AS a guitarist myself, it wasn’t without trepidation that I approached the interview with DragonForce’s intimidatingly awesome axeman, Herman Li. I need not have worried. Li’s persona parallels so many considered ‘best in class’. He modestly downplayed my assertion that he was one of the finest proponents of the stringed art in metal “I don’t think I am that good on the guitar to be honest. [Laughs]”
The man has been the subject of YouTube videos mimicking his technique and he is noted for inspiring as many young hands to start playing the guitar as more prominent names such as Yngwie Malmsteen, Slash and Eddie Van Halen. I thought it a good opportunity to ask Li what his thoughts were on fellow guitar virtuoso’s who may not be household names. Think of the following responses a guide for impressionable readers seeking to further their musical palette.
Jake E. Lee: “I really like his work with Ozzy Osbourne. The Ultimate Sin is my favourite. Great guitar player, he has his own unique sound. I haven’t heard his recent stuff (Red Dragon Cartel) but I really like what he did on The Ultimate Sin”
Vito Bratta (White Lion): “I remember Vito Bratta. He has got really melodic and sometimes a little bit weird. He goes in to a little bit weird territory and comes back up and he is really fast actually. I’m not a big White Lion fan but I do like some of the songs. I always thought he was a great guitar player. So definitely worth checking him out”
Reb Beach (Winger, Whitesnake): “Reb Beach is absolutely amazing. I had an instructional video by Reb Beach called Cutting Loose (’91), and he was showing all this tapping stuff he was doing, three fingers taping and stuff.”
Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio): “All around a great guitar player. He always has a great tone with the solos and just generally a great guitar player.”
Lita Ford: “I believe I have one Lita Ford album from the ‘80’s. She is more of a song writer-guitar player for me.”
Warren DeMartini (Ratt): “He has a really good melodic sound. He doesn’t play fast so he is not like the fastest guy. The way he put the whole lot together… actually my favourite Ratt album, I know people don’t like this one as a favourite album but I like Detonator (’90) a lot.”
The next guitarist I mention provides the most surprising response… trainspotters will recognise the sadly departed Chuck Schuldiner (Death, Control Denied) as a favourite of the author. It is not without exception that almost every guitar player of note I have had the fortune to interview has name checked the iconic Schuldiner as both an influence and inspiration.
“Chuck is a legendary death metal guitar player. I am glad to say that on the special edition of the new DragonForce album we added a Death cover. We do a not so popular one, it’s called “Evil Dead” from Scream Bloody Gore (’87). Its early Death stuff, you get to see DragonForce doing something different than what we usually do. I hope the fans will find that kind of cool and interesting.”
As a music fan first and foremost, my view is that it’s important for the legacy of some artists to be kept alive. DragonForce, as one of the more prominent and influential metal bands of our time are to be applauded for keeping Chuck Schuldiner’s memory alive.
Li continues his praise of the iconic Schuldiner “He is so amazing. I think he is Sam’s (Totman- the other guitarist in DragonForce) favourite guitar player. (Schuldiner) is an amazing musician. My favourite album is actually Symbolic (’95) from him, that it is a bit more melodic. I like the one with James Murphy as well (Spiritual Healing- ‘90) but I really like Symbolic the most. Human (‘91) also really does it for me.”
There you have it people… take it from Herman Li. Listen to the brilliant Death on your choice of streaming service!
Finally, proving the adage that kids rarely see their famous parents in the same light as the rest of society… Li recounts meeting John Sykes (Blue Murder, Thin Lizzy, Phil Lynott’s band and Whitesnake among a plethora of other bands) at a recent performance.
“John Sykes is really cool. Actually, the last time I met him he was at a DragonForce show, he brought his son along. He was saying, ‘Oh my son is a real big fan, he really likes your guitar playing’ I said, ‘Whoa hold on… you are way better than me, he should learn from his dad’.”
The perils of becoming a role model… you never know who will look up to you when you are thrust into the public domain. Given the man’s taste in guitar players he may as well run for president of the USA! Li recounts an incident from on stage at the Loud Park Festival in Japan where his frustration and associated colourful language is broadcast to an attentive audience… there might have been a few punters in Japan who saw a different side to the affable Li.
“In 2015 we were playing the festival, something went wrong after the first song. I don’t know if someone walked and kicked the cable and turned everything off. Apparently, I was told later on after the show, that you can hear me. The arena was completely silent between the songs, the Japanese clap and it becomes silent. You could hear me just swearing on the stage ‘argghhh… that is not working, who the hell did that, who kicked my stuff?’ The whole area could hear my conversation on stage. [Laughs]”
Li has noted DragonForce’s tremendous following in Australia. As a reward, Australian audiences will be the first anywhere to hear the new album live.
“Australia is the first show of the tour. I am so happy that we can finally start a tour with Australia at the beginning instead of first going to Europe, America and everywhere else first. Unfortunately, it is really hard to fit Australia in sometimes. I know the fans have been asking for us to tour, so we did it.”
DragonForce are one of the most furiously exciting and animated live acts in the world today. Catch up them on their Australian tour
June 20: Capitol, Perth 18+
June 21: 170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
June 22: The Basement, Canberra 18+
June 24: Manning Bar, Sydney 18+
June 25: The Triffid, Brisbane 18+