RIP Neil Peart (1952-2020)

Like many Rush fans, I was saddened by the unexpected news of Neil Peart's death today. (See https://cnn.it/385vcFJ.) Neil was the dominant third of the Canadian Power Trio Rush, and as I have expressed before, Rush's music was truly the soundtrack of my life. Every significant season of my life was punctuated by the release of a Rush album.

I first saw Rush around 1980, and it was one of the greatest concerts of my life. Over the next 35 years I saw them several more times, and I spent countless hours learning how to play their music on guitar for several bands. (Many of my bandmates from way back then are still some of my closest friends.)

I took the following photo of Rush on stage in Toronto during one of their last concerts, and Neil is the central point of focus in that image, as it should be - Neil was the principle lyricist and inarguably the driving force behind their success. This tour was Rush's last hurrah before they collectively stepped down from their 40-year career as the undisputed masters of progressive rock, which was followed quickly by Neil's retirement to spend his final years with his wife and daughter.

I hope no one minds, but I'd like to take a bit of creative license with stealing a few specific lyrics from one of of Neil's earliest songs, Lakeside Park, as an epitaph...

So many memories
Shining stars on summer nights
Singing songs together
Though it's just a memory
Some memories last forever...

I will selfishly admit, when I heard that Rush would never tour again, somewhere in the back of my mind I kept hoping against hope that maybe Rush would put on another show someday - perhaps for a charity - and then I might have a chance to see them one more time. Alas, that wasn't meant to be. But I am happy that Neil spent the past few years in retirement alongside his wife and daughter; I think that's a better way to have lived his final days than putting on a concert for selfish fans like me.

Presidents versus Terrorists

Let me say up front that I think Trump is the least-presidential president that we have had in many years. In fact, I have made it abundantly clear in other blog posts that quite often I think Trump acts like a world class buffoon. But that being said, I recently read a social media post wherein someone who simply hates Trump was spouting off about Trump attempting to act like the King of America and starting wars after a US drone airstrike killed Iran's General Qasem Soleimani. This person is one of a growing group of misguided malcontents who are so blinded by their rage against our current president that they are incapable of properly analyzing the situation.

With that in mind, here are a few facts that everyone should consider.

  • First of all, the President is Commander in Chief (CiC) of our Armed Forces; everyone in the military reports to him. For all intents and purposes, Trump outranks every general in the Pentagon. If the military has viable intelligence that they can take out a known terrorist and Trump gives them the go ahead, then that's well within the powers that are granted to his office.

  • Second, our military killed a known enemy militant who was actively engaged in planning additional acts of terrorism outside of his own country. Soleimani was an Iranian general and terrorist who was in Iraq in order to direct the actions of several groups of insurgents who were attempting to overthrow their democratically elected leaders. Soleimani was directly responsible for an indeterminate number of innocent deaths; and if left on his own, it is guaranteed that additional lives would have been lost.

  • Third, in contrast to the killing of an Iranian terrorist on Iraqi soil, when Obama gave his permission to kill Bin Laden, a group of heavily armed American forces crossed into a foreign nation (Pakistan) and killed someone who was hiding out with their permission. As Commander in Chief (CiC), Obama - like Trump - was operating within the powers that were granted to his office.

    • However, in the grander scheme of political diplomacy, Trump killed a positively-identified enemy combatant with a precise drone strike, whereas Obama ordered the slaughter of an entire household of civilians based on unconfirmed intelligence (that thankfully turned out to be true).

    • But make no mistake: when US forces went after Bin Laden, our military violated the borders of a sovereign nation. In no uncertain terms, we invaded Pakistan when we killed Bin Laden. Whereas in Soleimani's situation, our military was already stationed in Iraq as a peacekeeping force, and the Iranian general and his cohorts were the invaders.

    • Think about it this way: when a group of revolutionaries recently attempted to stage a coup in Turkey, they were doing so under the orders of a man who is currently residing in the USA, whom Turkey considers a traitor and terrorist. How would you feel if a heavily armed group from the Turkish military snuck over the borders into the United States and slaughtered every man, woman, and child in that guy's house? Most Americans - including you - would be highly offended; but that's exactly what we did with Pakistan, and no Americans care.

  • Fourth, when you compare the conditions of Obama's and Trump's operations, Obama ran the risk of open hostility with an ally, whereas Trump ran the risk of open hostility with a country that was already openly hostile to us. Remember, Iranian insurgents attempted to overthrow our embassy just a few days ago. With that in mind, let's examine presidential reactions to acts over terror over the past few decades:

    • When a crowd of Iranians overthrew one of our embassies during President Carter's administration, a large number of Americans were held prisoner and psychologically tortured for the next couple years.

    • When a group of terrorists from Libya bombed US forces in Germany, President Reagan ordered the bombing of Muammar Gaddafi's private palace - and we never heard from him again (until his own people overthrew and executed him in 2011).

    • When Sadam Hussein invaded one of our allies in the early 1990s, President Bush Sr. deployed our military in overwhelming force and routed the Iraqi invaders in a brilliantly-executed military campaign.

