Forgotten Stars Of ‘90s Shred Guitar
The 1990’s were responsible for more than just Tamagotchi and sitcoms; the decade gave rise to the greatest shred guitarists of all time. With such a saturation of fret-melting wizards treading the boards and releasing a tsunami of instructional shred guitar videos (hands up who remembers VHS tapes!), it is not surprising that a handful of these stars fell into relative obscurity with the dawning of the new millennium. In this blog we discuss four ‘90s face-melting guitarists who deserve to be remembered. Prepare to have your ears, and Spotify playlist, sent back to the golden age of speed!
1. Joey Tafolla
Who’s he then?
During the ‘80s, Joey was part of, the now infamous, Shrapnel Records cohort, releasing recordings alongside the likes of shred guitar poster boys such as Paul Gilbert, Vinnie Moore and Richie Kotzen, to name but a few. Prior to being enlisted by Mike Varney’s label, he was known for his role as lead guitarist in power metal group Jag Panzer.
Joey developed his craft under the tutorship of legendary shredder Tony MacAlpine - having sold everything he owned in order to move to Tony’s home town of San Francisco, where he lived on MacAlpine’s couch, dedicating his time to the guitar. Joey’s guitar story took another turn when he relocated to L.A and attended the legendary music school, G.I.T. where he studied under Paul Gilbert. Joey also gave guitar lessons to a teenage Buckethead.
Perhaps one of the reasons his name, and playing did not attract the same acclaim as his peers is because he was never featured in the, star-making, Guitar Spotlight column which thrust so many players of the day into the limelight. As an existing signed Shrapnel artist, any magazine promotion at the time was seen as a conflict of interest.
Why should I listen to him?
Cutting his teeth during the 1980’s saw Joey produce the release Out Of The Sun. this was a Neo-classical shredfest, indicative of the time. However, the 1991 album Infra-Blue was a showcase of Joey’s truly unique playing style; his blending of chromatic lines with stretched, 3 note per string pentatonic runs took elements from progressive fusion and country, as did he trademark use of open string lines and shuffle based time feel.
Joey’s technique - grafted from his years of Neo-classical study - was impossibly clean and his alternate picking flawless; delivering runs and solos which melded showmanship with pure musicality and off-the-wall phrasing.
30 years later his playing still sounds fresh and relevant.
For an unfettered demonstration of Joey’s technical prowess, take a listen to the short but intense solo, Wrecking Ball from his Infra Blue album. With that said, the entire album is a boogie filled guitar wonderland and worth a listen!
What happened to him?
Joey still teaches and produces lesson videos. His working life centres around his main business, JTM Merchandising, which produces merchandise for large musical entities such as Fender, Line 6 and Mesa Boogie.
Want to work some of those Joey Tafolla stretchy, 3 note per string pentatonics into your playing? Sam Bell puts you through your paces in this course:
2. Patrick Rondat
French guitarist, Patrick Rondat flew the flag for European shred guitar heroes during the ‘90s. Whilst he might not have the household guitar name status of his counterparts, Patrick’s talents have been the talk of top guitar circles for years; having opened for Gary Moore and joined Joe Satriani and Steve Vai on a leg of their 1998 G3 Tour. His abilities as a composer have seen him work alongside more diverse artists such as Jean-Michel Jarre and Steve Lukather.
Why was he a big deal?
Patrick sported all the usual shred chops you’d expect from a 90s‘ guitar wizard but gained acclaim for his sublime sense of melody, compositional and harmonic awareness. In a world of technical showboating, Rondat was able to offer something rare and inspiring, combining the smarts of a classical composer with the fire of the best shredders of the day.
To immerse yourself in Patrick’s compositional wizardry, check out Amphibia Part 4, from his album Amphibia.
Want to hear him working those shred chops? His Vivaldi Tribute has been covered and coveted by many aspiring virtuoso!
Where is he now?
