“It wasn’t a guitar player that made me want to play guitar; it was a singer,” In Flames’s six-string behemoth Björn Gelotte responds when we ask him to name the guitarists that first inspired him.
“It was Ronnie James Dio that first got me into guitar,” he continues. “My dad is a metalhead - his record collection when I was growing up was stellar. He had all of the Rainbow records, all of the Dio records.”
Luckily, as we soon find out, there were plenty of jaw-dropping guitarists that quickly grabbed young Björn’s attention once Dio had encouraged him to dig into his dad’s record collection.
So much so that he has absolutely no problem in reeling off a succession of names. But before we get to the names on Björn’s list, he shares with us a feel traits that each of his top guys share.
“Guitarists need to play with feeling,” he says. “You can’t overdo things, unless you have to. It's a very thin line that you walk as a guitar player. If you’re only shredding all the time you'll get boring really quickly. If you don’t shred at all, you'll get boring really quickly as well!
“All of the guys that I love have a feeling for what is necessary and when. Guys with all of the technique don’t need to show it all of the time; they use it just when it's needed. They have the ability, and that's what commands the respect; they can do it whenever they want. That is something to aspire to. My favourite players have a brilliant sense of melody - they have tasteful guitar masturbating!”
Björn also stresses the importance of a guitarist being able to impress on stage, as well as in the studio.
“For me, playing live is the most fun. You can’t undo it. In the studio, it can turn into something tedious and mechanical because you have to redo it. It becomes more of a job, and for me that is not what music is. Music is playing live. That's how I measure bands and guitar players. You can listen to a record and they sound great... and you hear them live and they suck!”
With all that in mind, Björn gets down to business, and here presents his top five guitar heroes…
1. Ritchie Blackmore
“[After discovering Dio] I dug deeper into my dad’s collection and found Rainbow. That is some amazing stuff.
“Ritchie Blackmore has been a huge influence on me in terms of songwriting and in his way of playing guitar. He is my number one.
“I haven’t seen the line-up that Ritchie has put together for Rainbow but I have listened to it and the guy he has singing sounds really good. He sounds like Coverdale. He lucked out there because he’s found a really good singer. I would be super-excited for a new record from them.
“I love Ritchie’s songwriting. It's so melodic. It's so straight to your heart. Even the Blackmore’s Night stuff has this focus on melody. He has this absolute sense of melody that has always intrigued me and I have always admired that about him. I don’t pretend to be anywhere near that, but I draw inspiration from that.”
2. Eddie Van Halen
“Eddie Van Halen and Zakk Wylde are both up there for me. They have two very different styles: one is a violin player and the other one is a boxer.
“They both have such great expression with the guitar. You sit there and watch them live and your jaw drops. Their technique is perfect. Both of them were very young when they came through; some people just have it. Other people, like me, we have to work for it for a long time.
“Eddie just stands there laughing while doing all of this crazy stuff on the guitar. I was fortunate enough to see Van Halen two years ago. I flew my dad in to see them. It was absolutely perfect. If you close your eyes you could have been listening to the record - that’s how good it was.
“When Eddie was starting out, you have to remember that everything was blues-based. He came up with the tapping thing and nobody understood what he was doing.
“He has a very loose style. It’s not like Yngwie which is also amazing; technique-wise, I don’t think anybody can beat Yngwie. Eddie had this loose style, but had clean stuff coming out of it - you can only dream of getting that.”
3. Zakk Wylde
“I first heard Zakk with the Pride And Glory album.
“I had probably heard him with Ozzy before that, but didn’t really think about it because Ozzy had a bunch of really good guitar players: I was expecting Ozzy’s guitar player to be good.
“Ozzy had Gus G as well for a while, and he's a fantastic guitar player. But I think Zakk and Ozzy is a perfect fit.
“But that Pride And Glory album really kicked my ass. It felt like it was a very organic three-piece that just did this for the joy of rock. Zakk’s guitar playing is amazing on that album.
“I didn’t get to see them play live. They played in Gothenburg, but I was very young and didn’t get to see them. They did the show there and afterwards they came to this tiny rock bar in Gothenburg and played for three hours, and I missed that as well!”
4. Leslie West
“What I grew up listening to is pretty much what I listen to today.
“If you ask anyone else in the band they will say I don’t listen to music unless it’s things like Rainbow and Deep Purple [laughs]. Doug Aldrich is someone that I really like as well.
“Leslie West from Mountain I love as well. That is my dad’s absolute favourite band, so just imagine how much of Mountain I heard as a kid. My dad was a big influence on me thanks to his collection of music. I never had to rebel.
“Most people, their parents listen to boring shit but my dad listened to the good stuff, so how could I rebel? My rebellion was buying a Culture Club record. I listened to it once and thought, ‘Why did I do this?’
“Mountain was great, but what I really, really liked was West, Bruce and Laing. That band stuck with me.”
5. John Petrucci
“There was this 6,000-seater handball arena built just outside of Gothenburg right where I live and Dream Theater came and played there.
“They played the whole Images And Words record. It was flawless. They played a bunch of new stuff then Images And Words, and then as an extra they played A Change Of Seasons. That as an extra, this 25-minute song! I had front-row tickets and I just stood there drooling.”