Tag: Guitar

Guitarist Dee J Nelson Discusses “It’s Alive”

Guitarist Dee J Nelson is making a name for himself. The Chicago based southpaw shredder, whose DVD “Monster Power Chords” has become a huge hit on Metal Method, has recently released “It’s Alive”; an album of guitar wizardry that will have players everywhere asking, “How’d he do that?”

Dee J credits some of his early influences to the Sex Pistols and Naked Ray Gun. But it wasn’t until he saw Steve Vai perform that everything changed.”When I saw Vai play for the first time, that was it for me”, Nelson says with a smile. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a guitar player.”

From there, Dee J hunkered down and began to seriously improve his chops. He studied with Shrapnel alum George Bellas and majored in music composition at DePaul University. While studying guitar and writing orchestral music in college, he supplemented his time by regularly giving as many as fifty students guitar lessons each week.

I had the chance to speak with Dee J and get the inside scoop on his new album, how he became a Metal Method instructor and also what he’s up to now.

Where did you find the inspiration to record songs for “It’s Alive”?

DJ: I usually start out with an inspiring idea or concept and build the song from there. Often times it’s riff inspired. I’ll find something that I really like and it will remind me of something.

Other times, I’ll have a concept in mind for song. “Scream Bloody Dream”  is a good example of that. I decided one day to write a song about a chick screaming with a neo-classical feel. Another track with a plan was “The Living and The Dying”. That song was something I had a vision in mind for. I pictured it being a zombie-esque story and started out using ominous chords which eventually become something more when the “zombie” actually comes out (high bends). Those ideas were both planned well before even writing a note.

Who were some of your early guitar teachers?

I studied with George Bellas, who was one of the Shrapnel recording artists. He’s a phenomenally intense player and someone who really inspired me a lot. During college, I studied classical guitar with Mark Maxwell and jazz with Bob Palmieri, who’s worked with Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson and The Pat Metheny Group, among others.

How were you introduced to Doug Marks and Metal Method?

I was introduced to Doug by Stephen Jensen. Stephen designed the logo for Metal Method and does artwork for other major bands. He also, coincidentally designed the cover for my book, “Monster Power Chords”. The book was a basic program I developed based on power chords that players could use to practice their rhythm technique. Stephen introduced me to Doug who then made the book available to his students. There was such a great reaction to it that we decided to change the format of it to DVD. So, I flew out to Doug’s studio in LA to film it.

What was it like working with Doug?

Amazing. Doug really is a great guy and a metal legend. At one point, we took a break so that we could go out to dinner and I remember just sitting there thinking how cool it was to be there with him. I had always remembered him from the magazines and had been inspired by him, but to be there with him in person was pretty cool.

What other projects are you working on right now?

Edsel Dope invited me over to his studio to do some recording and we’ve just recently completed a guitar track for the WWE. It’s going to be used as the new entrance music theme for Ryback, so watch for it!

Guitarists: Check out DJ’s fingering exercise (Click on image to enlarge)

You can keep up with Dee J Nelson on his official website.

My Metal Method Story

It was sometime in the summer of 1985. I was a young, skinny, pimply faced teenager who had just started taking guitar lessons at the local music store. My Mom had rented me a Gibson Explorer with the only stipulation being, I take weekly lessons. Now a junior metal-head and armed with a black guitar, there was no stopping me.

I’ll admit, those first few months of learning how to play were rough. I had to endure my siblings berating me for playing “the same thing over and over” and to this day still have nightmares about muddling my way through a Mel Bay lesson book and painfully maneuvering my left hand in a futile attempt to form a “G” chord properly.

Fortunately though, my teacher always saved the best part of every lesson for last. Towards the end of each session, he would take a recording of any song I brought in from home and we (or should I say, “HE”) would figure out the chords to it for me. He was one of those little weasels who could figure out any song and lead on the guitar just by listening to it on the stereo. So songs by Bon Jovi, The Scorpions, AC/DC and Quiet Riot were all quickly added to my repertoire. My arsenal of music was slowly beginning to grow, and I was on my way to becoming the metal head I wanted to be.

But still, it felt like something was missing.

