Alex Skolnick on Guitar Player Magazine

Welcome to my first post for Like a lot of you, my life revolves around a slab of wood I cradle in my lap or sling across my shoulders like an overgrown infant. 
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Welcome to my first post for Like a lot of you, my life revolves around a slab of wood I cradle in my lap or sling across my shoulders like an overgrown infant. As a longtime reader of GP Magazine, it is an honor to be asked to contribute as a guest blogger and I’m looking forward to riffing on many topics relating to my life as a guitar player.

Guitar Player. There are memories attached to these words like a steel string wrapped around a tuning peg. I’m taken back to being an 11 year old in Northern California and visiting a local music store for the first time. I’m pleasantly surprised to find, there in a rack next to the picks and strings, a magazine just for people who play guitar. Its title describes what I aspire to be:a ‘guitar player.’But being so young and inexperienced, my confidence doesn’t yet allow these words to apply to me.I’m just a kid trying to learn how to play this thing. Still, I spend my allowance on the magazine and hope that one day I too can legitimately be called a ‘guitar player.’

Seven years later, I’m on a cross country flight to record my band’s first album for Megaforce/Atlantic records. The studio is located in the college town and hippy haven of Ithaca New York. In a week or two, my life will change at a house in nearby Cortland,NY. where I will come into contact with a pile of rare,unavailable back issues of Guitar Player magazine. This will happen courtesy of some guy who’s skipped out of town, presumably to join some cult or ashram, leaving behind an unpaid electrical bill, few pieces of furniture and a stack of these colorful paper gems in the attic of his former housemate.

The housemate, Valentina, (*real name withheld) is an attractive woman in her 40s with a long history of hanging out with local and visiting rock bands. In a few years, we’ll be on tour supporting a legendary heavy metal band whose singer originally hails from Cortland, NY.He’ll stop by our dressing room for a quick hello and I’ll ask him if he remembers Valentina. “Now that’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time,” he’ll say with a knowing smile. “We all remember Valentina!” Collective laughter will engulf the dressing room as we say goodbye to Ronnie James Dio.

We’ll meet Valentina when one of my band members drunkenly attempts to hit on her at a local bar. Unsure how to approach a woman 20 years his senior, he’ll choose an opening line that equates her to an attractive ‘older’ actress on TV. “You could be my ‘Joan Collins,’” he’ll slur.It won’t work. Another band member will manage to succeed using a more subtle approach and in the next few days, we’ll begin to see a lot more of Valentina.

1988Valentina is hanging out with us in the recording studio. We’re on break and she’s telling me about these unwanted magazines her former tenant has left in the attic of her house.“It’s ‘Guitar This,’ ‘Guitar That, “Guitar Something or Other,’ Maybe you want to have a look at them?”

The next day, I’m in her house climbing a wooden staircase, which leads to an attic that smells like fresh pine wood-shavings. She points to a box filled with magazines and I begin to flip through the stack.

There, in that cardboard treasure trove are the first cover stories on my two favorite guitarists Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads.Both issues are in perfect condition. I look at some of other covers:Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page,Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd’sDave Gilmour, and Queen’s Brian May. There is even the first ever GP cover story on Ace Frehley from Kiss, the band that had been the reason I’d started guitar.

What is she planning to do with these magazines? Frame them? Sell them?“I’m just going to throw them away, unless you want them.”

“No!” I plead. She looks at me funny.“I mean, no, don’t throw them away!” I thank her and try not to look too excited.

For the next few years, I’ll pore over these sacred scriptures and learn about every noteworthy guitar player of the 70s and 80s.Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny. Jim Hall, Andres Segovia, Roy Buchanan, Paco De Lucia, Tal Farlow,Ricky Skaggs. Who are all these guys? I’ll have to find out. I will read their interviews, follow their advice and eventually pick up their albums and explore their music.Each player mentions someone else who’s been an influence on them and in turn, I’ll find myself reading their interviews and checking out their music.

I’ll realize there is much more to guitar than hard rock and heavy metal players.It won’t occur to me that there is anything ‘unusual’ or ‘wrong’ with this even as I start getting odd looks and offhanded comments from my bandmates.We’ll visitCD stores and they’ll be picking up albums by Angel Witch, Venom, and Celtic Frost, while I’ll be stocking up on Wes Montgomory, Django Rheinhardt, and Charlie Christian. One of them will snidely remark “What, you don’t like metal anymore?”

The era of guitar captured in this little stack of magazines represents a golden period of enlightenment, like a modern renaissance. It was a time before the mid-'80s, when solos became over-processed, over-saturated, and overwhelmed by unnecessary notes. It was before the '90s, when non-virtuosity became a virtue, and before our modern age, where the technology exists to create the illusion of artificial musicianship, causing a rash of ‘cookie cutter’ acts to dominate the music industry.Jazz wasn’t ‘smooth,’ country wasn’t ‘new,’ and metal wasn’t ‘nu.’ Musicality was expected of musicians and being in ‘Guitar Player,’ meant you were a real ‘guitar player.’

Today, in 2010, this collection of Guitar Player magazines is still a stockpile of wisdom. Obtaining them was, along with a few other key events from the period, like a divine sign to open up my tastes, expand my horizons and explore different styles of music.There will always be a special feeling surrounding these classic issues of Guitar Player, like a good collection of old LP’s or vintage guitars. For helping these hallowed pages reach my hands, I’m forever grateful to an aging groupie and her deadbeat ex-housemate.