By Andrew Catania
Not all hard rock guitarists that emerged during the late ’80s and early ’90s were instrumental solo artists, as evidenced by Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. Raised in Kings Park (a town located in the suburb of Long Island, New York), Petrucci got serious about guitar at the age of 12, and developed a liking for progressive rock and heavy metal (Rush, Iron Maiden, Yes, and later,Metallica and Queensryche). But it was the technically demanding guitarists, like Yngwie Malmsteen, Allan Holdsworth, and especially, Steve Morse, who inspired Petrucci the most.
Enrolling at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, Petrucci befriended such fellow classmates as bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Portnoy, who’d serve as the core for what would eventually be known as Dream Theater. Enlisting keyboardist Kevin Moore and singer Chris Collins, the quintet began playing and recording under the name of “Majesty”, until they realized another group owned the rights to the name. Hence, by the late ‘80’s, “Majesty” had changed their name to Dream Theater, and Collins was replaced by Charlie Dominici. The Dominci-led version of Dream Theater lasted for a single album. 1989’s When Dream and Day Unite, before his exit early in the new decade.
Despite building a sizable following in the New York area, Petrucci and his bandmates were little known elsewhere, but this all changed with the arrival of new singer James Labrie, and their sophomore effort, 1992’s Images and Words. Despite a changing of tastes with most rock music fans (towards the sounds of Seattle), the album proved to be a breakthrough commercial success (as the song “Pull Me Under” became a surprise hit on both MTV and rock radio). Arguably, nobody in Dream Theater benefited the most from the sudden wave of success than Petrucci, who was instantly recognized as one of the most technically accomplished guitarists in all of hard rock. Winning polls in guitar publications worldwide, as well as being mentioned in the same breath as such six string wiz’s as Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani, Like Satriani (who also hailed from Long Island, as well).
Petrucci became affiliated with the Ibanez guitar company (even landing his name to his own signature guitar series). Before switching to the Ernie Ball company later on, and once more, launching his own signature series. Dream Theater continued to issue albums on a regular basis throughout the ‘90s and into the early 21st century, retaining a large and loyal fan base even after MTV/radio stopped playing them. In addition to his Dream Theater duties, Petrucci has played with a variety of other projects (all in the progressive metal mold), including Explorer’s club, Liquid Tension Experiment (which also included Portnoy, bass player Tony Levin, and eventual Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess), as well as supplying music to the Sega Saturn video game called Necronomicon. 2000 saw the release of a collaboration between Petrucci and Rudess, an Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess, while Petrucci joined forces with Vai and Satriani on tour as part of their annual G3 tour during the summer of 2001.
Most people who listen to Petrucci completely overlook his incredible performing skills. Fact is, many guitar players and music fans are totally unaware of the amount of skill it takes to perform consistently on stage (especially when it comes to playing music of a very high caliber). In most cases, guitar players who play well while sitting in their room or recording studio have great difficulty being able to play their music consistently in a live setting. Additionally, there are major challenges while playing live such as hot/cold weather conditions, playing while feeling tired from traveling, playing when you can’t hear yourself (or other band members) and many other possible issues that most guitarists never considered. It only takes ‘one’ of these things to impair your ability to put on a great show and play with the same level of skill you play with alone in your room. To perform perfectly under these conditions like John Petrucci, you truly need to be a master guitarist.
Dream Theater’s new album, The Astonishing, was produced by Petrucci, has 34 tracks, and was released in January of 2016.
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