B: Dec 1978.
Birthstone: A fusion of metal & rock.
Favourite Crisps: Mighty Munch.
Warning: Bio is very long & indulgent. Be bored at your own risk.
The first album I ever owned was Appetite for Destruction; and it was pure luck. Had it been anything else, things could have worked out much different for me musically. I believe it’s all about that first path you get led down (or discover) that shapes your musical preferences. People exposed to Hip-Hop from an early age become Hip-Hop fans – people exposed to shitty chart music end up liking shitty banal chart music (they’re also the same people who say “I like all types of music”; the musical equivalent of sitting on the fence). My parents weren’t musical or even into good music, so I’m still thankful I lucked out with owning the best album ever made as my first taste of real music. It still holds strong to this day; “yowzer”!
I was 9 years old in 1988. I remember walking down Nassau Street in Dublin and seeing a t-shirt hanging in a shop window that had skulls, guns, barbed wire, and all sorted of other ‘cool’ crap on it; I thought it was amazing and asked my Mam to buy it for me. She did for some reason and I didn’t even know what it was. Turns out it was a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt. I wore it all the time thinking it looked cool. I’d never even heard of the band.
So that Xmas in 1988, and purely because I happened to own the T-shirt, I got the Appetite for Destruction album. My “big” present that year was a tape player. So since I now had a tape player & only 1 tape, I played that album to death. I knew every note, every line, every beat and every melody. It was so addictive. There was no Side A & B – nope, we had a side G and a side R. Nice touch… I think my favourite song off it at the time was probably Mr. Brownstone. I still have the tape:
I got my first guitar (a small nylon-string acoustic) a year or so later when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I went to some group guitar lessons in Raheny (beside the Dart station – it’s a crèche now), where we half-learned a few chords and got given lame songs to learn each week like “The Fields of Athenry” – I couldn’t have been more disinterested, so I barely practiced. The teacher was hardly even there for the lessons; he just left 10 kids strumming away aimlessly with a sheet in front of them for an hour – what a dick. After the course of lessons finished, I didn’t play the guitar again for a while. Hardly an inspiring start.
When I started secondary school in 1991, I met a guy called Cormac O’ Haloran (now known as “DJ Kormac”), who was a friend of a friend. He was really good at guitar; he could even play the Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door solo (GNR version)! I was impressed. I’d never seen anyone good up close. He tuned my nylon acoustic for me & he told me the chords for Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Don’t Cry. So I looked up the chord shapes in a Beginners Guitar book I had, and practiced these 2 songs until my fingers were numb. It sounded amazing to me; I was playing the songs I liked, and it sounded real!
Over the next few months, I started to pick up basic chords for other easy songs; namely Nirvana. Nirvana songs were easy to play and fun too. The main problem with GNR songs were that they tuned ½ step lower on the albums (Eb), so I could never play along with them. But with Nirvana, now I could play along to a few songs on my little acoustic… progress~!
That Christmas (1991), my parents bought me my first electric guitar and 30 watt amplifier; it was a 2nd hand black “Chaser” guitar in a Les Paul style shape. I remember we bought it for £90 from Bill Brady, who ran a guitar school beside Waltons (Frederick Street) at that time. I thought it looked like Izzy Stradlin’s guitar, and Izzy was the coolest looking motherf*cker alive, so it worked for me!
So now it was on; I was 13 – it was 1992, I had an electric guitar, an amp, some basic chords, and I learned that Beginners Guitar book inside out! Open Chords, Power Chords, Barre Chords, and the Pentatonic Scale. I learned how to play more songs I liked, learned some riffs, and built up more chords & basic solos. I was addicted. I practiced as much as I could over the next 2 years; learning as many GNR, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Faith No More, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine songs as I could. Every day when I got home from school, I’d plug in my guitar & play for a few hours.
I’d done as much as I could with that Beginners Book. So the next step? A better guitar & some lessons.
For Xmas 1993, I got an Aria Pro II Flying V – it looked like James Hetfield’s guitar in a poster I had. My parents paid £180 to a guy in Dun Laoghaire market for it. It was amazing – I still have it.
