If you think rock guitarists have gone as far as they can go, then you have not seen Chet Thompson perform. Lead guitarist for the West Coast metal outfit Hellion, Thompson actually turns his guitar upside down, headstock to the floor, and plays with both hands on the neck as if he was playing the piano. This unusual technique has been delighting LA audiences for the past five years and is immortalized on the groupšs latest album, Screams In The Night, in the form of a track appropriately titled, Upside Down Guitar Solo. My whole family is musical, explained Thompson when I caught up with him after a band rehearsal. My dad plays trumpet, my sister plays the French horn and my mother plays the piano. I learned how to play the guitar upside down by listening to my brother on the piano. I wanted two independent lines going together at the same time. As it stands, Išve been playing rock and roll my own way for a long time.
Chets unconventional style has been described as reminiscent of Randy Rhodes with traces of Edward Van Halen thrown in for good measure. Though he can easily play various musical styles, from classical to blues, Thomspson says his heart belongs to rock and roll. His early influences include Jeff Beck (especially from the Wired album), Aerosmith and Led Zepplin. At his parents request, he learned classical music, but by the time he reached high school the rebellious sounds of rock and roll had become a near obsession. Bach went out and Beck came in.
In 1978, fresh out of high school, Chet was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study under the guidance of none other than Randy Rhodes. In fact, his was the very last lesson Rhodes gave before hitting the road to join Ozzy Osbournešs band. By the time Randy returned from the road several months later, Chet was already performing in a local band.
Today Hellions guitarist has fond memories of Rhodes, particularly the night the legendary axeman came to see him play for the first time. Randy had just gotten back from Ozzys tour and he came to see my band in Pasadena. I never expected it, recalled Chet, smiling. I will never forget Randy and how he took the time out to really listen to my music.
One time on Christmas Eve, he was even nice enough to take a listen to a cassette of my music, he continued. There he was, sitting in his bedroom, listening to my band. He was a real original. I always thought that the secret to his success was that Randy was really a nice guy and it came out all the time in his playing. Randy was one of the most humble people I have even known. Išll never forget him and what he taught me about playing guitar. What his mentor taught him about guitar techniques was eventually turned into his own instructional process. Chet now gives guitar lessons to over fifty students a week, most of whom want to be the next Rhodes or Van Halen. In the past five years he has instructed well over a thousand students, and with his new instructional video, Licks In The Style of Jake E. Lee by Starlicks, hešs reaching a whole new audience. Chet is planning to follow this with a book called --- what else? --- Playing The Guitar Upside Down.
In his spare time, what little of it there is, Chet likes to give classical guitar recitals at local colleges and think up new ways to improve his guitar performance. Once way to do that is to never take the instrument for granted. He hopes to eventually establish the upside down method as an accepted form of guitar playing. If everything works out well for me I would basically like to get my way of playing out to other guitarists. I want to get this out further to the public. It is about time for guitarists to broaden their abilities. I would like to see it taken to new limits. Now that would be exciting to watch. I fell it is time for serious guitarists to make more out of simply playing guitar.
As co-founder of Hellion, Chet says he prefers the creative input of a band situation as opposed to working alone. I never thought one person was then band. One person is not more important than the others in the band. I also donšt think that the guitar should necessarily be the most important instrument in the band, either. However, since Hellion is currently experiencing some personnel changes that may alter the future of the band, Chet may record a solo album. But, do not expect to see another member turn soloist. I have always liked being part of a band, working together with other musicians on an equal basis. You will not see me doing the job alone. I like to have fun with my guitar in a band. For the time being, working with singers is good for guitarists like me.
And thatšs just scratching the surface. Considering all the plans for the future, it looks like Chet Thompson will be happily occupied for a very long time to come!
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