Tuesday Tune-Up: Five (Six) Bands That Influenced Me The Most

I Don’t Like Picking Favorites.

Couple of things: First of all, the list of bands that influenced me is ridiculously long, so to narrow it down to just a few is torturous. That said, the bands that I am showcasing here are the ones that immediately come to mind when I ask myself who influenced me the most.

Second, when I say “influenced,” I mean it in a broad sense, because I don’t think you can separate Brandon the guitarist/singer from Brandon the writer or Brandon the teacher or Brandon the workout nut or Brandon the Renaissance Man. These are the bands that built me during my formative years.

Third, I’m not including any Christian bands in this list, because the Bible says Christians are supposed to be persecuted, so I’m only doing my part. Seriously, though, I do need to admit that there were quite a few bands that had a huge influence on me from about 1997—2003. I’m not going to go into detail, but some of them included Third Day, Newsboys, DC Talk, Audio Adrenaline, and Lincoln Brewster. During that period of time I learned a lot about how to be a professional guitar player, and I would be lying if I didn’t say as much. Still… I persecute thee.

Finally, this list isn’t necessarily ranked. It’s just the top five six.

Okay. Enough Disclaimers. On to the List:

1. Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd: (Left to right) Richard Wright, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters
Pink Floyd

I spent decades trying all kinds of alchemy, sorcery, and other witchcraft trying to capture David Gilmour’s essence in my guitar playing. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on it, too. I first heard the Floyd at around sixteen or so. My friend Duane got me into them. He made it seem like an induction into a cult or something, and in a way, I guess it was. I have worshiped the band and put them on a pedestal ever since. I started with a mix tape (a real mix tape, kids—a blank analog cassette tape that had about 90 minutes of Pink Floyd songs curated by my friend. You’d call it a playlist, today.) and it became one of my most prized possessions.

After I’d listened to that mix tape for a few months, Duane told me I could move on to The Dark Side of the Moon. From there, we went to The Wall. By that time, I was obsessed, and there was no stopping me. I cleaned out every record store of every bit of Floyd vinyl I could get my hands on. The Wall actually transcended music for me. The story and the movie and the album all became a friend to me. That album was a place I could turn when I needed something familiar, hopeless, and painful to show me that I wasn’t the only one.

Pink Floyd guided my entire adult life to this point. I didn’t get the chance to see them with David Gilmour the last time they were close enough (Vancouver, 1994), but I did get to see Roger Waters’ Wall tour twice, as well as the last tour. I’m not holding out much hope for ever getting to see David Gilmour play, but who knows.

2. Alice In Chains

Promo band photo of Alice in Chains: (left to right) Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, and Sean Kinney
Alice In Chains

In complete contrast to Pink Floyd, Alice In Chains was the first band I came to all on my own. Nobody inducted me into the cult of AIC. In fact, if anything, I created some converts of my own. I started listening to them in 1993, and their music dominated my teenage years.

The early nineties were a weird time for music, but they were also the years when I was first starting to choose my own music. Every other band on this list came to me via a friend. With Alice In Chains, though, it was the first time I saw them on MTV. I’d heard the name, but even though Facelift was already out and selling hot, I’d never heard them before.

Growing up in Washington state at the time was electrifying. Seattle was the epicenter of everything during those few years. Grunge was a divisive issue, though. I started out listening to GNR and Metallica (Read all about that below), so I was a metal guy, but I also really loved all of the bands from Seattle. I had friends who were in both camps, and I felt I always had to divide my loyalties. Until I discovered Alice In Chains.

I was in the kitchen of my friend Guido’s house, and an MTV news report came on talking about how Layne Staley “had a new look.” Then they played a clip from the video to “Would?” I’d never heard anything like it. It was grungy and from Seattle, but there were these slow, grinding metal riffs, and this dark sound that fit perfectly in the metal world, too. I knew Guido had a copy of Dirt, which had just been released, on tape, and I begged to borrow it. He obliged, and it quickly became my favorite album that summer.

I became the biggest Alice In Chains fan in my school of about 1,200 kids. I soaked up everything I could about the band. After the self-titled album, I pretty much figured the band was done. I found out that Layne Staley died on my 24th birthday. I moved on and loved other bands, but Alice In Chains, even now, without Layne, will always be one of my favorite bands.

3. Guns N’ Roses

Axl Rose and Slash back in the glory days.
Guns N’ Roses

Guns N’ Roses were the first rock and roll band I ever fell in love with. Sure, I had crushes and silly flirting sessions with the likes of Bon Jovi and Poison before them, but that’s like when you have a girlfriend in fourth grade for a week and a half. Bon Jovi was the closest thing. I had a copy of Slippery When Wet when I was something like eight or nine years old that I absolutely loved, but I couldn’t have told you who any of the band members were. I was too young to really understand.

Then middle school came around. The summer before my eight-grade year, my cousin Jake came over with a copy of Use Your Illusion I & II. He put on the second album and as soon as I heard “Civil War,” it was over. I heard Axl’s voice, Slash’s guitar, and I never looked back. I knew that rock and roll would be a major focal point in my life from that moment on. It was a conscious choice. I wanted to be a rocker.

