5 Essential Guitar Albums, by Testament's Alex Skolnick
Testament axeman Alex Skolnick picks five guitar albums to sharpen the skills of any young axe slinger
For Testament's Alex Skolnick, the choice of albums here is based on criteria that may somewhat surprise you.
“Well, first of all, none of these records are just about the guitar. By that I mean you don't have to be a guitar player to appreciate them. To be honest with you, I can't actually listen to music that's marketed to guitar players!
“In addition, these albums all succeed on a musical level, where you could replace the guitar with another instrument and it would still be great. So, when it comes to fantastic blues, you could put a saxophone in to take over from the guitar without losing anything. And on the jazz front, the piano could replace the guitar.”
So for the man who also fronts how own jazz band The Alex Skolkick Trio, to make this list an album has to really be a landmark record.
“I don't like to hear guitarists where you can cut and paste what they do onto another album. All of the people here are unique and exciting. They are doing things which made a big difference to everyone in music.”
Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
“This was the album that made me want to play lead guitar. I've always thought it was ironic that Eddie Van Halen was overshadowed by himself, because of what he did on the album. If you listen, he came up with a different way of soloing. Some people focus only his two handed technique here, but for me he did so much else that was groundbreaking. His sound, sense of timing and the perfect balance between technical ability and respect for the compositions. And he came up with melodic lines which were unique.”
Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced (1967)
“I got into Van Halen before ever hearing Hendrix. It was older musicians who kept telling me that I had to listen to him. And when I heard Are You Experienced, he really grabbed me. He had a wonderful combination of blues and rock'n'roll. At the time he made his impact there were no rules; what he did was come up with them as he went along.
“By the time I heard him, others like Stevie Ray Vaughan had taken what he did and finessed it. But there's still a unique magic to Hendrix. Learning from him will certainly make you a better guitarist.”
Jeff Beck – Blow By Blow (1975)
“Another person who improves you as a player when you listen to what he did on this album. For me, Beck is the quintessential all round guitarist. You can put him in any situation and make it work. He has played with everyone, from Stevie Wonder to Roy Buchanan, and whatever the situation, Jeff Beck is a wonderfully expressive player and when you hear what he does on Blow My Blow, it's clear this is all about genuine musicianship, without any need for gimmicks. And what he also does is play with the band, rather than overriding them. This is a truly amazing album.
“I got to see Jeff Beck play live for the first time in 2009, and it was as good a guitar show as I have ever seen.”
Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life (1976)
“Like the first Van Halen album, for me this is a game changer. At the time, Metheny was really young (21) and to be able to do this sort of thing... well, it takes a genius to pull it off. He was also playing alongside Jaco Pastorius on bass, and as you can imagine the combination of these two was sublime.
“This is certainly not screaming rock, but there's lots of energy and the whole experience is amazing. The level of musicianship is so high. This album definitely bridged the gap between jazz and rock.”
B.B. King – Live In Cook County Jail (1971)
“I could have picked any one of a number of B.B. King albums, but this one is special because he was performing in a prison. This gives it an extra edge, and you can literally feel the blues energy flowing. His playing might appear simple, and all he has is his guitar plugged into an amp – no effects – but what the man could achieve with a few notes is incredible. Just spend time with this album, and listen to how impressive and expressive he is.
“It's so hard to capture on a record the atmosphere of a great live performance, but this one does the job really well.”