Paul Gilbert: my 6 career-defining records
Paul Gilbert chooses his six best
Guitarist Paul Gilbert has always been hard to pin down. From his early days as the young gun shred monster in LA's speed-metal band Racer X to big-time radio success with Mr Big and onto an eclectic and successful solo career, he's a musician who refuses to be pigeonholed.
Here the guitar virtuoso - a readers' poll favorite, he earned a spot on Guitar World's 50 Fastest Guitarists Of All Time list - chooses the six records which have most defined his career. From No. 1 hits to cult favorites, he tells MusicRadar why they matter.
First up: "ridiculously fast and athletic guitar playing right out of the box"
Street Lethal (1986)
Fast as a hammer-on, Gilbert ascended from student to instructor at LA's Guitar Institute Of Technology (GIT). In what little spare time he had, he recorded this groundbreaking release for Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records label.
Paul Gilbert says:
"I had just turned 19 when I recorded this album. I had been rehearsing with bassist John Alderete and drummer Harry Gschoesser for a year, so we were very prepared.
"We finished making the record in one week, and hardly did a second take on anything. I wish I had that much time to rehearse now! The first track on the album is a guitar solo called Frenzy, which is some of my most ridiculously fast and athletic guitar playing right out of the box. And deep at the core of all this metal are some nice chord changes.
"I was already mixing chords from Todd Rundgren and Cheap Trick songs together with my metal influences like Loudness, Accept, Yngwie Malmsteen, Gary Moore and Van Halen. Besides singing, Jeff Martin also played drums on Hotter Than Fire, and I played the drum crashes on the intro of Loud And Clear."
Lean Into It (1991)
Having established himself as a late '80s guitar hero, Gilbert formed the 'supergroup' Mr Big with bass whiz Billy Sheehan, drummer Pat Torpey and singer Eric Martin. Their first album did so-so. However, things were about to change...
Paul Gilbert says:
"Mr Big had just finished a long tour as the support band for Rush, and we were all inspired to write our next album. The tunes were finished quickly, rehearsals sounded great and soon we were packing up for the studio.
"I love the songs on this record: Green Tinted Sixties Mind, Just Take My Heart, Alive And Kicking, Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy and To Be With You…the hits kept on coming!
"I had a big old Ford Thunderbird that looked like the Batmobile, and I remember driving it to the studio every day and just being so happy and excited about the music. It was Los Angeles. The weather was perfect. And I was in a killer rock band. Life was good! I couldn’t wait to play the album for everyone. And after To Be With You became a No. 1 hit, I think a lot of people probably did hear it."
Technical Difficulties (1999)
By the mid-'90s, those ol' 'creative differences' upended Mr. Big. Responding to overwhelming fan demand, Gilbert reassembled Racer X - this lineup featured original bassist John Alderete and drummer Scott Travis. The resulting LP went gold in Japan, where Gilbert was a major celebrity.
Paul Gilbert says:
“This was Racer X’s first ‘reunion’ album. I was excited to play some pure metal again, and I especially wanted to record a song called Fire Of Rock that we had played in the ‘80s but had never been recorded.
“I had a studio in my house in Las Vegas, and all the band members flew out to write, rehearse and record. It was the first time that we weren’t rushed in and out of the studio, so we were finally able to spend time getting the sounds and performances exactly how we wanted them.
“I had been making some solo albums with a lot of pop influences, and playing with Racer X again really lit a fire under me to start exploring intense guitar again. I did one short instrumental called B.R.O. (which stands for ‘Bach Rip Off‘). This is some of most ferocious guitar playing I’ve ever done; in fact, the whole band sounds huge. It was great to play with my friends from my teenage heavy metal band again.”
Burning Organ (2002)
For years, Gilbert had straddled the fence between gonzo shred and lighthearted, melodic pop. On his sixth solo release, he put it all together.
Paul Gilbert says:
“I had been living in Japan on and off, and I couldn’t make much noise (or music) there because it would bother the neighbors. I was starving for rock, so when I got back to America I went right in the studio and cranked out this album.
“I think it’s my best combination of lead guitar playing, lead singing and pop-influenced, heavy music. I played all 100 guitars in my collection on a song called I Like Rock, and I’m proud that I could play one of Bach’s Goldberg Variations on acoustic guitar.
“I co-produced the record with my friend Linus of Hollywood, who helped me put thick vocal harmonies everywhere. Marco Minnemann played killer drums. Mike Szuter contributed fantastic bass parts. And I even invented a new way of counting off a song on a tune called I Am Satan: 1-2-3-4-5-6-6-6! (Appropriate, huh?)”
Get Out Of My Yard (2006)
Twenty years after he helped put GIT on the map, Gilbert finally issued what axe enthusiasts the world over had been clamoring for: a record on which the guitar did all the heavy lifting.
Paul Gilbert says:
“This was my long-awaited, first all-instrumental album. I could take all the time that I normally spend writing lyrics and painstaking recording my vocals and put everything into my guitar playing.
“I wanted the first track to be as face-melting as possible, so I did something interesting: I used a double-neck guitar that featured six-strings on one neck while the other had only three strings in a special tuning. This allowed me to play the most intense arpeggios I had ever accomplished.
“My biggest challenge was writing instrumental songs that kept me (a vocal music fan) interested enough to enjoy the music. I especially like the songs Hurry Up and The Curse Of Castle Dragon, and I often include them in my live show. I enjoyed this album so much that I decided to do another…”
Silence Followed By A Deafening Roar (2008)
Gilbert's second full-length instrumental album saw him reach new levels of guitar overkill. Still, there were some delicious left turns, such as a sweet and impassioned take on the Burt Bacharach/Elvis Costello tune I Still Have That Other Girl.
Paul Gilbert Says:
“I think there is more concentrated guitar power on this album than any other I have done. I covered a classical flute piece called Suite Modale. I love this melody, and it had been my dream for years to record it.
“One of my own songs, Eudaimonia Overture combines punk-rock rhythms, tons of crazy arpeggios and a Bach piano piece (played all with guitars). Paul Vs. Godzilla has some really wild guitar sounds along with some of the most naturally composed melodies I’ve ever written for guitar. (While demoing, I sang them all before I even picked up my guitar.)
“I wrote most of this album very early in the morning so I wouldn’t be distracted by the plumbers who were clanking away every day in my house. (Finally, the pipes don’t leak, and I’ve got some enjoyable guitar music to play.) Oh, and don’t forget Norwegian Cowbell…more crazy arpeggios, one of my best rock riffs and, of course, lots of cowbell!"