    • However, when terrorists working for Bin Laden bombed the Twin Towers in New York in 1993, President Clinton did nothing. In fact, President Clinton passed on every opportunity to kill Bin Laden that the military presented during his time in office. What is worse, whenever terrorists would bomb or kill US forces anywhere on the planet, Clinton would withdraw all US forces from the region, thereby giving the terrorists EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED ALL ALONG. In the end, the Clinton Presidency was the greatest terrorist training program in world history; President Clinton proved that terrorism works - the US will withdraw its forces, and no one who is responsible for terrorist acts will be punished.

    • When Bin Laden bombed the Twin Towers in New York in 2001, President Bush Jr. invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, deposed their corrupt governments that sponsored global terrorism, and allowed their people to democratically elect their leaders for the first time in many, many years.

    • However, when a group of insurgents attempted to overthrow our embassy in Libya during President Obama's administration, both Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State (SoS) and Obama as Commander in Chief (CiC) ordered our military to stand down. As a direct result - our ambassador to Libya was killed (along with several other people), and our embassy compound was burned to the ground. (And don't even get me started on how Obama gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran, traded a host of known terrorists from Guantanamo prison without the required congressional approval in exchange for a known deserter and traitor, and he made it possible for Iran to create Nuclear weapons.)

    • On the other hand, when a group of insurgents attempted to overthrow one of our embassies under Trump's tenure, he sent in the military to reinforce the embassy and disperse the crowds of insurgents, and then he ordered their ringleader killed with a drone strike.

So, yeah - Trump is a doofus. But what Trump did was perfectly legal, as it was for Obama with Bin Laden. However, there is no comparison when it comes to results:

  • Carter (as CiC), both Clintons (Bill as CiC and Hillary as SoS), and Obama (as CiC) were all miserable failures with regard to foreign policy and terrorism.

  • On the other hand, Reagan (as CiC), Bush Sr. (as CiC), and Bush Jr. (as CiC) were demonstrably better at foreign policy.

The future will tell as to whether Trump will fare as well at foreign policy during his time as CiC. But that being said, just because you cannot stand Trump does not grant you the right to disparage what was well within the realm of his duties as Commander in Chief. In fact, at the moment it appears as though his decision to take out a known terrorist was incredibly well executed; with minimal loss of life to US, Iraqi, and even Iranian personnel.

As I said earlier, these are just some things to consider.


UPDATE: When this blog was originally published, it made no reference to the drone airstrike. As a result, the context was missing. That gaffe on my part was corrected later.

It's a New Year with the Same Warped Sense of Humor

I joined the Army in early 1986, at which time the following dark humor marching/running cadence was in prominent use:

A yellow bird / With a yellow bill
Landed on / My window sill
I lured him in / With a piece of bread
And then I smashed / His yellow head

Although to be perfectly honest, the original cadence didn't say "his yellow head;" instead, it used a more-colorful expression with the same number of syllables. But this is a public forum, so I'll stick to the sanitized version here.

Nevertheless, an unfortunate mishap occurred at my house recently: a tiny yellow bird flew into one of my windows, and - tragically - died as a result. However, when I discovered his demise, my first instinct wasn't to clean up the carnage. Instead, I grabbed my camera and a half-piece of bread and took the following picture, which I uploaded to a veterans' group on Facebook with the caption: "This guy landed on my window sill today... it didn't end well for him."

Now at first glance, this might seem rather… morbid. However, my fellow veterans immediately recognized my joke, and they posted comments like the following:

  • "His head seems intact. I'm confused."
  • "I see you lured him in with a piece of bread."
  • "You MUST finish what you started... CRUSH HIS ******* HEAD!!! "

They also replied with images like the following:

yellow-bird-knows
yellow-bird-grenade

One dark example of veteran humor was answered by dozens of darker examples of veteran humor. Once again, this behavior might seem somewhat disturbed to the casual observer, but none of the people involved in the ensuing discussion were sociopaths; most of them were happily married, with great jobs/careers, and selflessly devoted to their kids and grandkids. With that in mind, a short examination of the dichotomy between what veterans might find amusing versus what "acceptable society" might find amusing is worth discussing.

Here is another example of what many veterans find funny:

mushroom-cloud

I have to admit, I literally laughed out loud when I first saw that image; I honestly thought that was one of the funniest cartoons I had seen in a long time. However, when I showed it to my wife, she didn't find it funny. In fact, her comment was, "That's kind of sad…" And as I thought about our different reactions to the same image, I realized why veterans see things differently: we have learned to laugh at death. Not death itself, mind you, but the concept of death. We have to; we'd go crazy if we didn't, and I'll explain why.

The longer you serve in the military, you will eventually have to face death. This will rarely be your imminent demise, although that occasionally happens. But sooner or later you will have to survive the death of a friend or acquaintance, or you will have to come to terms with the fact that what you're doing is likely going to get you killed. Both of those realities are extremely difficult concepts for any sane person to deal with.

In an attempt to deal with the stress of these likely scenarios, most active service members of the military will employ the following coping mechanisms: toxic sarcasm and a dark sense of humor. This may seem strange and/or counter-productive to outsiders, but contrary to common sense - developing a cynical worldview helps service members successfully grapple with the subject of death. Learning to laugh at the inevitability of facing death in some form or other makes time in military service a little more endurable.

When veterans leave the service, their dark senses of humor follow them home; much like having a psychotic ex-lover stalk you across the country. But this is why I love hanging out in the veterans' groups on Facebook: I love seeing that there are others who still see things as I do. My sense of humor may be warped and distorted, but there are others who share that same warped and distorted sense of humor.