So now that I was exactly like James Hetfield, I started getting into playing faster & smoother on my new guitar – I knew my pentatonic scales up & down the fret board, and I had the Cherry Lane tab books for Master of Puppets, Use Your Illusion 1, and Metallica’s Black Album. I practiced the shit out of those Metallica tab books, playing along to the albums nonstop as soon as I got home from school – I even got most of the solos down, as fast as they were. I was even impressing myself. Master of Puppets is still my favourite Metallica album.
In mid-1994, I saw a sign for guitar lessons in The Nest (local newsagents) and pulled off a tab. Charlie Herbert was the guy’s name; the same surname as mine. So I gave him a call. Lessons were £10 per hour which was expensive back in 1994, especially for a 15 year old. But it was worth it; I got a lesson off him every week and he started off teaching me the major & minor scales, the theory of scales, and how all of the notes fit together. I learned the pentatonic blues scale, suspended chords, major 9ths, major 7ths, minor 7ths, arpeggios, diatonic triads, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and MODES!!; it was all blowing my mind, and I took it all in – all new scales & theory to practice! And I did.
Locally, there were also a group of young rockers a few years my junior who had started picking up guitars; so I started to give them guitar lessons. I charged £5 per hour; I’d show them chords & basic scales, and teach them songs they were into; I did 4 or 5 of these lessons each week, which paid for my 1 lesson with Charlie, and also allowed me £10-£15 for the weekend when we attended “The Grove”. I was teaching them quality stuff too, so it worked out great. I was learning, and they were getting passed that same knowledge which I ‘adapted’ for Metal/Rock, so they would stay interested. I knew as beginners they didn’t want to learn The Fields of Athenry – so I taught them some Metallica songs, which meant they actually practiced each week; which meant they got better. But I made sure they understood the theory too, so they knew where it was all coming from; “Nothing Else Matters is Em, D, C - we can see that these 3 chords come from the scale of G major, which is the same as the scale of Em (relative minor) – so we can use our Em pentatonic scale to solo over this chord progression”; this way, they learn a song, and they understand it too. There’s nothing worse than a guitar teacher just teaching songs; so after 5 lessons you know 5 songs; how is that useful? Teach them the major & minor scales, and show them where the chords & notes in that song have come from, and how they relate to each other. Then they know how and they understand why. I ended up teaching guitar to all sorts of people & age groups for the next 4 years; even running group lessons in a local Primary School on a Saturday morning, as well as DIT Bolton Street when I headed the Music Society in 1998. Teaching people helped me learn everything inside out, as I was constantly repeating it to people. Anyway…
Around this time I formed my first band with my friend Neil; it was basically just the 2 of us joking around and making up songs taking the piss out of Bon Jovi lyrics; we had songs like “Too Hot to Handle”, “Come Back” and “The Cops R Out to Get U”. We thought we were hilarious (turns out we were). We were just messing around & recording the songs on a tape recorder, completely improv’d most of the time.
We called ourselves “Bad Company” – I had a picture of Slash on my wall that had “Bad Company” written underneath it. Years later, we found out there was already a band by that name, so we added an extra “D” and became “Badd Company”. We didn’t have any aspirations with it; it was just a laugh – the cheesier the lyrics, the better. We used to dress up & pose for our own photo shoots… I was called Richie Richardson (since most hair rockers were called Richie in those days), and Neil was Tico Santana (after the wrestler, Tito Santana). Either that, or we ripped off Richie Sambora & Tico Torres from Bon Jovi –you decide!
It was all just a buzz; an homage to hair metal & glam; but that didn’t stop us recruiting one of our friends, Andy, to play bass and we also decided to play a gig with our cheesy little songs. It was 1995 – The Bayside Living Rock Festival had rolled into town, and we rocked it out with a full setlist of our own original tunes on 12th November 1995. It was all just local bands, but since we weren’t taking it seriously anyway, I told the promoter (Ken Toohey) that we were miles better than all of these other idiots & we should be headlining the last night of the ‘Festival’. Somehow that line worked; haha. I guess he was easily impressed by big talk.
