Chicago native Michael Angelo Batio is a guitar virtuoso, renowned in heavy metal circles and beyond for his fretwork dexterity, combining a signature blend of showmanship and technical precision. Although the Eighties and early Nineties found him on lead guitar in metal acts Holland and later Nitro, Batio's first experiences as a young musician came in front of a piano, and it was jazz guitar that first captured his interest – and soon highlighted his innate prowess.
On February 10, 2012, Batio visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where his signature Dean Guitars "Jet" double-guitar is currently displayed as part of the Right Here, Right Now! exhibit. Here, the Rock Hall catches up with the virtuoso shredder to learn more about his influences and inspirations, and the origins of his unique guitar.
Rock Hall: When did you first start playing guitar and was it something that came naturally?
Michael Angelo Batio: I started playing the guitar at age 10. I started playing the piano at age five. Music just came naturally to me. But, I always loved to practice and work to get better. I still love to practice and learn new things.
RH: Who are some of your guitar heroes?
MAB: I have many, in many different genres of music. Here is a list of a few of the guitarists that have influenced me: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Al DiMeola, Robert Fripp, George Bensen, Django Reinhardt and Steve Howe. There are many, many more.
RH: What are some of your favorite guitar solos of all time and what about them do you love?
MAB: I define a great, classic solo as one that you have to play virtually note for note in order to make the song sound "right." Examples of this would be the ending solo to [Led Zeppelin's] "Stairway to Heaven," [Lynyrd Skynyrd's] "Freebird," [Deep Purple's] "Highway Star," [Guns 'N Roses']"Sweet Child O' Mine" and again, many more. Each one of those solos "speaks" to me and in a language that I feel is universal. I wrote a song called "No Boundaries" that presently has over 20,000,000 views on YouTube. It seems to have "struck a chord" with Rock guitarists. There are numerous versions online of guitarists playing "No Boundaries," very closely, literally note for note, to the way I wrote the song. I am honored and glad that the song has found a place in music history.
RH: Where did the idea for the double-guitar come from?
MAB: I wanted to do something on the guitar that had never been done. Not to be "better or "cooler" than other guitarists, but to be different. I wanted to invent a new type of guitar and invent a new way to play the guitar. I accomplished those goals. I am left handed, but first learned to play the guitar right handed. Again, I play the piano. I found that it was easy for me to play the guitar left handed, so I started drawing different guitar designs until one resembled what I currently play.
RH: When you first pitched the idea to an instrument manufacturer/luthier, what was the reaction?
MAB: I approached Dean Guitars with the idea first. Dean Guitars built the very first double-guitar. I explained my idea, had specific ideas as to how it was to be built and they took it seriously. I was in a band at the time that was signed to a major label, so Dean Guitars knew that I was a viable artist. I still play and endorse Dean Guitars. I am a Dean Guitars fanatic!
RH: How long did it take you to master playing the double-guitar?
MAB: It took about six months for me to get the courage to actually start working with the double-guitar. I made a list asking several questions – what are the possibilities of this double-guitar and how many different ways are there for my hands to be positioned to play it? I answered those questions and then started writing solos for the double-guitar that incorporated those ideas.
RH: What advice would you give to budding guitarists?
MAB: I have a degree in music theory and composition from North Eastern University. I am a huge proponent of education. I also feel like I have a second music degree – a degree from Rock and Roll University! I got this one by moving to Los Angeles, being the proverbial struggling, starving musician, then getting signed to a major record label and “making it” in music. My advice to any aspiring musician is to “finish what you start.” I finished college. I release albums and DVDs, major works of art – meaning that I have “finished” them. I did not stop working until I got signed to a major record company. I did not stop working after I got signed to a major label. To me, it is about a strong work ethic and to never quit.
While visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Batio explained the unique construction and jazz inspiration for his double-guitar.