In short, other veterans "Get Me." They understand me. They share the same irreverent contempt for death that I do. Or to rephrase a famous idiom, "Fate whispers to the warrior, 'You cannot withstand the storm.' The warrior whispers back, 'You could really use a breath mint.'"

Ranger Up - A Sad Tale of Customer Service Failures

As a veteran, I love Ranger Up's products. Sometimes their products make me laugh, while at other times their products make me proud of my time in the service. In fact, I wear at least one of Ranger Up's t-shirts every week. But my love for that company was seriously damaged when they completely failed again and again to fulfill a very basic order. To better understand what I mean, here are the details:

I placed an order near the end of November for three products that I wanted to give as Christmas presents to my son-in-law, who is a fellow veteran. Two weeks later, I received only one of the products, even though Ranger Up's website and email notifications claimed that the order had been fulfilled. I understand that mistakes happen, especially around the holidays, and I wasn't concerned because there was still plenty of time to rectify the situation. To that end, I tried using the contact form on Ranger Up's website, then I tried using the web-based chat on their website, then I tried sending emails to their customer service address, and I left a couple voice mail messages at their customer service telephone number. I heard nothing from all of these attempts. Once again, I understand that the holiday season is busier than normal, but still - I heard not the slightest peep from Ranger Up.

After several days of hearing nothing, I followed a friend's suggestion and I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account. To my amazement, I heard back in a few hours, whereupon I was informed that I needed to allow 2-3 business days for follow ups from Ranger Up's staff due to the holiday volume. (I had already done that, of course.) But I was assured that someone named "Regina" would follow up with me that day to get everything squared away.

But I heard nothing more that day. Nor the next day.

As I mentioned before, the missing items were meant to be Christmas gifts, and by that time it was already a few days away from Christmas. With that in mind, I reached out to Ranger Up's Facebook account again, and I informed them that I had already waited longer than their requisite 2-3 business days, yet I still had not heard anything from them - despite assurances that I would hear from them on the same day that I had contacted them through Facebook. I pointed out that in order to receive the rest of my order in time for Christmas, Ranger Up would have have to ship my remaining items by 2-day mail. The following day I received an apology for my order "falling through the cracks," and I was assured that Ranger Up would ship the rest of my original order via FedEx, and Ranger Up would cover the additional shipping costs. (Just to be safe, I bought my son-in-law a couple extra gifts.)

A day passed, then two, then three... and eventually Christmas arrived - but still I had received nothing from Ranger Up. On the day after Christmas, I received an email that my order was finally on its way. By this point, I didn't hold my breath.

I'll spare you the additional details and cut to the chase - the remaining items from my order arrived today. FIVE. DAYS. AFTER. CHRISTMAS. More than a week after I was assured that my order would arrive in time for Christmas, more than two weeks after I first contacted Ranger Up to let them know that there was a problem, and more than a month after I placed the original order, which for any other company would have been plenty of time for the holidays.

At the end of the day, I'm a realist; I completely understand that things go wrong. And I'm patient; I do not call companies and scream at people who are trying to do their jobs. And in the grander scheme of life, missing a couple gifts for the holidays is a really small thing; I have my health, I have a wonderful wife, I have great kids, and I have cute grandkids.

But all that being said, Ranger Up failed. Big time. Again. And again. And again.

On Ranger Up's contact page, they proudly proclaim the following:

"From August 26th to 5 January 2016, Ranger Up used a third-party partner for customer service and fulfillment. During that period of time many orders did not get fulfilled and many customers were ignored. Those days are over. We will get back to you within 1-2 business days, and we will remedy all issues to your satisfaction. We learned the valuable lesson that no one cares about our customers as much as we do and we look forward to being us again in 2017."

From my perspective, it seems as if nothing has changed; my order was not fulfilled, I was clearly ignored, I did not hear from Ranger Up within 1-2 business days, and they certainly did not remedy any issues to my satisfaction.

Ranger Up's website also proudly proclaims the following: "Founded by veterans with an ethos forged by service." I'm not sure how things work in the military now, but in my day a soldier who demonstrated that level of failure again and again would have had his butt kicked over and over until he learned how to do his job.

Political and Civil Divisions

A little while ago, one of my friends posted the following meme to Facebook:

obama-divisions

I have to say, I disagree with that meme. To that end, let's look at the past four decades of US Presidents:

