Racer X - Biography


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Biography

Racer X is an American heavy metal band formed in 1985 in Los Angeles, California. The band's name is both a reference to the character from Speed Racer, and the speed that was an integral part of their virtuosic music in the 1980s. The group was founded by guitarist Paul Gilbert—who later went on to achieve great success with the multi platinum-selling hard rock band Mr. Big—and bassist John Alderete.

The band split up in 1989 because of other members involved in their own activities, guitarist Paul Gilbert joined forces with Billy Sheehan (of Talas and David Lee Roth fame) to form the popular hard rock supergroup Mr. Big and drummer Scott Travis joined forces with Judas Priest. They did however reform around 1997 and are back together once again, although the members are still involved with their own activities.


1980s

Guitarist Paul Gilbert first gained notoriety when he was featured in Mike Varney's Spotlight Column in the February 1983 issue of Guitar Player magazine. Gilbert was 16 years old and living in Greensburg, Pennsylvania at the time. He would later relocate to Los Angeles and enroll at the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT), part of (MI) Musicians Institute. After graduating from the school, Gilbert was hired as an instructor.

While at GIT, Paul met fellow student John Alderete. The two became friends, and felt that with their skills, they could form a band like no other on the L.A. Strip at the time. Searching for a drummer, Alderete and Gilbert first turned to Scott Travis, who was living in Virginia at the time. A friend - who had visited Los Angeles to pursue his own career - gave Travis some of Gilbert's demo material, which was originally provided by Mike Varney; the tapes included an early version of the song "Frenzy". While Gilbert had received from Travis a video of his drumming, Travis ultimately turned down the offer due to his commitment to the band Hawk; Travis was receiving a salary from Doug Marks, the band's lead guitarist, and would not turn down the income. Alderete and Gilbert instead sought the services of fellow student, Harry Gschoesser.

After acquiring Gschoesser, Gilbert asked Varney for assistance in finding a lead singer. The final two candidates were Mark Slaughter - who later joined the Vinnie Vincent Invasion and then founded the band Slaughter - and Jeff Martin of the Phoenix-area metal band, Surgical Steel. Surgical Steel had a strong following in the Phoenix area, and it was during this time that Rob Halford, who lived in the area, befriended the band. After appearing with Leif Garrett in the movie Thunder Alley, the band began to disintegrate.

Alderete and Gilbert settled on Martin as the vocalist for their new band. Martin, who still lived in Phoenix and could not regularly write songs with Racer X in Los Angeles, began writing lyrics immediately for demo tapes that Gilbert had sent, and recording for their first album - entitled Street Lethal - began quickly. The band began the recording process in 1985, and Racer X's debut album was released on January 1, 1986 on Mike Varney's Shrapnel Records label.

The same template used to form Racer X would later be used by other Bands such as later band Nitro.

Martin claims that, while listening to Bruce Springsteen on the radio, he pulled over and wrote the lyrics to "Blowin' Up the Radio".

Popularity boost

With the release of the first album, Paul Gilbert suddenly burst into the mainstream as one of the members of a new genre of guitar style known as neoclassical, popularized by Randy Rhoads and Yngwie J. Malmsteen. While Racer X was not playing neo-classical pieces as frequently as Rhoads or Malmsteen, Gilbert was often mentioned alongside Yngwie and Randy in many guitar and music magazines.

Malmsteen and Rhoads were early influences of Gilbert's; Mike Varney would play Malmsteen's demo tapes and Rhoads's recordings for Gilbert over the phone while he was still living in Pennsylvania. Gilbert would subtly acknowledge his debt to Malmsteen on the Street Lethal album with the neoclassical instrumental, "Y.R.O.". The song's title was an acronym for "Yngwie Rip Off". This was one of the first examples of Gilbert's unique sense of humor, and other "rip off" songs would appear later in his career, such as "B.R.O.", which stands for "Bach Rip Off". "YRO" featured an excerpt, arranged by Gilbert, of Paganini's "Moto Perpetuo" (Perpetual Motion).

Racer X was rapidly becoming a hugely popular live act on the Sunset Strip. Around this time, Gilbert secured an endorsement deal with Ibanez guitars, and was featured in full-page advertisements in every major guitar magazine. Gilbert's partnership with Ibanez continues to this day. Due to the increased exposure, the song "Getaway" received limited airplay on Los Angeles' heavy metal radio station, KNAC.

Lineup change

After the release of the first album, Gilbert was still teaching at GIT for steady income. One of Gilbert's students, Bruce Bouillet, quickly gained his attention. Realizing that Bouillet had exceptional guitar technique, Gilbert asked him to join Racer X, and the two guitarists would soon work out synchronized harmony passages that would define Racer X's sound throughout the latter portion of the decade.

In 1986 Harry Gschoesser's visa expired, and he returned to his native country, Austria. While in the United States, Gschoesser had noticed the blooming popularity of the new pay-per-call telephone services. He returned to Austria and became quite successful in bringing the pay-per-call concept to Europe, but his departure left Racer X in need of a new drummer.

