Even though he had moved on to rock and roll heaven more than a quarter century before Damiano Christian was born, the legendary riffs, searing solos and profoundly unique tone of Randy Rhoads sparked the imagination of the young Connecticut musician at the precocious age of 11, setting him on a course that saw him release his debut EP, Built In Good Value, earlier this month.
Produced by Rob Thorne, best known for his work with underground heavy metal masters Sacred Oath, the five-song release is meant to be both a showcase of Christian’s remarkable musicianship as well as his compositional capabilities, as each song demonstrates a dynamic range of influences and styles – a true calling card for a young artist looking to make his name on a much grander scale.
“I wanted the EP to have a nod to all my influences, but I also write like this because I don’t want to get stale or settle into just one style. I don’t want to sound like a one trick pony,” said Christian from his home in Middletown, which is about 20 miles south of Hartford.
“And a lot of my guitar influences came through my dad. He’s got a huge playlist for his iPod for when he works out and he put a lot of it onto my iPod and that’s really how I got introduced to Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore and Yngwie Malmsteen as well. So I really have to give credit to my father for that. After hearing all of this music I decided I wanted to take a shot at playing it or at least trying to learn it. It really started with Randy Rhoads and his playing on those first two Ozzy records [Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman] and really wanting to try and see if I could play like him.
“And I taught myself for the most part. I got a lot of my technique from playing piano beforehand because that is what actually what helped me to learn guitar. I started piano when I was three thanks to my parents. I took all I had learned from theory and notes and reading music to help me learn guitar. And I became pretty obsessed with the guitar. I would get home from school every day and I wouldn’t do my homework; I would just go and practise piano and play guitar and I would do all my school work on the bus the next morning. Music always comes first.”
Even with all the shredders that had come before and the multitude that have come since, Rhoads’ [1957-1982) legacy is firmly enmeshed with Christian’s own style and approach to music, particularly on the EP’s title track Built in Good Value, which has hints of Rhoads’ melodic classic Goodbye to Romance.
“It was incredible how he had all of these classical influences and was able to merge them with rock and roll and just hearing how technical he was and yet so musical. And I always felt he was a loud player – not loud in the sense of volume, but loud in terms of the way his personality projected through his playing. It just sounded different to me compared to hearing a lot of guys back then who sounded like they were all trying to be like Eddie Van Halen. Whereas with Randy he had his own tone, his own sound and his own playing style that nobody was really copying,” Christian said.
“And I always thought it was incredible that he was this small, slightly built, quiet little guy, but his guitar spoke volumes for him. He was this quiet, soft spoken dude, but then he would play and everything would come out.”
Deep Purple and Rainbow legend Ritchie Blackmore’s deft touch and ability to craft memorable riffs also played a significant role in Christian’s development as both a player and composer.
“A lot of the genius about Ritchie was just how simple his riffs were. If you listen to Burn or Smoke on the Water or even Speed King, those were simple riffs, but they were so memorable and so incredibly influential in the history of rock music. And I also really liked his lead stuff and soloing and how you could not only hear his classical influences but also that Renaissance influence that he really follows to this day. It was playing that just always appealed to me. Instead of playing a billion notes per second, it was more like ‘wow, he did something really melodic there that was really cool,’ and I want to try and apply that to my playing,” he said.
“And what both he and Randy have in common is that the dynamics of the song are the most important thing, not how fast they can play or how many catchy riffs they can put in a song. It’s always about the song and how it incorporates your overall vision for the music and what you’re trying to put out there on the record.”
Built In Good Value features four original compositions and an ambitious cover of the classic early-1960s Beatles hit, She Loves You. That track was produced by music industry heavyweight David Ivory (Halestorm, The Roots).
“I was thinking about how a lot of the bands that I admire broke into the music scene by doing covers. Van Halen made it really big because of their cover of You Really Got Me. So I was kind of thinking of doing a cover of an old song to, like from that 1960s era. When I was younger I was also a big Beatles fan, and out of their entire catalogue, the only song I really was attached to over the years was She Loves You,” Christian explained.
“I love the harmonies between John and Paul and also it’s got a really cool guitar riff that George Harrison does in there before the verses that I really thought I could take and inject more power into it by having modern day amplifiers and effects. So with this version I just thought I could give it a lot more umph because of the advantages of amplifier technology compared to 50 years ago.”
One thing that is similar to the recording approach Christian used compared to that of the 1960s was that it was totally old school – no fancy computer effects or trickery was used to augment the musical performances and vocals laid down by Christian and his backing band.
“I wanted to keep it as real and authentic as I could. I wanted it to have that old-school vibe where you know all the musicians are playing their hearts out and you can capture it on record. I loved doing it this way,” he said.
Christian understands that the importance of having a captivating stage presence is as important as being a solid musician and songwriter if one wants to make an impression on the music devouring public. It is interesting to note that one of his key influences for stagecraft and also musicianship was the flamboyant entertainment legend Liberace, who died in 1987. During his peak years in Hollywood and Las Vegas in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the pianist and composer was one of the highest paid entertainers in the world.
“I know it’s unusual, but there was something so amazing about the way he just commanded a stage and how he was all about entertaining his fans to the max. When I was about 14, I stopped playing piano – I just stopped taking lessons because I got kind of bored with it. I hardly played at all for a good two or three years, but all of a sudden started playing again and wanted to find something that would inspire me to get into it again,” he said.
“I remember looking around at YouTube videos of different concert pianists and stuff and started getting bored again, but you know how they have those ‘suggested video’ on the side. One was of Liberace in 1969 playing the song Boogie Woogie from his TV show. And he plays it normally but then at the end plays it double time; so two times as fast as the original and I was like, ‘wow, I want to do that.’
“It was kind of like when I heard Randy Rhoads for the first time. So I just got into piano again and started learning all of Liberace’s material and really learning about composition, but also about how he really knew how to entertain a crowd.”
Christian said he would love to not only make a career as a solo artist, but in the shorter term, hook up with an established band that may be looking for a hot new guitar player. At 18, he knows he still has years of seasoning ahead but feels latching on with a band that already has a pedigree would accelerate his growth and prowess as a musician and songwriter.
“I would love to pay with a bigger band because I feel like I would be able to collaborate with other people instead of just working by myself and trying to write all the music by myself. I would love to have the chance to bounce my ideas off of other talented, more experienced musicians. It’s definitely something I am pursuing. But for right now, I am booking as many shows in the area as I can. If the EP takes off I would love to tour with this band and tour this album.”
To order Built in Good Value, or find out more information about Christian and upcoming tour dates, visit http://www.damianochristian.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.