To emphasize the author’s meaning, you would make sure you listed the punctuation, which is like the accents guitarists puts on notes like hammer-ons (example: Answer To The Master solo after drum break), tapping aka Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption, etc.
People who major in literature can recite Shakespeare lines by memory; people who play guitar do the same with guitar solos and songs. What helps us memorize solos and songs is that solos should follow certain rules which apply to keys. Just like there are grammatical rules in language. That allows the solos to “make sense” just like a sentence should make sense because you must follow grammar.
Since I love his music, I can remember Steve Clark solos and songs the same way an English graduate can recite Shakespeare because he/she loves it. The same way one goes about memorizing a paragraph, we guitarists’ learn music.
Question: So then we can assume that because Steve was a real musician – one who could read and write music and knew the rules of music and would write his work accordingly – this makes it easier for others such as Hurricane to study his work, learn about his musical genius and learn to play his music in the exact or correct way that Steve would play it?
HJ: You are a 100% correct. I know when learning a Steve Clark solo, that depending on the key of the song, there are notes he will and will not play. After years of studying him, I know what notes he prefers to play. So that really helps to narrow down figuring out his solos. The tricky parts are learning what order [the term is “phrasing” in guitar jargon] he’s putting the notes in and what accents he’s using. Phil [Collen] on the other hand plays wrong notes all the time, but because he believes what he’s playing, he makes them sound right, even if they are musically incorrect. So it’s harder to figure out a Phil solo, because he’ll play anything.
There are two schools of thought; one says there are no such things as wrong notes as long as they sound right; the other says one should follow the rules of music. I personally believe you need to know the rules before you should explore breaking them.
Next Question: Do you sense whether Steve might have had any “favourite” notes or chords?
HJ: Steve loved using the Aeolian scale or the natural minor scale. He was not, and I repeat not a blues type player which uses the pentatonic minor scale similar to the Aeolian except it omits the 2nd and 6th notes. This makes a huge difference in sound. Steve loved to play the 2nd note of the Aeolian. He is always accenting his solos on that note. If we are talking the key of A-minor that would be the B note.
Steve on the other hand, came from the complete opposite direction. He created solos to compliment his rhythm playing. The riff was the focus, using the same classical approach. For example: Pour Some Sugar On Me’s riff is in a minor key only because Steve wanted the chorus in a major key. Even though Sugar is a pop song, have you ever heard a riff like that which ends up with such a sing-along chorus?
Steve isn’t concerned with awards for soloing so he writes a solo which fits into the structure of the song instead of challenging it. That’s why Def Leppard’s riffs appeal to even the casual listener because of Steve’s application of his classical training which made him very unique.
Now when Randy wanted to, he could write great riffs and used non-standard chords. He just didn’t focus in that direction. When Steve wanted to, he wrote complex solos with great technique, he just didn’t push himself in that direction though he had that skill.
Randy chose to be remembered for his solos. Steve chose to be remembered for his riffs. They both were great at both.
Question: Reflecting on your previous comments about how see yourself as studying Steve, the way Steve studied Jimmy Page, and in relation to Phil’s [Collen] “20 Questions” videos, what is your assessment of Phil’s perceptions and comments about Steve’s guitar playing and the way Steve wrote music? From your study of Steve and his guitar playing and music do you feel what Phil said was accurate?
HJ: I think Phil’s video was very accurate of Steve. I really appreciate him doing that. I know what some of you might be thinking, and I have a good reason as to why. Phil didn’t praise enough of Steve’s lead playing, or didn’t say he wasn’t sloppy or this masterful technician. Phil didn’t say those things, because in his mind it wasn’t necessary. In Phil’s mind Steve was a great, great, player, and I think that came across in his answers if you listen closely.
Phil knows as well as a lot of shredders (fast lead players) know that a fast guitar player is a-dime-a-dozen. There is someone teaching guitar right now in some school, who can play circles around Yngwie Malmsteen, but the real talent question is can you make a meaningful song?
Phil already knew Steve had the chops or skills for lead guitar. That wasn’t impressive to him; it was Steve’s compositional writing that impressed Phil. Steve has such a great knowledge of music and distinct chordal sound that was unique. Steve always played inversions in his chords. It was never the standard chord, so it makes it very hard to correctly learn how to play a Def Leppard song during the Steve era because of his style. You can get something to sound like it, but unless you learn inversions, it will never be exact.
That was the biggest thing Steve learned from Page and Thin Lizzy. Just like Phil’s favourite solo of Steve and a lot of people’s favourite work of Steve is Die Hard The Hunter; as great as that solo is, it’s nowhere near as hard as Steve’s Wasted solo, but Phil loved it because it was a better piece of music and well-orchestrated, not just for technical prowess.
Steve was so different from other guitar players especially in his rhythm work or chordal structures. Steve got that from a combination of his classical guitar study and Jimmy Page. A perfect example of Page’s complexity that many guitarists miss and only the skilled ears can pick up is a song like Communication Breakdown. The song is played wrongly by 99% of guitarists out there. They play the open E string which is correct and then play a power chord or standard major chords of D A D.