Gschoesser was initially replaced with Todd "Vito" DeVito, who was the son of the owner of DanMar Drum Accessories. It was during this time that Scott Travis observed the band at the Waters Club with DeVito on drums. After the show, Travis approached Alderete and Gilbert, inquiring about the availability of the drummer position. The two agreed to recruit Travis into their band after one rehearsal. Travis replaced DeVito in the band, and DeVito went on to become a drum technician for Mikkey Dee of Motörhead.

The band - with new members Bruce Bouillet and Scott Travis - immediately headed to Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati to record their second studio album. While recording in the studio, George Lynch was in another studio room recording a compilation album for Varney, and it is noted that one of Bouillet's solos from the upcoming album - off the track "Ladykiller" - have featured guitar licks from Lynch's repertoire, although it is unknown whether Racer X was able to hear Lynch through the studio walls.

Second Heat was released on February 11, 1988. The release was ground-breaking, and was hailed as Racer X's most influential record. The album - featuring both Paul Gilbert and Bruce Bouillet on lead guitar - solidified Racer X's style of complex double-lead guitar solos using advanced techniques such as fast alternate-picking, two-handed tapping, and swept-arpeggios. Lead guitar fans continued to discuss and debate how the tight guitar passages were executed.

The July 1987 issue of Guitar Player magazine featured a full-page Ibanez ad which featured Gilbert, Bouillet, and Alderete. Accompanying the ad was a plastic "Soundpage" record which contained the Street Lethal track "Frenzy" and the instrumental track, "Scarified", from the upcoming album, Second Heat. This marked the first time that Racer X's new twin-lead guitar format was heard on a national level, and guitar players across the country took notice, winning Racer X a new legion of fans.

The album also has two tracks written by other artists. "Moonage Daydream" was a remake of the David Bowie song. Jeff Martin comments that, during a CBS Showcase, an AR representative asked the band about the strange lyrics of the song. Martin had to inform the representative that the song was not Racer X's but was, in fact, Bowie's.

"Heart of a Lion" was a Judas Priest song dropped from the Turbo album. Rob Halford had invited Jeff Martin and his wife to Nassau, Bahamas while Judas Priest was there recording the album. Martin had heard the song there and would later ask Halford if Racer X could record the song. Halford gave the track to Martin as a birthday gift. As posted by Jeff Martin on the band's website, it's rumored that Glenn Tipton wasn't pleased with Halford signing away the rights to the song; Halford would eventually re-record the track with his band, Halford.

Dissolution

While the Los Angeles music scene was at the peak for glam metal, Racer X were reaching the height of their popularity with their live shows. The band was selling out and packing their usual rotation of The Roxy Theatre, Troubadour, and the Country Club in Reseda, California. In order to execute their twin-solos on stage, Gilbert and Bouillet would often practice up to eight hours a day together, before the rest of the band even arrived.

While the band continued to sell out their live concerts, they were not generating any major label interest. They had several showcase shows - the most famous being a CBS Showcase show - but no corporate interest was displayed, perhaps due to the fact that the average Racer X concert drew more studying musicians than casual music fans.

The years of unsuccessfully searching for major label representation finally took its toll on the band, and the group's last gasp came with two nights of back-to-back live shows at the Country Club, which were recorded for posterity and later released as Live Extreme, Volume 1 (1988) and Live Extreme, Volume 2 (1992). The albums included many Racer X fan favorites, as well as solos from Gilbert, Bouillet, Alderete, and Travis. Also on the album were several new songs which were originally intended for a third studio recording, including "She Wants Control", "Set the World on Fire", and the instrumental "Scit Scat Wah". But even as Live Extreme, Vol. 1 was getting ready for release, the dismantling of the band was near. Musicians like David Lee Roth and Steve Vai were often seen at the live concerts. Billy Sheehan, bass player of the band Talas, approached Paul Gilbert about forming a new band; the two would go in 1989 to form the band Mr. Big. Gilbert had mentally detached himself from Racer X during the final shows with the band; the rest of the group, searching for an explanation to the lack of major label interest, focused their frustrations on Jeff Martin. It wasn't long before both Paul Gilbert and Jeff Martin left the band on the same day.

John Alderete, Bruce Bouillet, and Scott Travis initially brought in Guitar Spotlight player Chris Arvan as a replacement and performed a few shows - one with Oni Logan from Lynch Mob - but the dissolution of Racer X was imminent, and soon, the members of the band went separate ways. Racer X's hiatus carried on well into the late 1990s.

1990s

Separation

After Gilbert left for Mr. Big, other members also went on to other projects. Jeff Martin went on to replace Eric Singer in Jake E. Lee's band, Badlands. John Alderete, Bruce Bouillet, John Corabi, and Scott Travis joined together briefly to form the band Black Cloud - which would later become The Scream. The four played one show at the Troubadour before Travis received an offer from Judas Priest, who was looking to replace the recently departed Dave Holland. Jeff Martin, a friend of Judas Priest, relayed the message to Travis, who was estatic at the opportunity, and accepted the offer. Travis would go on to record several albums with Judas Priest, and remains a member of the band to this day.