Patrick continues to tour as a solo artist and is a prolific teacher. His talents as a composer and musical innovator saw him team up with classic pianist Hervé N'Kaoua, resulting in a 2008 release of their live performance together.
Feel like taking on the might of a classical piece for electric guitar too? This Paganini Caprice will fit the bill:
3. Blues Saraceno
Never heard of him?
Perhaps the very definition of an early bloomer, Saraceno was selected by Michael Bolton (yes, that Michael Bolton!) to supply guitar for Cher on her Heart Of Stone album. Before hitting his twenties he had released his first instrumental album, Never Look Back.
Most notably, he toured extensively with former Cream members, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, becoming known as ‘the kid that replaced Eric Clapton’. If anymore confirmation of his guitar pedigree is needed, in 1993 Blues also replaced the virtuosic Ritchie Kotzen as lead guitarist with legendary band Poison. During the mid ‘90s he also gained notoriety as a prolific session musician.
Tell me about his playing
If you want the ultimate masterclass in melodic blues rock phrasing, then Saraceno is your guy. His delivery of hard edged traditional blues licks, doused in modern whammy bar inflections and wide vibrato showed the wider guitar world that there was still life in those old blues scales. In addition, every solo had a fluid quality which, in many opinions, remains unrivalled.
Saraceno’s playing on his 1992 instrumental release, Plaid made such an impression on the late Pantera axeman, Dimebag Darrell, that he had the album’s image tattooed on his ankle.
His off-the-wall opening track to the above mentioned Plaid album, Last Train Out, is a one stop shop for everything you need to know about Blues’s talents.
What’s he up to these days?
Whilst we can’t expect anymore shred guitar instrumental albums from Blues, he is far from quiet. After meeting a Fox Television executive, Blues began producing music for television and film. Far from a side project, this area of his musical career has become his biggest success. His music has been used in high end shows such as The Walking Dead, plus big selling video games including Call Of Duty and BioShock.
Add some fire to your blues playing, Saraceno style, with this fret-melting course from Danny Gill:
4. Chris Impellitteri
Wait, I know that name!
Chris’s namesake band have sold over 2 million records and, whilst they never made it big with their native US audiences, their Japanese and European fan base has remained loyal since the band’s ‘90s heyday.
Musically, Impellitteri are steeped in shred metal virtuosity; with everything you would hope for - scorching solos, screaming vocals and powerful high octane riffs. With legendary Rainbow frontman, Graham Bonnet, providing vocals on a number of releases too, it’s safe to say this band has a legitimate claim on the power metal crown!
Having found their stride during the dawn of grunge, Impellitteri sought fame and fortune overseas.
Why did he stand out?
Aside from his band and their mammoth far eastern fanbase, Chris has become known as one of the fastest guitarists of all time; often going toe to toe with the big names of shred such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Paul Gilbert in the magazine polls for all-time victor of shred guitar.
Listen to Chris in full shred mode and you will hear alternate picking chops which defy reason! His speed and wide intervallic runs are almost vertigo inducing. During an era which was saturated with shred guitar wizards, fast was expected; common place almost. To stand out from the crowd and carve a reputation as a speed demon, only ultra fast would cut it and Chris certainly earned his stripes in this department. But it wasn’t all speed and flashy runs, his playing displayed a finesse and sophistication; with super wide vibrato, great tone and dynamic awareness.
For the full Impellitteri experience, check out Stand In Line, featuring Graham Bonnet. Strap in for that guitar solo!
What became of him?
Impellitteri are still going strong, having released albums during the 2000’s. They are currently working on new material and Chris is as fast as ever!
Think you’ve got what it takes to match Chris’s speed? Let Andy James get you ready with his Full Shred Ahead lesson series:
Well, there we have it, four stars of the shred guitar world who should have garnered more attention and guitar magazine coverage. It’s not too late to give these deserving giants of virtuosic rock some overdue recognition so go listen to their discographies!
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