As a whole, the bulk of the journalists at the slack-jawed epicenter of the musical blogosphere are often quite eager to abuse and overuse the terms 'groundbreaking', 'revolutionary' and even 'breathtaking' when describing artists and groups they feel are deserving of additional or renewed recognition(s). To whit, my adjective-riddled prattlings are no exception as I've repeatedly subjected readers to my thoughts and feelings regarding State Of Euphoria era Anthrax, Dream Theater, ex-Holland/Nitro axeman Michael Angel Batio and post-Metal Health Quiet Riot (i.e. QR III, QR and, to a lesser extent, Guilty Pleasures). Not surprisingly, when we were initially approached in regards to coverage of former Manwoar/Voodoo Gods guitarist David Shankle--specifically his role within the oft-underrated David Shankle Group--we were only more than happy to once again over-indulge.
Todd: How did you initially become involved with Manowar? Was it a matter of being in the right place at the right time or were you recommended by a mutual contact? That must have been a mind-blowing life experience.
David: “I was a 'bar star' playing with a band called Vengeance. I grew up playing in Agent Orange and then moved on to a band called Paradox. From there, I got hooked up with and was playing in Vengeance. At the time, Manowar was in town finishing the recording and mixing of Kings Of Metal (1988). I had already met (guitarist) Ross The Boss two years prior to that when Manowar was in town and played the Thirsty Rail in support Fighting The World (1987) record and we'd become friends. The writing was on the wall and Ross was on his way out of the band, but I didn't know it at the time. An ex-girlfriend of mine, Marybeth Attaway, had come out to see me and said 'The Manowar guys are here to see you' and I was like 'What? No way. But when I came out of the dressing room, all of them were sitting there except for Ross. (Vocalist) Eric (Adams, bassist Joey DeMaio and (late drummer) Scott Columbus came out on a Friday and Saturday to watch me play. I started hanging out with Joey and Eric and then they started inviting me down to the studio while they were finishing their Mix. Joey and I were becoming best friends and one day he called me and said 'Dave, I want you to quit your job and sell your car. You're going to be the new guitar player in Manowar. We love your playing, your style, you're an animal and a beast and we want you in the band'. That moment completely changed my life. I signed a contract with him on September ninth of 1988 and I was in the band for over seven years. I toured in over twenty-nine different countries and I wrote half of the songs on Triumph Of Steel, which has gone double Platinum for us now. It went Platinum in 2005 and it has since gone double platinum, so I'm very proud of that. ...I've done some Manowar reunion shows, I'm on three of their Hell On Earth DVDs and I played with them on the last Magic Circle reunion fest where we did Battle Hymns (1982) with all three guitarists and three drummers on stage playing together. Then I did “Metal Warriors” and “Glory Of Achilles”, two of the songs that we did with me and (ex-drummer) Kenny 'Rhino' Earl were in the band and we just killed it. If you want to see some of the fastest over the neck guitar playing there is, go watch that video. It was filmed in front of seventy thousand people for the Hell On Earth video (2005). I'm proud of that, too. ...I'm still very much brothers of Metal with everyone from Manowar. We're all still the best of friends. Once you've been in a band like that, it never leaves you. Triumph Of Steel is a trophy on my shoulder that goes with me everywhere I go. It put me on the map and I'm a good enough guitar player to now have my name on my own band with my own records. I prove it with every new record I do. A lot of journalists have hailed the demonic solo that I did for the (horror) movie Jezebeth (2011) as one of the fastest in the world. ...Maybe Guitar magazine will finally recognize that.”
Todd: How difficult was it for you to step into the shoes of Ross 'The Boss? That's an incredibly bold maneuver.
David: “Let's re-phrase that. I never stepped into anybody's shoes. When Ross left the band, he took his shoes with him and I brought in my own shoes. Ross and I are two completely different guitarists with very different styles. Ross grew up with Joey and had an older, Blues Rock style of playing whereas I came from a new breed of guitarists like Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big, Racer X) and Jason Becker (Cacophony, David Lee Roth). I brought my style of playing into Manowar as much as I could and as much as they would let me to. ...When I left, I left with my shoes and (former guitarist) Karl (Logan) came in wearing his own. We've all got our own shoes, ya know?”
Todd: During your tenure with the group (or after, really), did you feel as if they were receiving the level of recognition they truly deserved? Am I correct in remembering the group had more consistent success over-seas?