One day, I was at my local music store performing my ritual of staring at the expensive Gibson Les Paul guitars hanging on the wall when I happened to pick up my very first  guitar magazine. As a new player (and well before the advent of the Internet), those magazines were like the Bible. As I perused through the pages of gospel, I suddenly stopped when the face pictured in this post caught my eye. It was a picture of Doug Marks and an advertisement for his Metal Method guitar lessons.

These were lessons that were geared towards teaching how to play “METAL”, which was right up my alley. So, over the next few years I supplemented my weekly guitar lessons by purchasing all eight of the initial lessons and immersing myself in playing chords and leads geared towards the style of music I wanted to play. It was wonderful.

The thing I loved the most about Metal Method was the fact that there was always something you could use to make you better. And it wasn’t something that you had to rush to figure out; you could take your time with it. I’ll never forget the first time I learned how to play the two-handed tapping method that Eddie Van Halen made famous. If you listen to Eddie do it, you say to yourself: “This is impossible”. But the fact is, as long as you have the desire to play it, you can do it.

I’ve come a long way since the day I first picked up that tattered magazine. Today, I actually own one of the Les Pauls I spent years gawking at on the rack. And Metal Method is still going strong; continuing to make countless guitarists better players.

Even I, someone who now plays “G” chords with ease, recently checked out some of the updated lessons and still benefited from them. But I suppose that’s the real power and joy you get out of being a musician, no matter how long you’ve been playing.

You truly never stop learning.

You can read my Guitar World interview with Doug Marks from Metal Method Here.

Guitar World Interview: Loverboy Guitarist Paul Dean

Loverboy, the Canadian rock band whose songs “Working For The Weekend,” “Hot Girls in Love” and “Queen of The Broken Hearts” have become staples of classic rock radio, have released Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival, a new album of re-recorded hits and new songs.

The band is on a massive nationwide tour supporting fellow veteran rockers Journey, Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.

I had the chance to speak with guitarist Paul Dean about Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival as well as his current guitar setup and the origins of some of Loverboy’s biggest hits.

GUITAR WORLD: What made you decide to re-record and put together Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival?

The album started off with “Heartbreaker,” a song outline sent to us by acclaimed producer and good friend Bob Rock. Bob and I go all the way back to 1980, when he was the engineer on our first self-titled album. The first time I heard the song, it was instant for me; I could hear Mike Reno singing the bejeezus out of it….

Read the rest of the interview here

How Badly Do I Want To See Van Halen?

Like everyone else I was stoked when Van Halen finally announced “A Different Kind of Truth“, their long-awaited new album with original singer David Lee Roth. But even more amazing than the first new music with Roth on vocals in 28 years was the bands plan to embark on a tour to support the new record.

I never had the opportunity to see Van Halen with either of its two singers, Roth or Sammy Hagar (I don’t count the Gary Cherone “experiment”). And even though original bassist Michael Anthony would not be taking part I still wanted to hear Eddie shred on Eruption and experience “Jamie’s Cryin”, “Ain’t Talking Bout Love” and “Hot for Teacher”. I mean, let’s face it, Eddie Van Halen is one of the few remaining Guitar Gods. I had to see him and pay homage.

All the while I was consuming myself with the thought of seeing Van Halen for the first time a little voice inside my head was telling me that I had better hurry up and order a ticket. For if the past is any indication, I’m quite certain that it’s only a matter of time before the devil they’ve been running with inevitably rears his ugly head again and breaks up the band again. So time was indeed of the essence.

I was very excited to discover that the band would be making a stop in Philadelphia on March 5th and so I immediately grabbed my credit card and proceeded to the ComCast Tix website to make my purchase.

Since I ‘d be going alone I didn’t really care where I sat. I noticed that the cheapest ticket available online was in the upper bleachers for $49.50. That sounded good enough to me so I added the ticket to my shopping cart and proceeded on to the next screen.

“Uhm… excuse me, is there something wrong here? There must be some mistake.”

I was greeted by a screen that told me that the $49.50 ticket I was about to purchase would also require me to pay a “fee” of $11 and another $5 “order charge”. What these so-called “fee” and “order” charges were wasn’t explained but suddenly my ticket cost had gone up to $65.50 (a 32% increase).

As the blood pressure started to rise I was able to calm myself by singing out loud some possible Van Halen songs I’d hear: “Might as well JUMP! JUMP!”…. “PA-NAH-MA!”…”Daaaance The Night Away!”….That seemed to work although my dogs, which were within earshot of me in the living room, made a bee line for the exits. My confidence had been restored.

