Queen guitarist Brian May doesn’t have much interest in doing “virtuoso stuff”


By Steve Newton

Ever since Wayne’s World came out, I’ve been considering legal action against writer/star Mike Myers. You know that scene where Wayne and Garth are driving around with their buddies in a purple Pinto, singing along and banging their heads to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

Well, I think I know where Myers stole that idea, ’cos me and my high-school buddies in Chilliwack used to do the exact same thing! Okay, so we weren’t cruising in a purple Pinto—we had a jacked-up white Valiant with mag wheels—but I still think what they did is pretty close to plagiarism.

So, when I get a chance to interview former Queen guitarist Brian May, I plead my case. “Well, I tell you,” replies the curly-haired musician, “we used to do that, too. That’s the funniest thing. I mean, we had pretty much a sense of humour about that song, and we would do that stuff, too.”

Okay, skip the lawsuit. I guess my formative air-guitar years weren’t so unique after all. If Queen members themselves were doing it, perhaps there were thousands of kids motoring along in 1975, going bonkers to that inimitable song. Maybe there still are, and maybe a bunch of them will be doing it as they drive to B.C. Place to see the Brian May Band and headliners Guns N’ Roses on Tuesday (March 30).

There is little chance May will tackle the incomparable melody of “Bohemian Rhapsody” alone—the song is too closely identified with its creator, Freddie Mercury, who died last year of AIDS-related causes. But there is a possibility that other Queen tunes will be marched out in all their million-selling majesty.

“I wasn’t sure about doing [any Queen songs] in the beginning,” says May, “because I have a strong feeling that I want to move on, and I want to put across what’s on my album. But at the same time, I don’t want to pretend that I’m not that guy who went out and did all that other stuff. So we throw in ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and a couple of other things occasionally, depending on the mood.”

May’s seven-piece outfit includes drum god Cozy Powell (Jeff Beck, Gary Moore, Rainbow) and former Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray. Most of the band’s 55-minute set is devoted to material from May’s recently released album, Back to the Light, the guitarist’s first full-length post-Queen release (he released a three-song album, Star Fleet Project, in 1983).

The initial shock of performing in front of rabid Guns N’ Roses fans is wearing off. “It was like being fed to the lions the first time I went out,” says May, “or else jumping off a very high cliff, ’cos I didn’t know what to expect. But we’ve gone over surprisingly well, really. The Guns N’ Roses fans are a fairly…what’s the word? I suppose in tune rock ’n’ roll audience—they’re not too extreme.

“You know, I don’t think a Metallica audience would be that easy, but Guns N’ Roses fans seem pretty much into what I’m trying to do. I think there’s a kind of spiritual connection between Guns N’ Roses and Queen, anyway—I feel like there’s a lot of parallels and similarities in the way we approach things. So I feel very at home with those guys. And the crew have been great; we’ve had a lot of help from everybody on this tour.”

The first tracks of May’s cathartic Back to the Light collection were laid down five years ago. Since then, he has had to deal with some of the harshest realities of his life, including an “unthinkable” split from his wife and kids, the loss of his father, and the death of Mercury, who was a friend as well as a bandmate. Between 1988 and the present, May says, “[My] life and feelings underwent a catastrophic change.

“The main battle really was in myself,” he explains. “It was a personal thing. I was really trying to put myself back together, because five years ago I was at a very black point, having had a very spoiled life up to that point, and having achieved everything that I could have hoped for, I suppose.

“I started looking at things breaking up, and I couldn’t deal with it. I just could not rise above the problems that were in front of me. So really, the album was part of my process of re-evaluating everything and rebuilding.”

Considering the flashy style of May’s previous solo project—which saw him trading speedy licks with Eddie Van Halen in a jam-oriented setting—some fans may have expected Back to the Light to be yet another offering from a guitar virtuoso. But May doesn’t believe his long-time followers are the type to be swayed by preconceived notions.

“My experiences in speaking to them leave me to think not,” he says. “I think we’re very fortunate—and I’m speaking about Queen now, I suppose—to have a following of people who understand that we’ve got to grow, and they’ve always been very supportive of our endeavours to move out in different directions. So on the whole, I think people understand the concept that I was trying to put an album together of songs which meant something, and all other considerations were second to that.

“And I don’t have much interest in doing virtuoso stuff for its own sake, anyway,” he adds. “I don’t think I’m capable, either, but that’s another question.”

Virtuoso or not, there’s no doubting May’s ability to transform himself into a real-life rock hero whenever he plugs in his famous red guitar. May and his father built the instrument when May was just a teen—it’s a unique fusion of 120-year-old mahogany (taken from a family mantelpiece) and innovative hardware—and its vibrant tone has undoubtedly helped brighten the lives of millions of rock lovers. Not to mention the man himself.

“Music is joy to me,” writes May in Back to the Light’s introductory liner notes, “and living in it is sometimes the only safe place to be.”

“Sentimental old bugger, aren’t I?” May says when he hears that line. “Yeah…definitely. I just find it very uplifting when nothing else can do that job. I’ve discovered that that’s where I need to be.”


