Dream Theater's John Petrucci: my top 5 not-so-guilty pleasures of all time
For close to 30 years, John Petrucci's rapturous, metal-infused licks and solos have sent legions of fleet-fingered hopefuls back to the woodshed. With each new Dream Theater release, his ferocious speed, immaculate precision and unbridled creativity, all of it combined with an uncanny kind of understated poise, raises the bar on how far (and how fast) shred guitar can go.
Any guy who has changed the game time and again like Petrucci surely must live on a steady diet of shred and more shred, right? "Obviously, that's something I love, I love to do, and I’m challenged by it," he says. "But as a guitar player, I’m enamored by any great guitar player. And as a musician and music fan, I don’t draw distinctions between what I will or won’t listen to. There’s too much good stuff out there – you never know what you might miss."
From a songwriting angle, Petrucci notes that his influences can come from anywhere. "They're not just the obvious prog or metal choices," he says. "A lot of times it's subconscious – you come up with something and go, 'Now where did that come from?' Sometimes the answers are surprising and obscure."
Every so often, though, the guitarist admits that he'll find himself tapping his foot or nodding his head to something a little out of his wheelhouse. "And there's always that moment where you catch yourself," Petrucci says. "But then I’ll go, ‘Oh, wait a minute… I can like this. In fact, I do like it!’ It’s always interesting – the way music works its way into your head is pretty mysterious.”
On the following pages, Petrucci runs down his five not-so-guilty pleasures, everything from the decidedly non-shred sounds of new age harp master Andreas Vollenweider to the Brill Building-inspired pop of Billy Joel. “Growing up on Long Island, I think Billy Joel albums come with your driver’s license," he says with a laugh. "But you just can’t deny the songs.”
Andreas Vollenweider - Down To The Moon (1986)
“For anyone who doesn’t know his work, Andreas Vollenweider is a harpist who creates very atmospheric, new agey music that’s totally beautiful. This particular album is one that I got into a while back. I would always put it on to relax and get into a really mellow mood.
“It’s also one of those records that I can kind of point to as having influenced my writing style in some ways. That might be surprising to people who think that everything I do has lots of notes and is real proggy, with all the time changes and shredding and stuff. But I’m definitely drawn to how pretty and atmospheric Andreas' music is, and there are some parts in my writing where I do go down that same road. And like I said, it’s just great music to unwind to.”
Keane - Hopes And Fears (2004)
“Here’s an example of an album I like that doesn’t really have guitar on it. The first time I heard it, there was something about it that caught my ear. There’s so much music out there – it’s on the radio, it’s online, it’s on satellite radio – and it’s always a surprise when you hear something that intrigues you. In the case of this album, I just fell in love with it.
“The songwriting is great, the sound of the band is cool, and the singer’s voice is unique and genuine. I’ll put it on every so often and just get into it. I think I heard it for the first time when I was on the road; it might have been James [LaBrie] who played it for me. The second it came on, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’ It’s great whenever that happens.”
John Scofield - Blue Matter (1987)
“It’s an awesome album. Oftentimes, whenever I do interviews with guitar magazines and we discuss my influences, I mention people like Steve Morse, Alex Lifeson, Al Di Meola – but John Scofield’s name never comes up. And that’s funny because he’s so amazing; he’s the epitome of a really cool guitar player.
“He has so many incredible qualities: his feel, his phrasing, his attitude; he’s so tasty and creative. I remember a lot of my friends who were into rock and jazz were really into this record, and it became one of my favorites, too.
“Dennis Chambers plays drums on Blue Matter, and I’m a big fan of his drumming, which makes the Scofield album even more enjoyable. I saw Dennis play live once with Allan Holdsworth, and my eyes were fixated on Dennis.
"This is a great album for anybody who wants to check out what John Scofield is all about.”
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - Grand Opening And Closing (2001)
“This is a more recent album. Tony Levin turned me on to this band. In some ways, you might expect me to like them because they’re in the prog-metal vein, but they’re really experimental, as in super avant-garde metal. They're almost creepy at times – totally bizarre and weird stuff. [Laughs]
“They play homemade instruments and do some pretty wild things with them. It can freak you out, too, especially if you listen to it late at night. That might be the best time to listen to it [laughs]. When you’re in that mood, it really works. In a way, there’s a bit of a Primus element to the band, but way, way more wacky.”
Billy Joel - Turnstiles (1976)
“Long Island pride, right? [Laughs] I don’t know if people know this about me, but I’m into Billy Joel. I’m a huge fan of his and always have been. He’s just a quintessential songwriter of our time. Talk about a storied career – so many classic songs and great albums.
"Turnstiles has a few songs that are my favorites. Of course, there’s New York State Of Mind, but there’s also I’ve Loved These Days and Miami 2017, and those are just incredible. It’s like, who doesn’t know these songs, you know? They’re great anytime they come on, and they're cool to play along to.
"I should also mention that the record features our great friend Richie Cannata on sax. Richie owns Cove City Sound Studios, which is where we’ve been recording. He’s an amazing player, but it’s so funny because I’ll be talking and interacting with him on a daily basis, and then I’ll hear him on the radio doing these classic, signature sax solos. It’s like, ‘Hey, I know that guy!’"