So Badd Company were now a 3-piece; we wrote more songs and did a new photo shoot to showcase our newest member (to ourselves). Andy was now known as “Rick Valenti”.
One Saturday night in February 1996, myself & Andy were walking through Baldoyle and bumped into a guy called Gav. Andy had played American Football with him a few years before. Gav mentioned he’d recently split from this band, Vacant Enemy, a few months earlier and himself & their drummer, Ozzy, were jamming together in Gav’s shed. Gav was a guitar player & singer and Ozzy was a drummer. I remember seeing them a year earlier and noticed how good the drummer was. So I interjected and said “I’ll play bass with yis”. So the next day I’m down in Gav’s shed jamming, and we all clicked really well. The songs were simple but raw, and I liked the vibe. Gav had written some good tunes, and the bass tied them all together nicely & filled out the sound. We sounded tight almost immediately. Nothing was sloppy, at least.
So we worked on 5 or 6 original songs and called ourselves The Lotus Eaters – taken from Homer’s The Odyssey. We played our first gig on 22nd June 1996, at Behan’s on Capel Street. It went well – we supported a local band called Waters of Lethe. We played pretty tight.
After this gig, we decided that Andy (the Badd Company bass player) would join The Lotus Eaters & take over playing bass, and I’d play lead guitar so Gav could concentrate on vocals & rhythm guitars. So now we were a 4-piece. The four of us gelled pretty quickly, and the new sound was even fuller than before.
Over the next 2 years, we played plenty of gigs both with The Lotus Eaters and a few with Badd Company. Badd Company even got an extra guitarist, our friend Glenn: aka “Tony Savage”. I got a lot of gigging experience during this period, as well as experience in the basics of recording, as we recorded numerous demos on my 4-Track Recorder (Yamaha MT50).
These were good times; lots of gigs, lots of cool people, and lots of sessions. I developed as a musician during this time, but also got into that “comfort zone” where I knew I was pretty good, so I didn’t practice as much – I was playing all the time when jamming so stayed fluid; but I wasn’t practicing & improving. So I did what I did in school; got by on what I already knew. I coasted. It happens.
The Lotus Eaters disbanded in early 1998. Here’s my honest take on The Lotus Eaters; I liked the songs; they were rocking; nothing too complex but they worked and Gav had a good sense for a vocal melody. Our rehearsals were always really tight; we jammed every Saturday & Sunday every week. We were a well rehearsed unit. But when we’d gig, Andy and Ozzy would get drunk and mess up a lot. This was frustrating; we’d practice for weeks, be tight as fuck, and then there’d be mistakes on stage. I never got drunk before a gig, as I was never a big drinker, so I was fully aware of it as it was happening. It was annoying because I knew how tight we were in practice; but then our friends hear us live & we’re sloppy. Gav was never into the crowd, and would sometimes hold back with the singing on stage – in fairness, that also wasn’t helped by the fact that we were only able to afford to rent a PA System for 1 or 2 days every month, which meant he didn’t even get to practice singing the vocal parts when we jammed. Musically, I guess we’d been stagnant for a while though, doing the same ol’ thing for a few years and I don’t think any of us were fully committed at that stage either. We had decided to move to Boston and give the band a shot abroad. Gav was up for it initially, but quit the band a few months out & said he wasn’t going. Myself, Andy & Ozzy (and my girlfriend Ciara) moved to Boston anyway in the Summer of ’98 and did absolutely nothing musically; it was just a big session!
After Boston, we played a final Badd Company gig in April 1999, and then my timeline of musical development stopped for a few years….
So between 1999 and 2003, this kinda sums it what I did – I had a blast, but notice the absence of anything music related, although I did buy a new guitar in Houston (while at Wrestlemania) in 2001:
- Had a longterm girlfriend.
- Got back into watching Pro Wrestling.
- Dropped out of college a few times.
- Rented various houses & had some kick-ass parties.
- Worked various stop-gap jobs.
- Went on holidays.
- Turned 21.
- Learned to drive.
- Bought first computer.
- Bought first car.
- Bought first video camera.
- Pursued an idea to try and launch a Wrestling TV Channel.
