He’s up and down everywhere, he knows what to do. He would innovate even today and there are very few guitarists that have done that. In fact, I can’t really think of any other guitarists that have done that.”
“Pete Townshend was one of the first guys to invent power. He built Marshall stacks with Marshall so that he could swing a big A chord and everyone would hear it.
"That was innovative. Pete Townshend is a big one for me. You listen to Won’t Get Fooled Again with the big A chord with Daltrey screaming over it, that’s just a hell of a moment in a song.
"Townshend for me as a kid, I used to watch the music channel at home in Australia and all the videos of The Who were him swinging his arm in front of a wall of Marshalls. It just looked so loud and so powerful and the band were just this powerhouse.”
Iron Maiden (all)
“Some of the bands that we’ve been out on the road with have been huge influences on me. I’ve still got the Iron Maiden live at Donnington VHS.
"I went from being a kid with that VHS tape to fast forward to playing on the same stage as them, it’s amazing. They’ve got a stage full of guitarists [Adrian Smith, Janick Gers and Dave Murray] too, it’s always funny trying to work out which one of them is in the PA, ‘Hey, which one am I hearing?!’
"I think it depends which side you stand on. I think they must move it around in the mix a lot. I love Maiden and I love that they have that many guitarists. To me it’s just, ‘Wow, he’s doing a solo, he’s doing a solo, he’s doing a solo,’ I just can’t get enough. I love the riff from Sanctuary, I love that.”
“Black Sabbath just released another album and that’s got big riffs on it as well. Iommi is a favourite of mine, for sure. There are just so many riffs from him.
"I like Paranoid, of course but then everyone will say Paranoid. The first riffs that you learn on guitar are Smoke On The Water and Paranoid. Iron Man is really, really good.
"I like a lot of Black Sabbath. Iommi was another innovator, no one had done that sound and look at how many bands it has influenced. You wouldn’t have had Metallica if you’d not had Black Sabbath.
"And then you wouldn’t have had Aerosmith if you hadn’t had the Rolling Stones. That’s just the way that rock ‘n’ roll works. That’s what I love about rock ‘n’ roll and I think Mick Jagger said it best when he said, ‘It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.’”