Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 68: Mantas

Mantas backstage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Jeff “Mantas” Dunn co-founded British heavy metal band Venom in 1978. When they released their 1981 debut album “Welcome to Hell” they changed metal forever. Venom had a massive impact on thrash metal and all forms of extreme metal. The black metal sub-genre got its name from Venom’s second album. In addition to his pioneering work with Venom, Jeff has released albums and toured with his own band Mantas and reunited with former Venom frontman Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan in the band M-Pire of Evil. The two Venom brothers are now carrying on the Venom legacy in the band Venom Inc. Venom Inc released its debut album “Avé” in 2017 and has toured globally. A new album is currently in production. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Mantas to hear about the five albums that changed his life.

T. Rex “Ride a White Swan” (1972)

“The first album I bought as a kid with my own allowance money. My first immediate memory of this album is the majestic ‘King of the Rumbling Spires’. Released on Music For Pleasure/Fly Recordings and produced by Tony Visconti, probably the most notable songs on this album are the title track and the simply brilliant ‘Debora’. At this point all I had was magazines with photos of Marc Bolan and Mickey Finn, I had no idea what their performance was like. Then one day I vividly remember being at primary school on a rainy day and because we couldn’t go into the playground at break time the teacher put the radio on for us. It was the top 10 countdown and I waited eagerly to see if my favourite song, T Rex’s new single, at that time would be number 1. ‘And this week’s number 1 is, ‘Metal Guru’ by T Rex! This meant a guaranteed appearance on the BBC Thursday evening show ’Top of the Pops’ and that was my first ‘live’ visual experience of Marc Bolan. I’m still a fan to this day and have often wondered where his music would have gone had he still been with us. In mannerisms and movement, he could have been the prototype for Paul Stanley. But more than anything he was a great and innovative songwriter.”

Slade “Slayed?” (1972)

“Bought for me by my parents as a Christmas gift. Slade were definitely my first favourite band. Great guitar driven rock’n’roll with that voice that could break the sound barrier. ‘The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazee’, ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’, ‘Gudbye T’Jane’… One of the most consistently successful bands of the glam era of the 70s and this album, for me as a young fan way back then, was just pure Slade. As a footnote, is it just me or was there some similarities between the costumes of Dave Hill and Ace Frehley, hmm, I wonder? Actually, I think my first experience of what I would call a guitar solo was on the track ‘Look Wot You Dun’.”

KISS “Hotter than Hell” (1974)

“My first KISS album, again bought with my allowance money from a department store in Newcastle. I still have that original copy and, apart from ‘Alive!’, definitely my favourite early KISS album purely for the concept of it and the memories it evokes. Whilst flipping through the vinyls in a city centre department store as a kid looking for some heavy music, I landed upon a battered copy of ‘Alive!’. I was fascinated by the creatures on the cover and was desperate to hear what they sounded like. Unfortunately, the money in my pocket wouldn’t stretch to the cost of this album but right behind was an equally battered copy of ‘Hotter than Hell’. Now this I could afford and so the purchase was made and as soon as that needle hit the groove I was hooked – instant KISS fan! This album probably doesn’t contain my absolute favourite KISS songs but it is the album that I clearly remember purchasing and the effect it had on me from the first listen. It still contains some great material though.”

Judas Priest “Unleashed in the East” (1979)

“I first saw Priest in 1979 and that night changed my life and this album captures them perfectly, even if there are overdubs. Who cares? it sounds great. Early Venom used to play ‘The Green Manalishi’, albeit a Peter Green song. For me ‘Exciter’ was most certainly the first double bass drum song I ever heard. ‘Sinner’ and ‘Victim of Changes’ are most definitely two of the high points of this album for me and who can deny the absolute genius of ‘The Ripper’? I’ve been loyal to Priest ever since and it’s no secret that KK Downing was a huge influence on me and in some way became a distant mentor as I began my journey in the world of bands and music.”

Motörhead “Overkill” (1979)

“An album that had more influence on my early songwriting than I realised and the first line-up of Venom with Clive Archer on vocals used to perform a very respectable version of ‘No Class’. It was only years later when re-recording some of the Venom classics and analysing the songs that I realised just how much of an influence Fast Eddie Clarke’s playing was in my early songwriting attempts. That loose clanging rhythm and blues infused solos certainly must have soaked into my musical subconscious. As a side note of interest, when I returned home with my newly acquired copy of ‘Overkill’, I eagerly opened it to discover to my delight that it was green vinyl. I still have it in my collection today.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 67: Tony Franklin

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English bassist Tony Franklin, aka The Fretless Monster, made a name for himself performing with Whitesnake, The Firm, Roy Harper and Blue Murder. He went on to perform with artists such as John Fogerty, Marty Friedman, Kate Bush, Quiet Riot, David Gilmour and many more. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Tony to talk about the five albums that changed his life.

