“When I study the more terrifying guitarists, I always look at pentatonic stuff that they’re doing devastatingly well and try to learn from that to start with,” says Alter Bridge axeman Mark Tremonti, when asked how he dissects different playing styles on a recent press jaunt through Europe ahead of Alter Bridge’s sixth full-length Walk The Sky (opens in new tab). Sage advice indeed from an incredibly seasoned and disciplined musician…
“I tend to find it’s easier to morph pentatonic ideas into your own playing,” he continues, speaking with the kind of authority that can only come from experience before confessing there are occasions where – just like the rest of us – he has to cave in and admit defeat. “But Joe Bonamassa’s alternate picking (opens in new tab) is something else. I’ve been to soundcheck and plugged into his rig, he’ll blaze through a lick and then hand you a ’59 burst – in those situations I just end up playing Iron Man or something ha ha!”
Tremonti goes on to explain that there was one occasion where Bonamassa had sent him a text to say he was coming through town, inviting the Alter Bridge guitarist to come and sit in with the band. It was, quite frankly, a terrifying proposition. “I text him back saying I’d love to come to the show but I couldn’t do that,” admits Tremonti. “He asked me, ‘Why man?’ and I replied, ‘Because I don’t want to be humiliated in my hometown by the world’s best blues player!’ He even suggested doing a slow blues saying it would be fine, but honestly the last thing I’d do is go against one of the best like that. I don’t want to cut heads with him ever. Nah, I’d rather just chill!”
In his list of the 10 guitarists who blew his mind – each of whom has mastered the five-note scale in its minor and major form, including Joe Bo – the common theme presiding above all else, believes Tremonti, is emotion….
1. Eric Gales
“Let’s go with Eric Gales (opens in new tab) first. He could be the best guitar player on earth… he’s that incredible. If there was ever the ultimate head-cutter in any head-cutting guitar competition, he’d be the king. I’ve never seen him play with another guitarist and not shine. He’s the one that makes you drop your jaw.
“The first time I heard about him was when our drum tech way back said I should give Eric a listen while I was listening to the band Cry Of Love. He gave me his whole story and then I listened to the music and was blown away. Since then, YouTube’s blown up so you can check it all out there. He’s so inspiring, this Jimi Hendrix-style upside-down player. He’s really terrifying.
“I’ve never seen him live but we did have one interaction. I’d mentioned him in one of my interviews and one of the guys from Living Colour, who we were on tour with, came over and said thanks for saying something nice about Eric. And it turns out Eric had seen the interview and wanted to express his appreciation. That was cool… these interviews get around, guitar players hear about each other. And he needs more people to know who he is, that guy is amazing.”
2. Derek Trucks
“Another one of the most outstanding players on the planet. He’s up there with Eric, especially when it comes to pure emotion and being at one with your guitar. It’s almost this Stevie Ray Vaughan, wear your heart on your strings kinda approach.
“I’d say he is the world’s best slide players and one of the most emotive musicians I’ve ever heard. It’s funny going to watch him – you’re getting all teary-eyed and he’s just sitting there stoic, just doing his thing, like he’s hanging out on an elevator. He really is incredible.”
3. Audley Freed
“I got turned on to Cry Of Love years ago. Their first record was one of those albums where I had to learn every solo. He had this way of being slithery in his use of legato. I found his pentatonic runs to be so classy and cool because of that serpentine approach to bluesy rock. It would go from country-infused blues into other things that could twist your ear.
“I copped a lot of licks from him over the years. At one point a buddy of mine was working at the Guitar Center in Nashville. He took me into the Platinum room, where they had his Fender high-gain stack which he tracked those records with. I instantly asked how much and got it for $1500, so now I have that amp! Not long after that, I went to see him and got to meet him. He’s definitely another one of those super-magical players.”
4. Stevie Ray Vaughan
“For years, he was my favourite guitar player. I put down the Les Pauls and PRS guitars to pick up the Strat and play like him. I didn’t get too far into it, but I love what he did. Watch any footage of him playing Lenny live and you’ll instantly know he was one of the most badass guys of all-time. Pure emotion playing those massive strings… he must have had powerful fingers, man.
“Even though he got a lot from Albert King and Jimi Hendrix, he ended up inspiring loads of people to go down his Texas-infused route. I’ve picked up a lot of licks from him over the years, consciously and subconsciously. I never quite Scuttle Buttin’ up to speed. I think I learned The Sky Is Crying and Lenny before I gave up and realised I’d never be Stevie Ray Vaughan!”