In 1992, Shrapnel Records released Live Extreme, Volume 2, which featured songs from the farewell Racer X concerts at the Country Club. Like the first live record, it included several previously unreleased songs, like "Poison Eyes" and "Give it to Me". The release did give die-hard Racer X fans hope that new material was on the way, but nothing came to fruition. The one most notable track is Racer X's cover of KISS' "Detroit Rock City". Recording the song, Gilbert and Bouillet - wanting to make the song unique and fitting to their style - stood side by side and played the famous solo with their teeth. One other KISS song was played the night before - Cold Gin - but never appeared on either of the first two live releases.

Reemergence
Racer X in 1999, as appears in the Technical Difficulties album.

After departing Mr. Big in 1997 after the recording of the Hey Man album, Gilbert started a solo career. Heavily influenced by The Beatles, Gilbert's solo career - which often featured Jeff Martin on drums - revolved around particularly pop-oriented songs. This alienated many of his long-time musician fans, who felt betrayed by his abandonment of the shred guitar genre that he helped popularize with Racer X. In 1998, this displeasure came to head when an Australian fan, under the alias "Snakebyte", sent Gilbert a scathing e-mail about the new musical direction.

After responding to the e-mail via telephone call, Gilbert pondered the idea of reforming Racer X with his Japanese label, Universal Japan, and the other members of Racer X, except Bruce Bouillet. All agreed, and in mid-1999 the band recorded the album Technical Difficulties. The album contained studio versions of "Poison Eyes" and "Give it to Me", which had previously appeared on the Live Extreme, Volume 2 record. Several other songs that were intended for an earlier release were also included, such as "Fire of Rock" and "Miss Mistreater". The title track was an instrumental which had previously been heard in a slightly different form on Gilbert's guitar instructional video, Terrifying Guitar Trip, as the song "Metal Dog". Also on the album was a track entitled "Snakebite" in partial reference to the Australian fan who helped reunite the band.

2000s

Technical Difficulties went gold in Japan, and Racer X's new record label requested a follow-up. In late 2000, the band released what is recognized by many fans as their best album to date, Superheroes. The album's packaging featured pictures of the band members dressed as superheroes. Gilbert became the Electric Bat, Martin became Motorman, Alderete became The X-tinguisher, and Travis became Cowboy Axe. The record was mixed by former Racer X guitarist, Bruce Bouillet.

In addition to the high-energy title track, other highlights included a cover of the Blue Öyster Cult classic, "Godzilla", and two instrumental tracks, "King Of The Monsters" and "Viking Kong". The Viking in question was none other than Yngwie Malmsteen; Paul had written the song with the intention that he would have Malmsteen play on the track with him. Malmsteen originally agreed, but never followed through with his verbal agreement, according to Paul Gilbert. Gilbert wound up playing both parts, creating another guitar classic in the minds of Racer X's musician fans.

Live at the Whisky

In order to further capitalize on their new-found success in Japan, Universal Japan requested that the band record a live show for another live CD and DVD. On May 25, 2001, the band played their first live performance in thirteen years to a sold-out crowd at the famed Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. The show was recorded for both audio and video, and in 2002, both the CD and DVD were released under the name Snowball of Doom, which is a reference to fact the band is still "rolling along" after fifteen years, but was still unable to secure a major American record label contract.

Getting Heavier
Jeff Martin takes a break in the studio during the recording of Getting Heavier (2002).

In January 2002, in support of Superheroes and Snowball of Doom, Racer X toured Japan and Taiwan. The band performed these shows in their Superheroes costumes, and the final show, in Yokohama, was hastily recorded in two tracks on the sound board and was to be later released as Snowball of Doom 2.

Gilbert returned to his solo career, recording the album Burning Organ. However, in 2002, Universal Japan pushed for another Racer X release, notifying the band that they would release an official bootleg of the Yokohama concert to promote a new album. In October of 2002, all four members of Racer X gathered at Gilbert's house in Las Vegas to record a new album. It was the first time in the history of the band that all four members were together at the same time to record a Racer X album. The outcome of the recording was the semi-controversial release, Getting Heavier, which was sold alongside Snowball of Doom 2 in a package deal.

Although the album was a successful release in Japan, the title of the record left some fans confused; many of the tracks on the album were actually less aggressive and fast-paced than previous releases. Racer X later explained that the album's title was not in reference to the music, but in reference to life in general. Some fans were still disappointed with the lighter tracks, which resembled a Paul Gilbert solo album more so than a traditional Racer X album.

After the release of Getting Heavier, Racer X's progress came to a halt. Scott Travis, with Judas Priest, toured with Ozzfest in 2004 and recorded Angel of Retribution; Jeff Martin began recording and touring with George Lynch, Kevin DuBrow, Michael Schenker, recorded a 3-song demo with the band Leatherwolf, and even began a solo career with the release of The Fool in 2006; John Alderete, in 2003, joined the band The Mars Volta, which has toured regularly and recorded several albums, and found great success with the new band (at one time appearing on the cover of Bass Player Magazine); and Paul Gilbert has released several solo albums - as well as compilation albums and tours with Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy - and has toured with his supporting band in support of his latest albums. The current status of Racer X is unknown, although Paul was very optimistic at a recent solo performance at MI in Los Angeles.