Queen “A Night at the Opera” (1975)

“I bought Queen’s ‘A Night at the Opera’ on the strength of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which ruled the UK charts in late 1975. I was transfixed. At 13 years old, I’d never heard anything like this album. Symphonic in its scope, musically diverse – from hard rock to vaudeville: operatic, adventurous and playful. I never realised that rock music could be so dynamic and daring. I went on to see Queen live six times from 1977 to 1986. Their recorded and live performances influenced me immensely. With innovative production techniques, bold songwriting, outstanding musicianship and powerful captivating live performances, Queen had it all.”

ABBA “Greatest Hits” (1975)

“My dad owned the album, and at 13 years of age I played the album repeatedly. I still love ABBA and consider them masters of pop music songwriting, production and performance. Even at that age, I was aware of how skillfully they created musical hooks and passages that filled every second with meaningful melodies, sounds and rhythms. As I grew older, I appreciated their talents all the more, as I understood how difficult it is to do what they did, especially in the pop music format. Anyone who wishes to better understand the art of crafting timeless pop music, should make a sincere study of ABBA’s music.”

Jaco Pastorius “Jaco Pastorius” (1976)

“This album was brought to my attention by brilliant British jazz pianist Johnny Patrick. The album was released in 1976, but I didn’t hear it until 1979 when I was barely 17 years old. I’d been playing fretted bass for six or so years. Johnny placed the headphones on me, late at night, simply saying, ‘listen to this’. I was astounded. I never realised that bass could do so much! Jaco’s harmonics, his tone, his groove, and his compositions spawned a complete paradigm shift in my musical journey. I had to have a fretless bass, which I did, later that same year. Fretless bass has become my signature instrument, and this was the album that ignited the fretless spark.”

Stevie Wonder “Talking Book” (1972)

“This album has appeared at various times in my life, each time presenting me with different gifts and inspiration. This might well qualify as my sole desert island disc if I was forced to choose. First introduced to me by a friend in 1980, it covers many aspects of music that are dear to me. Pure inspiration, phenomenal songwriting, great performances, daring creativity, passionate vulnerable love songs and a funk and groove like no other. Stevie Wonder taught me more than anyone about groove and pocket. His use of complex chords and harmonies in essentially ‘simple’ songs – as in the opening track, ‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life’ – is nothing short of genius. Emotionally he shifts gears on ‘Maybe Your Baby’, which also has one of the nastiest and most innovative grooves I’ve ever heard. ‘You and I (We Can Conquer the World)’ is possibly my favourite love song, succinctly expressing vulnerability, inevitability, spirituality and commitment. Home to the iconic ‘Superstition’, ‘Talking Book’ is a stream of consciousness of consecutive musical gems that never fails to uplift, inspire and touch me.”

“Standing in the Shadows of Motown” soundtrack (2002)

“In 2008 I became aware of the powerful and emotional movie ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown’. Featuring the legendary Funk Brothers, the band that played on almost every Motown song from 1959 to 1972, it highlighted the little-known heroes and innovators of this groundbreaking era in Motown’s history. A friend of mine sent me the Deluxe CD of the soundtrack from the movie. Disc 1 featured music from the movie. However, Disc 2, is musical treasure – select (mostly) instrumental remixes of the original Motown masters. My appreciation for Funk Brother bassist James Jamerson went through the roof. My respect for him was already sky high, but hearing these remixes brought my love for him to a whole new emotional level. His creativity, boldness, vision, execution and pure instinct elevated him to an almost other-worldly status in my estimation. The inspiration I received from this album is boundless. While there are plenty of Jamerson bass-only versions available, as well as the original songs themselves, to my ears, nothing comes close to highlighting his brilliance (and the rest of the Funk Brothers) as this little-known album.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 66: Biff Byford

Biff Byford of Saxon. Photo: David Charles

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Biff Byford co-founded British heavy metal band Saxon in Barnsley, England in 1977. Now, at the age of 70, he remains the band’s lead vocalist and continues to tour and record with the band. Saxon’s most recent album, “Inspirations”, was released by Silver Lining Music in March 2021. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Biff to find out what five albums made him put on his denim and leather to become a metalhead and a solid ball of rock.

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin” (1969)

“This for me was the first heavy album. It changed everything with its power and pomp. A truly ground-breaking sound and four young guys going for it. Classic British rock based on American blues and no compromise: heavy blues rock, even the soft bits are hard.”

