Michael Angelo Batio: Twist and Shred

Originally published in Guitar World, 30th Anniversary 2010 issue

Michael Angelo Batio speaks with Guitar World about his new album, Hands Without Shadows 2: Voices.

Michael Angelo Batio doesn’t mess around when it comes to giving his heroes their props. Back in 2005, the Chicago shredder recorded Hands Without Shadows, an instrumental celebration of Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry and other personal guitar gods. The record hit home with fans, so he recorded a follow-up album, the recently issued Hands Without Shadows 2: Voices. As the title suggests, this one sports a singer, vocalist Warren Dunlevy Jr. On it, Batio honors his heroes with reinventions of their songs and, in some instances, medleys of their biggest tracks. For example, on “Clapton Is God” Batio fuses Derek & the Dominos’ “Layla” with Cream’s “Badge.”

Batio says, “I paid homage and tried to play these songs with reverence and respect. For example, on ‘Clapton Is God,’ I could have played a bunch of riffs over the verse of ‘Layla,’ but I didn’t like that. And on the solo for ‘Badge,’ I could have played it exactly like Clapton. But I wanted to say to people, ‘This is one of my all-time favorite solos, and this is how I play it.’ ”

On Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction” (featuring former Shrapnel stable mates Vinnie Moore and George Bellas) and “Tribute to Randy: You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll,” Batio kicks out the jams with complete reinterpretations. But the track that has garnered the most attention is “Tribute to Dimebag,” his fusion-like rendition of Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell.” Trying to cop Dime’s monstrous rhythm chops proved challenging, even for a guitarist with Batio’s formidable talents.

“You really have to have a feel to play the groove that Dimebag plays over the drums,” he explains. “I’ve always wanted to show people, ‘Look, there’s another side to being a good lead player, and that’s being a good rhythm guitarist.’ And there’s no better metal song than ‘Cowboys from Hell’ to do that with.”

Whether Michael Angelo channeled the ghosts of past masters or bowed at the altars of modern-day maestros, he was able to leave his own unique fret-burning fingerprint behind. “I like showing where I came from,” he says. “I’m like the live version of Guitar Hero. Kids can hear these classic songs and see a player like me who puts a different twist on it.”

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