By Jim Schutze
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The concept of the Guitar Hero has left a bad taste in the mouths of critics and music fans ever since punk stressed feeling over technique. America's appreciation for bigger-faster-harder guitar playing has waned ever since, but Dallas' Andy Timmons may well change all that.
He's grinning hugely on the stage at Trees, blasting out the fleet, now-familiar licks of local radio fave "Carpe Diem," his corn-colored hair whipping as he plays. This isn't a typical gig for Timmons, bassist Mike Daane, and drummer Dan Wojciechowski: It's the middle of a December afternoon, and the "crowd" consists of a video crew, a contingent of Japanese journalists, and cheerleading guest artist-fellow axe king Reb Beach, formerly of pop-metal poster boys Winger.
The occasion is a video shoot for a Japanese music television network; Timmons has been a bona fide star in Japan since his days in the popular MTV puff-hair band Danger Danger. After that group broke up, Timmons returned to Dallas and began carving out a niche as a sought-after session player and band leader based on a virtuoso status wrought of the Danger Danger days and mucho early '90s publicity in guitar magazines.
His 1994 solo CD, ear X-stacy, was an all-instrumental big guitar album which defied convention because his awe-inspiring chops were anchored by an ambitious batch of real songs--jazz, country, and blues supplanting the rock stuff--replete with melodies and thoughtful, creative structures. The album--which sold respectably here in the states on Timmons' own label and garnered a regional hit (and Shiner Bock theme tune) with "Carpe Diem"--caught the ear of Japan's Oo/Sony label and became a major deal there.
On January 23, Oo/Sony released ear X-stacy II, a record which simultaneously echoes the instrumental wizardry of the first album while presenting Timmons as a very capable vocalist. The album is a musical moment of such magnitude that the label has flown the cream of the Japanese print, radio, and television music media to Texas to spend a week with Timmons (U.S. release of the disc will probably occur in March). Thus far, they have shared Timmons' living room with him and his new wife, Monica; taken him to steak and rib joints for every meal, satisfying a Japanese fascination with the West's red meat eateries; and with each swallow, asked questions about everything from his cats to his magical guitar prowess. They've followed him like Cub Scouts as he winds his way through a variety of session dates, clinics, and gigs with both his trio and his popular blues-based alter-ego group, the Pawn Kings.
Now--as the reporters sit in front of the stage at Trees and beam up at Timmons raging through the new album's "Wishing Well"--Reb Beach, standing back by the sound board, turns and laughs out loud at one of Timmons' impossibly fast, ascending runs. "He's insane!" Beach chortles, perhaps forgetting for a moment that he, too--as much as Timmons--is famous for high-profile, high-tech guitar voodoo. In fact, Beach is here today to further explore--live for video purposes--the guitar lines he recorded months ago on "Down to the Wire," a snarling twin guitar detonation from ear X-stacy.
"I met Andy in '89," Beach says, "when he was in Danger Danger and I was in Winger, and we found out we'd been living next door to each other in Hackensack and didn't even know it. Then we started hanging out, and we had so much in common it was eerie. Through the subsequent ups and downs of our careers, we still talk all the time and get together when we can. So when [Andy] called and wanted me to record a song with him for his new CD, it was like a present."
"Down to the Wire" is a shred circus, a captivating stomp of exhilarating, blood-blistering boogie intensity. Timmons and Beach constantly one-up each other in dazzling, alternating solos full of technique and innovation. It is indeed the sort of instrumental overdose which--depending on your point of view--is either a breathtaking example of musicians joyfully stretching the parameters of modern music, or the sort of soulless noodling which has drained the spirit from rock.
It would seem the latter, judging from the way bands like Danger Danger and Winger vanished like the dinosaurs many claim them to be, only to be replaced by goateed angsters whose mastery of their instruments is rudimentary at best. On the other hand, watching Beach onstage with Timmons, roaring through two live takes of "Wire," is another thing altogether. Recent years may have been cruel to the class of guitar players borne of Lords James Marshall Hendrix and Edward Van Halen, but you wouldn't know it from watching Timmons and Beach play together, laughing like school pranksters, genuinely moved by their respective skills and by the simple concept of playing your ass off because you can, because it's fun, and because it rocks.
"Actually, I think musicianship is on the way back," Beach says the next morning from the shotgun seat of Timmons' Honda Passport, en route to the airport. "I think [virtuosity] is absolutely the sound of the future. We've gone through hell for the musicians, the ones who have integrity, but we're gonna brush ourselves off and make it. People are starting to get sick of kids that know three chords because that's all they have to play. Bands like Dave Matthews and Blues Traveler are opening doors again."
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