Michael Angelo Batio - who joins Gi this month as a guest columnist - is one of shred's founding fathers and leading exponents. Gary Cooper
Michael Angelo Batio - who joins Gi this month as a guest columnist - is one of shred's founding fathers and leading exponents. Guitar Interactive celebrates a remarkable career, as Stuart Bull talks technique on video with MAB and Gary Cooper discovers there's a lot more to Michael than just fast guitar!
When a player has won awards ranging from "the fastest guitarist of all time" (Guitar World magazine) to "No. 1 shredder of all time" (Guitar One) you wonder what you might be up against when you set out to interview him. It's not that you automatically expect shredders to be Neanderthals, but there's the look, the obsession with speed and... well, you don't necessarily expect a thoughtful interview with an articulate, educated man who has piloted his career with considerable skill, over and above displaying virtuoso talents with his musical weapon of choice.
But Batio is a million miles from the stereotypical metalhead and he has had a pretty remarkable career. Not so very long ago to make your life as a major league professional player you usually had to have been in a top band for a long time. Some broke free - Eric Clapton springs to mind, Jeff Beck, too - but many guitarists, even household names, have been associated with just one or two bands in their careers and more than a few have seen their careers dwindle when they have left those bands. Hence so many of reformed '70s giants, trying to revive their fortunes. But Batio - known just as MAB to many of his fans - is known in his own right and for what he does best - playing guitar.
Stuart Bull's video interview in this issue covers Batio's technique far better than I ever could in words, so instead of asking about his playing, I began by asking him about his early days. Batio started guitar at 10 and took to it quickly, he recalls.
"A musical epiphany to me was when I listened to the radio - AM and mono in those days - and I remember hearingÂ a song and I knew the chords to it. I was only 10 or 11 and I could picture those chords in my head. That's when I felt I had talent for it. Music seemed very easy for me to grasp. I'll never forget my first guitar lesson. My teacher showed me four chords: G, G7, C and D7 and then I made a song from them. I played a measure of G, G7, then C then back to D7 cadencing back to G - I tried to make it musical. I didn't know, he just showed me the four chords and I put it into a song. He also showed me exercises using my fourth finger, so I've always used my four fingers, right from the very beginning."
Batio had taken to music like a duck to water and he comes from a school of players for whom theory is more or less second nature. But this isn't universally the case for Rock guitarists, even if it is more common now than it once was. In fact his musical knowledge goes deeper than most, as he has a BA in music theory and composition from Northeastern Illinois University. But does he believe such a background is actually necessary to be a great guitarist?
"To be honest, no. If you take someone like Yngwie Malmsteen, I probably know a hundred times more about the theory of music but that doesn't mean he's not an incredible guitar player and I really think at the end of the day that all the knowledge in the world isn't going to help you if you don't have any talent. But it does help if you have. For example, just yesterday I had the radio on and the song Killer Queen came on. I remembered that song from when I heard it for the first time in the 1970s when it absolutely blew my mind. I couldn't comprehend it. I couldn't comprehend the chords and what I did was what I always do when I hear something that sounds foreign or different to me - I switch on my theoretical brain and analyse what I'm listening to. I find that I understand it much better as a result and that Queen song taught me that. It was so radically different from anything that I'd ever heard."