1976-1980 President Carter narrowly won his election; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1980-1988 President Reagan won both of his elections in massive landslides; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1988-1992 President Bush Sr. won his election in a massive landslide; he made mistakes in office, and took ownership of his mistakes.
1992-2000 President Clinton won both of his elections due to fact that the Conservative vote was split between the official Republican candidate and Ross Perot running as an independent Conservative; without Perot's interference and hubris, the official Republican candidate would have defeated Clinton in either election. Nevertheless, Clinton made a lot of mistakes in office, yet he and his wife spent their entire tenure in office claiming that: 1) they didn't remember making any mistakes (even when caught), or 2) everything was a "vast right-wing conspiracy" pitted against them. In short, the Clintons did not own up to their mistakes; they blamed everything on their opponents, which created the foundation of the division that we now see.
2000-2008 President Bush Jr. narrowly won both of his elections, although the first several months of his first term were wasted on the incessant whining of the DNC and Al Gore, which dragged the country through a never-ending stream of recounts and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars, and furthered the climate of division that was created during the Clinton years. Nevertheless, despite years of being mocked by the press, Bush Jr. took ownership of his mistakes.
2008-2016 President Obama won both of his elections by a wide majority; he made mistakes in office, yet he largely followed President Clinton's example by blaming others for his mistakes - although never to the same degree as the Clintons. However, President Obama created a great deal of additional division by refusing to become involved in a myriad of press-manufactured riots that occurred during his tenure in office; there was never a President more situated to step in and request that everyone involved lay down their arms and cease fighting, yet he did nothing - thereby proving once and for all that his Nobel Peace Prize was a farce. That being said, the Obama presidency was also marred by the continuous promotion of Liberal agendas that Conservatives find anathema to common sense, scientific thought, and basic morality; this created additional division, to the point where some pundits now consider our country engaged in a "Cold Civil War."

It is unmistakable that the roots of political division within this country were planted firmly during the Clinton years; both preceding Presidents (Reagan and Bush Sr.) were elected to office in massive landslides and therefore had the support of most of the country behind them. When those Presidents made mistakes, they publicly took ownership of their mistakes. However, they were superseded by a serial liar/rapist who only won both of his elections because the Conservative ticket was split between two candidates running in parallel, and Clinton spent his entire tenure in office shifting the blame for all of his mistakes to someone else. The flames of division may have been fanned into a bonfire during the Obama years, but they were ignited during the Clinton years.


UPDATE: To be fair, I should add a note that the president from 2016-2020 was also a serial liar/philanderer, who also barely won his election, who also constantly shifted the blame for his mistakes to others, and who also created a great deal of additional division. If there was a bonfire of division during the Obama years, there was a raging inferno of division during the Trump years.

Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I tend to work late. A lot. Most of the time, in fact. I have done so my whole life - even during my years in the Army; despite being required to show up for formation around 6am every morning, (and therefore rolling out of bed at 5am), I still stayed up until 2am almost every night. It's simply the way that my brain is wired, I guess. To be honest - it often feels as though I'm living two lives at once, although I know of no other way to live.

That being said, it's not healthy. And I know that. I have written blogs about my experiences with Essential Tremors, and a lack of sleep makes my struggles with that disease so much worse. And yet, night after night I find myself back at my computer slogging through another list of issues that I feel I should have resolved a few days earlier. I just cannot seem to turn my brain on and off according to some other schedule - even if that schedule is being dictated by the rotation of the planet.

Out of frustration with my personal dilemma, I penned the following:

If you burn a candle at both ends
To slave throughout the night
It illuminates your toils
To your struggles brief respite

But its glow is a deception 
And does not dilute your plight
Its candescence will soon wither
As shadows reclaim their right

Two flames convey no solace 
For despite their pretty sight
Candles last for half as long
When they
burn with twice the light

burning-candle-both-ends


(H/T Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Paying Tribute to Freddie

Today marks the 28th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's untimely death in 1991 at the age of 45. I have been a fan of Freddie and Queen since the early 1970s, and to this day I wonder how much more Freddie would have accomplished had his excessive lifestyle not taken its toll. That being said, shortly before my wife and I visited Montreux, Switzerland, this past August, I learned that the city had placed a statute of Freddie Mercury along the shore of Lake Geneva as a memorial to the years that he had lived there. As it turns out, the hotel that we had already reserved was within perhaps a half-kilometer from the sculpture.

My wife and I arrived in Montreux in the early evening, and before dinner we walked along the boardwalk next to Lake Geneva, with the hopes that we would be able to find the memorial before it grew too dark. We found Freddie's statue just as the sun began to set, and my wife took the following two photos: the first image was of the sun setting beside Freddie, and the second was of me behaving like the tourist I was by imitating Freddie's famous pose in the quickly fading twilight.

freddie-at-sunset-with-me


Obviously my jacket was nowhere near as elaborate as Freddie's original, and my 360 camera on a monopod had to substitute for Freddie's microphone stand. Nevertheless, before his death, Freddie had said, "You can do what you want with my music, but don't make me boring." With that in mind, I would like to think that Freddie would be greatly amused by the number of tourists who fondly remember him as anything but boring.

Transcribing Lost in Germany by King's X

It's been a few months since I posted a guitar transcription, but that doesn't mean that I haven't been working on transcriptions - I just haven't been posting transcriptions. That being said, I decided that I was long overdue, so here's today's offering: "Lost in Germany" by King's X. (See https://youtu.be/hoyuCg-Exjs for the original song.)

Once again, my transcription is pretty faithful to the original, here are the main differences that I can think of:

  • The primary artistic license that I took was to remove some of the extraneous repeats from the outro, and I added an ending chord since the original recording fades out. That being said, I thought that the A (add 11/no 5) chord that I ended with matches the song quite well.
  • In measure 17, Ty Tabor changes up the guitar line for that single measure. However, I elected not to include that because I wanted to use the four repeats to simplify my transcription work. Yeah, that's kind of lazy on my part, but this is a free transcription so deal with it.
  • I think I do a pretty good job of nailing Jerry Gaskill's drum parts throughout the song. During the extra repeats in the outro he changes his fill at the end of each four-measure passage, and since I shortened my transcription you lose those.
  • I listened carefully to Doug Pinnick's bass parts, and I think my transcription of his parts are pretty close to what he's playing; I couldn't hear anything overly complex, though his groove/timing are really cool.

