Updated for 2008!

Hands Without Shadows

The making of Hands Without Shadows ®

written by Michael Angelo Batio

ITEM. 110  $14.95

I started recording “Hands Without Shadows”® in July of 2004. 15 months later, the CD was completed. In between recording I performed over 100 shows on 3 different continents, filmed an instructional DVD and recorded numerous sessions for other artists. I wanted the CD to include some of my new songs plus my versions of some of the best rock songs of the past- to pay tribute to some of the legendary Rock Guitar greats like Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads, Jimi Hendrix and more. I also wanted the CD to be cohesive and have a central theme, sound and continuous atmosphere from beginning to end. “HWS” is my uncompromising vision.

All of the rhythms on “HWS” were recorded with Dean Guitars using one Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier amp with a matching 4 by 12 cabinet.

All of the solos on “HWS” were recorded using various single Marshall amps with an assortment of Dean Guitars. With the exception of “All Along the Watchtower”, all of the lead guitars were recorded dry, with no FX, except where a “Wah-Wah” pedal is heard. When the “Wah” is played there are still no other FX.

My initial mixing discussions with engineer Chris Djuricic were based around two “schools of thought”. Do we make a really “wet” mix with a lot of reverb, ambiance and effects or take a different approach and make clarity the issue over the use of FX? We both thought that keeping the over all mix “drier” was the way to go. There is virtually nothing added to the guitars. Again, I recorded almost everything completely dry and we left much of the CD’s mix of the guitars that way.

1. Burn - Deep Purple
I have always loved this song. I felt this was the perfect opening song for “HWS”. I tried to slow down my vibrato slightly and make it very powerful to emulate David Coverdale’s voice. “Burn” has a great “neo Classical” middle section heard two times in the piece and originally played on guitar and keyboards. I performed these sections on guitar using initially double leads, then making the patterns more complex with a single, solo guitar as they were stated. I didn’t change the original harmonies but changed the melodic contour of the lines. Also, here and through out the entire CD (and all of my other CDs as well) I did not reinforce any guitar melody with keyboards or have a keyboard doubling any guitar part. The guitars stand alone! I also made sure that all of the “neo Classical” parts sounded like me and was careful to not copy any of Yngwie’s phrasing and/or melodic lines. I played the bridge melodies exactly like the original and left the verses “open” with just rhythm guitars to make Bobby’s drums stand out more. Former “Creed” and now “Alter Bridge” guitarist Mark Tremonti played the first solo. He is such a great songwriter and musician as well as a really good friend. I was glad to hear him really “tear it up” on this song.

2. Tribute to Randy - Randy Rhoads (Crazy Train and the solo to Mr. Crowley)
How do you remake such famous songs using a fresh approach? That was the question I asked myself. I am really happy with the rhythm tracks on this song, using a combination of Randy Rhoads meets Zakk Wylde meets MAB. I also originally played the “Ozzy” verse melody but it just didn’t work on guitar for me so I thought “outside the box” and started practicing a keyboard like melody of arpeggios over the verse. I also used a Django Reinhardt sequence on the second melodic line of the first verse. I always put a “Django riff” in my CDs. Every one of my solo discs has one somewhere on it! When it came time to play Randy’s solo’s I wanted to pay tribute to him and play them with reverence and respect. I first “figured them out” note for note, then made them my own. I followed his melodic contours but instead of playing the tapping parts like he did I arpeggiated them. This gives it a similar sound but is a completely different approach to this classic solo. I also added 2 extra repetitions of the solo progression to add a little difference to the original. After I finished recording this I let a friend listen to it and he said that he thought “Randy would be proud”. I never wanted to make it better than Randy’s version, just different. I also asked Rudy Sarzo to play Bass on the track. He was the original Bass player in the “Blizzard of Ozz”. I felt that having him play the Bass added authenticity to the track. What a story- playing a Randy Rhoads tribute with the original Bass player that played with Randy! I approached the “Mr. Crowley” section emulating Randy’s solos but again playing them a completely different way. My own way. The ending double leads are some of my harmonies because the ending progression is different from the beginning. It sounds like what he would do but again, it is different. On a final note there are several sections that Bobby and I play in unison. Instead of playing what RR did on “Crazy Train”, I had Bobby play some really outside drum fills. I later copied his rhythmic patterns, matched them and played  a single line, solo guitar along side him. Some of the solo passages are 3 notes per string. Some are 4 notes per string using wide intervals and finger stretches. All Alternate picking.