Yes “Close to the Edge” (1972)

“This album introduced me into prog rock. The musicianship is superb. The only way to describe it is “melody and power”, blending jazz, blues and classical. It’s a magical journey into their musical minds. It ebbs and flows through making its way to the last note.”

ZZ Top “Fandango!” (1975)

“The first time I heard Southern blues rock. These guys were taking things to another level, mixing live with studio, great playing masters of groove and feel and that guitar sound was to die for.”

Alice Cooper “From the Inside” (1978)

“Loved this! I used to listen to it all the time. Its sound and autobiographical lyrics are great writing. Top notch.”

Deep Purple “Machine Head” (1972)

“All-time favourite! The playing on this is brilliant. Shades of classical, blues, R&R, a ground-breaking album. Vocals are on another level: took the screams of Little Richard and turned them into his own.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 65: Lenny Bruce

Dust Bolt’s Lenny Bruce on stage in Tokyo in 2018. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Lenny Bruce is the guitarist and lead vocalist for the German thrash metal band Dust Bolt, a band known for its high-energy stage shows. They released their debut album “Violent Demolition” in 2012 and their fourth and most recent album, “Trapped in Chaos”, came out in 2019. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson talked with Lenny about the five albums that changed his life.

“I tried to mix it up a little bit with musical styles, which probably describes my personality and taste in music best. I am a metal lover, with the blues in my heart, that grew up with the 90s grunge era music around me when I was a kid.”

Slipknot “Iowa” (2001)

“I remember getting into heavy music basically through this album. After exploring bands like Green Day and Nirvana when I was 11 or 12, I suddenly felt the need to find something more aggressive and more absurd somehow, without knowing that something like that would exist, you know? Back then there still wasn’t the internet or smartphones where everything is available. I didn’t go into records stores yet because I actually didn’t know what I was looking for. One late night I put on the TV and saw Slipknot’s ‘Before I Forget’ as a music video, which is on the 2004 album ‘Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses’, and I was blown away. I’ve never heard something like that before and I didn’t know there was music where people would just scream. My sister told me that fans of that music are really insane and that I should stop asking. But one day she brought a CD with Slipknot songs which turned out to be the ‘Iowa’ album. I would listen to nothing else for three years straight. The songs and lyrics, the aggression, pain and anger were exactly what I felt and needed at that time. This definitely changed my life. This might have been the beginning of exploring and actually playing metal music afterwards.”

Pearl Jam “Ten” (1991)

“I am an absolute grunge kiddie when it comes to the music and bands such as Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Mudhoney and more. But the band I found out about later was Pearl Jam. A friend put on the music in the car on our road trips and the songs just wouldn’t get out of my head. Later on, I found their Pinkpop live performance on Youtube and that was just it! Great drumming, bluesy guitars, extraordinary singing and beautiful lyrics. This is how emotional rock music can get. At least that’s how I feel. They are still probably my favourite band when it comes to their message, behaviour, responsibility and political encouragement. I won’t go into details at this time, but this album definitely saved my life and gave me hope when I needed it.”

Jackson Browne “Running on Empty” (1977)

“Such a classic! I love Jackson Browne and 70s music! This album is just beautiful. It’s crazy that it’s all been recorded live! I just love the simplicity of the songwriting and performance. The songs are so strong and they tell a story. I just love that. I you don’t know that record, get into your car, drive down into the sunset and get yourself some Jackson Browne, trust me!”

Jack White “Lazaretto” (2014)

“Uff… It’s hard to say anything about this one. It speaks for itself. Such a beautiful piece of art! This album got me into being interested in music production and recording. I love how Jack White breaks all the modern rules of production – because there are none! And that´s what makes the music sound so organic, special and beautifully imperfect. It’s about the mistakes, the heat of the moment. And not about quantizing and make humans sound like robots.”

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble “Texas Flood” (1983)

“Last but not least – Stevie! I actually wanted to list a punk record here, as I’m a great 80s punk and hardcore punk fan, but Stevie won the race as this is probably one of the records I´m listening to the most. When I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughan´s ‘Lenny’, I knew how I wanted to play the guitar. His music gives me goosebumps every time, any second. He’s just my favourite guitar player in blues next to BB King. Could listen to him all day long.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 64: Brittney Slayes

Brittney Slayes. Photo: Shimon Karmel

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Canadian vocalist Brittney Slayes is one of the most powerful voices in heavy metal in recent years. She co-founded heavy metal band Unleash The Archers in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada in 2007. The band debuted in 2009 with the album “Behold the Devastation” and its most recent release was the album “Abyss” which came out via Napalm Records in 2020. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Brittney to find out about the five albums that made her carry the flame of metal.

