1.11 The 1990’s: Shreds Dark Years
Perhaps it was inevitable that things would change – after all, such was the rate of advancement of technique in the 80’s, that it would be nigh on impossible to continue at this rate. With the advent of grunge and other styles such as Britpop (music that didn’t require serious chops to play) there was a definite changing of the guard.
Many fans had burnt out on the histrionics of both the hair metal/melodic rock genre as well as shred: it was suddenly all too much. Guitar magazines that had previously championed shred – such as Guitar World – were now critical and dismissive of the style, and shred retreated very much to a niche taste.
Yet, amidst all this doom and gloom exciting new players emerged to continue shreds musical journey, even if many of them remained very much underground to the general guitar fan.
One player who did enjoy significant success commercially though, was Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. Dream Theater unleashed a whole new genre – Prog metal – when their second album ‘Images & Words’ was released in 1992. Petrucci ranks as a foremost influence to Andy’s playing, and it is probable that almost all of you reading these words are already fans. Petrucci employed all of shreds arsenal of techniques into his own instantly recognisable style, and Dream Theater’s music combined elements of thrash metals crunching heaviness with a more ethereal progressive approach: Metallica combined with Rush, with hints of Pink Floyd anyone? All served up in a musical stew that enthralled guitarists and metal fans the world over. Any - and all - of Dream Theater’s music is essential listening to the discerning shredder…
Petrucci is also a well-schooled (another Berklee College of Music alumni) and musically intellectual player, whose acknowledgement to players such as DiMeola, Steve Morse and Alex Lifeson is well documented. He’s also on record as an Andy James fan – as he makes apparent in the Foreword to this very book!
Another player who influenced Andy’s approach also enjoyed significant commercial success: Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell was a hard core metal exponent, and was responsible for influencing a whole generation of new metalheads who weren’t exposed to the previous decade’s masters.
A far lesser known player was also key to Andy’s development: arguably the UK’s foremost guitar instructor of the time, Shaun Baxter. As Head of Rock at London’s Guitar Institute, Shaun taught a whole generation of the UK’s top players, and released his Jazz Metal album in 1994. Shaun is a monster player, and would rightfully be recognised as such, but has chosen to make his career as first and foremost an educator: yet many of us are eagerly awaiting his return to making music! Shaun taught Andy at the Guitar Institute, and they have since worked together on clinic tours, and as such must be considered a primary influence on how Andy develop his style to the level that it is today.
Another prog metal titan emerged in the 1990’s as well – New Jersey’s Mike Romeo. His band Symphony X have consistently produced superb and challenging music over the past two decades, and Romeo is also a master tapper par excellence: many of Andy’s signature tapping lines owe a debt to Romeos playing.
Many of the guitar stars who came to prominence in the 80’s continued to ply their trade during the 90’s, and so there was still much fretboard gymnastics available to those still interested, but you had to be in the know and a die-hard fan to access it: the general media pretty much ignored it. Nu-metal and it’s off shoots even declared the guitar solo as dead – but dedicated players still existed, pushing the boundaries of what had gone before.
Yet, at least in the metal world, the first decades of the 21st century have seen many commercially successful acts utilise face-melting solos and guitar pyrotechnics again, as detailed below…