For someone rated as one of the world’s best progressive rock guitarists today, learning the guitar for John Petrucci (JP), ironically, started off on an envious note.
The story goes like this… when JP was about 12 years old, he used to be jealous of the fact that his sister was allowed to stay up late. Why? Because she had to attend organ lessons. Now, young JP didn’t like the idea of going to bed earlier than his sister. So he came up with an idea – why not learn guitar. He thought that he had the perfect alibi for not hitting bed early.
However, things didn’t go according to JP’s plans. His guitar classes were scheduled for the mornings. And with that ended his plans to stay up late. As absurd as it may sound, the guitar lessons actually came as a blessing. JP got so hooked to the instrument that what started off as an envious pursuit became a raging passion and turned him into the legend he is today.
JP is now all fired up, along with the other members of the iconic rock band Dream Theater, as they prepare to unleash their trademark progressive, hi-decibel sound to Dubai’s rockers. Organised by Mainstage Events, this is Dream Theater’s first-ever concert in Dubai and the region. The band “just can’t wait” to go and stage and we guess rock music fans here couldn’t be more excited.
Dream Theater’s performance here is part of their 25th anniversary tour of their album, Images and Words & Beyond, a tour that took them through US, Europe and Asia. So what why did Dream Theater choose to come to Dubai we ask JP? “Oh, I’m really excited to be finally getting a chance to play in Dubai! We have all heard so many amazing things about the city – and its people. We are really anticipating the concert,” Petrucci said.
The maestro also gave us a heads up on what plans the band has for Dubai. “You bet we’ve planned an amazing concert. Just to let you know in advance, we are going to be playing a three-hour show which will be divided into two distinct sets. The second set will feature songs from Images And Words to mark the 25th anniversary of the release of the album. “Fans can expect a fun and exciting show with a lots of music and stories that we’re going to share with them. We just can’t wait! (to go on stage),” JP said.
Wearing many hats
JP is a multi-talented artiste, and is known to wear many hats. He teaches (music), is a skilled luthier (one who builds and designs guitars) and has a keen interest in engineering and art. “I probably would have steered towards a career in art and graphic design,” the maestro said if he didn’t have to take up music. Talking about his inspiration, JP admitted that early progressive bands had a major of influence on him. “Growing up, I was a huge fan of Rush. Their Hemispheres album had an incredibly influence on me. I also loved bands like Yes and Iron Maiden,” he said about how he developed his amazing technique and sound while crediting guitarists like Steve Morse (of Deep Purple) and Al Di Meola for giving him a strong foundation.
However, listening to great musicians was just not enough, and to further hone his skills, he joined the Berklee College of Music in Boston. And to do that, he had to first convince his parents. He said if it wasn’t for his music teacher’s (at school) help in persuading his parents, he would, perhaps, never have joined the prestigious college.
Advice to budding guitarists
Though academics is vital to development, JP says that there is no substitute for practice. Though he knows his craft well, he told us that he still practices for hours daily. “You really need to be on top of your craft. There is no substitute for dedicated and consistent practicing on the instrument,” said JP, advising budding guitar players to go out and perform with other musicians.
“Don’t just hide inside your bedroom and play,” he said. “Or else you’ll have no perspective on how musicians interact and communicate.”
Further explaining about how to overcome hurdles, he shared an anecdote from his first performance. “I remember playing a gig in our local church, and almost everything was going wrong. I broke a string just before the gig, and while trying to change it (string), I pricked my finger pretty badly but I still had to play!”
On the future of music
When asked about the current state of music, he said, “I love the progression of musical styles that has been evolving over the years. Young bands are doing some really creative these days and they are doing some unique things, there’s no telling how far things will go.”
Petrucci loves to experiment and infuse new ideas from different genres. “I always try to pick up on other styles such as jazz, blues, ethnic and classical and infuse them into my playing and compositional style,” said the guitarist who has performed on some jazzy numbers too.
New challenges thrill JP. For instance, when he added the 7-string guitar to his armament. Most guitarists would be comfortable playing a six-string, but not JP. He is always seeking to extend his creative possibilities, and now, there are talks he may even attempt an 8-string guitar.
So, how difficult is it to adjust to a new instrument? “When I first picked up the 7-string guitar, it was when I was rehearsing in a New York studio where Dream Theater was working on the album Awake. The first thing I did on the instrument was to write a riff for the track The Mirror, and from then on I was just in love with the instrument. Yes, there are always some adjustments to make when it comes to playing a 7-string, but it’s an experience that opens up countless new and creative possibilities and that’s exciting for me. I would imagine that my experience with an 8-string guitar will be similar.” While JP continues with his musical pursuits, we out here, anxiously await Dream Theater’s appearance on the Dubai stage!
John Myung puts the bass in front
Not many rock bass players today can boast of technical wizardry like John Myung. The musician’s lightning chops and progressive grooves form the backbone of Dream Theater’s dynamic sound.
Born in Chicago to Korean parents, Dream Theater co-founder Myung first learnt to play the violin at the age of five but a chance opening for a bass player for a local band when he was in school is what drew him to the instrument initially.
Soon after finishing high school, he and his guitarist friend John Petrucci decided to take music as a career so they left for Berklee College of Music, where the duo met drummer Mike Portnoy, and the rest is history! Known to be soft-spoken, shy and a man of few words, the maestro however, opened to City Times to talk about his his favourite instrument and music in general.
What type of music did you listen while growing up?
I was born the year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the ’70s was well underway by the time I approached my mid teens. So, yes, I was listening to music from that era.
Are you the only one in your family into music?
No. My mother’s into classical music and she played piano as well. So, I was listening to composers such as Beethoven, Bach and Mozart when I was young.
What are some of the bands that have influenced you and your playing?
It was bands like Rush, Yes, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
When did you decide to pick up the bass guitar?
It was when I was in my early teens, around age 14, when it became an idea that meant a lot to me.
When did you decide on taking up music as a career and how did you confront your parents?
When I was about 16 years old, it became clear to me that I wanted to take up music seriously. My parents were very supportive of my decision. So, the next logical step was to join a music college (Berklee).
Do you remember the first gig you played?
Yes. I was participating in a battle of the bands in high school.
And how was the first gig?
It was exciting – my first gig experience.
Would you recommend music as a career to youngsters?
Yes, why not? It’s an industry which has evolved with time and, in any case, young musicians are the future of the industry.
How easy or difficult is it to get a break in the music industry?
Nothing is easy. We all work hard to do what we do. It takes persistence, time and, if I may say, a little luck too.
What’s your advice for upcoming musicians if they want to break into the scene?
Put in a lot time (practising), and learn as much as you can.
Name an artist that you want budding prog rock musicians to hear and learn?
The Beatles, they’ve had the biggest impact on the world (of music).
What’s your take on the modern music scene?
I don’t have a definitive take. It’s a vast scene out there. There is a lot happening at any given moment.
We heard a DT song with the title Bombay Vindaloo. As exotic as it sounds, why did DT choose to name it after an Indian delicacy?
The title actually came from a really spicy dish we had for dinner one night. That’s how it came about!
What other genre are you comfortable playing, besides prog rock?
This is what I mainly do. But I also take time to create music with (my other band) The Jelly Jam which is another creative outlet for me.
Are you into jazz? We heard your cover of the legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius’s Portrait of Tracy. Will we be seeing more such stuff?
No immediate plans to do so.
Any anecdotes that you want to share with fans?
Be healthy and live a life with beautiful experiences.
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