Growing up, I was fed on an aural diet of Queen, Dire Straits and ELO with a smattering of Barclay James Harvest and The Moody Blues for good measure. It’s no surprise therefore that I found myself gravitating towards guitar based music as I neared my teens. And I thank my parents heartily for the solid foundations afforded to me.
However, it was my best friend that made sure that my musical journey continued down a guitar-based path and didn’t veer off in any other direction. For that, I’m eternally thankful.
A year my senior, my best mate started to get into music in a big way a little bit before me. He would buy Kerrang! Magazine – it was the late 80s so it was still ok then – and he would often buy albums on cassette tape, playing them to me whilst we gamed on a Spectrum computer. Feeling old? You’re not the only one!
It was a normal day, same old, same old. And then I heard it, the most amazing sound that I had heard to that point in my life. It was like an epiphany and suddenly, something in my head clicked and things made sense finally. It was beautiful, it was poignant and it was very powerful. What was it? As it turns out, it was the introductory guitar line of ‘In A Darkened Room’ by Skid Row, track 9 on their 1991 sophomore album ‘Slave To The Grind’.
I asked to hear it again. I then begged my friend to let me borrow the tape so that I could copy it. He kindly agreed, probably in the vain hope that I’d shut up. And when I got home, I immediately ran to my room, copied it and promptly played it on repeat more times than I care to remember.
As time went on, I gradually began listening to the rest of the album more and more, discovering in the process that I liked the entire album almost as much. The two more melodic and epic-sounding tracks, ‘Wasted Time’ and ‘Quicksand Jesus’ were particular favourites, full of melody, intensity and drama. In fact, ‘Quicksand Jesus’ is probably now my favourite track on the album and one of my favourite songs of all-time. For me, it’s a monster and has just about everything a classic hard rock/metal track should have, including killer vocals from Sebastian Bach and great musicianship all round from a band clearly at the top of their game.
It took longer, but the heavier, more abrasive tracks on the album eventually got under my skin too. ‘Monkey Business’, ‘Mudkicker’ and ‘Riot Act’ all contain great riffs and an attitude that I’d not experienced before. The heaviness and the central riff of ‘Mudkicker’ comes to my mind frequently even now, whilst I find myself singing the chorus to ‘Monkey Business’ at the most unlikely of times.
What I still like about this record is the attitude and the swagger that accompanies the music. As a teenager, this was intoxicating and ever so cool. Now, as a thirty-something, I can still appreciate it, albeit in more of a nostalgic way. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how successful this record was – I was living in my own little bubble, enjoying the music entirely on my own terms.
A few years later, I took guitar lessons from a professional teacher. They were wasted on me as I was never a natural and found many of the basics difficult to master. So I tried a different tack – before I gave up the lessons, I decided to forget scales and other hopelessly impossible things for someone like me with sausage fingers. Instead I asked my teacher to teach me a few of my favourite pieces of music so that I could practice these and make myself seem like a guitar God. Naturally, the opening lead guitar line from ‘In A Darkened Room’ was first on my list. It was, as it turns out, deceptively simple but I practised and practised until I had it. At that moment, my smile lit up the street!
For many reasons, ‘Slave To The Grind’ was and remains to this day a hugely important album for me. I discovered it at the time when I could’ve gone in any direction musically. As it was, Skid Row helped to persuade me that heavy music was the way forward and I can’t tell you how delighted I am that they did.