Ration Reality

hyperbolic excellence

Hair ‘em, Scare ‘em

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Recently, my household got a broadband connection.  Realizing what I was now capable of, I immediately went to YouTube, since anything ever captured in a video format is accessible there  I watched some long-forgotten music videos from my adolescence. 

Seeing all the flashy spandex-clad bands awakened a former obsession of mine: rating and armchair quarterbacking lead guitarists from the “hair metal” era.  So… here’s a few of my favorite hair raising guitar-slingers from the era of scarves, spandex and neon orange Kramers (in no particular order) and why they rule the VH-1 Classic wasteland.  You should tell me some of your faves, why you like them because, after 20 years, I’m sure I’ve missed someone. 

 (Please keep in mind that this list is culled from the more popular, proletariat, MTV-accessible bands of the day.  I deliberately avoided guitarists who met any 2 of these criteria: 1) record(ed) mainly solo, instrumental albums, 2) recorded for the Relativity or Shrapnel record labels or 3) attended Musician’s Institute or Berklee College of Music.  Satch, MacAlpine and Gilbert are tremendous, but they won‘t be on this list.)

The images below are shown as thumbnails. Click them for fullsize.


click for biggerGeorge Lynch (Dokken): 
Very nimble and tuneful, yet capable of absolutely ripping ass!  An early guitar hero of the genre with great, gooey tone, to boot.  His fearless fretwork burns through tracks like “Tooth and Nail” and “In My Dreams”, earning him the awesome nickname “Mr. Scary”–or maybe it was his hair; I don‘t remember.  (I don’t think he recalls either–it was the 80s.)  Lynch  introduced the electric guitar-playing world to the “gothic octave”,  lotsa nifty vibrato tricks and the “multi-perm”.  Also, in an ill-advised attempt to establish the band among daytime TV viewers, engaged in vicious, well-publicized catfights with Don Dokken.  Cool!

click for biggerWarren DeMartini (Ratt):
With a bluesy jones and furious diatonic runs, DeMartini was a guitar Guido** you didn‘t want to mess with.  Our Pentatonic Pisano** was quite a burner and gave early credibility to the genre among guitar snobs who were too into King Crimson and Rush to bother with guys in perms.  He was the perfect foil for the late Robbin Crosby‘s hard-hitting rhythms.  If you still don’t believe this wailin‘ WOP** could throw down, just listen to the solos on “Body Talk” (Dancing Undercover) or “Lay it Down” (Invasion of Your Privacy) and just admit you were wrong.  Contrary to popular belief, DeMartini did NOT play Bridgitte in the Canadian werewolf flick Ginger Snaps.

click for biggerBruce Kulick (KISS): 
As successor to the late Mark St. John, Kulick reined in some of the warp-drive overkill from speed queens Vinnie Vincent and St. John to play deft, but very memorable leads.  Of course, he was axed when KISS saw the opportunity to jump on the Nostalgia Expre$$.  He and Eric Carr presided over my favorite incarnation of the band.  Listen to the solos from “Who wants to be Lonely” or  “Tears are Falling” from the Asylum album to hear for yourself.

click for biggerRonni Le Tekrø(TNT): 
Quite innovative and incomprehensibly fast Norwegian guitarist who popularized the 1/4 step tonal guitar fretboard.  He now lives like a hermit in a one-room cabin 75 km from the arctic circle, probably training wolves and reindeer to do his evil, AOR bidding.  Listen to the mind-bending solos to “Tonight I’m Falling” and “Everyone’s a Star” before they become the new anthems for the Reindeer Revolution.

click for biggerAmir Derakh (Rough Cutt/Jailhouse): 
Amir possessed a wicked tone, played well in a “dual lead” format.  I‘m willing to bet he is probably the only 80s shredder of Iranian heritage you‘re likely to remember..  Derakh attended the same San Diego high school as Ratt guitarists Warren Demartini and Robbin Crosby and Ozzy/Badlands guitarist Jake E. Lee.  (What are they putting in the water there?) .  Gets bonus points for excellent slide work and early adoption of the Roland Guitar Synth.  Gets further bonus points because his name sounds convincingly like “I’m Here to Rock” (albeit as spoken by a native Philadelphian).  His healthy shred technique can be experienced on Rough Cutt’s “Rock the USA” and wicked slide guitar chops (a rare occurrence in hair metal) can be heard on Jailhouse’s “Modern Girl”.  (Would later reinvent himself as guitarist in gender-ambiguous cyber-metal band Orgy.)

click for biggerMark Kendall (Great White):
Before his cohorts decided they were a boogie/blues Zeppelin tribute band, Kendall’s image made C. C. Deville look like J. Mascis and his playing packed more flash than a dose of Blue Sunshine.  For the first 3 albums, he was a serious contender to the EVH throne, with technique heavy on two-hand tapping, trem-bar madness, healthy tone and fast, stunningly-accurate picking.  “Shot in the Dark” and “Lady Red Light” are great examples of  Kendall’s distinct style.