I was next asked by the website if I’d like to purchase advance parking for the event ahead of time. “Yes, I guess that makes sense”, I said to myself as I clicked on the link.

My cart was immediately updated and now things were beginning to get a bit out of hand. Parking for the show would be $25 and, you guessed it, that cost did not include another additional $2.25 “fee” bringing the total for my original $49.50 cheap-seat ticket to see Van Halen to a whopping $92.75. Beg pardon Comcast, but you do realize that now I am paying almost double the cost of what my ticket is worth don’t you?

But if you thought it ended there, wait….there’s more!

I had the ticket and parking covered but now the question was: how did I want to receive my one SINGLE paper ticket? My choices ranged from an additional $2.75 just for the opportunity to print the ticket out at home up to a $19 charge for express delivery.

After adding everything together, including the mandatory toll charges to and from the event, I concluded that the cost for me to go by myself to see Van Halen in Philadelphia with a $49.50 ticket was going to be over $100. I clicked “Cancel” on the transaction screen.

The more I think about it, the angrier I become. Not at Van Halen mind you. My issue is with these outrageous parking fees and the Comcast Tix, Ticketmaster and Live Nation sites who are supposed to be doing service to the fans but instead wind up screwing them with fees. It’s frustrating to essentially have to pay double the price printed on a ticket just to see the show.

Worse still, it makes me do something else I’ve never done before besides see Van Halen. It’s made me start to second guess just how badly I want to see a concert.

And shame on these ticket outlet sites and venues for making me feel that way.

A Guitarist’s Worst Nightmare

Me and Les Doing What We Do Best

Even if you’ve never played guitar before you will cringe when you hear the tale I’m about to tell. It’s something you might read right out of a Steven King novel. I’m warning you now that it’s not for the weak of heart.

I started playing guitar in the early 1980’s and struggled for years learning chord progressions and scales. Having to learn how to play on a cheap imitation Fender Stratocaster wasn’t of much help either. If you’re a guitar player you know what I’m talking about. The better the guitar, the easier it is to learn on. And although I played with what my parents could afford to get me, I still dreamed of one day getting a Gibson Les Paul. The guitar that players like Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and Ace Frehley from Kiss played. A guitar that at the time I wasn’t worthy enough to play or financially responsible to own.

Someday.

My hard work eventually started paying off. By paying my dues as a working musician over the next few years I was able to purchase a used Gibson Explorer and genuine Fender Stratocaster. But the elusive Les Paul was always slightly out of my reach.

Fast forward now to 2004 and the local band I was in is at the top of our game. We had just successfully completed a long string of summer shows including one as the opening act for American Idol runner-up Clay Aiken.

Now, before you laugh consider this: Clay was almost God-Like at this time. His first album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and was, with 613,000 copies sold in its first week, the highest-selling debut for a solo artist in over ten years and an album that was eventually certified multi-platinum.

To help celebrate my hard work and musical devotion I FINALLY purchased my Les Paul just in time for the Clay gig. Much like being a car enthusiast who for years has driven nothing but clunkers until eventually getting their dream car, getting the Les Paul and the chance to play it at the ultimate show in front of 6,000 fans was a dream come true.

Needless to say, the euphoria of this combination of events had me feeling pretty good when the band rolled into the Franklin Township Fair a few weeks later.

The Franklin Township Fair is an annual event held in the wide-open boon docks of Northern Pennsylvania. With sponsorships from a variety of local businesses all supporting the volunteer fire company, the event raises a lot of money to help continue to fight the good fight.

I spent the early portion of the day setting up my gear on the big concrete stage we would be performing on. I had my polished Les Paul, strung with new strings, all tuned and ready to go and gently placed it on the guitar stand.

To make this day even more special, I had just finished recording a brand new song I had written and this was the perfect opportunity to listen to it on the big PA system for the first time. I placed the CD into the drive and pressed play. I then jumped off the stage and made my way out onto the midway.

I was able to completely ignore the smell of funnel cake and the sound of spinning wheels as people tried to match numbers and win gigantic stuffed animals. I just stood there and let the perfect balance of music seep into my soul. Not just any music mind you. This was my music and nothing beats the first time you hear the final mix of a song that you wrote.

Paging Steven King.

