In the spirit of Instrumental Music Week, I decided to throw my hat in the ring – however I simply could not compile a list of my favorite instrumental tracks. Just couldn’t do it; the mere thought gives me a panic attack. What if I picked the wrong one? What if my list was missing that one song that I truly love so much, but just couldn’t think of at the time? That band would totally find out and hate my guts forever, and start a smear campaign, totally ruining my credibility, which of course would cut short my lifelong dream of being sponsored by a cereal company and getting free cereal for life. Nope, not gonna take that chance. So instead, I decided to tell you a little story about the first instrumental song I remember liking, and how that influential artist went on to inspire other artists that I enjoy, ( I think.)
It all starts somewhere around 1991 or so. I would have been about seven, and was just starting to seek out music. The first place I would have found it, of course, would have been my mother’s tape collection. For a lot of people, ransacking their parent’s music collection would be an exercise in lameness. Not for me. My mother had excellent taste. For example, it was my mother who practically dragged me to my first real concert at the age of twelve: the 1996 Metallica tour, in support of Load. Korn opened. Sure, you chuckle now, but in ’96 no one was laughing at either of those bands, believe me.
After wading through her Depeche Mode, Anthrax, and Yes, I came across an odd looking cassette. It had this kind of skeezy looking dude on the front, holding a telecaster and grinning in a kind of sultry way. Naturally, I put it on. What came out blew my little mind:
It was like, rock, but with other stuff in it. Is that jazz? What…what is this? Is that synthesizers under a southern rock lick? And where are the words? Can you even do that? Can you even make a rock song with no singing? Now I knew what that sexy dirtbag was grinning at: he was clearly an insane meth cook with the guitar chops of Odin.
Steve Morse is a freakishly talented man. A legend in the guitar community, yet not as world-renowned as many of his peers. His work with the Dixie Dregs, his solo career, and later involvment with both Deep Purple and Kansas have all but cemented his eventual placement in some sort of hall of fame – but I don’t give a shit about any of that; I love Steve Morse for two reasons. First, for that one song, shown above. It’s the only thing I’ve ever heard of his that I like, but it still changed my life forever. It’s dated and kind of cheesy now, but I still have a soft spot for it. Secondly, for inspiring an entire generation of fusion instrumentalists. Either directly or indirectly, I believe Steve Morse is responsible for a hefty portion of the instrumental music I love today. Listen to that song again, and tell me you don’t hear a similar sensibility at work here:
That’s Mattias Ia Eklundh, a mutant Swedish virtuoso, solo artist, and longtime Soilwork collaborator. Maybe I’m imagining the connection, but I see those two artists as working from the same palette. I would call them both “fusion”. Guitar-centric, metal/hard rock-tinged fusion, but fusion nonetheless. You know who else is kinda fusiony? These guys:
In case you’re not aware, even though you really should be, that’s T.R.A.M. The supergroup consisting of current metal darlings Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes of Animals as Leaders, along with Eric Moore and Adrian Terrazas. Again, maybe you don’t hear it, but I totally do. Those three songs represent three generations of fusion, with overlapping careers spanning over 30 years. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that Steve Morse had anything to do with either Eklundh’s or Abasi’s decision to take their music where they did. I’m no fusion guitar historian, but I think I’m onto something.
At any rate, Steve Morse got me into instrumental music by showing the unbridled experimentation and expression that has come to be the calling card of the genre, in my eyes. That adventurous spirit I heard in Morse’s music, and the other instrumental artists who have influenced me, is why I make the kind of music I do. Maybe one day I can be the creepysexy guy smiling on the cover of whatever the equivalent of an album cover will be in the future, and some other kid will put it on, emboldened by the good tastes of his or her parents. I’ll blow that little kid’s fucking mind, man. I just gotta work on my ‘stache. The ‘stache is what reels ‘em in. Worked on me, that’s for sure.