David: It was that way with Manowar, unfortunately. Manowar never really hit it big here like they should have. Yes, they've got fans, they could play the (Chicago, Illinois-based) Congress Theater and put eight hundred, a thousand or even fifteen hundred people in there, but they never got to the same level as Metallica, ya know? But if you take the band overseas, and even when I was still in the band, we headlined our own festivals. We headlined everywhere we played. We actually had bands like Fates Warning and Saxon opening for us because Joey stuck to his guns and was going to make this band be what he wanted it to be. Whether or not I'm in it anymore, I'm proud of what they've done. Joey's done a great job with the band. They are the kings of Metal and I'm proud to have my crest on the wall and trophy for the seven year period that I spent with them. I even and got a platinum record out of it. Out of all the records that Manowar has done to date, The Triumph Of Steel was the first record to hit the top ten of the German charts within the first two weeks it was out. It was also their first record to go Gold as well. Others have since, but The Triumph Of Steel was the first and I'm very proud of that.”
Todd: At what point did you come to the realization that you wanted to embark on a career as a solo artist? Was it something you had always wanted to do or were the motivations born at a much later point in your career arc?
David: “Since my time in Manowar, I've always known that I wanted to do something on my own. Being the guitar player that I am with my super shredder style, I wanted to have my own band. When it came time for me to step down from Manowar, I realized it was the perfect opportunity for me to form the David Shankle Group. As I was finishing my degree in Jazz and Classical Guitar and Music Theory at Roosevelt University, I began putting the band together. As I was developing the first record Ashes To Ashes (2005), Joey DeMaio was starting Magic Circle Music Festivals and Magic Circle Music. We'd already mended our fences and had stayed brothers of Metal, so he said 'Let me sign you for your first two records'. He signed me and we took the record over to Germany and had the guys from (German Neue Deutsche Härte legends) Rammstein help get it Mixed and get it Mastered. ...After a few years, we released Hellborn (2007) and ended up touring Europe where played the Magic Circle Festival. Two years prior to that, we had already done a Manowar reunion show, which had me introduce the Hellborn band. ...Honestly it was only a matter of time before I started the David Shankle Group.”
Todd: Has studying classical guitar on a university level helped you grow as a player? I would imagine it's broadened your musical horizons. Are you able to apply the education to traditional Heavy Metal arrangements?
David: A lot. When I was still playing in clubs and was discovered by Manowar, I had just begun studying classical guitar. ...My father was a music teacher and got me started when I was only eight years old. I played for about two weeks and then quit, but when I was sixteen and a half, I started playing again. I was mostly self taught. I took lessons from a guy named Howard Anderson for a while and he basically taught me how to teach myself. Then I started getting into players like (Jazz guitarist) Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin (Mahavishnu Orchestra) and I knew what type of guitarist I wanted to become. By the time I developed my skills and got into Manowar, I'd already won a couple of guitar competitions in Chicago. I knew that by going to college, I could open more doors for myself as I would become a better player and writer. When I started going to college, I was studying classical guitar with Michael Kurtz, God rest his soul and his wife Muriel Anderson, who's also a wonderful classical guitarist who was teaching there as well. I started studying music theory again along with classical guitar. When I wasn't touring with Manowar and got time off, I transferred my credits to Roosevelt University in Chicago, which is where I graduated and got my degree in Music Theory and Guitar By studying different styles of music, I was able to learn more about the scales I was playing and had my eyes opened to Jazz, Fusion and Funk. It really opened up my ability as a Neo-Classical super shred guitarist to understand what other great other guitar players that I liked were doing. Guys like Paul Gilbert, Jason Becker and (Tony) McAlpine. I knew what they were doing, but I was able to write everything out on paper and actually create better melodies when it came to playing leads and doing harmony work like (Queen guitarist) Brian May. It opened doors for me and made things really easy come to me really quick. It helped to make my songwriting better and forced me to construct my guitar solos around all my other playing. It really helped me become the guitar player I always wanted to be. I owe a lot of that to college and I recommend it to anybody out there. Take lessons from the best you can find in your area and go to college and study. It won't hurt you, it will only help.”
Todd: Musically, how has your approach to writing and recording changed with each subsequent release? What changes did you deploy during the twenty-plus year interval between The Triumph Of Steel and Ashes To Ashes?
David: “If you listen to my playing on the Manowar record, there was a lot of stuff I could have done, but they didn't want that style of playing on the record. They still let me cut loose wherever I could, though. If you go from The Triumph Of Steel to Ashes To Ashes, I was still finishing my degree in school, I metamorphosed into the guitar player that I wanted to be and knew that I could be. It allowed me to unleash my writing skills in my world and helped me define who Dave Shankle is as a writer and a guitar player. The first record has a lot more keyboard-orientated stuff on it. The singer Trace (E. Zaberwith) did a lot more with harmony and melody. Then I kicked over to the Hellborn record, I started introducing the seven string guitar, so it's a lot heavier. It's more gut wrenching stuff. There's no keyboards on that record at all. And I got a singer that doesn't sing as high as Trace did on the first record. He's a bit more to the point. ...On the third record, I wanted to go back and take the best of what I did from the Ashes To Ashes and the best of what I did from Hellborn and put together Still A Warrior (2015). I brought some of the orchestral and symphonic keyboards back in, used much wider guitar harmonies sand found a singer in Warren Halvarson (Damien Thorne), who also plays in a Chicago-based band called Heaven and Hell. They're a tribute to Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio, so I knew his vocals would be a perfect fit. I could stretch him like a piece of gum if I needed him to sound like Dio or (Whitesnake vocalist David) Coverdale. For me, Still A Warrior has a little bit of the best from the first two records combined into it.”