- Went on some amazing acid trips; Howth, Glendalough, Deer Park, Alton Towers.
- Smoked lots of weed.
- Got fat.
- Learned how to edit video, and again used my newly developed talents to take the piss.
So now it’s mid-2003, and enter Jody Smith. I met Jody through a wrestling forum, and it turned out we had a mutual friend. Jody was a trained jazz musician who gigged professionally, and me being as delusional as I was about my ability (I was good at playing rock & metal, knew basic theory, but I also hadn’t played properly in around 4 years), convinced him to “pop over for a jam”. I had drums & guitars set up in the attic of a house I was renting. It was a cool little jam space. I wanted to get back into music and figured jamming with someone else who was really good like me (ahem!) would be a good start. So he arrives and he’s the nicest guy I’d ever met; that’s a good start, I thought – he’s really sound like me too (ha!). He also proceeded to blow me away with his ability – I felt like a schmuck – I was sloppy and it showed. I couldn’t keep up, but he was really nice about it. He could play everything and was amazing at each one: keyboards, bass, guitars, drums, etc. I felt like such a timewaster and was completely humbled. I hadn’t really played much in the past few years and was well out of practice; but even my slick metal licks during my ‘prime’ years still wouldn’t have impressed that day – we were in different leagues, period. Okay; time for a self-assessment.
My musical tastes at that time were pretty-much limited to a few genres; metal (Metallica, Iron Maiden), rock (GNR, Beatles, Hendrix, Rory Gallagher, Pink Floyd, Lizzy, Santana), and grunge/alternative (Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, RATM, Faith No More, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, The Pixies, etc) and some random stuff like The Smiths, Kate Bush, RHCP, Primus, Rush, etc. So I guess I hadn’t been stimulated musically in years, either with new bands to listen to or playing music myself. I’d hit that wall, but I also made no real effort to get past it. Well, Jody turned this shit on its head and blew my mind – the revolution started with two words: Steely Dan.
A friend of mine, “Slick” Willie Gordon, had told me a few months earlier (September 2003) “you’d really like Steely Dan”. I made a mental note. Then I heard Jody mention them too in passing; so one evening I downloaded some random tracks. The first time I ever heard them I was oddly seduced. It’s hard to describe. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before or since – that voice, the crisp smooth quality of the recording, the tightness of the musicians; yet it was loose enough to groove, it was laid back; but it had drive, the vocal hooks, the slick smooth guitar lines, the vocal melody & harmonies, the lyrics, and how all of the instruments tied in together & bounced off each other perfectly; this was another level of music - one that I don’t believe I could have appreciated if exposed to years earlier. The guys from Steely Dan were old and looked like nerds; if I’d seen these guys when I was 16 & cynical (well, I’m still very cynical), I would have scoffed at the way they looked and never been open to even listening to it in the first place (kinda like when I first saw Seinfeld with his shirt tucked into his tight stonewashed jeans & mini curly mullet; I only came to appreciate & love Seinfeld years later). I don’t even think I would have understood it anyway. I needed my palette to be mature to appreciate this; it really was the art of making music; and now with my recent music revelations (and humbling) about how good I really was compared to dedicated & trained musicians, and that I’d only had limited exposure to musical genres (despite my snobbery towards everyone else’s musical tastes), the timing was perfect to absorb it. I couldn’t stop listening to them; it was like a drug. The songs sucked me right in; Gaslighting Abbie, FM, Black Cow, and Deacon Blues. During the time of my Steely Dan discovery, I also gave Gav (The Lotus Eaters singer) some of their tracks, and he got addicted too; “The Dan” had arrived (for me anyway); 30 years after their prime, they were still hooking people.
So after informing Jody of my recent revelation, he understood – he told me he’d bring over a live DVD to watch. It was the Two Against Nature DVD, recorded in 2000 in Sony Studios, NY. Now this blew my face off. It was Steely Dan, my new obsession, live on DVD with a beautiful Dolby Digital 5.1 mix – the backing vocals & horns poured out of my rear speakers and surrounded me with bliss. Wow…!