That's it for now. I have a few other transcriptions in the works that should be surprises, but I have no idea when I'll deliver on those, so don't hold your breath.

My List of 20 Most Influential Albums

I was recently challenged by two good friends (on the same day, no less) to post a list of the 20 albums that had the greatest impact on me. To be honest, I usually do not go in for that sort of thing. However, seeing as how I've already posted blogs for My Top Ten Favorite Rock Songs, A Few of My Favorite Guitar Solos, and My Thoughts About Rush's Studio Albums, I thought this was the kind of challenge that warranted a response - with one caveat: I'm too impatient to spread my list across 20 days. With that in mind, you get the whole list in one heaping serving of musical goodness.

Before I go any further, I want to establish a few particulars about the way I write my lists that I have used for the other lists that I have posted. First and foremost is that I only allow myself to have a single entry for each band/artist, otherwise I could easily fill an entire list with only two or three of my favorite bands. Second, you might find it interesting that some of the bands/artists who show up in my list of favorite rock songs or favorite guitar solos are not on my list of influential albums; for example: the Who. While "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" are two of my all-time favorite songs, I cannot point to any single album by the Who that I would consider as having had an influence on me. In addition, I would like to point out that several of the bands/artists listed here I haven't listened to in decades; these bands/artists were influential when I was starting out, but I abandoned them later as I progressed as a musician.

With all that being said, let's jump into the list - which is not necessarily in order. (Except #1 - which always belongs there.)

#1

Moving Pictures by Rush

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has known me for any length of time that I am a huge fan of Rush, and I can name no other band that has had as enormous of an impact on my guitar playing. I spent more time trying to learn songs from Rush's albums than from any other band or artist in my lifetime, and my guitar skills improved dramatically as direct result of all that effort. Learning Alex Lifeson's complex chord phrasing and mastering the skills of shaping my sound by playing through dozens of guitar effects profoundly changed me as a guitarist. In addition, Alex's tone on songs like "Limelight" was next to perfect; I spent dozens of hours trying to dial in a sound that was close to his.

In fact, the most difficult part for me was choosing which album from Rush to show on this list, because several of their albums would easily foot the bill for having some of the greatest influence in my life. With that in mind, the following albums easily bubble to the top: 2112, Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures. That's not to say that I wasn't influenced or didn't love other albums by Rush; this list simply had the greatest impact. With that in mind, it was tough to choose which album to pick as having the greatest degree of influence on my life, with the two frontrunners being Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. I have played the song "Spirit of Radio" from Permanent Waves more than any other song in my lifetime, but in the end, listening to Moving Pictures and watching Rush perform it live on their subsequent tour had the greatest impact on me.

#2

Fragile by Yes

As with some of these bands/artists, I could name several albums from Yes that have had an impact on me, but Fragile is by far the most influential. When I first heard the opening notes of Roundabout in the early 1970s, I was amazed by both the clarity of the instruments and the adventurous complexity of the ensemble. Here was a band where every member was playing to their utmost ability, yet not competing with each other; instead, they blended into a wall of sound that was greater than the sum of their individual parts. I undoubtedly spent as much time trying to master Steve Howe's guitar parts as I did for Alex Lifeson or Eddie Van Halen. When I first started playing guitar, the music of Yes seemed untouchable; but as I improved as a musician, I eventually began to learn some of Yes' songs.

Howe eventually left Yes for a decade or so, during which time he was replaced by Trevor Rabin (who hates being referred to as "Steve Howe's Replacement"). Nevertheless, Trevor Rabin quickly emerged as one of my favorite members of Yes; there are times when I prefer Trevor Rabin playing some of Steve Howe's parts more than I like Steve Howe's personal interpretation. However, it should remain in everyone's mind that Steve Howe originally wrote all of those amazing parts, and Trevor Rabin just made a few improvements here and there. But at the end of the day, Steve Howe had a great deal of influence on my foundation as a musician, and Trevor Rabin came along many years later.

#3

Van Halen I by Van Halen

Like many guitarists in my day, Van Halen's eponymously-named first album blew me away. Eddie Van Halen's guitar work was unparalleled, and I spent more time than I would care to admit trying to learn how to do the amazing things that he was doing. It is by no stretch of the imagination that I can honestly say that something from Van Halen probably shows up every time I play the guitar, although this is more about how I phrase or arpeggiate chords than mad lead guitar skillz. That being said, I spent dozens of hours trying to learn the various sections of "Eruption" on the guitar; that's still a killer piece to play.

There were several other albums from Van Halen that also impacted my playing, but hands down it's the first album from them for the greatest influence. (See Rick Beato's great lecture called "The Van Halen Effect" for more about that. For that matter, you should simply watch any video from Rick Beato. They're all worth it.)

#4

The Wall by Pink Floyd

While I love several albums by Pink Floyd, there is only one album that had a great deal of influence on me, and that is easily Floyd's Magnum Opus The Wall. Trying to learn David Gilmour's guitar parts were difficult enough, but trying to match his sound was even more difficult. There was a point in my development as a guitarist where a great deal of what I was playing through echo units resembled David Gilmour.

