Marty Friedman on Inferno’s friends and fans and the channeling of Jason Becker’s spirit

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By Steve Newton

When you’re a legendary heavy-metal guitarist like Marty Friedman you don’t really need no stinkin’ guests on your albums, but for his latest one, Inferno, Friedman got some anyway.

If the hyperactive voice raging away on “I Can’t Relax” sounds familiar, it’s because it belongs to Canada’s own Mango Kid himself, Danko Jones.

“He’s one of my faves,” raves Friedman from Cleveland on a tour that visits Vancouver’s Rickshaw Theatre this Saturday. “We’re both fans of each other, and we became friends about five years ago, and we always threatened to do something together. It finally became real, and he just tore it up, man. I loved it.”

Danko also went to town on another Inferno track, sharing the lead vocals with Children of Bodom’s Alexi “Wildchild” Laiho on a tune they cowrote with Friedman, the fierce “Lycanthrope”.

Thrashy numbers like the ones Jones guested on are to be expected from Friedman, who spent 10 years as a member of American metal icons Megadeth, but there are also moments of relative calm sprinkled throughout the storm on Inferno. To mix things up a bit, Friedman recruited the Mexican acoustic-guitar duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela, who cowrote and played on the provocative “Wicked Panacea”.

“They were fans of mine,” explains the 52-year-old shredmaster, “and my record company wanted fans to play with me—fans that have been saying good things about me in the press. I was flattered by that, and they were so enthusiastic about it—they were the first people to sign on to do the record. And it was a wonderful collaboration. We’re gonna do more things together after this.”

One song that definitely sees Friedman choosing beauty over bluster is the gorgeous instrumental “Undertow”, for which he procured the talents of long-time Joe Satriani drummer Gregg Bissonette. He had his reasons.

“On the rest of the stuff I had a guy named Anup Sastry,” says Friedman, “who is, like, the best new guy—the ultimate modern heavy drummer. But for ‘Undertow’ I just needed your total one-take, super-ballad, superstar drummer, and Gregg Bissonette is the man.”

Probably the least-known “guest star” on Inferno was Ontario fingerstyle guitarist Ewan Dobson, who was brought in to play on the classically influenced “Horrors”, a song Friedman cowrote with his long-time friend and sometime collaborator Jason Becker. A former guitar virtuoso, Becker was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1990 and eventually lost nearly all ability to move. He can’t speak, but his mind is still sharp, and he writes with the help of a music-composing computer program that reads movements of the head and eyes.

“Jason had written a bunch of acoustic parts, and Ewan played these things exactly the way Jason would have played it, so it was just like channelling Jason’s spirit. I mean, I hate saying corny shit like that, but it was so—it sounded like Jason so much. I mean, it was perfectly done.”

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