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Marty Friedman - Playing with Fire

Issue #17

While Marty Friedman has achieved huge levels of success in Japan, it's been at the expense of a career in the rest of the world, it has to be admitted. But now his label is trying to change that with reissues of his hugely popular solo albums and an overdue sorting out of distribution.
Levi Clay

Marty Friedman is one of the original shredders. A Shrapnel Records veteran, he is still at the bleeding edge of fast guitar. Levi Clay interviewed Friedman during a recent trip to London and offers this overview. Elsewhere in this issue, the inimitable Andy James offers a 'don't miss it!' Marty Friedman style file.

It's a cold evening in Camden, London and outside the Underworld it seems a veritable who's who of guitar players and fans who have travelled from miles around to see one of the cult stars of Rock guitar. Fortunately we get to slip in early, to sit down with the man himself, who turns out to be not only the guitar hero we expected, but also a wonderfully warm person full of life and jokes. This is the story of the legend that is Marty Friedman.

Born in Maryland in 1962, Friedman is the second guitarist we're checking out in this issue who picked up the guitar thanks to KISS, after seeing a gig in 1976. Growing up in rural Laurel, Marty taught himself for the majority of his teens and ploughed all of his time into forming bands that would play original material. He had several tastes of success before hitting it big, first with Deuce, then with Hawaii, but it was the pairing with Jason Becker for the Shrapnel records group Cacophony that would really propel him into the guitar playing public's view.

The two Cacophony albums, Speed Metal Symphony, and Go Off! showcase Marty's fascination with thrash, western classical music and traditional eastern melodies.  The song Ninja from the group’s first album is an obvious example of the oriental influence that had become a huge part of Marty's unique soloing voice by this point, when combined with the rich harmonies and complex counterpoints from Jason Becker, you're left with two guitar albums that are absolutely essential listening for any serious fan of guitar music.

Other songs, such as Concerto and Speed Metal Symphony, showcase Marty's technical prowess, with furious alternate picking and sweep picking motifs heavily featured - though one of his most notable techniques is his use of exotic scales and unorthodox bends, often pre-bending to a good note, dropping to a bad one and slowly returning to the sweeter sound.

The success of Cacophony and Shrapnel Records afforded Marty some fantastic opportunities, first of all he could travel the world doing clinics, where he was always in demand, and to support this he recorded and released his debut solo album, Dragon's Kiss. Again this showcased Marty as a true force on the guitar scene as there seemed to be plenty more than shred in his vocabulary, and while the neoclassical vein still remained, this album showcases a host of exotic Egyptian and Asian sounding scales and is still considered a classic today.

When Jason Becker and Marty decided to go out on their own (Jason landed the gig with ex-Van Halen frontman David Lee Roth) Marty was recommended to Dave Mustaine to audition for Megadeth for the band's fourth album, the first without Jeff Young. While initially being turned down for being 'a little too '80s' and having multi-coloured hair, after a “rock 101” session, Marty joined the band in February 1990.


Rust in Peace was released in October 1990 to huge critical acclaim and is considered by most fans to be the group's best work, and while the songs all have Mustaine's unique approach to writing, it all seemed a little more focused but without losing the thrash edge. Tracks like Hangar 18 are perfect examples of a raw sound, yet delivered with a more pop-like production and extended solos. Tornado of Souls is still a staple of Marty's live shows having a solo which exemplifies everything great about Marty's phrasing, a perfect introduction for the uninitiated.

Marty spent ten years with Megadeth, releasing four more albums, Countdown to Extinction, Youthanasia, Cryptic Writings and Risk. Countdown to Extinction is a 'must own' album for any Rock fan, having a much more polished production and a real focus on the songs, it's music heaven. The band began moving in a more pop direction but after Risk, Mustaine made it clear that the band would be moving back to a heavier sound which didn't suit Marty's growth, so he made the decision to step aside, being replaced by Al Pitrelli.

Having had the opportunity to tour the world, Friedman had come to the conclusion that he had a strong affinity with the Japanese people and their culture, so decided to make the move there. In our interview, Marty explains the differences between the Japanese and western cultures in terms of music, he talks about the freedom of expression artists have in Japan as the music buying public doesn't seem to be so tied down to genres, which affords him the freedom to make a metal record one day then a sickly sweet j-pop album the next. Over the years he has become quite the celebrity in Japan, too, hosting a series of TV shows (which can all be seen on YouTube) featuring top names like Kerry King and Paul Gilbert.

Over the years Friedman has used a huge variety of guitars and amps, not really associating himself with anything for a long period of time. Currently he's using Fractal Audio's Axe FX and Engl amps, along with PRS guitars - and he currently runs no pedals in front of the amp, proving that getting that tone is all in the hands!

While Marty Friedman has achieved huge levels of success in Japan, it's been at the expense of a career in the rest of the world, it has to be admitted. But now his label is trying to change that with reissues of his hugely popular solo albums and an overdue sorting out of distribution. You should be able to pick up the combination of Tokyo Jukebox 1 & 2 now on Prosthetic records after the successful release of Bad D.N.A, Future Addict and Loudspeaker. So expect to see a little bit more of Marty in your corner of the world and keep a look out for upcoming tour dates.

For those of you who want to get a little deeper into playing like Marty, carry on reading for Andy James' unbeatable style file!

Issue 17
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