Monday, July 19, 2021

GUITAR GODS: Jon Butcher

The year was 1983, the channel is MTV, and the camera pans right to left....bass player, drummer, and then settles on the guitarist for a moment as the caption appears in the lower left of the screen: Jon Butcher Axis, "Life Takes a Life". I pause, because the song moves from quasi-Terminator tech rock to open, airy chords over a steady underlying bass/drum pulse. Then the vocal comes in, which is unique, but at the moment I'm only hearing the subtle and very interesting guitar work - fills and textures and tonal coloring. The song moves through interesting stages, a post-chorus shift, a deep blues-based but contemporary guitar solo, and then fades out...and I'm mesmerized.

Worthy of note: 1983 is the year of SRV's "Texas Flood" and Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" in addition to the debut of Jon Butcher Axis, so when Butcher was in the studio, there were no mainstream precedents for his bluesy guitar approach or fearless guitar tone explorations. But when the album hit the streets, Jon was on a short list of new players alongside Stevie Ray and Steve Stevens and Brian Setzer who dared NOT to cop Van Halen licks and party rock compositions on the rock music landscape.

That fearless approach ultimately led to 7 Top 40 singles across his first 5 studio albums, world tours with acts like J. Geils Band, Scorpians, Def Leppard, Rush, INXS, and more, national TV appearances, and a 1986 Grammy nomination for "Best Rock Instrumental" in the song "The Ritual" (alongside songs by Yngwie Malmsteen, the aforementioned Stevie Ray Vaughan, & Jeff Beck).