There are songs off The Wall - like "Comfortably Numb" - which remain in multiple lists of my favorites.

#5

Back in Black by AC/DC

Yeah, I know... AC/DC... I've got to be kidding, right? Well, the truth is - when I first started out on the guitar, I was a big fan of AC/DC, and the first album that I owned from them was Back in Black. I spent a lot of time trying to learn the songs off that album, and in so doing I learned how to play barre chords, a lot of solos, integrate arpeggios in chord phrasings, etc. I learned a lot from that album, but then a few years later I sat down and learned everything that AC/DC had ever written in one weekend. Yup... Every. Single. Song. It was all too easy, and I realized that music had to be much harder. So I abandoned AC/DC for good, and I began to focus on Progressive Rock bands like Yes, Rush, Pink Floyd, etc. That being said, to this day I still credit AC/DC as having made me a better guitar player, if for nothing else than to teach me that music can be much, much better what AC/DC writes.

#6

1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) by Leo Kottke

In the early 1980s, the older brother of the keyboard player for one of the bands I was in introduced me to Leo Kottke's "Morning is the Long Way Home," which is the opening track off Leo's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album. I was completely blown away by what I heard; I had seen and heard amazing classical guitarists before, but I had never heard anything like the pyrotechnical fingerstyle prowess of Leo Kottke before.

I have spent a lot of time over the past 40 years trying to learn various pieces by Leo Kottke, and I should be ashamed that I can only count two songs of his in my repertoire. Nevertheless, Leo Kottke's 1971-1976 (Did You Hear Me?) album had a profound impact on me, and made me want to seriously study fingerstyle guitar.

#7

Blizzard of Ozz by Ozzy

Like many young guitarists in 1980, I was hooked on Randy Rhoads' guitar skills from the moment I first heard the song "Crazy Train." Randy was daring, imaginative, skilled, and an amazing song writer. I had the privilege of seeing Randy Rhoads twice in concert with Ozzy before his untimely death, and I have to say that each time was amazing; Randy seemed like he could do just about anything on the guitar. (He reminded me of Ritchie Blackmore in that respect, but I digress.) I learned a lot of techniques from seeing Randy in concert, and I learned a lot about the guitar while learning songs off this album.

To this day I wonder what would have happened to Randy Rhoads if he hadn't died so young. With that in mind, once Randy Rhoads was killed, I stopped listening to Ozzy completely - because the only reason I listened to him at all was because of Randy Rhoads.

#8

Surfing with the Alien by Joe Satriani

This was the first album which - for me - proved that a guitar could own an entire album. No vocals - just guitar. Joe Satriani's songwriting was amazing, but his technical prowess was off the charts. I spent a lot of time struggling to learn a lot of Joe's signature pieces off that album, with varying degrees of success. (Primarily "Satch Boogie" and "Always with Me, Always with You"). But in the end, the entire experience made me a better guitar player.

I love several other shredders like Paul Gilbert, Steve Morse, Tony MacApline, Gary Hoey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Neil Zaza, etc., but Joe Satriani's ground-breaking foray into guitar-oriented instrumentals is the album that had the most impact on me.

#9

Double Live Gonzo! by Ted Nugent

When I was first starting out on the guitar in the 1970s, Ted Nugent was at (or near) the height of his popularity. I played several songs by "Uncle Ted" in my first few rock bands, and it was a struggle for me to learn those parts at the time. This live album was a great compilation of all the Ted Nugent songs that I wanted to learn, so it's the only album of his that I purchased.

That being said, by the early 1980s I didn't really listen to Ted Nugent anymore. (He's far too crude... that was amusing when I was a teenage boy, but now it's just annoying.) That being said, every once in a while I might find myself playing a groove that owes its origin to "Uncle Ted."

#10

Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd

I learned a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs when I was starting out in the 1970s; for example: "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man," "Tuesday's Gone," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Call Me the Breeze," "Saturday Night Special," etc. However, there was one song that every guitarist at my high school had to know before they were taken seriously: "Free Bird." Not just the rhythm parts, you had to know how to play the lead parts, and often you would play those live with another guitarist with whom you were in competition; sort of a "last man standing/trial by fire" contest.

So if I have to pick just one Lynyrd Skynyrd album, I have to pick the album that introduced "Free Bird" to the world.

#11

Led Zeppelin IV by Led Zeppelin

Like I mentioned about Lynyrd Skynyrd, I learned a lot of Led Zeppelin's tracks when I was first learning to play the guitar back in the 1970s. And much like Lynyrd Skynyrd's song "Free Bird," the famous/infamous "Stairway to Heaven" was a song that every guitarist at my high school had to know how to play before they could be taken seriously as an up and coming axe slinger. That being said, that album also produced other memorable pieces that I learned back the day: "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll," "Going to California," and "When the Levee Breaks."

While I owned several other albums by Led Zeppelin, this album stands out above the rest. That being said, I stopped listening to Led Zeppelin in the mid-1980s, and now I would go so far as to say that I have developed a serious dislike for the band. (For lots of reasons, although their unabashed plagiarism of other people's music is the primary reason.)

#12

October by U2

This may seem a bit out of place for die-hard U2 fans who flock to albums like The Joshua Tree, but U2's second album - October - is when I first learned about the band, and their post-punk, melodic rawness was kind of cool. That being said, like many of my fellow guitarists - I was particularly enamored by the Edge's sound.

