Relaxing in the upstairs bar of a lavish west London hotel, Steel Panther guitarist Satchel admits he’s feeling “blown away” by the title alone of new album Heavy Metal Rules (opens in new tab), slated for release at the end of September.
“Dude, I can’t believe we haven’t thought of that before!” he shrugs, shaking his head. “There’s actually a song on the record called Heavy Metal Rules too, which is something we’ve never done, having a title track on an album. It’s so perfect because heavy metal rules and that’s what we love to do.”
While we’re at it, what about the rules of heavy metal? It’s clearly an area of expertise for the virtuoso guitarist. When asked for his guide to keeping one’s metal heavy, he speaks in riddles before making a valid point...
“The only rule is that there are no rules,” laughs Satchel, as if reading the trailer script for a Hollywood blockbuster. “That’s the rule! Follow anything else besides that rule and you’re not heavy metal. That’s the essence of it all right there. You can learn about music theory and what chords go together and shit, but the vibe is about rebellion, having fun and partying into your mid-60s like me. No one knows what a 13th chord is! Dude, I don’t even know what that shit is, but I’m pretty sure my fingers aren’t long enough.”
One-time touring member Spyder – who covered for Lexxi Foxx while the bassist was “in sex rehab” and has now been relegated back down to tour manager duties – laughs to himself while answering emails from the next table. Satchel points in his direction with a mischievous grin. “Spyder played a song on the new record, by the way,” he continues. “He saved Lexxi’s ass by filling out on bass for some shows so we got him to play on a song called I’m Not Your Bitch. But the funny thing is he is my bitch! It’s killer and he killed it. Anyways, let’s go back to the compliments about me…”
All the classic flavours of Steel Panther are certainly there on their fifth album’s lead single All I Wanna Do Is Fuck (Myself Tonight) – from fist-pumping gang vocal choruses to Satchel’s fret-burning finger acrobatics. The guitarist confirms he stuck with his trusted EVH 5150 III during the studio sessions, though has continued using Atomic Amps AmpliFire (opens in new tab) for his live tones. Technology has come a long way, he rightfully observes...
“Man, when I was born there weren’t any amps, there wasn’t even electricity!” cackles the six-stringer. “What I found is that the AmpliFire takes a lot of the inconsistencies away. I used to bring amps to Australia and they would sound so different because of the current. Then there are inconsistencies with mic’ing up and each room sounding different. Now all my tones are digitized and sound the same every show. Life’s a lot easier!”
For extra gain, the Steel Panther axeman likes to kick in his own pedal – the infamous Pussy Melter that began life as a TC Electronic Toneprint before controversy led to its removal (opens in new tab) and resurrection as his own signature stompbox with dials for Dirty, Booty, Load and Sizzle, before eventually being rebranded on Toneprint. It also has a sister pedal – the Poontang Boomerang delay – which he claims was also made by the head buffs at NASA in conjunction with other scientists from Hustler and Playboy, rather than the previous collaborators he once jokingly nicknamed ‘PC Electronics’.
“The best pedal that I’ve ever heard is the Pussy Melter,” admits Satchel. “The Poontang Boomerang is great too. But honestly, I’m not a gear guy. I like to keep it simple. In the '80s everyone started getting into giant refrigerator-sized Bradshaw racks and most of the time I couldn’t even hear the guitars. It didn’t sound good, it sounded thin. The signal would be running through so many different things…
“I haven’t had a guitar tech for most of our career and I still don’t a lot of the time. More pedals means more shit to break and more batteries. If a string goes, I want to finish the song and not switch guitars. That’s why my tremolo system isn’t floating, I’d rather my instrument stayed in tune. I just need a good amp and a good chord, that’s it. All my heroes would sound the same whether they were plugged into a modded Marshall or a Peavey practice amp. It’s in the fingers. You can fuck with the tone up to a point, but most of the time it just comes down to how you play…”
Speaking of which, here the Steel Panther gunslinger reveals the 10 guitar players that blew his mind...
1. Jimmy Page
“Going back to when I was very young, like a lot of kids, the first thing I ever learned was Stairway To Heaven. I didn’t even know who Jimmy Page was when I was that young, but I knew he sounded fuckin’ awesome because everything on Led Zeppelin IV sounds awesome. He’s one of the most genius songwriters that’s ever lived.