click for biggerAkira Takasaki (Loudness): 
Hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun, and of shred-worthy guitar companies like Killer, Ibanez and ESP, Takasaki was like a 6-string H-bomb.  I couldn’t believe his speed and accuracy.  Amazingly, his solos were quite memorable, despite being exercises in endurance and precision.  Great, tube-searing tone, too.   In the 80s, the United States always seemed to “lose it” when the Japanese regularly eclipsed us on any front.  I’m sure there was a lot of hand-wringing when “Thunder in the East” was released.

click for biggerWolf Hoffmann (Accept): 
These cosmetically-challenged Germans had a brief flirtation with “hair metal” after Udo Dirkschneider left in the late 80s.  (In all honesty, they couldn’t pull off anything remotely “glam”-oriented with the short, dumpy, camouflage-clad singer on board, could they? )  With a name like “Wolf Hoffmann”, there should be no surprise that his style was very grand and melodic, in the tradition of Bach or Wagner.  However, this Teutonic terror could unleash blistering tonic and modal runs when he needed to remind listeners that he was not to be messed with.  His crystal clear harmonics and Marshall-mangling tone made sure the metal trains ran on time.  Bonus points are due for not limiting his creativity to just one medium.  Since the mid-90s, he’s been an in-demand photographer based in Nashville.  His former Accept bandmate Jorg Fischer is no slouch, either.
click for biggerMichael Angelo (Nitro): 
This guy is akin to the pool table hustler that makes all those amazing, seemingly-impossible shots.  Of course, when you have the gall to use a stage name like “Michael Angelo”,  you have to be a great guitarist–or, at least, a very fast guitarist with a great gimmick. Angelo had a guitar that had 4 necks in an “X” formation and sometimes played 2 at a time.  He could play left-, right-, or cross-handed at dumbfounding speeds.  When playing like that, he simultaneously looked cooler than hell and completely ridiculous–which is not a description you can attach to that many things.  When you added Nitro’s ridiculously over-the-top “glam” image, it almost made up for his complete lack of tone and tendency to aimlessly noodle scalar patterns over and over..

click for biggerHarry K. Cody (Shotgun Messiah): 
While the earliest incarnation of Shotgun Messiah was causing shortages of hairspray and depilatory cream in their native Swee-dun,  Cody was setting himself up as Steve Vai’s more broadly-appealing, cute younger brother.  Possessing staggering speed and accuracy, Cody pushed the envelope of  musical theory like a peyote-tripping Randy Rhoades.     Apparently, he makes his living in advertising now.  That’s probably a good thing, because I doubt many people would buy term life insurance from a guy with bangs like that.  Just listen to any of the overtly-masturbatory, yet deviously clever, solos on the band’s eponymous debut album to hear Cody‘s musical twin language.

click for biggerYngwie Malmsteen (Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s  Rising Force): 
So, RF might have been more of a power metal band., but that didn’t keep Malmsteen from dressing like a member of Sgt. Pepper’s Sequined Spandex Band and Aqua-Netting his hair into the stratosphere.  Perfect sweep arpeggios and insane modal runs are Mr. Malmsteen’s calling cards.  Schizophrenic ego-trips, going off on old ladies during intercontinental flights and surrounding himself with increasingly-inferior musicians to distract less from his own playing are also Mr. Malmsteen’s calling cards.

**Author  is Italian.  Get over it.

Soylent Ape

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Written by Soylent Ape

June 27, 2007 at 4:34 pm

18 Responses

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  1. This is truly a great achievement in the art of hair metal bloggification but… no Michael Sweet? When Stryper sang to hell with the devil they meant you! Go watch Stryper videos on youtube and tell me that Michael Sweet isn’t everything right AND wrong about this genre and era. Consider it a dare, a double dare even, nickolodeon style.

    jody eugenius wilson

    June 28, 2007 at 2:38 am

  2. Yeah, you’re right. Michael and Oz had some great solos. It’s a shame I didn’t put one of them on there, because they were outlandish with the yellow and black clothing, instruments, backline, risers, tour vehicles… everything. Oh, and don’t forget the Jersey hookers’ makeup and perms. I remember once thinking “that blonde drummer chick in Stryper is totally hot”! Ugh! Maybe that’s why I suppressed all those memories about Stryper. I’m gonna send my therapy bills to you!

    Soylent Ape

    June 28, 2007 at 6:22 am

  3. Hairmetal owns me!
    But you forgot Kix and Bulletboys!

    Bagel of Everything

    June 29, 2007 at 1:54 am

  4. oh, and don’t forget Trixter!