"Gloria" was the song that got me hooked at first, and other songs like "I Threw a Brick Through a Window" followed thereafter, but I have to say, if it hadn't been for "Gloria" off the October album, I'm not sure when (or if) I would have decided to like U2. (OK, yeah, sure - I would have loved "Where the Streets Have No Name" when it came out. And who doesn't love that song?)

#13

Boston by Boston

Boston's first two albums - the eponymously-named Boston and Don't Look Back - were both enormous hits. But still, it was their first album that put Boston on the map, spawning such hits as "More Than a Feeling," "Peace of Mind," "Foreplay/Long Time," "Rock & Roll Band," "Smokin'," and "Hitch a Ride." For a young guitarist as I was at the time of its release, Tom Scholz's guitar sound was amazing. His distortion, tone, echo, etc., everything was spot-on perfect. I used to have a setting on the Electro-Harmonix graphic EQ that I used when playing live that would work in combination with my Rat distortion unit to recreate Tom Scholz's guitar sound from that first Boston album.

#14

Leftoverture by Kansas

In my early days as a Prog Rocker, one of the bands that I was in for a few months had a few songs by Kansas in their setlist. I already liked Kansas, and I had seen them in concert a few years earlier, but apart from learning the song "Dust in the Wind" as a fingerpicking exercise, I had never taken the time to learn anything else from them. The songs that I had to learn were: "Portrait," "Point of Know Return," and "Carry On Wayward Son." All three of those songs were a difficult challenge to master; Kerry Livgren's guitar parts were so unlike anything else that I was currently playing. Two of the songs that I learned were from Point of Know Return, with the remaining song from Leftoverture. However, "Dust in the Wind" is the only song that I still play to this day, and that one song had a greater impact on my finger-picking than almost any other song. With that in mind, Leftoverture beats out Point of Know Return for having a greater influence on me.

#15

Abacab by Genesis

I have to admit, Genesis probably wouldn't have made this list if it had not been for an audition that I had in the mid-1980s. Here's the story: there was a band in town that featured a couple of really talented musicians that I knew from another group that had recently disbanded, and they were looking for a new guitarist. Through one way or another, I was given the chance to audition, and the bulk of the songs that they gave me were from the Abacab album by Genesis. I had listened to Genesis before, and I even might have had one or two of their albums, but I hadn't taken the time to learn anything from them, and as such - I had zero appreciation for them. But as I struggled my way through the parts that I had to learn, and by the time that I passed my audition, I had a newfound appreciation for the band, but I also was stretched in a different direction from the other Progressive Rock bands that I had been focusing on.

#16

Ah Via Musicom by Eric Johnson

I have a confession to make: I first heard "Cliffs of Dover" from Eric Johnson's Ah Via Musicom album on the military's AFN radio network when I was driving through Germany in 1990. I was headed into the mountains, where I knew that I was going to lose radio reception, so I pulled my car off the road so I wouldn't miss any of that piece. Like my initial reaction to hearing "Eruption" by Van Halen and "Satch Boogie" by Joe Satriani, I was blown away by Eric Johnson's musicianship. Even more than that, when I began to learn "Cliffs of Dover," I was amazed at how deceptively difficult it was to play. To this day, however, there are a few tricks here and there from Eric Johnson's style that show up in my playing.

#17

Progressions of Power by Triumph

I was a big fan of the Canadian power trio Triumph in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the first album that I bought by them was 1980's Progressions of Power. There were a few things that stand out as having impacted my playing:

  • First of all, Rik Emmett's "Fingertalking" solo was an amazing flamenco/fingerstyle piece that I had mastered at one time or other, but it was quite a struggle for me to do so. In learning that one piece, I perfected my rasgueado picking style, (only to learn a few years that I was doing it backwards when I studied classical guitar).
  • The second piece off this album that got my attention was "I Live For The Weekend," which was a straight-ahead rock piece. That song had little to speak for it - it was actually rather simple, but it was important in my development as a guitarist, because I learned the minor pentatonic scale from all of Rik Emmett's solos on that piece.

I eventually purchased several of Triumph's albums and learned a bunch of their music, but I would have to say that Progressions of Power had the most-lasting impact.

#18

A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band by Rich Mullins

Most people have probably never heard of this album, but it was where I first heard Rich Mullins play the Hammered Dulcimer on the song "Creed." I instantly fell in love with the instrument, which led to my wife buying a dulcimer for me for Christmas, which led to meeting with a whole host of absolutely wonderful dulcimer people throughout the Mid-American and Eastern regions of the United States at various dulcimer festivals. (See HammerOn for some of those folks.) I eventually realized one of my musical bucket list items by playing Rich Mullins's "Creed" live with an orchestra several years ago.

So, yeah - in terms of a single album having a profound effect, I think Rich Mullins' A Liturgy, a Legacy, & a Ragamuffin Band has got to be on my list, because it literally changed the course of my life.

#19

Empire by Queensrÿche

I wasn't quite sure if I would leave this album on my list; I would add it to my list, then bump it off when I added something else. Nevertheless, it managed to survive the cut. I was introduced to Queensrÿche by the same two friends who challenged me to create this list, and Queensrÿche was my initial foray into the heavier world of Progressive Metal. (Which I would also consider King's X a member, but more about them later.)

