Given the duration and depth of his musical career, helping to pioneer the genres of speed- and power-metal via his work with Helloween, Gammy Ray, Iron Savior, Avantasia, Stormwarrior and Unisonic among others, it’s perhaps odd that guitarist/vocalist Kai Hansen has only just got around to releasing a solo record.
Available via Ear Music on September 16, XXX – Three Decades In Metal is a rollicking set that’s infused with generous quantities of melody and humour. It also sees the Hamburg native tapping a huge backing cast which includes the likes of Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguy), Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch and his son Tim, plus assorted bandmates past and present – including Michael Weikath, Michael Kiske, Ralf Scheepers and Roland Grapow.
When naming his essential guitar albums, Hansen insists upon selecting six examples instead of the usual five (“I just cannot separate them – each is a classic”) and, somewhat unusually, restricting his choices to in-concert recordings – all released within a very specific seven-year time-frame. “I’m hooked on live albums,” explains Kai. “When it comes to guitar music I love the roughness and the dirt of the sound that you seem to get at a show.”
UFO – Strangers In The Night (1979)
“Michael Schenker’s guitar work is absolutely brilliant throughout. It doesn’t matter to me that some of the tracks were played in the studio and with crowd noise added later on – I take it as live, it feels that way. They are forgiven. Because I am a guitarist you’d probably expect me to name Rock Bottom, Michael’s showcase, as my favourite song but no… basically, I love everything about it. Lights Out, Love To Love and Natural Thing are all incredible. It’s an album that’s just about perfect.”
Rainbow – On Stage (1977)
“If you like the sound of a Strat, Mr Blackmore is the master. What I love about On Stage is the jamming. As you’d expect of a line-up that includes Cozy Powell, Jimmy Bain and Tony Carey the band are all first rate players, and of course Ronnie James Dio was peerless as a vocalist, but it all came together when the band went off together on a little journey during tracks like Catch The Rainbow. Even off-script they are amazing – the whole band was still together, locked in tightly.”
Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1972)
“The same goes for Made In Japan. I grew up on that record, though I admit that the first few times I heard it I didn’t completely understand what was going on. It was kind of progressive, which I didn’t really expect. I knew Smoke On The Water, Child In Time and the usual suspects, but in time I grew to love the jamming that went on throughout the album. It was such a big part of what Purple did back then… it’s so intricate. Blackmore was very influential to me as a player.”
Scorpions – Tokyo Tapes (1978)
“I met Uli [Jon Roth] a few days ago when I played on a cruise. That was a great honour, we got along well. He’s one of my real guitar heroes.
“Of course, to me there are two versions of Scorpions. There’s the MTV-friendly band that had hits with Rock You Like A Hurricane and Bad Boys Running Wild during the 1980s, and there’s the band that came before. I’m not really into the slicker, arena-friendly version. I understand and respect its appeal, and I do like some of those songs but it’s just not really for me.
“I’m more into those halfway-1970s albums they made. There was a portion of prog-rock in there and it was less structured, it wasn’t all about making a hit single. Tokyo Tapes contained the best of the songs from their first five albums. It’s magnificent. It was also their last album made with Uli Roth. For me, they were never the same afterwards.”
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AC/DC – If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (1978)
“I got into this album, and into AC/DC, in quite a strange way. I was a kid cycling to school and I reached a stoplight, and next to me was a guy in car blasting out this fantastic song. I sat and listened to it until the lights changed but had no idea who it was by.
“I did a lot of digging around which wasn’t easy – there was no Spotify or the internet – and eventually I found out that it was by AC/DC, who at the time were described to me as ‘an Australian punk band’. Hahaha, no, I’m not kidding. So I went out and bought the album and absolutely loved it. Yeah, man… it was so bad-ass and dirty, and what great, intuitive guitar playing. It was like the pure essence of rock‘n’roll.”
Judas Priest – Unleashed In The East (1979)
“Okay, okay, I know that some people call it Unleashed In The Studio, but fuck that. At the end of the day it has real live spirit, and the partnership of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing is very special indeed. They keep the riffs and solos cranking throughout.
“I was very lucky because I got to see Judas Priest opening for AC/DC here in Hamburg. I had no idea who the fuck they were. I went with absolutely no expectations but left the place completely blown away.
“You want to know about heavy metal? You need a copy of Unleashed In The East. It’s as simple as that.”