Megadeth “Countdown to Extinction” (1992)

“This is the first heavy metal record I ever heard. My brother had ordered it from a Columbia House Records mail order catalogue and liked it but wasn’t the hugest fan, so he passed it over to me and said ‘maybe you’ll like this’. He was right. I remember putting the cassette into my little boombox and sitting on the floor with the lyric booklet in my hands and just falling in love with the album. I loved everything about it, from the cover art to the heavy chugging guitars to the overly theatrical vocal performance. I still think it’s one of the greatest metal records to this day!”

Iron Maiden “Best of the Beast” (1996)

“I discovered Maiden later in my life, after I had graduated from high school and lost my way a little bit when it came to music. A friend put this CD on in the car on the way to a party one night and the metalhead in me was immediately reawakened. The duelling guitars, the soaring vocals; it was like I had finally found my calling. After the ride he gave me the CD. He said ‘I have a feeling you’ll listen to it more than I will’ and once again, he was right. That album started my journey into truly rediscovering my love of heavy metal. When I was younger, I listened to a lot of heavier stuff; White Zombie, Tool, Incubus – their early albums, but in high school I stopped. This album was the first time I had ever heard anything like ‘power metal’ or ‘trad metal’ or whatever you want to call it, but it changed me forever.”

Judas Priest “Painkiller” (1990)

“Again, I discovered this album late. After, illegally, downloading the entire Iron Maiden discography, I started to look for other bands that had a similar sound and inspired me in the same way, and of course that brought me to Judas Priest. ‘Painkiller’ introduced me to the ‘falsetto’ style vocals of Rob Halford and was the first time I started saying to myself ‘hey, I bet I could do this’ regarding fronting a band. I started going to more live shows, and checking out local bands, and seeing what the local metal scene was like. This album is hands down one of the greatest heavy metal records of all time, and if I ever had to show a non-metalhead a record to get them into metal this one would probably be the one I used.”

Queensrÿche “Operation: Mindcrime” (1988)

“The year was 2008, Unleash The Archers was finally complete with five members, we had a name, and we had our first show booked. We had five songs written but I was still struggling with finding my ‘metal voice’ after having sung classical and chamber music my whole life.  We had found our second guitar player Mike online and he was a bit older than us and knew the local metal scene really well, he was so awesome at the business side of things and as a brand-new band we were so lucky to have found him. He and I were talking about my struggle one day and he suggested I listen to Queensrÿche. I respect him a lot so I found them online right away and was blown away by Geoff Tate from the first listen. ‘Queen of the Reich’ and ‘Warning’ were exactly what I was going for vocally, but it wasn’t until I heard ‘Mindcrime’ that I really began to study his vocal style and emulate what he could do. His control and tone are just so rich and warm, and the emotion he is able to convey is still unmatched to this day in my opinion. My falsetto style is based solely on Geoff Tate, and I still strive every single day to achieve the extraordinary level of storytelling he did with this record.”

Soilwork “The Living Infinite” (2013)

“I had heard amazing concept records before, but nothing so cohesive and complete as this one. I had heard somewhere that this was the first time the vocalist Björn had taken on a lot of the writing himself and had a huge part in the entire direction of the record and that was why it sounded so much like one whole just split into twenty tracks. I had never heard of them before but got asked to fill in as their merch person at their Vancouver show last minute, so my first time hearing them was live and they were AMAZING. Björn was amazing. I had never heard someone go from such beastly screams to such a full clean voice like he does and I still don’t think anyone compares. OK, maybe Tomi from Amorphis, but they are equals in this for sure. A friend of mine came by the merch booth and I was like ‘are you a fan of these guys? Which album should I buy?’ He pointed to ‘The Living Infinite’ without a second’s hesitation. I am so glad that he did. This record directly inspired ‘Apex’ and ‘Abyss’. It is the reason they were originally going to be a two-disc record, and the reason I decided to write the story out in an outline with very distinct directions to the boys on how to write the guitar riffs. I wanted a record as complete as this one in sound, feeling, and tone, and I can guarantee you that ‘Apex’ and ‘Abyss’ would not exist without this album having existed first!”

Honourable mentions: These records may not have changed my life, but they were huge milestones for sure! Lost Horizon “Awakening the World” (2001) and “A Flame to the Ground Beneath” (2003), Iced Earth “The Crucible of Man” (2008), Fleshgod Apocalypse “Veleno” (2019), Dragonland “Under the Grey Banner” (2011).

