From being inspired by the Beatles to hanging out and drinking beer with Jeff Beck to writing countless cover stories for Guitar Player Magazine (on artists like Alex Lifeson, Tony Iommi, Steve Lukather, and more) to diving into new adventures, Matt Blackett and the guitar have been inseparable for more than four decades. You’ve read his work, played the gear he had a hand in reviewing or developing, watched him play, and, if you were lucky, you got to tell your story to him. Please welcome our Featured Artist of the Week, Matt Blackett.
What got you into music and what was the first concert you attended?
When I was four, I was totally into the Beatles, the Partridge Family, and the Monkees. My folks got me a guitar for Christmas that year, and I took some lessons and could read a little music. We moved away from that teacher and I dropped it. A few years later, when the first Van Halen album came out, it was like when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. Suddenly there were guitars everywhere. I got a Gibson SG copy and a Fender Champ (still have the Champ!) and completely immersed myself in all things rock guitar. Around that time I went to my first concert, which was one of Bill Graham’s Day on the Green shows. I saw (in order of appearance) Cheap Trick, AC/DC with Bon Scott, Journey, Blue Oyster Cult, and Ted Nugent. I was totally hooked. I saw Van Halen soon thereafter and that show changed my life.
Tell us about the first gig you ever played.
A friend in high school had booked a gig but he had no band. He came by my house in the morning, we drove around to every musician’s house that he knew until we found a bassist and a drummer, we rehearsed for two hours, and then did the gig. We played “You Really Got Me,” “Cocaine,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and probably “My Generation.”
What was your most memorable performance?
I was in a band called Luce that had a minor hit back around the turn of the century. We played the House of Blues in Chicago on New Year’s Eve and it was just a magical night. Great crowd, awesome venue, and a really strong performance by a well-rehearsed band. I’ve also done bar gigs with hardly anybody there where I played songs that I’ve never played—or in some cases never even heard before—and somehow crushed them. Those moments are just as rewarding to me.
What are you listening to now?
The older I get, the more I listen to the stuff that got me into music in the first place. I still love the Beatles, Queen, and Van Halen, and I still find a lot to be inspired by in that music. I like bands that were influenced by those bands, like Jellyfish and their offshoots. As for newer stuff, I like some pop music if the singer is really great, like Pink. I’m a big fan of her music and I think she’s the best singer of her generation. I still appreciate great guitar playing, but I don’t spin those records as much.
Are you playing out these days?
I am. I’m working with some really cool and fun bands. One is called the Red Rocker Experience, and I found out about it through my friend Jude Gold.
It’s a Sammy Hagar tribute band and we do tunes from Sammy’s entire career, so early Montrose-which I’ve always loved, Sammy solo stuff, and the Van Hagar catalog, which is obviously really challenging and rewarding. I’m also playing in a show band called the Flaming O’s, alongside Jesse Bradman, who was in Night Ranger, Poison, and a bunch of other big bands. On bass we have Mona Gnader, who played with Sammy Hagar for 18 years. I need to get her to sit in with the Red Rocker Experience! I’m pretty sure she knows the set.
Besides music, what are you into?
I love to snorkel and scuba dive.
An interview is not an interview without talking about gear. So let’s talk gear. Must have, best for studio, a must for tour?
These days I’m all about the Kemper. I think it’s a brilliant device, it sounds great, records like a dream, and only weighs like 15 lbs. I have some nice guitars, but not really one go-to instrument. I like to mix it up.
What was the most memorable interview you ever did?
I was so fortunate as an editor of Guitar Player magazine. I got to meet a ton of great guitarists and really pick their brains. There were a lot of great interviews, but some definitely stand out. I got to interview Jeff Beck in 2000, in the studio in London where he was recording. I got to watch him play close up, we drank beers, and he talked at length about his process. It was unreal. I was really struck by how humble and insecure he can be, as if he really doesn’t know he’s the greatest guitarist of all time.
Brian May is a real hero of mine, and I’ve interviewed him several times. He’s incredibly smart, polite, and thoughtful, and he’s just the coolest guy you could ever meet. The last time I saw him, he signed one of my Brian May signature guitars.
I did the only cover story GP ever did on Jason Becker. Some of it was via email, but some we did at his house, with Jason spelling out his answers with his eyes and his dad, Gary, interpreting for me. I’m in awe of that guy’s musicianship, but I’m even more impressed with him as a human being—just one of the most amazing people ever. When they come up with a cure for ALS, it’s going to be because of Jason. And man, when that guy was at the height of his powers as a guitarist, he was the best I’ve ever seen in terms of Yngwie-level technical proficiency combined with Van Halen-style badass swagger. We’ll never see anyone like that dude again.
Tell us about your experience with PRA Audio and WiC Wireless System?
I’m a pretty loyal cable guy, but I can’t help but be impressed with what’s going on at PRA Audio. The way the WiC looks and the compact size attracted me instantly, but it’s really the company’s dedication to getting the sound right that I’m truly into. The willingness to keep searching for a better way and never being satisfied or complacent is the mark of a great company. And not tripping over my cable or tripping up my bandmates is very liberating!
Please tell us about your latest projects.
I just recently parted ways with Guitar Player magazine after 13 years, so right now I find myself in the very uncommon position of taking some time off, playing some gigs, doing some scuba diving, and clearing my head. I don’t know exactly what my next adventure will be, but I know this: I’ve based a career on knowing what guitarists want, how they think, and what keeps them so obsessed with the instrument. Everything I do is geared toward keeping the guitar a vital and vibrant art form, in addition to being the coolest and funnest thing ever. My next gig will be one where I can use my writing, my knowledge about the history of the guitar and music in general, and my fascination with gear—and the players that create with that gear—in order to continue to evangelize the guitar.