Photo by Steven Shew
Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick sat in for a special live edition of Defender of the Riff with host Daniel DeKay for a lengthy discussion that explored the musician's upbringing, his musical influences and his unlikely career path in becoming a practitioner of shred.
Skolnick discussed what it was like being raised in a strongly academic household. His father, a sociologist, and his mother a psychologist, Skolnick confided that music was seemingly unfathomable as a profession - however, because it allowed him to explore his individuality, he found comfort in it and turned his interest into a lifetime passion.
The guitarist also shed some light on how pop culture ultimately influenced his universe early on, with the music of film and television initially peaking his interest. Skolnick played the theme from James Bond on his guitar for reference, revisiting how he taught himself how to play that on a classical guitar he found at a garage sale. Skolnick shared how his mission of musical self-discovery progressed, playing "Daytripper" from The Beatles as an example.
Skolnick candidly revealed that he was enamored with KISS before he had ever even heard a note of their music. The cool instruments, the larger than life look - the budding musician knew from then on he was on the right path. It wasn't until his teenage years however that the picture really become clear.
Discovering Eddie Van Halen from other players in the neighborhood, Skolnick saw people attempting the legendary "Eruption" solo and when he finally saw Eddie Van Halen play it, there was no doubt that Skolnick had uncovered his life path. As a teenager, he was resolute in becoming a virtuoso - a lead guitarist who could be commanding in the way EVH was.
Committed to honing his craft, Skolnick would eventually eclipse the local players he was jamming with and wanted to find out who they learned from. As it would have it, Skolnick began taking lessons with a local legend that would become a icon. Known only as "Joe" back then, Skolnick took lessons with a serious teacher that had a reputation for cutting off players that weren't serious about the art. As iut turns out, Skolnick would apprentice under the incomparable Joe Satriani before the world discover his talent.
By the time he was 15, Skolnick was already fully immersed in the culture. He saw the earliest days of the formative Bay Area thrash scene with bands like Exodus, Metallica and Slayer already making an impact. Though he was listening to virtuosos like Satriani, Randy Rhoads and Van Halen - witnessing the inception of the thrash movement was compelling.
With Testament just beginning and in need of a guitarist - the stars aligned.