Five Records That Changed My Life, Part 2: Steve Mann

Best known for his work with Michael Schenker, The Sweet and Lionheart, Steve Mann is a British guitarist and keyboardist as well as a composer, producer and engineer who is based in Germany. Steve was a classically trained pianist and guitarist before he picked up the electric guitar at age 15. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson checked in with him to find out what records have influenced him the most.

The Beatles “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)

“I heard the ‘Twist and Shout’ EP from the Beatles when my cousin got it as a Christmas present in 1963 and I was instantly hooked-for-life on the Beatles. When ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was released, it was just the most astonishing thing I had ever heard. I didn’t understand why I loved it all so much, I just did. But looking back now, all the ingredients were there, the amazing songwriting, the fact that two of the world’s best singers were in one band and the way they looked – they were just good clean fun! ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was really the album which launched me into loving all kinds of popular music, but especially of course the Beatles.”

Derek and the Dominos “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” (1970)

“My brother bought this double album featuring Eric Clapton, played it, didn’t really like it, and stuck it back in his record collection. My discovery of the songs on this album coincided with the purchase of my first electric guitar in 1972. I had seen a sunburst 6-string for sale for £13.50 in a bargain centre in Southall, near where I lived as a kid, and I was absolutely certain it was the guitar in the photo on the back of the ‘Layla’ album. I had £3.50 already, and my parents gave me the remaining £10 as an early birthday present. This meant I could go and snap up my bargain. I was a little disappointed to find that in fact it wasn’t the ‘Layla’ guitar, but two things happened at this point. The first is – I fell in love with the guitar as an instrument and have never since fallen out of love. And the second is that I discovered Eric Clapton’s guitar playing on the ‘Layla’ album which just blew me away. I would put the album on the turntable, plug in my guitar – through a fuzz box to get a little distortion – and just jam along to all four sides of the album from beginning to end. To this day I still love that album and it sure honed my chops for my lead guitar playing. I can still hear Clapton’s influence in my style today.”

Wishbone Ash “Argus” (1972)

“I’d already heard about Wishbone Ash when ‘Argus’ came out in 1972 so I went to our local record store, sat in the listening booth, as they had back then, and loved what I heard. I bought the album, brought it home and just played it over and over. I still think this is Wishbone Ash’s greatest album – everything was just right with it. The recording, production, songs – everything just worked and you could tell that there must have been a very positive vibe in the studio when they put this down. To my ears every track was a killer. This served also as a great album to just jam along with, and I always loved that amazing, grinding tone that Andy Powell coaxed out of his Flying V. When I listen to the album today, I realise it’s one of those albums which has really stood the test of time, and I have a newly awakened appreciation of not only the twin guitars, but also Martin Turner’s bass lines and sound, similar to Chris Squire, and the quality of Steve Upton’s drumming. This album was also a huge influence on the music my school band Blind Eye was playing.”

Deep Purple “Made In Japan” (1972)

“I was always a huge Ritchie Blackmore and Deep Purple fan. I loved their albums and went to see them live whenever they came through London. When the Japan live album came out, I went out and bought it on a whim. I was delighted to discover that it actually perfectly captured how good the band is live. They were quite obviously firing on all cylinders and I’d heard that when the band heard the recordings, they were amazed at how great it all sounded. I think Ian Gillan may have had some reservations about the fact that his voice was sounding a little tired, but being a Blackmore fan, it was all about the guitar for me anyway. Again, this is one of those albums that stands the test of time and sounds as great now as it did when I first heard it back in 1972. Another fantastic album for a young up and coming guitarist like me to jam along to!”

Ayreon “01011001” (2008)

“So, I should include an album that was not from the 60s or 70s! Even though I am a big fan of modern melodic and symphonic metal and there are literally dozens of albums to choose from, this one from Arjen Lucassen stands out for me. Firstly, the songs are incredible – melodic, hooky and well structured. It’s a concept album which tells a story, and it features hand-picked musicians of the absolute highest quality. I can listen to this album as many times as I like and I will never get bored with it. The most remarkable thing about it is that it’s written, produced, engineered and mixed by one man – Arjen himself. Ever since about 1971 I have been, in one way or another, recording and mixing my own music and to me Arjen is an incredible example of what can be done with dedication, creativity and great ideas. These days I will play, engineer, mix and master entire albums from start to finish. I get told by a lot of people that I should delegate jobs like mixing or mastering to other people, but I have spent 45 years recording music professionally and I know what I want to hear. For me delegating jobs doesn’t work because no one understands my music like I do, so that’s why I stick to doing most things myself. My past influences were people like Tom Scholz or Mike Oldfield who also had complete control of the music they were making, but Arjen Lucassen is the best example of how this can, and does work. And works fantastically – I never cease to be amazed at the power of his creativity. ‘01011001’ really is an absolute masterpiece and is probably my favourite album from these five.”