As I’m listening to the sound of guitar and lyric in blissful perfection another sound begins to fill my ears. It’s the sound of an approaching helicopter. You see, one of the “benefits” fair goers get to see as part of the festivities is a demonstration of a Med-Evac helicopter landing.

People nearby begin to get excited and cheer as the copter slowly descends and lands onto a small clearing next to the fairgrounds. I myself begin to get a little worried when the breeze coming off of the still spinning helicopter blades continues to pick up. I know the copter has already landed safely but the high wind on my face is definitely a cause for concern.

It’s at this point that everything turns into slow motion.

My attention is quickly drawn back to front and I now see set lists and cables blowing around on the concrete stage. A stage I am standing at least fifty or sixty yards away from. My heart goes into my throat as I now fear the worst. And sure enough, the worst happens.

My beloved Les Paul, the one I had spent twenty years of my life trying to obtain, the one that is now sitting on a guitar stand in what feels like a mile away begins to teeter and totter in the wind. There is nothing I can do as I watch it fall forward and land face down on the concrete stage.

I run as fast as I can to assess the damage. The guitar now has a two-inch crack near the head stock. And the nut, or portion where the strings attach near the tuning pegs, is broken off right where the sixth string passes making that string completely useless.

So here I am, pissed off beyond belief that my beloved guitar, and the only guitar I brought to the gig, has suffered damage and also knowing that I still had to perform for ninety minutes. How I was able to hold it together remains a mystery. The show must go on I suppose.

Not surprisingly, even with the damage sustained I was still able to play the guitar (minus the sixth string) for the entire show and it not once went out of tune. After all, it’s a Les Paul.

Insurance was able to cover the damages and to this day my beloved Les Paul is still rocking. Only now, it has its own identity.

And the dream continues.

Off The Rails – A Review

It was 1990 and I was in the middle of writing a term paper for my college English class. The theme was biography and I decided to do mine on one of my favorite guitarists of all time, Randy Rhoads, who died in a plane crash in 1982.

Randy was a genius on his instrument. Much like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen were in their prime, these gentlemen all took the instrument to an entirely new level. Randy Rhoads’ unfortunate passing took away the opportunity for music lovers to see what would have happened if a gifted guitarist crossed heavy metal with classical music. From the music he left behind the possibilities were endless.

Needless to say, trying to compose a term paper on a heavy metal guitarist was not easy at that time. Especially when there were no books on the subject and no Internet readily available. I was forced to use guitar magazines which, let’s be honest, are not the best material to gain any real insight on the subject.

Most of those magazines are nothing more than hero-worship anyway and are more interested in teaching you how to play guitar solos rather than what kind of person Randy was like. Where was Rudy Sarzo’s book “Off The Rails” when I needed it?

For those of you who don’t know, Rudy Sarzo is a bassist who performed with Randy Rhoads during his heyday with Ozzy Osbourne. Ozzy, who had recently parted ways with his long time band Black Sabbath, had just put together a new band to support his solo career and albums Blizzard of Ozzand Diary of a Madman.

In his book, Rudy discusses every detail of his life from the moment he was asked to join Ozzy Osbourne’s band along side Randy, right up until the plane crash that killed one of the greatest guitar players ever on March 19, 1982. The book not only gives you an insight on what it was like to be in the band with Randy, but also some of the most funny, outrageous and at times, depressing stories about life on the road you’ll ever read.

I originally contemplated using the term “Mr. Sarzo” when addressing the author in this review of his book but decided against it. The use of “Mr” is too formal and much better suited for addressing music business executives and for ASCAP royalty statements. After reading this brilliant book and learning so much about him (and Randy for that matter), I’m much more comfortable referring to him simply as “Rudy”.

Those who know me can attest to the fact that I definitely am not a literary connoisseur. Far from it if you really must know, but I took this book with me on vacation to Ocean City, Maryland and could not put it down.

Reading about Rudy’s laid back lifestyle, the wild stories of Ozzy and his beloved wife Sharon (who can now be seen as a judge on the show America’s Got Talent) and how Randy was ready to give it all up to get back to his love of teaching classical guitar was the perfect complement to my own personal ME time. Rudy’s writing style made me feel like I was actually sitting on the tour bus with him bearing witness to all the debauchery myself.

