Three bands, 14 albums, a host of B-sides and one stunning shred instrumental… Mark Tremonti has left us a lot of playing to pick through here to highlight the guitar landmarks of his increasingly prolific career.
The longtime PRS artist is a rarity – a player who had massive success but continued pushing himself on a technical level. One who places songwriting above all other crafts.
Creed were one of the '90s' biggest rock bands – in a time when guitar music went multi-platinum. But they were maligned for all manner of perceived faults. When they imploded, Tremonti simply got on with the task of proving their detractors wrong in a new band alongside Creed drummer Scott Phillips, returning bassist Brian Marshall and Mayfield Four mainman Myles Kennedy.
“The way I looked at it with Alter Bridge was, how many people get a chance to start again with a new band and do it their way?” Tremonti reflected with us on his own mindset as a player starting a new chapter in 2004.
“Guitar solos were always something I liked. I wasn’t the greatest at it at the time but I wanted to develop it and them to be part of the new band.
"It’s one of those things where if you write songs, and my number one priority is being a songwriter, but when people hear songs they think there’s this one guy who sings and writes all the songs. So one of the reasons was if I become a good guitar player nobody can take that away from me. So I really wanted to develop my guitar playing.”
Six impressive albums in and that band Alter Bridge have developed into an arena-level act in Europe, a continent where Creed hardly played. With a songwriting tap he’s seemingly unable to turn off, Tremonti has even stepped up to the mic in his own solo band.
Tremonti has proved himself one of the great rock guitarists of the last 20 years, with the songwriting talent to match. But this isn’t our pick of the best 10 songs Tremonti has been involved in – that list might look quite different, and some of our favourite Alter Bridge songs aren’t here (hello, In Loving Memory and The End Is Here).
Instead, we’re honing in on key examples of his playing to date with special archive insight from the man himself.
1. Faceless Man – Creed
Something that often gets overlooked about Creed, especially outside their fanbase, is their music’s sense of the cinematic. They had a really good handle on the majestic in many of their songs like My Sacrifice, On My Sleeve. Some might even call it overblown but we won’t.
They showed this penchant for the epic early on with debut My Own Prison’s breakthrough title track (a track that featured Tremonti’s vocals heavily and foretold what would come much later). This is that song’s sequel. Its Empire Strikes Back, if you will.
Overshadowed by the hits Higher and ubiquitous With Arms Wide Open on the massive-selling 1999 sophomore Human Clay, this is really the album’s key song. Slowly rising and falling from balladic to rock euphoria.
Tremonti uses some subtle but hugely effective ascending runs in the bridge while holding the soundbed down. It's easy to overlook how he separated himself from his peers early with a willingness to embrace alternate tunings and the open D5 here inspired the eastern feel of the recurring riff – as well as the wide open rhythm sound that gives this song so much breadth.
“When I wrote that I was in my early days of experimenting with open D5 tuning,” Tremonti told this writer in 2012.
“I just remember coming up with the line, really digging it, then I wrote a few melodies for the bridge. Then I called Scott and said, ‘I’ve got this cool idea going on and he said, I do too.’ Then we put them together and they fitted really well. Then we put that song together partly that night and the next day at soundcheck. It’s always been our favorite.”
2. My Last Mistake – Tremonti
Tremonti’s formation of a solo band in 2010 could have so easily become a recycling plant for ideas not deemed strong enough for Alter Bridge – not so.
A chance to flex his Slayer-disciplined picking hand, as well as his vocal chords, there’s still plenty of deeper light and shade across Tremonti’s four albums to date. Fellow guitarist and old friend Eric Friedman proving a perfect foil alongside drummer Garrett Whitlock.
Last year’s A Dying Machine concept album is right up there with anything he’s done. But it was the previous one-two punch of the Cauterize and Dust albums (recorded together and released a year apart) made the mission statement clear.