“I love how he didn’t give a shit if he was the cleanest guitar player… he even admitted that he didn’t really care. Some nights he would be a lot cleaner than others, but it wasn’t about that. He was so creative and very experimental. All of those riffs and licks were genius.
“We nearly met him in this very hotel one time, but just missed him. I ran down the stairs but then he was gone because he’s magical and drifted out on smoke. He’s so legendary that there’s no outshredding this guy. He’s carved his way onto the Mount Rushmore of rock. Through him I realised it wasn’t just about being technical on guitar, it all comes down to being creative. If your music isn’t fun to listen to, no one will listen to it or care how good you are. It will just be you by yourself in your bedroom and that’s not fun.”
2. Eddie Van Halen
“Eddie influenced everybody, but especially guys that are as old as me. Of course when I heard Eruption for the first time I thought ‘Holy shit, this guy sounds amazing!’ but people forget how insane his rhythm playing is. You can see 11 year-old kids playing Eruption, we’ve had them on stage with us, but they can’t play I’m The One… nobody can play it quite the same.
“Why is that, you wonder? Because it’s harder to get that feel, Eruption has less time and rhythm to it. Ultimately, Eddie had everything down and best of all he wrote killer songs. What I love about Runnin’ With The Devil and a lot of the big hits is the fact they were so simple. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love is just an arpeggio, right? But it’s such a catchy song.”
3. Yngwie Malmsteen
“He remains one of the most emotional guitar players of all-time. He had so much feel that people often dismissed because he was so fast. His note choices were amazing too… in my eyes, that made up for the fact his songwriting wasn’t quite up there with Van Halen or AC/DC.
“I loved Yngwie when he first came out, but as time went on I realised I only listened to him when I wanted to be inspired by awesome lead playing. If I’m in my car just driving around, I’ll probably to listen to something else. What I will say about Yngwie early on, when he was in Alcatrazz and made that first Rising Force record, is that he played in a way that nobody has been able to touch.”
4. Buck Dharma
“I have to put Buck in this list! I’ve always loved Blue Öyster Cult and I still love them. Their creativity was unmatched, they always came out with really bitchin’ rock shit. They wrote cool riffs and parts in songs with cool lyrics about vampires and shit. I’ve always felt they were very unique. Buck was always spot on; their song Godzilla is a massive hookfest.
“What Buck did in the band wasn’t technically amazing, though he had great technique for that time period, but his feel and note choices were perfect. Listen to the licks from the solo in their most popular song, Don’t Fear The Reaper. To this day, it’s a fuckin’ classic solo through and through. Every note is perfect, I defy anybody to say it isn’t. If he improvised that, it’s amazing. If he wrote it all out, it’s still amazing… because it’s fuckin’ perfect. That’s the goal.
“I don’t like to hear guitar solos unless they add to the song. In Steel Panther, I want my parts to sing and sound melodic so everyone goes, ‘Here comes that solo!’ It has to bring something to the table, otherwise there’s no point. Some of our songs don’t have solos, because I felt they didn’t need one.”
5. Paul Gilbert
“I’ve known Paul for years, we even lived together many moons ago. We used to eat a lot of Indian food, I remember he was super into naan bread. He was like a spider monkey, seven feet tall and not eating all day. Suddenly at eight o’ clock every night, he’d realise he was starving and would start craving Asian food.
“He’s been a huge influence on me, not just as a lead player, but as a musician. He’s a very creative person, he loves to play piano and other instruments and bring all of that into his songwriting. He’s incredibly well-rounded because I guess he wanted to play everything.
“He wanted to do all of it because he’s a musician’s musician. He will take influence from anything, transposing from piano to guitar just for fun and a challenge. Besides from making him a better musician, it also keeps you young. You keep hearing things that sound cool and they make you want to learn why. You get more and more new ideas.
“Paul is probably the most technically amazing guitar player I’ve heard in my life. Yngwie is fantastic in his own right, but Paul is almost like a computer in how clean he picks. Even Yngwie makes mistakes once in a while, but I’ve never heard Paul make a mistake… unless it he did it on purpose.”