5. Jimmy Page
“I think Jimmy is one of the greatest writers in rock. His leads had great feel. I remember speaking to the guitarist/singer from The Tea Party [Jeff Martin], because he had this amazing feel, and asked where he’d learned it all from. And he told me it was all from Jimmy Page.
“You’ll notice his methods really worked for him, all his guitar parts really called for it. Even three minutes into one of his songs, you’d find some of the most kickass guitar lines ever recorded.
“There’s never been one particular record for me, but I guess when I first heard Dazed And Confused and then Kashmir as a kid, I was hooked. It sounded heavy and magical. How can you not love him?”
6. Jeff Beck
“He’s definitely up there with Gales and Trucks when it comes to emotion. Listen to him playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow and it will tear your heart out. I saw his first US show after quite a long time at the House Of Blues in Orlando, it was so special. I was always a fan but that night took it to the next level
“I haven’t even tried to dive into learning his stuff; it’s very different to what I do in terms of his whammy bar usage at super-low gain. Eric Friedman, who plays guitar with me in the Tremonti band, can pick that stuff up. I just don’t have that acumen!”
7. Shawn Tubbs
“He’s a guy that not a lot of people while know about; he hasn’t been in magazines much as far as I know. How I stumbled upon him was his gear reviews on YouTube. Any new pedal or whatever that comes out, he’ll knock up this incredible demo of it – writing a song without vocals.
“He’ll lay down the rhythm and have a video of the guitar, the amp settings, everything exact so you can replicate it yourself. Then he’ll play a solo, you’ll get a double screen, and then another layer of guitar on top of that, all going on at one time. Those are some of the most badass little jams online. You should see my tab book – I’ve spent time writing them out! Then I learned he’d also been Carrie Underwood’s touring guitarist. He even did a review of the [signature PRS amp] MT15, I was such a fan that I had the PRS guys reach out to him and see if he could do a demo.
“He’s one of those guys who when you first discover them, you’ll stay up until 4am just spinning through stuff on YouTube, deep-diving into his licks. He knows how to play really classy, but he can burn like a madman. You might see one solo where he keeps it chilled but then the next one will blow your mind in skill.”
8. Mateus Asato
“He’s another one of those beautiful players. He writes these almost poetic guitar lines by taking a cover and finding really cool voices using fingerstyle. You can put him in a ring of players like Eric Gales and you’d be looking back and forth; those guys are just next level geniuses.
“We played a show in Memphis, which Soundgarden were also playing about a month before Chris passed, and Tori Kelly was playing on this other stage that had more pop stuff. Mateus was playing with her and I went over to check them out…
“He was having his jam and then looked side-stage. I see him, he sees me, having never met before. Then he went into this amazing solo that just mesmerised the crowd. Afterwards he looked over to me as if to say, ‘What do you think?’ Of course the answer was, ‘Dude, you’re incredible!’”
9. Joe Bonamassa
“I remember being at a DVD store, back when people still bought DVDs, to pick up a bunch of guitar stuff. There was Yngwie live with an orchestra, some other thing and then third one was this dude called Joe Bonamassa (opens in new tab) that I’d never heard of. I figured he must be good if he had a DVD. The other DVDs were cool but I knew what to expect.
“Turning over to Bonamassa made me think, ‘Where the hell did this guy come from?!’ Then I found out he’d been around for a while, having played with BB King as a kid. He did this big long solo using all these volume swells. After that I had to buy all his records. When we were making Blackbird, I remember listening one of his earlier records to cop a load of licks. When I’m about to do a solo, I try to pick as many as I can along the way, trying to find inspirational moments to drive me. It might be one lick here and another there. In fact, there’s one lick in Blackbird, which is possibly my most well-known solo, that’s definitely nicked from Joe Bonamassa.
“Since then, he’s improved as a vocalist, guitarist, performer and businessman. He’s become this super impressive person. He’s such a fan of the guitar, he’s all in. There’s nothing else in life that gets in the way of that passion. I’ve gotten to hang with him and ask him about his picking over dinner and he just told me it was all alternate… there’s just no way I could pull off those licks at that speed like that.”
10. Carl Verheyen
“I learned a lot from him. It’s a very different style of phrasing – whenever you hear him explain it, he thinks about all the intervals and chases down more of a theoretical approach to soloing. He’ll target the major third or fifths for certain chords, while weaving through really interesting patterns.
“One thing he said that stuck with me was how there are less than a handful of days a year where he doesn’t play. Even if he’s on vacation, he’ll have his with him. You have to stay on top of your game. He clearly puts the time in, playing 360 days a year is dedication. He sounds different to pretty much any other player, but like Frank Gambale, when you see other people pick up that approach, you know exactly where it came from.”