Myles Kennedy is a man of hidden depths, not least when it comes to his record collection. Alter Bridge may be one of the few bands proudly carrying the arena rock flag in the 21st century, but their singer’s tastes range beyond guitar heroics and into soul, the blues and – gulp – jazz.
“I love rock’n’roll, of course I do,” says Kennedy, a classically-trained guitarist who admits the instrument is still his first love, “but I studied music at college and that just blew things wide open for me. Jazz is my big passion – it’s how I relax. I guess that makes a pretentious fucker, right?”
We’ll be the judge of that. Take it away, Mr Kennedy…
Queen – News Of The World (1977)
My love of music came from my biological father [who passed away when Kennedy was a child]. He was really into Scott Joplin, Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass – he listened to a lot of that stuff. And my stepdad, he liked Seals & Croft. They were this folky, acoustic-based duo. You had Simon & Garfunkel and you had Seals & Croft.
But the first album I actually bought myself was Queen’s News Of The World, when I was six. They always played We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions at ball games, and me and my friends had a little baseball game going one time. We lost, but then someone started playing this in the background, and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad. It was an early introduction to the healing power of music [laughs].
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
That’s the textbook jazz record. It’s perfection. I was listening to the college jazz station when [opening track] So What came on. I was still kind of a rocker at that point, but the melodies were so good that it transcended all that. I was really intrigued by Miles Davis – he was a cool cat. Way cooler than I’ll ever be. And it only took a couple of days to make A Kind Of Blue, which is kind of crazy. He goes in there for two days and come out with the best record of all time. And it’s the record where I kinda learned how the birds and bees work, if you get what I’m saying…
Van Halen – Van Halen (1978)
That first Van Halen album was the one that got me wanting to play guitar. They were a huge deal in the States at the time. I heard Eruption and I was, like, ‘Oh, what’s that? I need to learn how to do it.’ I still don’t know how to play it, not well.
Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
Around the same time as I came across Stevie Wonder, I heard What’s Going On, and I was just blown away. The emotion in the music and what Marvin Gaye was conveying in his voice, it was so different. I’d heard nothing quite like it. It’s such a cohesive record, such a journey. Even as a white kid from Spokane, Washington, it was hard not to grasp the significance of it. He took a big chance making that record. To be that socially aware and put those things on a record at that time, it takes balls.
Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)
Songs In The Key Of Life by Stevie Wonder was the album that changed the way I wrote music. I heard it when I was 20 or so, and I was a rock guy, writing riffs and whatnot. But when I heard Songs In The Key Of Life, I was blown away. I took a different avenue, took things into more soulful territory.
Steely Dan – Aja (1977)
I love Steely Dan’s earlier stuff, and it had more of a rock flavour, but Aja is when they really started to embrace the jazz language. From a harmonic standpoint, they got more advanced and more interesting. The attention to detail is astonishing and sonically, it’s perfection. There’s a reason why Aja was the album hi-fi stores used to demo the stereos with.
There’s a great documentary about the making of that record, and Donald Fagen and Walter Becker talk about the guitar solo for the track Peg. They brought in some of the greatest players of all time to play this solo, and they end up kicking all these cats to the kerb cos they weren’t good enough. I don’t remember who they ended up going with [it was session player Jay Graydon] but what’s funny is hearing how good some of these solos were, and they still weren’t good enough. Those guys were obsessed perfectionists.
I was at an awards thing years ago, and Donald Fagen was literally ten feet away from me I wanted so badly to go up and just be the fan boy I am, but I’d heard rumours that he might not be… well, too approachable. So I bottled it. But Aja is still the album I’d like be stuck on a desert island with.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
If aliens landed tomorrow and I had to play them one album that defines hard rock, it would be Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction. Yeah, musically it’s genius, and the performances are just brilliant, but what’s so great about that record is how real it is. The stories are so believable because they lived them. All the emotions are genuine. There’s nothing contrived about it, it’s the real deal.
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Sting – Nothing Like The Sun (1987)
That was a big record for me. Sting is a great songwriter, but what did it for me was when I heard his cover of [Jimi Hendrix’s] Little Wing. Hiram Bullock’s solo on that song really shaped me as a guitarist, especially how I think about improvising. I did get to meet Hiram before he passed away and told him that. He probably thought I was a complete moron.
Chris Whitley – Dirt Floor (1998)
I’m going through a massive Chris Whitley phase. He was an American singer who did kind of a modern version of the blues, but there was an authenticity in his voice and his guitar playing that I hadn’t heard before. He took elements of Robert Johnson, a lot of what was going on with the Delta Blues, but he was using these very unique tunings. Dirt Floor is so stripped down – it’s just him and his guitar, no producer or anything. You can hear his brilliance shine through. He died young, which was heartbreaking. It’s one of the great mysteries to me: why more people don’t know about Chris Whitley.
Earth Wind & Fire – The Essential Earth Wind & Fire (1999)
This is the album I’d want played at my funeral. I’d want it to be happy, a party, and Earth, Wind & Fire are one of the most uplifting, positive bands I can think of. They’re funky as fuck, their horn lines are just brilliant, it’s just very positive music. What better way to go?