6. Jimi Hendrix
“Dude, I gotta put Hendrix in here. I think I was roomies with him for a bit too… he definitely knew my son back in the 60s ha ha! Listen to that solo on All Along The Watchtower, the tone and vibrato is so fuckin’ good.
“Plus he was a freak, it’s no wonder he turned the world upside down with his guitar playing. No one has been able to be as much of a game-changer since. He was in a world of his own. Without Jimi Hendrix, there would be no heavy metal. There would be no guitar gods. He pretty much started it all.
“I love how he did all the double stops and would move triads all around the place. I still listen to it thinking, ‘I still can’t figure out what he was doing there!’ Only Hendrix can play like Hendrix. Plus he was on acid bending on a guitar that was upside down. When he bent the high E string, he was pulling down on that shit. What the fuck, man?! Maybe that’s why it sounded so weird...”
7. Neal Schon
“He’s a total virtuoso and still plays great. People might call me a pussy for mentioning Journey, but Neal’s licks on those early records were insane. He was so melodic and clean, with his own approach to the pentatonic scale. That’s what I took from it all.
“There’s a song on our second record called Why Can’t You Trust Me and for that solo I was thinking, ‘What would Neal Schon do here?’ It’s pretty easy to hear I’m pretending to be him. We did cover their most popular song once, I think our record company made us do it. Though we didn’t bring anything new to the table, we played it pretty fuckin’ good. No-one would say our version sucks. It’s challenging to do, especially for vocals. Steve Perry sings really good... or at least he did!”
8. Angus and Malcolm Young
“When I was a kid, both of the Young brothers were a big influence on me. Angus of course for all the leads but I think Malcolm just as much too. He was a big part to that sound. The rhythm riffs on If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It) were the simplest and greatest rhythm chops in rock ’n’ roll.
“As great and diverse as Jimmy Page was, Angus and Malcolm said, ‘This is what we’re gonna do and we’re not going to fuck with anything else because this is the greatest!’ They were right. If there’s one band that have been ripped off more than other in the history of rock, it’s gotta be AC/DC. We’ve all nicked their riffs!
“If you start playing guitar, you hear the Young brothers and think, ‘That sounds pretty easy, if those guys can play it then I can too!’ Slowly, after 20 years, you realise those guys are tight as fuck. It’s not easy to make three chords sound that good and turn them into a great song. Malcolm was a genius and Angus still is. There’s a reason why Scott Ian has both Young brother tattooed on his arm. They’re the kings of rock’n’roll.”
9. David Gilmour
“He’s one of the tastiest guitar players of all-time, right? Are there any Pink Floyd solos that you want to fast-forward through? Fuck no. Everything that came out of that guy’s fingers would fit the song perfectly and add to the atmosphere. He embodies that school of playing – very melodic, perfect vibrato and always bending to that perfect point.
“You hear a lot of younger guitar players and notice the ones who wanted to get fast too quick because they can’t shake or bend a note right. It’s always too flat or sharp or the vibrato is at the wrong speed. It doesn’t matter if you can play fast if these things sound like shit.
“I immediately know from one note whether the person playing has been at it for two months or 20 years. Some people still suck after 20 years, though! You need to bend with confidence into the right note. There are a lot of notes around the right not, if you don’t have a good ear, you are always going to be a bit too high or low. It’s like how some singers are always a little flat or sharp… luckily in my band, we have a good singer. It’s the only reason he keeps his job!”
10. Ty Tabor
“How could I leave Ty off this list? King’s X are one of my favourite bands! They’re the only band I’ve mentioned that play as a three piece... but they sing and sound great. Ty could play through a practice amp and still sound huge. He’s incredibly underrated and deserves more props. He’s definitely influenced more people than he’s been given credit for.
“I talked to Ty once and he was talking about new amps, almost complaining that he always sounded the same no matter what he tried. I actually thought that was a great thing, he has his own tone in his hands. So much of it has to do with his vibrato and note choices. All the King’s X stuff over the last 35 years, they’ve been around a long time, has only ever sounded like them.”