I would have to say that at one time or other I learned to play nearly all the songs off this album on the guitar, and giving credit where it's due, this album helped shape some of my songwriting for a season. That being said, I haven't really listened to Queensrÿche in decades.

#20

Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix

This was the album where I was first introduced to Jimi Hendrix, whom everyone I knew hailed as the greatest guitar player who ever lived when I was first learning to play the guitar. Depending on whether you had the US or the UK version of this album, you received different songs, but I managed to learn "Purple Haze," "Manic Depression," Foxy Lady," and "Are You Experienced?" from this album, and I spent a lot of time trying to perfect Jimi's tone and his dizzying array of odd guitar sounds. Nevertheless, as I purchased more albums from Hendrix, my interest in his style waned, and I eventually gave away all my albums of his.

To be honest, I almost entered the Woodstock Soundtrack for Jimi Hendrix, although the only reason why I bought the Woodstock Soundtrack was because I wanted to own Jimi Hendrix's amazing performances of the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Purple Haze" from that album. That being said, almost all of the rest of the Woodstock Soundtrack album is crap. Seriously. While I realize that a lot of the musicians were probably drunk or stoned, that doesn't mean that I have to forgive them for some really, really bad performances. (And of course, you can read about what I think of hippies.)

Conspicuously missing from this list are a few bands/artists whom I should honorably mention:

  • King's X - I love most of their albums prior to Tape Head, (which was a bit of clunker in my opinion). Ty Tabor's guitar parts are amazing, and while I have taken the time to learn a few of their songs, I cannot honestly say that any of their albums had any serious impact on me.
  • Queen - I loved Queen, Brian May's guitar work is amazing, and I certainly learned how to play several of their songs. But once again, I cannot point to any of their albums and say that it had any impact on my playing.
  • Aerosmith - I learned several songs of theirs over the years, although I was never a full-fledged fan of theirs. Joe Perry was an amazing guitarist, and I picked up a few things from him, but I can't point to any single album as being influential in my life.
  • Stavesacre - I believe that I have seen Stavesacre more times in concert than any other band. (Well, maybe a couple times less than Rush.) And even though I have learned how to play several of their songs on the guitar, I can't say that they helped me develop as a musician. (Stavesacre came along after I'd already been playing for decades.)
  • The Who - As I mentioned in my introduction, I love the Who; I've seen them in concert, and I've learned a lot of their songs over the years. But still, I cannot say that any single album from them had a profound impact on me. (Although their album Who's Next almost makes the cut.)
  • Gary Moore - As both a solo artist and as a member of bands like Thin Lizzy, I learned several pieces from Gary Moore, and a few of his guitar pyrotechnics used to show up in my live guitar solos. (Just the flashy bits.)
  • And last but not least - Styx, Journey, Zebra, and 38 Special also had small degrees of impact on me as a guitarist.

That wraps it up for this post.


UPDATES

As time goes on, I'll add any glaring omissions from my list of honorable mentions as I think of them.

  • The Police - I wasn't crazy about Sting's voice when I first heard The Police; I couldn't figure out why a former British punk rocker had such a weird accent. But as a guitar player, I was amazed at Andy Summers' tone and chord structures; I still get arthritis just thinking about playing some of Andy Summers' rhythm guitar parts from songs like "Message in a Bottle," "Every Breath You Take," etc.
  • Stephen Bennett - I saw Stephen Bennett in concert at one of the Hammered Dulcimer festivals that I attended, and I was amazed at his fingertyle skill; he played Scott Joplin rags on the guitar, he played harp guitar, he played an amazing/ancient steel guitar, etc. As I attended other festivals, I was able to take workshops with Stephen, and I picked up some great techniques. Some years later I arrived early to one of Stephen's concerts; he recognized me, and stopped by to say "Hi." We began talking about guitar, of course, and as we were discussing some of the Scott Joplin pieces that I was working on, Stephen took me backstage where the two of us had an impromptu 1:1 guitar lesson. (Stephen was the teacher, of course.) Stephen had a lasting impact on my playing, but on top of that - he's a class act.
  • Mark Hanson - I made an amazing discovery one day: a lot of fingerstyle guitar transcriptions that I had been learning from over the years, as well as several of the books about playing fingerstyle guitar that I had working through, were all written by the same guy - Mark Hanson. Then I made another amazing discovery: Mark lived in Portland while I lived in Seattle, and Mark would frequently travel up to Seattle to teach workshops at the Dusty Strings store in Fremont. I was able to attend several workshops with Mark, and I will freely admit - his 1:1 instruction has helped my fingerstyle playing improve dramatically. (And I play several of his arrangements to this day.)
  • Steven Saulls - I cannot possibly overstate the following admission: Steven Saulls impacted my guitar playing more than any other guitarist in my lifetime. Period. Steven was my classical guitar tutor in the early 1980s, but most-importantly - Steven showed me everything that I was doing wrong on the guitar. Until I met Steven I was predominantly self-taught, and as a result - I had formed a lot of bad habits. Steven gave me a whole list of extremely tedious exercises to work with, and challenged me to completely relearn how to play my instrument. I felt like a high school student going back to kindergarten, but I followed Steven's suggestions to the letter, and ultimately I became a much better musician because of it.