3. Zeppelin Forever - Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin is one of my all time favorite bands. I know more than 50 Zeppelin songs and have figured out even more of Jimmy Page’s solos. In the section where you hear the song “Black Dog”, I layered the main riff of “The Ocean” over it for 1 pattern! I used an acoustic guitar to play over most of the verse in “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” opting for a dry, acoustic lead guitar sound. I made sure that my tone was round and clear and that the acoustic solo was fluid and relaxed. I practiced some of the parts and the rest was improvised. I love to play acoustic guitar and just played what I thought sounded good. Guest guitarists Bill Peck and Doug Marks played solos on “Rock and Roll”. I felt this added a nice contrast to my style. Both of them did a great job.

4. Hands Without Shadows - MAB
This is a very “progressive” rock song. The main “riff” is in 15/8. There are many different key changes and mixed meters in this piece. I was tempted to add a layer of keyboards through out the whole song but decided to only use keyboards on a few parts for only a few seconds at a time. Again, the keys never double a hard, melodic guitar part. They are used sparingly, for texture and production value only. There are 2 main lead guitar tracks in this song. Sometimes they weave in and out of each other. At other times 1 solo guitar will play for long stretches of time. It just depended on how I wanted to produce the part. They were both recorded and mixed completely dry. There is NOTHING added to the solo guitar tracks on this song. No FX, no EQ, no nothing! I played neo Classical passages, string skipping, outside, legato passages, intense alternate picking passages and tapped arpeggio passages in this song. I wanted to make the music have a lot of changes. Changes in style, dynamics, and abruptly change from one part to the next at times. Also, I wanted the song to have good melodies. Every note that is played is what I wanted to play. I can honestly say that about the entire CD. I played everything exactly the way I wanted to play it and made the guitars sound exactly the way I wanted them to sound. I did not “cut corners” or compromise.

5. Wherever I May Roam - Metallica
Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” CD changed my life! After listening to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” I worked for hours, every day for months, perfecting my palm muting, rhythm technique. We used to call that rhythm sound “the chug”! I chose this Metallica song because it is much more complicated than it sounds and is arranged so fantastically. I also thought that it would make a great instrumental guitar track. I used only 1 lead guitar track through out the entire song mixed with the smallest amount of reverb. The chorus parts are 2 guitars played in harmony. At times I played the original melody, at other times I played what I thought sounded right to me. I took the same approach during the “solo” section. There is a part of the “Wah-Wah”solo where I play Kirk Hammet’s part exactly like he did, but surround that with all of my own ideas.

6. Dream On - Aerosmith
Aerosmith was always and will always be one of my favorite bands. “Dream On” has always been one of my favorite songs. Even though it was a big “hit”, it is very complex harmonically. The main melody phrasing came easy for me on the guitar. I just kept playing to the track, over and over, until I felt comfortable enough to record it. The hardest part for me was to find the right keyboard sounds. I used a combination of 3 different string sounds to achieve what you hear in the track. I also added some different kinds of MAB vibratos to this piece. I did this on many songs through out the CD. I tried to have enough control to make my vibratos sound different from song to song, depending on how I wanted them to sound. This is one of those attempts. Steven Tyler doesn’t have a “heavy metal” vibrato so I emulated him and lightened mine up as well. I also played some intense, new neo Classical guitar passages as well as another “Django inspired” lead during the breakdown. I completely rearranged the breakdown section adding an arrpeggiated piano passage in 2 spots. I thought Bassist William Kopecky performed great on this song, so I left spots open for him to be heard. Towards the end of the song, I took my “whammy bar” and played it behind the bridge creating almost a voice effect. I was really tempted to “riff out” at the very end but chose not to. I felt that everything I had to say had already been said in this song. I am really happy with the way it turned out. I recorded the lead guitar tracks, again, absolutely dry, but Chris later added a little bit of “pitch shifting” to give the guitar a “chorused” sound, adding diversity to the sonic colors and textures of “HWS”.