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 63: Bernie Marsden

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Bernie Marsden is best-known as Whitesnake’s co-founder, guitarist and songwriter. Prior to Whitesnake, Bernie played with UFO, Wild Turkey, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Babe Ruth and Paice Ashton Lord. He has also had an active solo career playing both rock and blues and has played with Ringo Starr. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson talked with Bernie about the five albums that changed his life.

The Beatles “With the Beatles” (1963)

“Having been totally smitten by the arrival of the Beatles on television and radio with ‘Please Please Me’, I was a confirmed Beatles fan. But it was their second UK album that I believe made my decision to play the guitar as a job, even at the age of 12! From the opening guitar line of ‘It Won’t Be Long’ I was hooked. I first noticed the songwriting credits on an album, wondering what those bracketed names meant. The simplicity of the line-up was important, two guitars, bass and drums, and crucially on both early Beatles albums it clearly stated who played individual instruments, and so the magical words ‘lead guitar’ entered my life. Each day after school I would rush home to play the album. I didn’t have a guitar at the time. I now realise that it was at this point I wanted one very soon. I’m still trying to perfect George’s solo in ‘All My Loving’ and the rhythm guitar of John Lennon all through this album is still mesmerising. It was also the first album I ever took notice of the cover. Still timeless.”

John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton” (1966)

“By the time this seminal album was in my hands I had been playing guitar about three years. I had discovered Eric Clapton when he was with the Yardbirds. I had their live album featuring him. I was a Yardbirds fan, so when he quit, I was concerned. Jeff Beck entered my life, I was quite pleased! Hearing the ‘Blues Breakers’ album for the first time was THE turning point really. Such spectacular guitar playing, the sound, his phrasing and overall feel was daunting. I was about to be 16, but this Clapton guy was barely 21 and already playing incredibly good guitar. Even at 16, I inherently knew this was very special indeed. His playing is flawless, inspiring and still unbelievable for me.”

The Jimi Hendrix Experience “Are You Experienced” (1967)

“Next, Jimi Hendrix touched down in England. So, after the emergence of Clapton as ‘God’, where do you find new heroes? Jeff Beck, who I feel should be in my five, was rapidly getting followers and rightly so. A friend of mine quietly passed me an album to ‘check out’. I had heard Jimi Hendrix on the radio with ‘Hey Joe’. The word was quietly out about the unknown American who just might be as good as Clapton. Nobody believed that, until this LP arrived. I wasn’t prepared for the next 40 minutes, from the opening feedback of ‘Foxy Lady’ I was in a state of audio shock! I of course was fully committed to Cream but this was difficult to take in. Could this be as phenomenal as I first thought? I immediately played the album again. It was. And I’m still of the opinion it might be THE greatest debut LP of all time. I saw Jimi Hendrix first in 1968 at the Woburn Festival, and everything I expected from him was delivered. A unique artist, I was privileged to see him and be one of my generation to witness from start to finish of his important, but so short, career.”

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin” (1969)

“There has always been a debate about Jeff Beck’s ‘Truth’ album and the 1969 debut Zeppelin album. I can understand the comparison. I had ‘Truth’ and was amazed at Jeff’s sound and style. A friend was raving about Led Zeppelin. I was aware of the names Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones through their involvement with the ‘Truth’ sessions but knew little about them. Crucially I had never heard the names of Robert Plant and John Bonham though. Their contributions are why this album is in the list. Jimmy was very clever post his input on the Beck record to put a line up together and produce this great sounding record, it was Plant that made me listen. I still listen today to all his records. A class act and great person.”

Steely Dan “Can’t Buy a Thrill” (1972)

“Still today, just the title of this album makes me smile. It takes me straight back to my first year as a pro musician, cruising and flying along the autobahns of the then West Germany. I was with UFO, a band so far musically removed from Steely Dan as you can imagine. Each day during my first tour I would hear ‘Reelin’ In the Years’ on US Forces radio, booming out of small and large car speakers! I could never at first make out the lyrics, but all I cared about was the first parts, and then THAT solo. Take a bow and much respect to this day, Mr Elliott Randall. The song made me realise the importance of being a good songwriter. As soon as I could I obtained ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill’. I was amazed, each and every song was original. I had never heard of Becker and Fagen, and yet here was a whole album of their music and a band of brilliant musicians to match. It confirmed a short part of my history with UFO, listening to the Dan and then playing heavy metal was never going to work. I resolved there and then to be a writer in a band I wanted to be in. It took a while, but it was Steely Dan who opened the doors.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 62: Christian “Speesy” Giesler

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German bass player Christian “Speesy” Giesler is best known as a long-time member of thrash metal band Kreator. He left the band in 2019 after 25 years of service. Speesy is now a member of punk rock band FORE. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Speesy to find out what five albums changed his life.

