ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 6, 1990
By Steve Newton
It seems like every time you turn around, there’s a new hard-rock guitar wizard riffing out in your face. “Shredders” these guys are called—young hot-shots who’ve locked themselves in their rooms, practised 10 hours a day, and come out with the technical skills to play so fast their fingers blur. From the sounds of things, it might appear that technique has taken over from taste and feel in the ’90s. But 28-year-old guitar hero Tony MacAlpine doesn’t necessarily agree.
“It’s basically just a period of progression that we’ve gone through,” he says. “I think a lot of the older players feel threatened by the newer style and the newer sound that these younger players have, but that’s just basically the same dance they went through themselves 20 years ago, when they were changing the sound.”
The times certainly are a-changin’ as far as rock guitarists and their influences are concerned. Not too long ago it was common to hear upcoming guitar stars naming folks like Hendrix, Clapton, and Beck as their main influences. In the ’90s, there’s a whole new field of players making strong impressions.
“George Lynch is probably the one for me,” says MacAlpine. “I’ve listened to so many players—I mean I was into Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen and Allan Holdsworth and Al Di Meola and stuff—but George Lynch’s playing meant a lot to me as far as phrasing went, you know, putting a line out there and making it sing. ”
In another 10 years or so you might just hear the first axe wizards of the 21st century claiming that they found inspiration in the playing of Tony MacAlpine. On his 1986 instrumental debut, Edge of Insanity, MacAlpine knocked the guitar community out with his supernatural technique and neoclassical compositions, and his follow-up solo LP, Maximum Security, was equally well-received by guitar freaks. The mainstream rock crowd tended to miss out on MacAlpine though—this was before Joe Satriani broke down the instrumental barricades with Surfing with the Alien.
MacAlpine is grabbing for a larger audience with the new band that bears his name and the more radio-welcome tunes on his latest album, Eyes of the World. He’ll be featuring tunes from that disc—as well as past instrumental blasts—when the band plays Club Soda on Monday (September 17). It’s a show that every local fan of speed guitar should make an effort to squeeze in to. (Which might mean getting there before the doors open and lining up. )
MacAlpine’s rise to guitar glory started at the age of five, when he began studying piano at the Springfield Conservatory in Massachusetts. He took 12 years of formal training there, then spent another three years at the Hart College of Music in Bloomfield, Connecticut. MacAlpine was influenced to take up guitar by his older brother, and he got his break when metal impresario/talent scout Mike Varney caught wind of him and featured MacAlpine in Guitar Player magazine’s “Spotlight” column.
“I sent him a demo tape that we made on a little four-track machine,” says MacAlpine, “and he picked up on it and arranged for me to do some playing with [former Journey drummer] Steve Smith and [Mr. Big bassist] Billy Sheehan. We got together and jammed a bit, and Edge of Insanity was born.”
While the music on Eyes of the World is a far cry from the Paganini-meets-Marshall ministrations of Edge of Insanity, MacAlpine says that the new album’s more commercial bent is due to the powers-that-be at PolyGram Records, who nixed a lot of the band’s proposed material.
“We did that little dance,” he sighs, “writing a song for everybody in the label. The songs that we had before were slightly more progressive than what’s actually on the record; we wrote things that had more interplay instead of music that was a little bit more radio-oriented.”
But MacAlpine isn’t too concerned that his hard-core guitar fans will start yelling “Top-40 sell-out!” His band hasn’t turned into another Poison.
“I never worry about that because definitely a lot of how a record is seen in the public eye is how the band presents itself live, and when this band hits the road and plays they’re gonna understand that it’s definitely a very serious heavy act.”
Hitting the highway along with MacAlpine will be keyboardist Marc Robertson, bassist Mike Jacques, and drummer Billy Carmassi, younger brother of Heart percussionist Denny. The singer on Eyes of the World, Alan Sehorn, has been replaced by David Van Landing.
“He’s in a difficult situation because he’s coming in and he has to pick up where somebody else left off, which is not easy to do,” MacAlpine says. “He has to be very versatile and able to adapt his style to what’s on the record. It’s like Jake E. Lee comin’ in after Randy Rhoads. But it’s something you’ve gotta do.”