To hear the full audio of my 1993 interview with Brian May, subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 350 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, 2003
Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, 2001
David Ellefson of Megadeth, 1992
David Lee Roth, 2003
Grant Walmsley of the Screaming Jets, 1991
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 2012
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1993
Fernando von Arb of Krokus, 1984
Gary Holt of Exodus, 1985
Scott Ian of Anthrax, 2012
Rudolf Schenker of Scorpions, 1992
Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, 2001
Jeff Keith of Tesla, 1988
Doyle Bramhall II and Charlie Sexton of Arc Angels, 1992
Marc Bonilla, 1992
Robert Randolph of the Family Band, 2003
Keith Strickland of the B-52s, 2008
David Johansen of the New York Dolls, 2005
Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon, 2003
Todd Kerns, 2016
Robbin Crosby of Ratt, 1989
Tommy Shannon of SRV & Double Trouble, 1998
Billy Duffy of the Cult, 1989
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, 2006
Glenn Tipton of Judas Priest, 2005
Jack Blades of Night Ranger, 1984
Vivian Campbell of Def Leppard, 1992
Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown, 1998
Ed Roland of Collective Soul, 1995
Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, 2003
Marty Friedman of Megadeth, 1991
Nancy Wilson of Heart, 2006
Todd Rundgren, 2006
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Steve Earle, 1987
Terry Bozzio, 2003
Roger Glover, 1985
Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, 2003
Luther Dickinson of North Mississippi Allstars, 2001
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Buddy Guy, 1993
Steve Lynch of Autograph, 1985
Don Wilson of the Ventures, 1997
Trevor Rabin of Yes, 1984
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Ian Hunter, 1988
Kate Bush, 1985
David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, 1984
Jeff Healey, 1988
Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi, 1993
Kenny Wayne Shepherd, 1995
Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues, 1986
Elliot Easton from the Cars, 1996
Wayne Kramer from the MC5, 2004
Bob Rock, 1992
Nick Gilder, 1985
Klaus Meine of Scorpions, 1988
Jason Bonham, 1989
Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers, 1991
Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, 2003
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash, 2003
Steve Kilbey of the Church, 1990
Edgar Winter, 2005
Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde, 1990
Randy Hansen, 2001
Dan McCafferty of Nazareth, 1984
Davy Knowles of Back Door Slam, 2007
Jimmy Barnes from Cold Chisel, 1986
Steve Stevens of Atomic Playboys, 1989
Billy Idol, 1984
Stuart Adamson of Big Country, 1993
Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, 1992
Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule, 1998
Robben Ford, 1993
Barry Hay of Golden Earring, 1984
Joey Belladonna of Anthrax, 1991
Joe Satriani, 1990
Vernon Reid of Living Colour, 1988
Brad Delp of Boston, 1988
Zakk Wylde of Pride & Glory, 1994
John Sykes of Blue Murder, 1989
Alice Cooper, 1986
Lars Ulrich of Metallica, 1985
Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, 1992
Myles Goodwyn of April Wine, 2001
John Mellencamp, 1999
Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1999
Doyle Bramhall II, 2001
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Randy Bachman, 2001
Little Steven, 1987
J.J. Cale, 2009
Joe Bonamassa, 2011
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
Eric Johnson, 2001
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Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Steve Vai, 1990
Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1996
Geoff Tate of Queensryche, 1991
James Hetfield of Metallica, 1986
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1990
Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
Andy McCoy and Sam Yaffa of Hanoi Rocks, 1984
Steve Morse, 1991
Slash of Guns N’ Roses, 1994
Brian May from Queen, 1993
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
Robin Trower, 1990
Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
Joan Jett, 1992
Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, 1988
Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, 1989
Paul Rodgers, 1997
Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe, 1985
Carlos Santana, 2011
Walter Trout, 2003
Rudy Sarzo of Quiet Riot, 1983
Rob Hirst of Midnight Oil, 2001
Tommy Aldridge, 2001
Donald “Duck” Dunn, 1985
Mark Farner of Grand Funk, 1991
Chris Robinson of Black Crowes, 1990
Jennifer Batten, 2002
Mike Fraser, 2014
Leo Kottke, 2002
Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, 2002
Booker T. Jones, 2016
Link Wray, 1997
Mike Rutherford of Genesis, 1983
Buddy Guy, 1991
Mike Cooley of the Drive-By Truckers, 2016
Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1986
Buddy Miles, 2001
Eddie Money, 1988
Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, 1983
Dave Murray of Iron Maiden, 1984
Graham Bonnet of Alcatrazz, 1984
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, 2016
Doc Neeson of Angel City, 1985
Rik Emmett of Triumph, 1985
Sonny Landreth, 2016
Tosin Abasi of Animals as Leaders, 2016
Jeff Beck, 2001
Albert King, 1990
Johnny Ramone of the Ramones, 1992
Peter Frampton, 1987
Otis Rush, 1997
Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, 1989
Leslie West of Mountain, 2002
Steve Howe of Yes, 2017
Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, 1983
Uli Jon Roth, 2016
Poison Ivy of the Cramps, 1990
Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1985
Greg Lake of ELP, 1992
Robert Plant, 1993
Malcolm Young and Brian Johnson of AC/DC, 1983
Warren Zevon, 1992
Tal Wilkenfeld, 2016
Steve Clark of Def Leppard, 1988
Ronnie Montrose, 1994
Danny Gatton, 1993
Alex Lifeson of Rush, 1992
Ann Wilson of Heart, 1985
J.J. Cale, 1990
Yngwie Malmsteen, 2014
Chris Cornell, 2008
Long John Baldry, 1985
Allan Holdsworth, 1983
Kim Mitchell, 1984
Warren Haynes of the Allman Brothers, 1994
Derek Trucks, 1998
Susan Tedeschi, 1998
Joe Satriani, 2018
B.B. King, 1984
Albert Collins, 1985
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Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, 1984
Dick Dale, 2000
Greg Allman, 1998
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…with hundreds more to come

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