10 Most Underrated Guitarists of the ‘80s Glam-Metal Era
Great Guitarists of the ‘80s
The glam-metal era was an amazing time in rock history. Music was fun, melodic and loud, and there were plenty of bands putting out great guitar-oriented rock.
But even if you didn’t like the glam thing so much, there is no denying the ‘80s were a time for tremendous leaps in the rock guitar world. Everywhere you looked there were exciting new guitarists, and many have gone on to indelibly write their names in music history.
If you were into hard rock, metal and the electric guitar, these were good times.
Musicians like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani began their rise to legendary status during the ‘80s. Eddie Van Halen was doing some of his best work, first with the original Van Halen cast, and later with a reinvigorated Sammy Hagar-infused version of the band. Even those who look down on the glam-metal scene have to admit guitarists like George Lynch, Richie Sambora and Slash made some incredible contributions to music during this time period.
But there were also some guitarists who were great players, yet will never be mentioned in the same breath as Van Halen, Vai, Slash or Satriani. It’s a shame, because, for me anyway, these guys were some of my biggest influences during my teenage years, and I’ve never quite understood why they’ve been allowed to fall by the wayside.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the most underrated guitarists of the glam-metal era, and try to figure out what happened back then. Maybe you’ll discover some amazing music you never knew existed!
Hair Metal and Other Derogatory Terms
It’s all metal to me. Seriously. I first decided I wanted to be a guitar player when I was eleven years old and heard Quiet Riot’s Metal Health on the radio for the first time. The buzzsaw roar of those power chords in the opening bars hooked me for life. I knew I wanted to play guitar, and find a way to make that sound myself!
Like an addict, I eagerly grabbed up that sound anywhere I could find it. I discovered it in music by Van Halen, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Def Lepppard, Black Sabbath, Dio, Judas Priest, Ozzy and Motorhead. I loved Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt and Cinderella when I first heard them, as I did Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth. To me it was all metal, all about the guitar, and I couldn’t have cared less if they were singing about wizards or women.
But by the end of the ‘80s things had gotten pretty weird. There was a clear divide between metal that had a more pop-oriented feel and what some called true metal. By the time grunge came around in the early 1990s people were saying some fairly nasty things about mainstream metal, and heavy metal in general. The term hair metal came into vogue, but there are much worse names.
It’s all metal, and it’s all about guitar. Don’t let fickle social trends deter you from exploring great music, and don’t let the negativity bring you down. Some talented guitar players were putting out great stuff during the glam era, and if you play guitar you’d do yourself a favor by checking them out. Here are ten of them.
Reb Beach of Winger
Winger is perhaps the band that suffered the worst when things went bad for glam metal. Their ultra-radio-friendly sound and slick looks made them the poster band for anti-‘80s backlash. The creators of Beavis and Butthead didn’t help anything when they pinned a Winger t-shirt on the dorkiest kid on the show. But guitarist Reb Beach had some serious chops, and stood out as one of the best guitarists of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
C.C. DeVille of Poison
For a long time C.C. DeVille took heat as one of the worst guitar players in rock. Sloppy live playing probably started the ball rolling, but by the mid-‘90s it had become way too common to bash poor C.C. Fact is, DeVille is a solid rock guitarist with good tone who crafted some of the tastiest riffs of the ‘80s. With the resurgence of Poison it seems like more young players are starting to realize what a key influence he was in glam metal.
Vernon Reid of Living Colour
Does Living Colour really fit into the glam metal genre? Who knows, but they were putting out some incredible hard rock back then, led by guitar wizard Vernon Reid. Living Colour was unique, one of the few African-American metal bands, with a funk influence and some strong social messages. Reid himself was pretty unique too, and his work at the time was part Hendrix, part Van Halen and part something you’d never heard before.
Living Colour in the Early '90s
Akira Takasaki of Loudness
Loudness was a Japanese band, and a key part of the first wave of the glam metal movement along with bands like Motley Crue, Cinderella and Ratt. They may not have been as visible as many of their contemporaries, but if you were into metal you knew who they were. Their song Crazy Nights, from the classic album Thunder in the East was an early-‘80s rock anthem, and guitarist Akira Takasaki was every bit as impressive as his American shred counterparts of the time.
Oz Fox of Stryper
Stryper was a Christian metal band who dressed like bumblebees. They hit it big in the later part of the ‘80s with a few sticky-sweet power ballads. But, especially in their earlier days, they also produced some fairly heavy stuff. They may have been sending out a Christian message, but the music was metal through and through. Oz Fox was an amazing guitarist, and really stood out among his contemporaries. Together with front-man Michael Sweet they made up a formidable guitar duo.
Steve Brown of Trixter
Trixter’s rise to the top came toward the end of the glam movement, but they had been around for a while before they hit it big with their debut album. They were very good looking, very melodic and very radio friendly, three things the grunge movement taught everyone were simply no good. They ended up as somewhat of a flash in the pan, but guitarist Steven Brown was definitely a bright spot.
