In the world of rock and metal, every guitar virtuoso has a unique journey, a secret recipe of influences that brews their distinctive sound. Bill Kelliher of Mastodon is no exception, with a fascinating mix of musical heroes shaping his guitar-playing prowess.
Bill's guitar skills have been the backbone of Mastodon's progressive sound, delivering raw power and laying the foundation for intricate sonic landscapes. However, his musical journey is far from simple, as he recently shared in an exclusive interview with Guitar Summit.
From the legendary Jimi Hendrix to the iconic Van Halen, the complex rhythms of Rush to the sun-soaked harmonies of The Beach Boys, and the instrumental finesse of The Ventures to the timeless melodies of The Beatles – Kelliher's musical palette is a vibrant one. But what truly transformed his style was the discovery of punk rock.
"It just changed my whole dynamic of my playing," Bill reflected, citing the punk rock legend Johnny Ramone as a pivotal influence. It was a genre that allowed him to appreciate the beauty of simplicity, where a single chord could resonate with immense impact.
However, one name stands out among the pantheon of influences – James Hetfield. Bill recalled: "I started getting into Metallica; James Hetfield was a hero of mine, because I was like, I'm getting good enough where I can play like that guy."
Meeting Hetfield in person was a defining moment for Kelliher, as he expressed his gratitude, saying, "Thank you for teaching me how to play guitar." Seems Hetfield was taken aback and answered: "What are you talking about?" to what Bill replied: "You know what I'm talking about. I used to buy your records, and I would bring them home, and I would learn every single day…. and I've learned everything from you."
"And that's how I learned all the rhythm stuff because I couldn't play all solo stuff. It was all about songwriting and the rhythm to me."
For Kelliher, Hetfield's rhythm guitar skills were a beacon, representing the essence of songwriting and rhythm. "I always wanted to emulate Hetfield," he admited. "And so I had to buy a Gibson explorer, I'd have a Marshall amp, or Mesa Boogie amp, and everything he had."
On the other hand, Kelliher had an interesting perspective on more "operatic" metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest during his formative years. He explained: "But then, when I'd listen to stuff like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, I didn't like it quite as much. The singing was a little much for me; it was very operatic… It's like when you're going to the theater. The themes, the creatures, and the artwork, the tight pants laughs. That's what threw me"
"I'm this grungy, punk rock kid with pierced ears, a weird haircut, ripped-up jeans, and I looked more like the Metallica guys: 'Those guys look like me! These guys from Maiden, they look like they're out of Dungeons & Dragons or something.' he chuckled.
In hindsight, Kelliher has come to appreciate the greatness of Iron Maiden and acknowledges their impact on the metal scene. "Now, I love Iron Maiden. I know them, I've toured with them, it's a whole other story now, but being a young, impressionable kid, I was like, 'I'm gonna go for the more dirty, grungy guys to be my heroes.' It was too perfect for me."