Over the next 3 years, Jody loaded me up with some amazing music and I discovered a whole new world; first it was Victor Wooten (who just happened to be the best bass player in the world; and I’d never heard of the guy before), Tribal Tech, Dennis Chambers (the best drummer I’ve ever heard; which led me to Greg Howe; the best fusion guitar player I’ve ever heard), Chick Corea, Bill Bruford, Jaco Pastorius, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock, Zappa, etc. It really opened my mind to new musical possibilities. I’d also realised what an incredible musician Jody was, as I had the pleasure of picking his brain, jamming with him, and watch him play during this 3-year period; he ended up working for me running a Wrestling Channel I’d launched on SKY Digital, and we became great friends.
My musical fire had been reignited; I’d heard lots of amazing new music, met an amazing musician who had such great insight into music, and I had a thirst for more. So I picked back up my guitar that I’d been playing randomly for the past few years with no real commitment or conviction (to be honest, I was actually slightly intimidated to play guitar in front of Jody most of the time, and I’d start fluffing notes & licks that I could play flawlessly when he wasn’t there); so I went for some lessons. It’s time to break the wall down! #jericho
It was during this time (2006 – present) I re-invigorated my passion for playing & writing music; I had 2 teachers during this period; David White and Mike Brookfield. David was a better jazz player, but Mike was a much better teacher. Teaching and playing are completely different, and I knew this having done it myself for years. With Mike, I learned new theory, I brushed up on old theory, I practiced finger exercise, I started to read music (properly) for the first time ever, and I started learning about jazz theory and transposing some great solos; like Kid Charlemagne, by Steely Dan. I got back into practicing, got my fingers moving in different ways, and I got thinking outside of the box. I watched a “Jazz Rock Mastery” tutorial DVD by Scott Henderson, which completely changed the way I approached my playing – I played less notes and made them mean more. I put more passion into my playing and let the feeling of the music lead me, instead of just noodling around my safety zone, repeating the same licks & scales I’d played for years. It was more natural now; a new outlook.
During this time (August 2007), we also reunited Badd Company to re-record all of the old songs we’d written 10 years earlier. I had a Pro Tools set-up in my attic, so figured it was a good time to record all of our old tracks in high quality while we were all still living locally. This meant I was also spending hours playing rhythm guitars, writing new solos, doing vocals, backing vocals, recording, mixing, mastering, etc; a good time to put my rediscovered passion & focus (and guitar lessons) into practice. The album turned out great, and we called it “Tigers N’ Bullets”. It was the first thing I’d ever recorded in Pro Tools, and I got Jody to help me with the mastering & some other tips ‘n’ tricks. Recording a whole album in Pro Tools was a great way to learn it; but a daunting one too.
Anyway; when the Badd Company album was finally finished (mid-2009 – well, it was only worked on part-time), I decided to get into writing & recording my own music; I spent years always meaning to “get around to it” and I finally have. I did play with an amazing drummer for a while and we wrote some great riffs & pieces together (Michele Scala from Italy - see drums on “The Pursuit”), but the creative process was taking too long, so we went our separate ways and I went solo. I’d love to play with a good drummer again, so I can concentrate fully on guitars, but as good as Michele was, I didn’t get the commitment I needed from him and it was slowing me down. But that’s where I’m at now; writing and recording all of my own music in my own time (i.e. when I have time). It’s been a great musical journey over the years, but it’s not over yet. I suppose the sound is influenced by my metal & rock roots (Metallica, GNR, Soundgarden), fused with my new found appreciation of jazz/blues, Scott Henderson’s Tutorial DVD, and Greg Howe! Or you can listen & decide yourself what it sounds like. Welcome to The Sonic Saloon~ (was that ending cheesy? Meh - fuck it).
And for inspiring me musically over the years, I owe a thank you to Neil O’ Connor, Andy Dennehy, Jody Smith, and Gav Byrne. They’ve all influenced me musically more than they realise. It’s great to have like-minded people to talk about music with – I find it a very therapeutic outlet; most people don’t “get it” and discussing music is great for staying motivated, keeping ideas fresh, exploring new directions & outlooks, and finding new musical influences.
"Music is the Best!"