Stryper Still Rocks!
Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme
Doubtless there were some Extreme fans in the early ‘90s who never even realized they were a heavy rock band. With tunes like Hole Hearted, and their number-one hit More than Words, all done acoustically, it’s no wonder. They were one of the most visible, and most successful, bands leading up to the grunge explosion. But Bettencourt’s tone, rhythm playing and searing lead runs on songs like Warheads showed what this guy was really capable of.
Vito Bratta of White Lion
Honestly, if I had to vote one guy the most underrated guitar player in rock history, it might be Vito Bratta. White Lion’s pop vibe, radio-friendly style and pretty-boy looks launched them to the top in the late-‘80s, but Bratta’s playing was the backbone of it all.
Aside from absolutely ridiculous leads and solos, his rhythm work involved a busy, melodic styling reminiscent of early Van Halen. Seriously, go listen to some White Lion, tune out the vocals and all the other instruments and find yourself a new guitar hero.
Vito Bratta is one guitarist who never got the respect he deserved. White Lion's Greatest Hits albums offers a strong sample of his work, including a killer live version of Lady of the Valley. This is the place to start if you don't "get" how great glam metal really was.
Steve Lynch of Autograph
Autograph’s 1984 rock classic Turn up the Radio is one of those songs many people who don’t care about metal are perfectly willing to sing along with. Crank it up, roll down your windows, press down on the gas pedal and life is good.
Unfortunately, for Autograph this was about as good as it got. They didn’t make much noise for the rest of the ‘80s. However, guitarist Steve Lynch was one of the most technically proficient musicians of the time, with a very unique style.
Check Out Lynch's Mind-Blowing Solo on Turn Up the Radio
Carlos Cavazo of Quiet Riot
It sounds weird to say it today, but this is the guy who made me want to play guitar! As the years rolled by and I discovered more and more great music, and incredible players, Carlos kind of faded into the background.
But a few years back, when Dubrow was still alive (RIP) I had the chance to see Quiet Riot live at a local club. Needless to say, I was reconverted as a Carlos Cavazo fan that night, and went back to review Metal Health. The guy has some serious skills, and doesn’t really get the credit he deserves.
Mick Mars of Motley Crue
I had a reader comment on Mick Mars so I decided to make him #11 on my list. I have to admit, back in the '80s I really wasn't a fan. I loved Motley Crue, but I didn't really like Mars's tone, or his playing. He sounded amazing on Too Fast for Love, but after that, I thought, kinda weak. Back then, in my opinion it was a determent to the band's sound rather than an asset.
I also don't consider him "underrated". If anything, in the '80s I thought he was overrated. I recall he got a fair amount of acclaim, which I thought was due more to Motley Crue's popularity rather than his own playing.
However, about a decade ago my opinion started to change. Whether my tastes changed, or I just evolved as a guitar player,or maybe its just because we are so starved for guitar talent over the last 20 years. Who knows why, but suddenly ol' Mick started sounding pretty darned good to me.
Revisiting all of those old 'Crue albums gave me a new appreciation for his playing. Dr. Feelgood in particular I think was excellent, and maybe the apex of his career.
You Can't Kill Rock N' Roll
I mentioned a few great glam metal guitar players here, but there were legions of them. Bands like Ratt, Warrant and Skid Row featured dual guitar attacks, and collectively put out some outstanding music. Zakk Wylde was a young up-and-comer with Ozzy back in the late ‘80s, who went on to become one of the greatest metal guitarists of all time. Def Leppard, a band deeply associated with ‘80s hard rock, had Steve Clark and Phil Collen, two vastly unappreciated talents even today.
With so many amazing guitar players around, what happened? Why did the music die? With the rise of grunge most of these bands found themselves on the outs with the general public, and the record industry. The careers of dozens of great musicians were suddenly derailed because public perception had shifted so radically in just a few short years.
Maybe the record industry and music writers threw these bands under the bus, or maybe the public binged on glam rock to the point where they just couldn’t stand it anymore. In any event, there was a massive and undeserved backlash against all things melodic that lasted nearly a decade. Unfortunately, in the end the public focused more on the hair than the music.
But there is a silver lining to this story, and it is this: Regardless of the events over the past twenty years, today these bands are neither gone nor forgotten. Ozzy told us you can't kill rock n' roll, and apparently he was right. Most of the guitar players and bands mentioned here are still around, still touring, and in many cases even putting out new music. There has been a real resurgence of '80s hard rock in recent years, and its awesome to see some of these musicians back again. Go check them out, not only their classic recordings but what they are doing today!
Labels don’t matter, and it seems ridiculous to sum up a generation of amazing talent based on the way they wore their hair. As a guitar player it is worth your while to seek out inspiration wherever you can find it. What a shame it would be to dismiss an entire genre simply because of illogical social trends and whims of the ignorant masses.
In the end it’s all metal, and all about the guitar.