Sex Pistols “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” (1977)

“There would be Sex Pistols’ ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’. I was only seven years old at the time, but because my family listened to things like Queen and so on, punk came along quite quickly and there were the Sex Pistols!”

Nina Hagen Band “Nina Hagen Band” (1978)

“A little later, Nina Hagen came into my life with her album ‘Nina Hagen Band’, which was also punk rock from Germany at the time.”

Venom “Black Metal” (1982)

“Then there was the breakthrough. What an album! I couldn’t really believe what I was hearing on Venom’s ‘Black Metal’. The album back then to us was just dark and evil.”

Slayer “Hell Awaits” (1985)

“And then the unbelievably good album by Slayer, ‘Hell Awaits’, which is still one of my favourite albums today. The sound back then was so overwhelming. What a milestone in music history!”

Iron Maiden “Live After Death” (1985)

“And which album I think influenced me the most is very clear. Iron Maiden’s “Live After Death”. From then on, I started practicing the bass. Playing the bass was more like noise…”

“There are so many more things, such as KISS’ ‘Alive II’ (1977), Pestilence’s ‘Testimony of the Ancients’ (1991), Cro-Mags’ ‘Alpha Omega’ (1992).and so many more.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 61: Steve Conte

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Steve Conte is best known as the former lead guitarist for the New York Dolls and a member of Michael Monroe’s band. But the New York City guitarist, singer and songwriter has played with many artists during his career, including Billy Squier, Willy DeVille, Suzi Quatro, Crown Jewels, Company of Wolves and many more. He has also worked with Japanese composer Yoko Kanno on soundtracks to many anime series. Steve’s new solo album “Bronx Cheer” will be released on 5th November via Wicked Cool Records. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson talked with Steve about the five albums that rocked his world.

The Beatles “Revolver” (1966)

“Since birth, I had been hearing jazz and classical music in our house – along with pop and early 60s rock’n’roll on the AM radio. But one night in 1966, my mom and dad invited a young, hip couple over for dinner and they brought with them something that would totally change my life forever, ‘Revolver’. The sound was nothing like I ever heard on record or on the radio. Sure, I was just a kid with a small number of years listening to music at that time, but I knew this was special; the innovative tape loops and droning of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, the psychedelic lyrics and guitar sounds of ‘She Said, She Said’, the string quartet on ‘Eleanor Rigby’, the French horn solo on ‘For No One’ – even the way the album started with ‘Taxman’ and the count off with room noise and coughing. Rock’n’roll records hadn’t been made like that before. Everything I had heard up till then was clean and careful compared to this. I stared at that cover artwork and those photos for hours, listened with headphones and sang along with it until every note of music on that record was engrained in my consciousness. It remains my favourite album of all time.”

Wes Montgomery “Tequila” (1966)

“One of the earliest jazz records I can remember hearing. The sound of Wes playing those octaves with his thumb had such a vibe. Little did I know back then that this would be considered his ‘commercial sell-out’ period where he was covering pop tunes and barely playing any single note lines. Later, when I would become interested in playing jazz guitar myself, I figured out his tune ‘The Thumb’ off of this record, which is the song that I sent in on an audition tape to get me in to Rutgers University where I would study with Wes’s protégé, Ted Dunbar. While studying there, I got turned on to the early Wes recordings where he was playing bebop and jazz standards, hardly using any octaves, mostly single-note lines at fast tempos – and that was mind-blowing! Although it has schmaltzy string arrangements on some tracks, this album still has a special place in my heart. It’s Latin-flavoured and is not as overly produced as some of the albums that would follow. Most tracks were just a quartet with Ron Carter on bass, Grady Tate on drums and Ray Barretto on percussion – his first album without a keyboard laying chords down behind him as he soloed. I still listen to it regularly as it is THE album that made me want to play jazz.”

The Rolling Stones “Through the Past, Darkly” (1969)

“I got this album for my 9th birthday and it was for me, the perfect introduction to the Stones. Their most recent single at the time, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was on it, as well as two other singles that weren’t on any albums; ‘Dandelion’ and ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’. Those three songs alone would’ve been enough to convert this diehard Beatles kid into a Stones kid – and this is where my musical schizophrenia began – bright pop melody vs. dark blues. I never participated in those wars – ‘Are you a Beatles fan or a Stones fan?’ People thought that you couldn’t be both…but I was. ‘Street Fighting Man’, as we all know now was started on cassette tape and then transferred over to proper studio recording gear, but as a kid, it boggled my mind, ‘why does it sound so cool?’ Then there was the dark pop of ‘Paint It Black’ (with its world music influence) and ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ sitting alongside the power pop of ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’, ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and ‘Have You Seen Your Mother. Baby, Standing in the Shadow?’. And like with ‘Revolver’, I was hypnotised by the psychedelic moments; ‘She’s a Rainbow’ and ‘2000 Light Years from Home’. Again, there was nothing else out there that sounded like these tracks, thanks to things like John Paul Jones’ haunting Mellotron on the latter, the sound of which would figure in my later love of Zeppelin. It’s a bold compilation; the mix of all those styles – not unlike The Beatles’ ‘White Album’ which had come out the year before – is what turned me on and made me think it was just fine to like different styles of music, even if it was all by the same band.”