The next few years (until my “grunge” buddies ridiculed me too much for listening to them) were filled with me spending summers recording GNR videos from MTV, listening to the news for stories of Axl’s temperamental antics, and hanging posters from fanzines on my wall. I’d spend hours drawing logos and other such things while listening to Axl batter my ears with all of my favorite words while Slash showed me what a true rock and roll guitarist should be.

After high school, I pulled my head out of my ass and realized that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, a kick-ass band is a kick-ass band. And my friends, Guns N’ Roses were a kick-ass band.

4. The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip
The Tragically Hip

There were quite a few bands that could sit in this spot. I could make a case for Counting Crows. I could also make a case for Candlebox. The reality, however, is that even though those two bands may have influenced my guitar playing more, The Hip influenced me more.

The Tragically Hip were another gift to me by my cousin Jake. He’d moved to Canada by that time (long story for another time) and on a visit home for Christmas of 1994, he showed me Day For Night. I loved the sound, but when I heard “Nautical Disaster,” I was absolutely hooked. I’d been listening to a lot of Counting Crows and The Cure at that time, and that song really spoke to me.

The next summer, my family and I took a vacation up to Alberta for a family reunion. While I was there, I bought a copy of Day For Night, and if you could wear out CDs, I would have worn it out. A few years later, in 1998, I drove up to Alberta again with my friend Matt and bought my second Tragically Hip album, Phantom Power. Matt and I listened to it all the way home from Ft. McMurray, which is about four hours north of Edmonton.

News of the Hip at the turn of the century was a bit hard to come by here in the States, but I kept my eye out as much as I could. Every time I heard about a new album I’d buy it. I bought every album from Day For Night through World Container on CD. After that, I went back and got the entire back catalog digitally. Now I stream most of my music, and, as much as I’ve loved the Hip, there’s still a lot of early stuff that I don’t know by heart yet.

Sadly, we lost Gord Downey, the front-man and soul of the Hip recently to brain cancer. He was a poet, and he was pure Canada. I never got the chance to see them live, which stings. Unfortunately, that’s a sting I’m all too familiar with – but again, that’s another story.

5. Metallica

Metallica: (left to right) Lars Ulrich, Robert Trujillo, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield

Getting into Guns N’ Roses was like crossing a threshold for me. Later I had the same feeling the first time I smoked a cigarette. I remember lying in bed and thinking – I’m a smoker now. My parents were smokers my entire life growing up, and I thought about how they always sat in the smoking section of the restaurants. I thought, I’ll be doing that from now on. It wasn’t a proud feeling, but I’d made my decision, and I was committed. It was the same with GNR.

I had another cousin, whom I won’t name (for obvious reasons) who had run afoul of the law when he was sixteen (I was twelve). He spent some time behind bars for some relatively serious shit, but before that, he and I were fairly close. We talked a lot. I remember one time we made plans to drive across the country together after I graduated high school. That was just a little while before all of his trouble started.

I bring this other cousin up, because my family liked to blame a lot of his problems on the heavy metal music he listened to (the “Satanic Panic” was in full swing). There was certainly talk around my house that I would end up like him if I started “listening to that shit.” Nevertheless, once I crossed over with GNR, there was no turning back. Especially not when The Black Album came out right afterward! Jesus, you couldn’t escape Metallica back then.

I dove into Metallica from eighth grade through my senior year of high school. I wrote papers on their songs, every book report I ever did was a Metallica biography. I identified so much with that band that I’ll never not love them.

You can read a lot more detail about my relationship with Metallica here, but for now, suffice it to say that they belong on this list. I will admit that I gave up on them during the Load, ReLoad, and St. Anger years, but when S&M came out, I was back on board.

When Death Magnetic came out in 2008 and the band returned to form, I was ecstatic. I still haven’t seen them live, but I hope to as soon as I possibly can.

6. Iron Maiden

We want information. Information. Information!
Who are you?
The new Number Two.
Who is Number One?
You are Number Six.
I am not a number! I am a free man!

Iron Maiden — “The Prisoner,” from The Number of the Beast
Iron Maiden: (left to right) Dave Murray, Janick Gers, Bruce Dickinson, Steve Harris, Nicko McBrain, and Adrian Smith
Iron Maiden

Because of course there had to be six, and of course number six had to be Iron Maiden.

I was introduced to Iron Maiden by a friend named James in high school who was also a friend of Duane’s. I started around 1994 with the live album A Real Dead One which was perfect, actually. The live performances really gave me a feel for the soul of the band, and the songs on that particular album were all of the older ’80s hits, so I got a great sample of their back catalog. From there I bought up everything I could get my hands on. Posters, flags, miniatures, lunch boxes, t-shirts, and of course, CDs and vinyl. I had it all. Still Do

Maiden will always be special to me. They’re a shining example of how to be true to yourself no matter what the world is doing around you. They are also responsible for my love of history and literature. You know, aside from my teachers.

I have seen Iron Maiden three times now, and I will see them every opportunity I have. They are amazing, theatrical, and absolutely unique. My love for them is undying, and I don’t know if I can put it more clearly than that.

So There You Have It. My Five Six Most Influential Bands.

If you’ve not listened to one or some or any of them, give ’em a shot. They really helped me out a lot.

As an aside, I leave for Georgia next week to record with Buffalo Jones. It’s a dream come true, and I can’t wait to give you all the updates. Stay tuned.