    Pete Loran, last time I saw him, was selling used cars in Phoenix. :D

    Jesse Custer

    June 29, 2007 at 2:43 am

  5. firstly, great list, i would add – 1.steve vai, because of his body of work outside of his solo career he was david lee roth’s resident gunslinger upon his departure from van halen and vai cleverly astonished and amused fans through two albums, he also played for whitesnake, and was yngwie’s replacment in alcatraz, not to mention the devils guitarist in the movie crossroads

    2. and we cannot forget the not as popular brother to bruce kullick, bob kullick, off the top of my head i cannot remember who he played for
    oh yeah you can’t exclude all the vinnies moore’s, tony macalpine’s, and joe satriani’s, and then slide the neo-classical shredder yngwie malmsteen at the end it’s blasphemous lol
    3. jake e. lee
    4. ty tabor of kings x
    5. chris degarmo queensryche
    oh god and the list goes on and on and on


    June 29, 2007 at 5:40 am

  6. @ Bagel Kix and Bulletboys were great, but their guitarists were not as flashy and technical.
    @Jesse: Trixter was such a flash in the metal pan that I wasn’t even thinking of them. It’s kinda weird to see what some of these former “rock stars” are doing lately. Bryan Forsythe from Kix is a house painter.
    @chaos_3:16: Welcome! Great suggestions. Jake was on the list at first, but I kind of wanted to bring out some more obscure, nearly-forgotten guitarists. Tabor is great, but I don’t know if Kings X really fits into that category. Same deal with Queensryche, although DeGarmo is soo underrated. It’s 20 years later and I’m just now starting to appreciate what he did on “Rage for Order” and “…Mindcrime”. Vai, Moore, Satch, are in a different league. Yngwie is such an easy target, too…

    Soylent Ape

    June 29, 2007 at 6:23 am

  7. Interesting post you have here.

    Lots of good picks from what is left over after your rather strict criteria (which is good because it gets past the obvious guitarists who are always mentioned into some of the less known guitarists from the time period). (Most of my favorites from the 80’s were cut out with the solo/instrumental album point. Some of the above guys I know, but some I haven’t heard.)

    I will say that I feel sorry for George Lynch. He achieved some degree of success in the 80s and is still known as an incredible guitarist. But the only time you see his name is in “The (some number) (best/worst/most underrated/most overrated/etc.) guitarists from the 80s.” (Not knocking your article’s topic at all; this is something I have thought about before and I’m just sharing.)

    I think that if there had been no Van Halen, that Lynch probably would have become the #1 guitar legend from the 80s, the one who sat high on the throne with Clapton, Hendrix, and Jimmy Page (and Kurt Kobain from the 90s – HAHAHA, what a joke…sorry…) in Eddie’s place. Although I think I did read an interview with Lynch once where he said something about copying Eddie and hoping no one noticed, I think that he was joking. He uses some of the same technique, but has a totally different style.

    Although Van Halen was a much better band than Dokken (in my opinion), Lynch sounds more interesting. He went down a much different path than Eddie. It’s a shame he got buried in EVH’s landslide trip to fame. But, among technical guitarists, Lynch is a household name, so I guess he didn’t come out a total loser, just second best…


    July 1, 2007 at 7:35 am

  8. @Mike: Thanks for stopping by. Everyone’s welcome at Trashin’ Reality (except for jerks and collection agents–and we even tolerate the jerks, sometimes).

    Yeah, I purposely left EVH off because (1)He was really a few years ahead of the other guys (2) He’s an obvious choice, though I don’t consider them to be a metal band (they don’t either) and (3)Eddie is just on a plane of his own! To put him up against the rest would have probably made the rest look kinda shabby. I’ve always said that the history of rock guitar can be divided into 2 eras: the one before Eddie Van Halen and the one after! Thanks!

    Soylent Ape

    July 1, 2007 at 8:01 am

  9. Great article, SA.
    I don’t know who most of those “stars” are, but they certainly look like they know what they’re doing :)

    Bagel of Everything

    July 3, 2007 at 7:54 am

  10. I’ve gotten some messages on MySpace that say I’m being unfair to these guys. I retort by saying that I grew up with posters of many of these guys on my walls. I’m taking the piss, yes. However, if we all looked at ourselves 20 years ago, we’d find we were pretty ridiculous. That’s all. Much respect to the Hair Nation.

    P.S: Warren DeMartini is one Diatonic Dago!

    Soylent Ape

    July 4, 2007 at 8:55 am

  11. Rock on, SA!

    But next time, pick some prettier hairmetal gods, ok? A bit of eyecandy for us ladies…

    Bagel of Everything

    July 5, 2007 at 9:02 am

  12. […] See Also: Hair ‘em, Scare ‘em […]

  13. Hypothetically speaking, if Wolf Hoffman, Warren DeMartini and Akira Takasaki formed some kind of “Axis” of guitar shred and put Bruce Kulick in a forced labor studio, would Yngwie, Harry Cody and Ronni Le Tekrø capitulate and loan them gear? Just wondering…

    Soylent Ape

    August 15, 2007 at 7:04 pm

  14. …because, you know, Warren DeMartini is a real Fretboard Fascist!

    Soylent Ape

    August 16, 2007 at 6:13 pm

  15. […] Hair ‘em, Scare ‘em […]

  16. […] Hair ‘em, Scare ‘em […]

  17. Hypothetically speaking, if Wolf Hoffman, Warren DeMartini and Akira Takasaki formed some kind of “Axis” of guitar shred and put Bruce Kulick in a forced labor studio, would Yngwie, Harry Cody and Ronni Le Tekrø capitulate and loan them gear? Just wondering…

    Soylent Ape

    March 30, 2008 at 12:17 pm

  18. We are impressed with additions and, new controls on the two cult classics that have been rereleased on the Nintendo Wii


    March 13, 2010 at 8:01 pm

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