Todd: Once you began the writing and recording processes for Hellborn, did you find it difficult to 'top' what you had already done with Ashes To Ashes and, to a lesser extent, The Triumph Of Steel? How did you move up?
David: “There was an eight year gap between Ashes To Ashes and Hellborn. After Hellborn, I took a little bit of a break. I didn't know if I was going to stay with the Magic Circle label. There was not hard feelings. The contract had run out and I was able to find a better deal through Pure Steel Records. When I listen to Hellborn, I said to myself 'What can I do to get to the next level?' The writing was on the wall, so I listened to the best stuff and what people talked about on both of the records and I let my heart guide me towards what felt right. It actually made those songs come together quite easily. Some songs that I didn't put much stock in at first ended up being some of my best songs. Once Warren got in the band, his voice really helped shape the chord structures that I had in my mind. And he was able to do the melodies I had in mind because I could pull him left and pull him right. It ended up turning out being better than I ever thought it was going to. It ended up being my favorite record so far. Don't get me wrong, I love every musician I have ever had in all three of my DSG bands from Trace to Dennis to (bassist) Jeff Kylloe to all the different drummers. Right now, this is my best band and frankly, I won't be changing anything. If I do anything, I'll find a keyboardist and bring that back into the band.”
Todd: What equipment are you currently using? Specifically, what companies and products are your currently endorsing? Am I correct in assuming you use a vast array of different tools to capture your trademark tonalities?
David: “I have my own signature guitars out now with Grossmann Guitars from Romania. I have the DS7 Shred Machine which is a custom-built seven string and I have the DS6 six string. There's nothing like them in the world. They're completely built and hot-rodded by Chris Grossmann and he did a phenomenal job. I used to use the Kahler Tremolo system from Gary Taylor. I had been endorsing their Tremolos for twenty years, but now I have my custom gauge Shankle Shred Bar which is a much longer, a little bit thicker and straighter vibrato. ...It also has a custom fret job where the neck is scalloped fret for the last four frets. It's just a wrecking machine. It has a super cutaway neck through so when you get up on the high frets and you stretch up to the seventh fret, there's no wood hitting the back of your hand. All the problem areas are gone. As far as other equipment goes, I endorse Fractal Audio and I use the AX-FX II and the MFC-101 Pedal Boards. It's the best sounding rack mount with three amp effect processors out there in my opinion. It's great gear. I endorse a lot of other companies, too/. EMG Pickups, Ernie Ball strings and Line Six. I also endorse Morley pedals and Jim Dunlop, so there's a lot of companies out there. Everything I endorse comes from great companies that I've been with for a very long time. My main tone is my Ernie Ball strings, my EMG Pickups, my guitar, my heart and soul and my Fractal Audio.”
Todd: Now that we've covered nearly everything else, am I correct in understanding that you are working on an instrumental solo effort? From a purely 'musical perspective', how different is it from the David Shankle Group?
David: “When you do something like that, the guitar playing is everything. An instrumental record is all about the playing and the leads and the melodies that you create. On an instrumental record, my lead melody serves as my vocal. That's the real difference. I can play different styles of instrumental music from Fusion to Jazz and Classical to heavy, aggressive stuff and really blow out the chops. You're not relying on writing songs that are structured around a singer, it's all about me, myself and I and playing the lead guitar. It's all about me showing everybody my complete personal style. I've always wanted to do an instrumental record and I've had a lot of people come at me to do one for a long time, so I'm going to have an opportunity to do it and I plan on doing it. It's kind of ironic because while I'm working on more new David Shankle Group material, I'm also writing instrumental stuff, so it's kind of a cross purpose sometimes, ya know? ...As I was just saying, you're not writing for a singer, you're writing for yourself to play your own lead melody to. Writing music for the band in David Shankle Group is constructing intro, verses, choruses, bridges and sub-verses. It's the same way when you're writing as an instrumentalist, but your verses, choruses and melodies are all based around what you're writing on the guitar. You're not relying on the words to a song like “Into The Darkness” or “Still A Warrior”. My guitar is the sole voice of an instrumental record as opposed to a David Shankle Group record when we have a singer.”
Still A Warrior (2015)
Anticipation For Blood Leveled In Darkness (2014)
Shrunken Head (EP) (2008)
Ten-Song Demo (2006)
Plan Of Attack (EP) (1993)
The Triumph Of Steel (1992)
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