We’ve got to hail that right hand discipline of Tremonti’s here on one of his thrashiest opening riffs to date that’s expertly blended with a driving melodic chorus. The syncopation here between kick drum and picking hand here is crucial.
“The core of my style is probably a mixture between the down-picking stuff I grew up with - the speed-metal rhythm stuff and the palm-muting,” Tremonti said in 2015, “and then the fingerstyle I developed early on. I’d say it’s also the alternate tunings - hopefully, that’s something unique to my style.”
3. Brand New Start – Alter Bridge
While their 2004 debut, One Day Remains was a strong start for Alter Bridge, much of its songwriting was Tremonti working in isolation before singer Myles Kennedy had even joined the ranks.
The 2007 follow-up Blackbird was a different ballgame entirely with Kennedy contributing his formidable guitar chops as well as co-writes. Tremonti was in a two-guitar line-up for the first time but the spotlight is all on him in the solo here.
It’s one of the first examples of Tremonti making a guitar solo the peak of a song, and boy does he make the moment count.
“It’s the first time I’ve really been able to play a solo over a part that’s not full blast,” he told this writer ahead of Blackbird’s release in 2007. “It’s something where I could take a tastier approach to it. It was a breath of fresh air for me.”
Tremonti has proved he can deliver intense legato-laden solos with the best of them, but here he’s positively soulful as he ascends skywards; harmonically and metaphorically. Big bluesy bends and a lesson in build and release, the song changes up a gear from then on – what more can you ask from a guitar solo?
But as we detail later, this isn’t even the best one on the album!
4. Ahavo Rabo Taco Salad – Alter Bridge
Now this is an unusual one. In 2005, our UK sister title Total Guitar had Mark Tremonti as its cover star with a story on Alter Bridge. The remarkable part is the band agreed to record a whole new track for the magazine’s cover CD with the issue – and it was a monster instrumental shredfest that saw both Tremonti and Kennedy departing from the pentatonic into more exotic territory. And it also had a very strange name…
"The original idea we messed around with was Phrygian Taco Salad,” Tremonti told TG, “because the whole piece has that phrygian feel running through it. The Taco bit came from the cool Spanish breakdown in the middle where I pull out the nylons - but it didn't have that ring to it.
"Then Myles was surfing around the web and discovered that the name for the A harmonic minor scale I use in the solo is actually the Ahavo Rabo scale. So, there ya go!"
The music was a feast itself. "We got in the rehearsal pad and just went through some riffs,” added Tremonti. “I decided to make it more of a metal track so I could whip out the cool technical playing.
"I love that neoclassical harmonic minor sound. We did a metal riff to start the song off with, and picked three or four parts to splice together to make a little over a three-minute rhythm track. Then I got to work on the solos. It was like writing four solos in one song: two solo breaks, then a double solo break at the end.
“This was a chance for me to rip out the real fun diatonic solo stuff. This is strictly shred! I thought, for TG, the more technical the better - give the readers something to get their chops around!"
5. One Last Breath – Creed
We can’t comprehend offering a breakdown of Tremonti guitar highlights without giving props to his clean fingerstyle – there’s a wealth of them to choose from, from In Loving Memory’s emotive scene-setting to Unable To See’s classical mood. More than any other, One Last Breath’s earworm fingerstyle verses drive the song, providing the calm before the huge overdriven chorus kicks in.
“One Last Breath is one of my favorite guitar lines,” Tremonti told Songfacts ,”it's one of my favourite musical compositions for Creed. It's a song that turned out to be one of our biggest songs we ever put out. I think it had some of the most views we've ever had on YouTube, so it's a very important one for the Creed camp.”
Again, that classical touch can be detected in the fingerstyle part and it turns out that’s not coincidental. But Tremonti pinpoints the roots of his fingerstyle back to the influence of two specific pieces and one unexpected band…
“I love the fingerstyle stuff,” he explained to this writer in 2014. “Someone told me once, you remind me of the guy from Tesla [Frank Hannon]. You know what? I learned a lot of those [parts]. I loved that first Tesla record [Mechanical Resonance] and I agree.