Led Zeppelin “Led Zeppelin II” (1969)

“The album of MONSTER riffs. ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Moby Dick’. Epic songs, complete with mid-song excursions into sonic freak-outs. The guitar tones are incredible; warm and creamy, the drum sounds are live and full of air, the vocal wailing is unparallelled and the bass playing as funky as an old R&B man from the southside of Chicago. The light and shade here are fantastic, mellow verses contrasted with bombastic choruses like ‘What Is and What Should Never Be’ and ‘Ramble On’. I know every little sound on this record, from Plant’s breath before the start of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, the first song on the album, to the last harmonica slide up at the end of ‘Bring It On Home’ that finishes it. Page’s production, layering of guitars, panning of instruments, reverb and the sound of the room are all groundbreaking and there is a reason that to this day, the record is like a holy grail for musicians, singers, engineers and mixers. Sure, Page and Plant ripped off some of the songs from the original bluesmen – again, as they did on the first album – but they did something so original with the end result that I can almost forgive them for it.”

Prince “Sign o’ the Times” (1987)

“Prince’s finest…his ‘Double White Album’. So many different styles, genres, moods and characters. From the funk of ‘Housequake’ to the power pop of ‘I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man’ and every shade of rock, soul and balladry in between, it is a sonic feast…a true masterpiece. He goes Beatles on the surreal ‘Starfish and Coffee’ and on his religious ode ‘The Cross’ and then in complete opposition to that, gets down and smutty on ‘Hot Thing’ and ‘It’. And he doesn’t just deliver the goods musically, Prince sings his goddamn ass off on ‘Slow Love’ and ‘Adore’. Add to that the lyrical content – genius things that nobody had ever said before; ‘If I Was Your Girlfriend’…come on! How did nobody else ever think of that? Because they weren’t Prince Rogers Nelson. The same goes for ‘Strange Relationship’ and the title track. When this album came out, I was the guitarist and musical director for his singer, Jill Jones – of The Revolution – and we were gearing up to go out on tour with Prince, to support him on an American tour in the summer of ‘87. But that tour never happened, due to poor sales of the album here in the US. Successful sales have never been the measure of a great album to me – and this one stayed on my turntable for many, many months during that time period and for years after. To this day it is still one of the most inspiring records ever, to me.”

“And that’s it! Thanks for listening to me ramble on. Please support original music!”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 60: Akira Tominaga

Akira Tominaga of United. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Akira Tominaga is the drummer for Japanese thrash metal band United. The band, named after a song on Judas Priest’s “British Steel” album, was formed in 1981. Akira took over the drum stool in 2004. In addition to releasing its own albums and touring extensively, United has acted as the backing band for former Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno for some shows in Japan. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Akira to find out about the five albums that changed his life.

Megadeth “Rust in Peace” (1990)

“I bought this album after reading magazine reviews as there was no internet when I was a student. Nick Menza is a drummer who has been an influence on me. The melodies and song compositions on this album changed how I looked at things at the time. It was shocking and I felt that my brain, still developing, was constantly shaken.”

Motörhead “Bastards” (1993)

“It’s impossible to ignore the impact of this legendary band on me when I grew up. Lemmy’s performance on this album which includes the fantastic song ‘Burner’! Mikkey Dee’s drumming! Playing drums in both a dynamic and delicate way is a lifelong theme for me. When I heard that Tony Dolan, The Demolition Man of Venom Inc, also started a band because of Motörhead, I felt very empathetic.”

Mötley Crüe “Shout at the Devil” (1983)

“This album changed and broadened my perspective on music as I had previously known only domestic music. The band I started playing music with was a tribute band to the Japanese rock band ZIGGY. I was completely absorbed and addicted to ZIGGY, which is reminiscent of Mötley Crüe. As a result, I found Mötley Crüe. I was longing for Mötley Crüe too and switched my drum sticks to a Tommy Lee model.”

Rage “Extended Power” (1991) EP

“It’s no exaggeration to say that this album has shocked me the most. As a teenager, I couldn’t think of a ballad-style song with double bass drums. I was shocked. It made me realise that music is free, and I feel respect again when I write this sentence. Even now, creating original songs is important to me.”

