Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

MY PLAYING & AL PITRELLI'S GEAR

I've been playing an instrument since I was 14. My dad started building acoustic guitars & somebody in the house probably should be able to play a little. My dad took fingerpicking lessons a few years. I learned out of books & listening. Though, I listened more than I practiced. Later, I picked up the bass, finding it my preferred instrument. My ears tune into the rhythm section better & always have. Solos lose me, if not bore me, really. Plus, I have no spotlight desire to be the guy out front going crazy. I like the repetitive aspects of the rhythm section.

Today, I play some uncluttered thumping bass & some basic guitar rhythms, now a bit out of practice. My former bandmate Charles Canedo of the Brooklyn based blues-trio Tired Wings called me a "bulldozer" as I have a straight-ahead style that's very heavy yet with lots of inner texture, based on my bass hero Geezer Butler. He would stop playing guitar & just listen to me ... while I was just playing waiting for him to start up again & keep the song going. Ha! My drummer Luis Cambrero said he'd never before played with a bassist who actually accented the notes in sync with drum accents.

But, I'm not a musician. I don't fool anyone by claiming that & I don't think of myself with one. I'm married to a Juilliard graduate of 12 years whose made a 30 year career via playing music full-time. He went to school with Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater , no less, & has played for opera & Broadway stars ... & even Kira Sedgwick has been in our apartment practicing! That's a real musician. I don't have a chance in the world to compete. I know some theory & have some playing ability that helps my work a lot as a writer & music reviewer. I've trained my ears, if not my fingers as well as I should or could. I fiddle my computer keys & do some ambiant soundscape remixes under the moniker of Blank Faced Prophet that you can find on itunes - if you dare, it's strange ... & my joint music with Dethcentrik is even worse It's a release of some creativity I can't do elsewhere. It's music, but I'm not a musician. Maybe it's not even music, some would say. For me playing has always been about knowledge & understanding, not self-expression, though I do like jamming with folks & sometimes miss the chance. & what musician, of any caliber, doesn't sometimes dream of being in a band? Will I play in a band again? It costs money & that's a commodity I don't have much these days, so in the foreseeable future probably not.

I know there's a lot of you that are gear heads. I know some guitar brands, but couldn't tell you the difference between pick-ups, amps or strings. I know some things I've tried & what I liked. That's it. I don't have a guitar collection. I have a Washburn bass - strung with flatwounds thanks to Motown's James Jamerson - but I prefer my far cheaper Arbor bass - with roundwounds & covered with worn heavy metal stickers, even though it has a nice red woodgrain. I've also got a Brownsville semi-hollow body, a Washburn 6 string acoustic & an Arbor electric. Nothing fancy or expensive. I highly recommend the unknown Arbor. I picked up the bass & it was so amazing from the first moment that I went & bought an electric from them.

So, let instead offer you a bit by my favorite guitarist Al Pitrelli (Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Savatage/TSO, Asia) whose biography I've been writing for a few years. A lot of people are actually interested in what he plays & the info is hard to find. So, a snippet from my book. Words are music, as should be obvious. In March 1990 he did an interview for Guitarist magazine where he goes into detail about the gear he uses as part of the ALICE COOPER band.

“All my guitars are Kramers. My main guitar is the Night Swan, which Buddy Blaze & Vivian Campbell designed, & it’s one of the best sounding guitars I’ve ever heard. It’s a Les Paul scale, it’s shorter than the Strat & the body is solid mahogany, which tone-wise is great. It has a 24 fret neck with an ebony fingerboard & that’s my main guitar. Kramer have also developed something called the Sustainer, which as far as I’m concerned is the only one that really works. There’s a note in "School’s Out" that needs it, & if I happen to be at the other end of a 60 foot stage & that note is not going to sustain, I just flip a switch & its there.

"When I got hired, I had 2 Marshalls [amps], & when I looked at the set I thought, ‘No way!’ So, I got 2 racks full of stupidity, which basically starts with an all-tube pre-amp. It has four sends going to an SPX90, a Rev7, a Quadraverb, a PCM41, a Peavey something - I can’t remember the name, but it’s real good. All that goes through my mixer, plus I’ve got a VHT power head & 2 Marshall power heads. The cabinets I’m using are Peavey 4x12s & they just sound great. It’s all stereo & I’ve got shit flying all over the place. It’s a lot of fun.

"Basically my guitar tech has all the headaches because he has to make all the program changes. All I have by my mike stand is an on & off switch, so when I get 30 seconds in a song where I’m not playing, I click it & that switches the signal to my tuner. I check my tuning & come back in. I don’t go through many changes in each song. The changes are more from song to song. I’ve got one main sound through - basically, the SPX90, Rev7 & PCM are always on & they never change. That gives me my stereo separation & my depth, & the Quadraverb & the Peavey unit give me my real spacey sound. & that’s basically it"

Sadly, the guitar in question would be stolen by one of the roadies & sold in a pawn shop. It would be bought by a collector named JC & shown to Al decades later during a Trans-Siberian Orchestra post-show meet & greet. He'd pass on a generous on the spot offer to have it back. You can find the complete story at JC Guitars site.


As an added bonus let me share a bit about Al's guitar heros from a winter 1990 issue of Monitor magazine - not so much a magazine but a promotional mag by Peavey Electronics of whom Al had a sponsorship, his only sponsorship. This interview was done 2 days before hitting the road with Alice.

“My 2 biggest influences are Jeff Beck & Gary Moore. Beck for what Beck does & Moore for what Moore does. Because, its basically the same school I come from, the school that if I can level somebody with one note, than that’s much cooler than doing it with 100. & at the same time, I can play circles around the fast guys, but its more important to have a good balance. Clapton & Frank Marino [of Mahogany Rush] for that real boogie kind of vibe, down & dirty blues at ultra speeds. Van Halen for his rhythm playing more than his soloing. I mean, Eddie’s great with the tapping & the bar, but if you listen to "Light Up The Sky", "Women In Love" the man swung when he played rhythm guitar”

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