"Some of the fingerstyle stuff that they would do I would learn, and I would learn all the fingerstyle stuff that Metallica would do in Call Of Ktulu. Guitar magazines would have things like Bach's Bouree in E Minor and I’d learn that.
"Over the years it just became a big part of my playing, it’s easier for me to write melodies by letting my fingers roll in a 6/8 kind of feel, stumbling around. It became natural.”
6. I Know It Hurts – Alter Bridge
How could Alter Bridge follow Blackbird? Well they went darker and deeper with questions of faith and Tremonti employing a pink Kramer bass for some of the rhythm foundations on AB III.
Tremonti’s feel playing was also coming to the fore – and he was blending melody with intensity in his solos better than ever (Fallout, Cour d’Alene) along with restraint (All Hope Is Gone’s sensitive changes, Life Must Go On’s majestic outro).
Indeed, he’s very keen on outro solos throughout AB III, but this one takes the crown in a song that’s the perfect blend of AB heaviness and uplifting hope. Though it’s a real humdinger for Tremonti, both on the verses and that furious lead break
“That was actually the last solo I tackled on the record and it was probably the hardest one too," he told this writer in 2012. "It’s real up-tempo and I knew it was going to be more of an aggressive solo.
"But I would just play the track and improvise over it for hours and every time something flew by that I dug, I would just jot it down. I would keep going until the solo was full of good ideas."
You have to feel for Tremonti when he sees this song in setlist. It seems like the song is all too knowingly titled because the verse part is just as challenging.
“That’s a tough, tough song to play for me," he admits. "The verse has a picking thing that’s like playing twister on your fingers. When I hear a guitar line sometimes I don’t care if it’s unconventional to play.
"Sometimes, I’ve just got to hear the notes in my head. But my wrist is the only thing that hurts when I play too much guitar and if my wrist is hurting and I play that song, it’s a tough one.”
7. Bleed It Dry – Alter Bridge
Alter Bridge’s fourth album found Tremonti consciously trying to vocalize his leads and leaving at least one comfort zone.
“I didn’t want to use a wah pedal on my leads because I felt like that was kind of my security blanket,” he told us. “I love playing wah but I wanted to try one record without it.”
Bleed It Dry is a hulking slice of heaviness with Kennedy contributing a Mastodon-inspired verse riff but its stunning blues solo breakdown adds the dynamic of light breaking through the black.
It finds Tremonti playing fingerstyle until he plays with a pick for the climatic end section. It’s a different approach in another way too.
“A lot of that, especially the ending, I came up with in my head and then learned how to play it on the guitar,” Tremonti added.
“Myles kept playing this fingerpicked pattern and I was like, ‘Oooh that’s very Opeth. This is the ultimate lead setup right here, keep going!’ I think he was a little apprehensive at first, like, ‘I don’t know do we want to keep the energy up? Do we want to bring it down like this?’”
It paid off. “It was the perfect solo soundbed, just because what I had to play over was so special, it made me really want to… I kept putting that solo off because I wanted to make that solo the best one. I spent a lot of time on it… it’s my favorite one for this album for sure. To me it has the most emotion in it.”
8. Dust - Tremonti
The idea that Tremonti is just an outlet to scratch Mark’s thrashier metal itch doesn’t really hold up when you listen through the variation on the band’s four albums to date.
This song is a prime example of something that could have potentially been a big song for Creed or Alter Bridge. But it didn’t need to be – because Tremonti absolutely knocks it out the park here.
“It was all based around a chorus I had kicking around for a few years,” Tremonti told Guitar World in 2016. “I had tried using it in the Alter Bridge camp, but it never materialized into a song. It was one I really wanted to make happen.
