The inventor of the double guitar brought his concoction to San Antonio on Thursday night while endorsing his favorite company the best way he knew -- shredding and amazing an intimate crowd that could only look on in awe. But before playing a note, Michael Angelo Batio took to the stage and began with a declaration:
"The best way to talk about Dean Guitars," Batio said calmly, before raising his voice, "is to shut up and play Dean Guitars!" He then raised his metal horns and bellowed, "Let's do it!"
And with that, a crowd of 115 that had settled into chairs or stood along the walkway of Sam Ash Music store applauded and roared as Batio kicked off his instructional clinic by playing a medley tribute to "one of my heroes," the late Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads.
The clinic and subsequent autograph session was scheduled to last from 7-8:30 p.m. Instead, Batio was on stage from 7:15-9 p.m., cooled off for about five minutes, then signed and posed for photographs with every fan that wanted to meet him. Another 1 hour and 50 minutes later, everyone went home more than pleased.
The heavy metal community became aware of Batio and his out-of-this-world instrument in the late '80s when his band Nitro received regular airplay on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" via their video "Freight Train." With Batio showcasing speed on specially designed guitars the likes of which no one had ever seen and vocalist Jim Gillette breaking wine glasses with high-pitched wails, the pair also gained notoriety via an MTV interview with Headbanger's host Adam Curry, who lives in Austin nowadays.
Batio, a Chicagoan also known for his lightning-quick over/under technique, regaled the Sam Ash crowd with stories of his travels (he was in Venice, Italy, two weeks ago and is about to head to China for the 12th time); his technique ("People ask me, 'Why do you do that thing you do' ", referring to the over/under. "WHY NOT?"); why he solidly backs Dean Guitars and included recollections of how he met some of his favorite guitar players.
"On May 1, I jammed with Steve Vai in Poland in front of 10,000 fans," Batio said, "and I received one of the best compliments ever from Steve Vai. He said, 'Michael, anytime I want to see what a human being is capable of, I watch you. Can we get a selfie?' "
Batio, often following an easygoing moment of narration with a sudden burst of energy, quickly added, "I don't say those things because it makes me cooler. It's just some of the greatest moments in my life."
Batio also name-dropped axemen such as Dragonforce's Herman Li (who the SAMME interviewed the day before Batio's clinic; stay tuned), Creed and Alter Bridge's Mark Tremonti and "my student" Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine. He mentioned a slew of others who ended up switching to Dean Guitars from their previous respective companies, including Megadeth's Dave Mustaine, former Scorpions guitarists Uli Jon Roth and Michael Schenker, and "even Bret Michaels doesn't endorse Dean, but he plays Dean acoustics."
Batio spent the first half of the clinic playing a multi-colored Sam Ash guitar and later broke out a bright blue Flying V (see slideshow, top left). He played two solo songs -- "No Boundaries" and "Rain Forest" -- intertwining them among other various tributes. At one point, Batio spent up to 10 minutes talking between playing, and during the autograph signing afterwards while selling three solo CDs for $15 each or $40 for all three, he told some autograph-seekers that he was unable to play anything off his new disc Intermezzo because he talked a lot.
"I like to gab," he said with a smile.
One of Batio's semi-lengthy tales involved how he met the late "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. Referring to the Pantera legend as "the greatest Dean endorsee ever," Batio played a medley that included "Cemetary Gates" and "Cowboys From Hell." Seemingly unbeknownst to Batio, his story-telling and clinic was taking place on the 24th anniversary of Cowboys From Hell's release by the Texas mainstays.
Shortly after playing a Led Zeppelin tribute, Batio finally broke out the double guitar. While at least one fan with a camera and notepad expected Batio to showcase his invention for at least 30 minutes, he instead saved it for a 6 1/2-minute jaw-dropping ending to the clinical portion (click on the SAMME's video, above left).
During the autograph signing, Batio took time to ask every fan what their name was and how to spell it as he signed posters, guitars, and even a book of hair metal bands that had Nitro on the cover. At one point, Batio met with two members of Austin band Immortal Guardian. As Gabriel Guardian, the group's simultaneous guitarist and keyboardist looked on, Batio spoke with guitarist Jyro Alejo, who made a YouTube clip of himself playing "No Boundaries" (watch here). Batio told Alejo that he watched it twice and that he was "really impressed."
Fans had been told at the beginning of the clinic by a Sam Ash representative that video recording was not allowed. Nearly four hours later, the SAMME waited until the last person's autograph had been signed before shaking hands with the fellow Chicagoan, passing along a complimentary greeting from Dragonforce's Li and asking for permission to use the video that accompanies this article. Given Batio's response, it was probably a good thing that 99 percent of the crowd had left the building:
"Sure," he shrugged. "You can't stop people from filming."
But before they had gone home, Batio was complimentary of the fans, Sam Ash employees, and musicians past and present of various genres of metal, all the while emphasizing that standing out from other guitarists was always his objective.
"I wanted to do something on guitar that no one on this planet had ever done," Batio told the audience. "I wanted to be different. Not better."
In the opinions of many in the house Thursday night, Batio accomplished both.
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