I found myself cursing fate when I discovered that Rudy and Randy had performed within 10 miles of my home but I was a mere eleven years old at the time and wasn’t even aware of the greatness that had come to my town. Oh, why couldn’t my parents have been listening to Blizzard of Ozz instead of ABBA’s Dancing Queen? I could have been one to bear witness to music genius.

Rudy spares no punches at all in this great read. He discusses the stories of drugs and alcohol abuse, how he met the love of his life, posts in-depth reviews from many of the shows during the tour and is even at times very critical of his own playing.

Most rock star books and biographies usually follow the same format: I have nothing, I got famous, I got drunk, I got high, I got into a fight, I got cleaned up. Although some of that is also included in this work, there’s so much more here to set it apart from the pack. The stories of Rudy’s encounters with bands like Motorhead, Def Leppard, Night Ranger and countless other groups well before their initial success makes this a must read for any 80’s music fan.

Rudy has a very casual, humble way of story telling and I could really only find one fault with it. On page two of the book, referring to his initial passing of a chance to audition with Ozzy and then getting another opportunity, Rudy mentions how lightning is not supposed to be able to strike twice. But in my view, lightning has struck at least a half-dozen times for Rudy Sarzo.

You see, in addition to finding his beloved wife and being in one of the greatest arsenals ever put together in heavy metal history, Rudy has also been a part of the following in his career as a bass player:

  • Quiet Riot: Their debut album, Metal Health, became the first American heavy metal record  to reach #1 on the Billboard charts selling millions of copies. On a personal note, when I heard “Cum on Feel the Noize” for the very first time back in 1983, I knew at that very moment I wanted to be a musician and play that song.
  • Whitesnake: Rudy Sarzo joined the rhythm section of this band just as their 1987 album began to take hold. Although Rudy did not play on the record he was part of the band at its highest point including the infamous Jaquar video “Here I Go Again”.
  • Dio: Rudy was able to perform with one of the greatest heavy metal vocalists of all time, Ronnie James Dio. Ironically enough, until Ronnie’s untimely death in 2010, Rudy performed alongside the man who had replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath.
  • Blue Oyster Cult: Rudy is currently part of the band whose hits include “Burnin’ For You”, “Godzilla” and “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.

Ok, I’m through ranting. If you are a fan of Randy Rhoads, Rudy or any of the bands mentioned in this review then this is a book you definitely need to own. I can not say enough good things about it. Kudos to you Rudy for one of the best rock biographies ever.

I only wish you would have written this book 20 years ago. I’m confident that if you had, the “B” I wound up getting on my term paper would have been an “A” instead.

Memoirs: 17 Nov 1986

explorerSetting the scene: From my journal dated November 17, 1986. This entry details my feelings about missing guitar practice after school. I used to beat myself up for not practicing at least three hours a day EVERY day. Feel free to leave a comment below.

As I sit here now it becomes more and more to my advantage to forget about what i think I should do and get to some serious practicing. Usually I’ll practice one day, and hey, I do accomplish all that I want to and more, but the next day I either practice very little or none at all. This really gets me upset when I look back and it seems to happen every day.

Now, as I sit here at 11:45 am on the 17th of November  I am willing to practice. To get home at 2:45 pm, eat something, grab my water container and head up to my room to practice. But the things that flow through my mind…..like just now, I thought of the fact that I do not own my Explorer yet came into my head. (I’m still renting it). Now it discourages me. I don’t understand why.

Also, I’ll miss the Joy of Painting show but as I feel now it doesn’t really matter. You see, all these things can go through one’s mind and either inspire or dishearten them.

Every day I have this uneven balance of inspiration and discouragement. The things which inspire me are: watching my favorite videos and songs and thinking I can play as good or better; or generally talking about the instrument or music (like I did in 3rd period today or in my music classes).

Now for the discouragements: my sibling’s put downs are non-stop; my friend’s wise cracks; my desire to sometimes keep putting off practice until it’s too late; me not owning a good guitar; me not having money; me not wanting a job. All of these attribute to my musical career in either positive or negative feelings.

Well now it’s time to show everyone my real potential. There will be change, a lot of it if necessary. To begin with I’m going to stick with my practice schedule even if it kills me. I want to be in a band by the beginning of 1987. Without proper practice it’s all useless. But as of now there will be a change.

Hopefully for the better.