"Through my career, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. It’s a song about those down times, when you notice the people who were around during your good moments have scattered when you find yourself struggling. Kind of like a close friend losing confidence in you. It’s one of my favorite tracks.”
It’s undoubtedly one of his strongest vocal performances to date; hear the emotion on that huge '80s-arena chorus. But the dynamic build and guitar solo here are equally crucial, because while the last two Alter Bridge albums have had a tendency to be sonically dense, this proves the strength in letting parts breathe.
The low key arpeggiated clean verses have space to ring out, the bridge clears the way for the surging chorus. Then that build again to the solo… and it’s simply one of Tremonti’s finest. Melodically, it sings.
9. Cry Of Achilles – Alter Bridge
Creed were pegged as a mainstream rock radio band but Tremonti has always had a progressive ear to his compositions. In terms of the sheer musical scope they deliver here, this opener to Alter Bridge’s Fortress album is tour de force.
Yes, the Tremonti and Kenney duelling Megadeth-esque solos of the album’s closing title track are highly impressive, but the confidence and range here are what really tips it as our choice. With Kennedy’s nylon strung intro and riff inspiring Tremonti on, it’s a real team effort that proves they bring out the best in each other.
“That intro just inspired a whole tune,” credited Tremonti. “And the chorus and the bridge were come up with all on the spot. The little off time part in the verses was on the spot too.”
On a song that echschews the usual unusual altered tunings for half a step down, Kennedy takes the first solo, and pressure was on Tremonti for his final “stingy” lead break to contrast Kennedy’s muscular vibrato. It delivers as a pay off for everything that precedes it – you can feel through the speakers that Tremonti is pushing himself.
“I knew that was going to be an important song so I was putting myself under a lot of pressure for that one,” Tremonti adds, though typically hard on himself – he adds a caveat…
“There’s a few notes in there that if I could go back and re-record it again I would play again or change but as a whole, I’m happy with it.” So are we!
10. Blackbird – Alter Bridge
You didn't think we'd forget this one, did you? Even Tremonti knows it's his masterpiece, the kind of song artists hope comes along once in their career. Though it's all the better for being a true collaboration with Kennedy that he detailed with this writer back in 2011.
“It started with the verse fingerpicked line," said Tremonti of Blackbird's birth. "I’d been throwing it around for a while and I really loved it. It had such a sad classical feel to it. We were all at rehearsals and me and Myles were trying to come up with a chorus.
"We’ve always had trouble coming up with big choruses that are in a 6/8 feel. I didn’t have anything and Myles didn’t have anything that matched either. So we went into separate rooms at the rehearsal pad and Myles came running back in with the chorus. We all loved it and ran with it.
"For the bridge, he had a musical part and I had a part – we just stacked them on top of each other and they sounded great. Then we did the back to back solos and once we had it all arranged we all looked at each other and it was one of those hairs standing up on your arms moments.
"That was the point we were ready to record the album – we felt that it was complete at that moment. That song was the most impressive we had done to date.”
The Kennedy/Tremonti solo section is a modern classic, so much so it was voted as the greatest guitar solo ever in a 2011 poll held by our sister title Guitarist.
"The Blackbird solo was the last one written on the album," reflected Tremonti. "I felt a lot of pressure because the song itself seemed to be everyone's favorite. I must have written three rough outlines of the solo before tracking."
But he notes that inevitably it's the dynamic between himself and Kennedy that is key to the song's power.
“I remember from the moment we realized what kind of a guitar player Myles was we tried to really push that to the forefront and show Myles’ skill on the guitar because I felt that it was that secret weapon.
"For a band not to have a player of his caliber even touch a guitar on the first record, to come out blazing on the next record would really shock people – and give it that wow factor.
"We felt it was a great moment for our two different styles because he took the part where he could really follow the chord changes and throw his knowledge of his feel and phrasing into that. Then my more aggressive lead style back to back with that. It was a good combination.”