7. Pray On, Prey - MAB
I wrote this song as a “tone poem”, envisioning tranquility in a field or by a forest, then the violence of an animal being stalked and attacked. The intro rhythm notes are D,C,Eb and B(minor) over a D pedal tone. I wanted to make a very chromatic, flowing melody over this section, then making it wild and “over the top” during the intense “thrash” sections. There are 2 melodies in the very beginning that I used at the end of the song together. I wrote both of these to use as “counterpoint” and they work IMO extremely well played together at the same time. I almost always use Jazz 3 picks for both rhythm and lead but I used a large, standard, medium guage pick to play the rhythm parts on this track. The different pick seemed to give the parts more clarity and a slightly brighter sound than my usual Jazz 3’s. I think Bobby played great on this track. I left sections open, especially at the very end for him to just “groove” because Bobby was playing so wonderfully tight and fluid. He can play extremely fast single stroke rolls as evidenced on Pray On, Prey and his cymbal technique in my opinion is unbelievable. The overall effect I wanted to achieve in this song is that of calm, then violence. There are many “fusion” chords in this song. Also, the breakdown, quiet parts are extremely complex rhythmically. The mixed meters change with each repetition of the progression. On top of that I tried to play a flowing melody except where I played the fast, string skipping, legato passage. The solos over the fast “thrash” sections are 3 notes, then 4 notes per string Alternate picking sequences.

8. All Along the Watchtower - Bob Dylan, inspired by Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix said things with a guitar that no other guitarist has been able to say. I wanted to do this song as a tribute to him and to salute him for what he has meant to me as a player and an artist. I played his “leads” my own way and except for 1 section right before the clean guitar break down, what sounds like a “Wah-Wah” is actually my pick shifting back and forth to create eq changes on the string! I wanted a totally different, new version of this song so I slowed down the verse chords and changed the key to D. I used delay on the verse melodies while trying to emulate a flute, using all legato and string skipping, legato techniques. I put as much feeling as I possibly could into each note of this song (and all of the other one’s too!). Stuart Bull played a great guitar solo at the end of the song and then I joined in. The counting of the song at the beginning is very strange on purpose. Your ear hears it starting on a certain count but when the song comes in with a real beat the “riff” sounds different. The riff is not different at all, we just didn’t start the song on the 1 count! I put this song last because stylistically, I felt it was the most different from the others. William Kopecky played fretless Bass on the entire track. He really “jams” at the end while never losing his perfect sense of pitch and timing with the instrument. 

Below are some photos of pre production and the making of the CD.

Pre production for the “HWS” CD featuring drummer Bobby Rock and bassist William Kopecky finished with a great performance at Summerfest, the largest festival in the USA. Below are some photos of the event as well as a few additional “behind the scenes” photos. The concert took place on Sunday June 27th, 2004.

Michael, Bobby Rock and Bill Kopecky tearing it up at Summerfest 2004.

To the left is a photo of  Michael with Bobby Rock in the studio taking a break from tracking drums for the “HWS” CD in July 2004.

Pictured from left to right: Bobby Rock, Rudy Sarzo, Michael and Doug Marks.

© Copyright 2008 M.A.C.E. Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hands Without Shadows ® is a registered trademark of Michael Angelo Batio and M.A.C.E. Music

HWS is a trademark of Michael Angelo Batio and M.A.C.E. Music