Jimmy actually plays the power D chord in the fifth position D on the fifth string, 5th fret and A note on the 4th string 7th fret. Then he plays the f-shaped A major chord on the fifth fret and it is a challenging switch for beginners, but Page does it with ease. This chord is made by playing the A on the 1st string 5th fret, then the E note on the 4th string 5th fret, then the C# note on the 3rd sting 6th fret, then the A note on the 4th string 7th fret. You can’t get that song exact unless you play it like Page. Steve’s work was just like that, and that’s why you can easily tell the difference between Steve and Vivian [Campbell], not because Steve was sloppy, it was because he was complicated! Listen to Billy’s Got A Gun – the section after his first solo before Phil’s live, it’s the weirdest chords ever. I challenge anyone to learn that by ear.
I want you guys to do me a favour and comment. Look up on YouTube my Wasted Live 83 solo cover (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TakMOQBZGHM&feature=related), and then look up Vivian Campbell playing Wasted Live in 99 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73gsL5Rxk7U). Honestly ask yourself which is harder; and Vivian is supposed to be the shredder. Vivian stays in the 12th position and comfortably plays licks, while Steve’s solo is going up and down the neck doing triplets. Look it up on YouTube please.
Next Question: Do you have any thoughts/opinions on the music/musicians Phil cited as influences to Steve beyond Jimmy Page?
HJ: One of the things I learned from Steve was he said to listen to a lot of different players, not just one, and you’ll develop your own style. If you listen to just one, you’ll be a clone. Even though Steve loved [Jimmy] Page, to me, Steve sounds like Steve, not Page. You can hear the Page influence, but Steve was a lot of other things. I can hear the Thin Lizzy influence especially in his rhythm playing and twin leads with Pete Willis. I also hear a lot of Brian May in his melody. Believe it or not, I hear some Randy Rhoads and Van Halen in his playing.
Steve liked a lot of slow or softer stuff too like The Police and Prince, Blondie and Big Country, which means he had some R ‘n’ B in him. The perfect example of Steve’s versatility was when he played Stand By Me with Ben E King at the San Remo festival in 1988. Steve’s solo sounded like an R&B guitarist; it fit into the song naturally. Phil [Collen] had to rock it up, because that’s all he knows, but the song didn’t call for that. I am so guilty of doing what Phil did on that song when I play R&B songs and I hate myself for it. But Steve was a well-rounded musician, he could play different styles.
So the idea that Steve was this all-out rocker or blues influenced player is only part of the picture. Stephen Clark was a professional guitarist, proficient in many styles, but preferred to play rock.
A good showcase of Steve’s technical prowess was the LA Forum show in 1983. Listen to the CD with headphones. It’s in stereo, with Steve in one ear, and Phil in the other. Phil does the lead on Rock! Rock! (‘Till You Drop) so then you know that’s Steve playing in the other ear. They didn’t correct mistakes musically, so you can judge for yourself if you think Steve was sloppy, aka, missing notes.
Listen to Phil’s solos for Rock! Rock!, Rock Brigade, and Saturday Night (High ‘n’ Dry). Even though I believe Phil’s a great player, his solos for those songs are absolutely awful. Phil is only using distortion for effects, but he changes the solos going for lightning speed, but the solos make no sense! They are just a mish-mash of notes. He misses a key note in the final lead on Rock! Rock!, (the part right before Joe screams, “Hold on, hold on, Hold tight…”). Rock Brigade makes no sense in the solo; the only cool part is the tapping at the end, and Saturday Night is so different from the album solo, but it’s not interesting.
Mutt Lange [Def Leppard’s producer come sixth member during the 80’s] would never tolerate that type of playing on an album. Phil’s best solo was his solo in Billy’s Got A Gun; he had much better pacing in that song and put the speed in the right places.
Now listen to Steve. He executes his flashy (Another) Hit N’ Runsolo flawlessly. He changes his Billy’s Got A Gun solo with flashy hammer-ons at the end, but they add to the solo rather than detract from it. Steve’s ride out solo for Mirror Mirror isn’t flashy, but it fits the song so well, people love it. He makes an awesome acoustic melodic intro to Foolin’. He makes a great, flashy solo addition in the break solo for Bringin’ On The Heartbreak and even the ride out in the same song.
Steve cuts loose on Let It Go; the only mistake I heard was on the end part of the main solo, because Steve is on his knees when he plays it and as all Les Paul owners know, it’s very hard to hit those high notes because of the thickness of the neck, and Wasted with the fast intro and blazing solo have fast triplets which he nails. There is no sloppy in his performance, rather it’s a guitar clinic. The real treat is Travelin’ Band when he does the main solo and does a Crazy Train lick near the end of it. Don’t just accept what Joe says about his playing; listen to the recording for yourself and judge.
Next Question: Steve auditioned for Def Leppard with playing Lynrd Skynrd’s Freebird flawlessly didn’t he?
HJ: That’s the part that ticks me off the most about the “revisionist history” of Steve Clark as a “sloppy” player, but he got the job in Def Leppard by being a shredder playing Freebird! Not just the main song, but the ride out solo as well. If Steve was sloppy, he would have never have gotten the gig! And if Steve was a sloppy player I doubt that Robert Plant would be wanting him to join his new band project at the time in the late 80s!