"The reason you’re talking to me on the phone now is because I saw Steve Vai’s head-cutting scene in the movie Crossroads," Nita Strauss says. "That’s the reason I play guitar. I was all about shredding."
But in June 2014, when Strauss found herself auditioning for Alice Cooper's band to replace departing guitarist Orianthi, she was working in a completely different territory: blues-based rock.
As a guitarist, Strauss had played funk with Jermaine Jackson, metal with the Iron Maidens, and rock as house guitarist for Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s L.A. Kiss arena football team.
"But I never got into the blues," she says. "I appreciated it, but I never learned how to play it. I just thought, Oh, I can play fast, so that’s cool!
Strauss' audition for Cooper also included the singer's manager, Shep Gordon, and Cooper's "glory years" producer, Bob Ezrin. It went well enough, but a couple of days afterward, she received a surprising 8 a.m. phone call from Ezrin.
"He said, 'Let me ask you something. Do you think you’re a rock guitar player?'" she recalls. "I said, 'Yes.'
"And Bob goes, 'No. You’re not. You’re a shred guitar player, and this band doesn’t need that. This band needs a rock guitar player. If you’re given the chance, could you become that kind of player to play in this band?' I was like, 'Yep! Not a problem. Absolutely.'
"A few days later, I got the call saying, 'You’re in. You’re coming on tour!' And the very next day, I took the first guitar lesson of my whole life."
A self-taught player, Strauss turned to Los Angeles instructor Bill LaFleur. "He really sat me down and showed me the rock basics," she says. "There were so many things. He was like, 'How do you not know how to do this?' I couldn’t even do basic rock licks."
Strauss's rock chops have clearly progressed, as witnessed by her fiery performances with Cooper, which commenced on June 24.
And while she is aware that some fans may compare her to her female predecessor, Orianthi, Strauss knows she got the Cooper gig on the basis of her strengths.
"If they wanted an Orianthi copy, they would have gotten a different guitar player, because I play nothing like her," she says. "The fact that we’re both girls and play fast is about where the similarity ends."
Actually, she says, "I never really worried too much about sounding like Orianthi. I was more worried about sounding like Al Pitrelli or Reb Beach or Steve Hunter!"