Interview: Michael Angelo Batio Discusses 'Shock 'Em Dead,' the Joys of Touring and His Upcoming Album
I recently interviewed Michael Angelo Batio, who played a blazing solo on my 2010 song "Standstill And Scream." You can check that out right here.
Here's part one of our three-part conversation.
In a recent GW poll, you were voted the fastest guitar player of all time. How does it feel to win -- and more importantly, how do you play so fast?
It feels great to win, but as much as people associate me with being fast, it was never my goal. I never set out to be the fastest, but what I loved about the contest is that I just got my new issue of Guitar World yesterday, and they said over 440,000 votes were cast. That's a great number, you know.
And how do I play fast? I work really hard and warm up before I play, even to this day. I have a regimen where if I have hours to practice, then I can extend that, but if I have only five or 10 minutes to warm up, I have a real short warm-up regimen. It's been a valuable asset as far as being ready to play and never being hurt.
On the road, I'm playing different guitars. Especially with clinics; I’m playing different guitars, different amps, different string gauges all the time. You don't know how many times I’ve asked for .009’s to .042's tuned down to E flat for leads, and I'll get .011’s and a guitar I've never played. It's fine, but I attribute it to just having a real good workout regimen on guitar and taking it very seriously, the technical side.
You're just back from a European tour, correct? How was that experience?
It was fantastic. I'm up to 52 countries. I could sit here for three days and tell you about driving from Lugano, Switzerland, through the Alps into Italy, and I've seen some really beautiful things. It's not a secret, but part of my success has been that I have really good relationships with the people I work with. I find that the reason I get to tour so much is because I've worked with a lot of these people before. They know me, I know them and we do a great job and it's successful.
It's gotten to be really fun for me because I’ll travel to Switzerland, they're all friends of mine; I’ll go to Italy, they're all friends of mine. I'll go to Slovenia, they're buddies, and Russia, etc. So it's kind of like a global network of people I know, and it's really fun.
I first heard of you when I saw the movie Shock 'Em Dead. I was 13, and I'd never seen anybody play that fast or articulately before. Is it true that you held a performance at the recent cast reunion event?
Yes. We performed at a theater in West Hollywood that was built in the 1940s for silent movies. This rich couple lived at the theater and they loved silent movies, but by the 1940s people were talking in movies, and silent movies were dead for more than a decade already. So this organization took over this theater. I love history as it is, and you'll see autographs, signed photos of silent movie stars and authentic photos at this beautiful venue. For the reunion, the place was packed and some of the cast members were there, the director, etc.
It's fun to watch that movie; it's become a really cool, campy B-movie cult picture. Stephen Quadros, the guy who had the starring role, we had known about each other for so long but we never met on the set because, outside of acting in my scene, I was his stunt double for the guitars. I played all the guitars in the movie except for one or two scenes, but it was so cool and great to see people who were really fans of the movie. And when you're with an audience, they’re laughing at and making reactions to parts of the movie that you'd never do if you were watching it by yourself. It was almost like Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Here's Batio's scene in Shock 'Em Dead. He appears at 3:27:
You've been talking about recording a new album. Can you tell me anything about it?
I have put off recording because of my show, the Hands Without Shadows: A Tribute to Rock Guitar show. I worked on that quietly for five years, and this last year I really ramped up. I mean just the multiple screens -- there's so many logistics. It's big like a theater production. So I didn't release any new CDs since Hands Without Shadows 2, which was the precursor to the show.
The new CD will be out next year. I've already finished recording one track -- no leads yet -- but I'm using Rudy Sarzo on bass for some of the stuff. I'm going to have Elliott Rubinson, the owner of Dean Guitars, play bass on a few of the tracks, and there will be different guest stars. It's going to be all original material except for one song, “Still Of The Night” by Whitesnake. And I made the verses like fusion; I mean, you should hear the drum beat on there. It's really killer. That'll be like a bonus track. It should be out in 2012, and it will be ultra-progressive and really heavy. I'll do my best playing that I can do.
Here's a sampling of Batio's Hand's Without Shadows: A Tribute To Rock Guitar video:
Will the new album be all instrumental? Any vocals?
You know, we’re talking about it. I work with a really great singer and we're talking about working on some music. I'd say at this point it'll be instrumental. If I do a vocal CD, it will be in addition to this. I've been dying to put out a new record, but I just haven't had the time. It was tour and the show versus touring and recording like normal, and this last year and a half was spent on the show. Next year we’re going to be touring with it all over.
Have you had the chance to meet any of your guitar heroes?
Yeah. One of my heroes was Eddie Van Halen. We did a benefit for Jason Becker in the 1990s in Chicago and Eddie headlined. I was on there and Vinnie Moore, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather, Steve Morse and Billy Sheehan ... the list goes on and on and on. After the show, I was sitting where the monitor board is on the side of the stage, but the monitor guy wasn't there -- and it was just me and Eddie, talking one-on-one for almost half an hour. He did most of the talking and I just sat and listened.
He told me he thought I was a great player and he liked what I did. Then we were just talking about Sammy Hagar versus David Lee Roth -- and I had never even heard him speak before. All the years I had been a Van Halen fan, I never heard his actual voice! So after this conversation, he grabs me and kisses me on the cheek, and I thought, "If that was anybody but any Eddie Van Halen ... (laughs)."
And Les Paul -- I talked to him one-on-one about 20 years ago, and he watched me play the double guitar. I have a picture on my website of him holding my double guitar with me. He was standing behind it and he told me after I played it he goes “and I thought I invented everything.”
What music do you have on your iPod that your fans might be truly surprised by?
You know on your computer where it says how many days' worth of music you have? I have probably over a month's worth of music. I mean it's just tens of gigabytes on there. And I've only got one movie on there, Twilight. So I've got a lot of the stuff with great guitar players on there, but I've also got Andrea Bocelli's Christmas CD and The Monkees' Greatest Hits, because there's a song they did called “Valerie,” and I'm pretty sure it's Chet Atkins on guitar. He's absolutely ripping clean guitar down in harmonic minor. It’s awesome. He's completely shredding and I think it was a No. 1 hit back then.
I have Celine Dion singing the Titanic theme -- I mean just things like that. I like Linkin Park, the Avenged Sevenfold guys; it was kind of cool Synyster Gates got No. 3 in the fastest guitar player poll. And I've got classic hits of 1973. They have a whole series of Billboard CDs like that; when I was on Warner Bros., they had a division that had all those CDs, so I've got a whole stack of that stuff. So I just started putting them in my iPod.