The Jedi Council of Riff
by Eric Guenther
2014 is a strange time for rock and metal in general. We’ve seen generations of rock stars come and go, sometimes aging gracefully and sometimes not so much.
Alex Skolnick wrote a hugely insightful article last week that made the point that so many of his original influences have not necessarily kept up their creative pace through the years, whether it be on account of drugs, boozing, or just dat LYFE… He went on to give some really great examples of players he still looks to for inspiration and insight, guys like Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin, who still are pushing creative boundaries in their “grey” era and are arguably playing better than ever.
So I started thinking about musicians in my little world who I revered at a young age that have gone on to disappoint me — or simply just lost my interest as a creative luminary — as well as the ones that I hope are still writing fresh riffs in 30 years.
One name came to mind almost immediately: Mikael (mother f’n) Akerfeldt. Opeth are legends and have spread profound influence and inspiration to countless musicians. They really changed the game for me, a huge part of my history and artistic fingerprint. I wouldn’t be writing or recording the stuff I am today without that dude doing his thing. So, thanks for that, dude.
The new Opeth record keeps it fresh. Even when a band is trying to go in a new direction and I’m not sure if it’s working at first, I can always give bonus points and “forgive” a bit of that just because I appreciate the creative effort. They nailed it, though; I’m much more into this one than Watershed. And even though there are some interestingly “natural” moments (I’m not going to say much more, but listen to the first 30 seconds of “Cusp of Eternity“), understanding the trends in today’s recording climate make that creative decision even MORE interesting to me. In an era of gridded Superior Drummer blasts and over-produced and over-edited guitars (often due to the fact that NO ONE LEARNS HOW TO PLAY THEIR INSTRUMENTS ANYMORE, but that’s another conversation… I’m sick of hearing “we’ll fix it in post”), it sounds more interesting to take the approach Akerfeldt did and let the performance be very natural. It’s more enjoyable subconsciously because it sounds like a real band in contrast to the recording trends of the day.
Another example would be the crypt keeper monster Steve Howe, who still plays the wacky riffs he was writing for Yes in his 20s at the same intensity as ever.
I know I’m gonna maybe catch some shit for this, or maybe not, because the guy seems to do no wrong, but the savior of the human race Dave Grohl would also stand as an example. Granted, he is branching into lots of other areas and trying all kinds of weird stuff around his music, but he still writes great songs. A couple of tracks on Waking Light are his best since The Colour and the Shape.
I’m only going to give one example of a musician that has unfortunately lost creative relevance to me, despite being essential to my musical character and what I’ll call my “fingerprint.” Siamese Dream is one of my three “on a deserted island” records, but Smashing Pumpkins have kind of lost my interest, unfortunately. I’m sure most of you will understand why. But I’ll still always check out everything Billy Corgan does because of his creative importance to me; that won’t ever change.
What are some other examples of these sage rock and roll Jedi who survive the party years and are able to keep their creative drive and ingenuity intact throughout their entire lives?