Show-Ya “Ways” (1986)

“Show-Ya is Japanese female metal band with a drummer that played double bass drums. I was shocked by the powerful sound coming into my ears without being aware that it was a woman playing.”

Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 59: Johanna Platow Andersson

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

German vocalist and songwriter Johanna Platow Andersson fronts Sweden-based doomy heavy rock band Lucifer which also features her husband Nicke Andersson on drums. Lucifer’s fourth album, “Lucifer IV”, will be released on 29th October via Century Media Records. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with Johanna to find out about the five albums she listened to on her Walkman in Berlin.

“Here are five records that had a huge impact on me as a young girl. This is my sonic journey transitioning from a child to a teenager. It would take me some more years to get into my parents’ music. 70s heavy rock. But this is how it all started.”

Madonna “Like a Prayer” (1989)

“First came the 50s rock and roll compilations and the Vivaldi cassettes that my mom gave me and the mixtapes my older brother made for me, who was a punk, consisting of Sex Pistols, Ramones, The Cure, Public Enemy and lots of other 80s gems. Then I discovered Madonna, somewhere around the age of 7, and obtained quite a collection. I wish now I wouldn’t have given away all my vinyl later. But it was the ‘Like a Prayer’ album that really got me with its spiritual imagery. The crosses and Madonna dancing in a church, kissing a black Jesus and kneeling at her mother’s grave in the videos. This is what really led me aesthetically to all the things I would come to love later in life. But it was also Madonna herself and all the things she represented and that I wanted to be. Extremely expressive, clever, a liberated female artist putting a middle finger in the face of anyone who’d tried to stop her. And in a way I still carry her pale image, my idolised version of her from back then, within me. Favourite songs: ‘Like a’ Prayer’, ‘Oh Father’.”

Metallica “Master of Puppets” (1986)

“This was my first Metallica album that I bought as a teenager when I finally got into heavy metal. Metallica was also one of the first bands I saw at the age of 13. I Still have those old tickets. Most people would pick another Metallica album to be their best but this is the one that I’m most sentimentally attached to. I didn’t have much money then and could only afford to buy one record to start with. So, of course, I picked the album with the cemetery on the cover. Surprise, surprise. Favourite songs: ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’, ‘Orion’.”

Danzig “Danzig II: Lucifuge” (1990)

“Also, one of the first metal bands that I got into at the age of 13. I still love the first three Danzig albums to death and count Danzig as a major influence on my work with Lucifer and The Oath. When I was 14, I saw Danzig live for the first time in Berlin and they totally pulled me over to the dark side with their satanic rock and roll. I started walking around dressed in black from head to toe, topped off with an inverted cross. Little girl with long blonde hair turned EVIL. My mother told me back then that this is just a phase but not that much has changed since then. Here we are almost 30 years later. Favourite songs: ‘Devil’s Plaything’, ‘Blood and Tears’.”

Type O Negative “Bloody Kisses” (1993)

“Then came Type O Negative and their album ‘Bloody Kisses’. That’s when I dyed my hair black. I spent countless days in my all-black room listening to Type O Negative back then. In my teenage loneliness I felt very at home in the lyrics, when the outside world didn’t understand me at all. Around the same time, I started singing in local underground death and black metal bands. I loved all the Type O Negative and Carnivore albums but ‘Bloody Kisses’ was the key for me that really got me into them first. Later on, I got to meet Peter at a show. Still have his number and the backstage pass. He was a very kind soul and it’s a tragedy he left so early. Favourite songs: ‘Christian Woman’, ‘Summer Breeze’, ‘Can’t Lose You’.”

Dead Can Dance “Within the Realm of a Dying Sun” (1987)

“For my 15th birthday my two best girlfriends left me surprise gifts at my door and they went all in: A home-made black birthday card, that they glued a picture into of me standing in a crypt; a stolen cemetery flower bouquet consisting of white lilies and red roses; a gravestone and a vinyl copy of Dead Can Dance’s ‘Within the Realm of a Dying Sun’. At the time I’ve been wandering around the old overgrown cemeteries of Berlin, daydreaming and trying to wrap my head around death, life, love, magic and my inner universe. A few weeks prior we had a sleepover and listened to the album in the dark and it blew me away so profoundly, it’s difficult to describe it in words. Nothing I heard touched me this way ever before. My heart was pounding like crazy. It was ethereal, extremely eerie and so morbidly beautiful. This is when I truly heard my calling. I still have that vinyl. Favourite songs: ‘Summoning of the Muse’, ‘Cantara’.”