Steve Hackett Explains How His Music Inspired Queen’s Brian May

Progressive rock guitar legend Steve Hackett looked back on one of his works that Queen’s Brian May cited as a huge influence on his work. Appearing in a recent episode of “The Metal Voice” podcast, Hackett was asked about Genesis’ 1971 album “Nursery Cryme” and how it impacted May. He replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Well, according to Brian May, he said that my guitar playing on ‘The Musical Box’ — the first track on the first Genesis album I played on — was a big influence on him.”

Genesis - The Musical Box (Official Audio)

“The Musical Box” is the opening track on the album, clocking in at almost ten and a half minutes. Reflecting on the piece and parts that inspired Brian May, Hackett said:

“Now there are a number of guitar solos on that track, [as] I was given a lot of space on it: there’s a little tinkly one, then there’s a heavy one, and then there’s a harmony one at the end. Specifically, he was thinking of the one at the end that I recorded as a three-part harmony.”

“Unfortunately, you can only hear it as a two-part. In those days we were doing mixes at God knows what time in the morning and trying to do it all in one go, as young bands do, this sort of going-for-it type mix. But I’m thrilled that it was an influence on him because his work is absolutely stellar.”

Steve Hackett - The Musical Box (Genesis Revisited: Live at The Royal Albert Hall)

Years later, Brian May would guest on Steve Hackett’s album “Feedback 86,” lending his guitar solo skills on two tracks. Hackett continued:

“It’s always very neat, isn’t it? You always get the feeling that there’s nothing left to chance with his solos, although when we did record together on something — it was a version of a thing called ‘Cassandra’ — he did an absolutely spontaneous solo on that, and it’s very, very good. It’s him, you hear it, perhaps it’s a little more bluesy and rough and ready than the absolutely pristine work that accompanies all of Queen’s guitar stuff.”

Steve Hackett (with BRIAN MAY) - Cassandra

“It’s all very thoroughly composed — I think it’s a word that probably is not often used with any rock band, but I would say that was what distinguished Queen musically because they were outstanding.”

In fact, Hackett also said that he put in a good word to Charisma Records founder that he should sign them, although that never happened:

“I remember even hearing the demos before they had a record deal. I heard them at the Charisma Record Company offices, and I remember saying to Tony Stratton Smith [Charisma Records’ founder], ‘I think you should sign these guys.’ For one reason or another, that didn’t happen, but their demos were stunning. There’s no reason why those things shouldn’t have been just released in that form.”

Steve Hackett (with BRIAN MAY) - Slot Machine

Although he loved Queen’s overall sound and style, it was May’s guitar work that left a huge impression on him:

“You know, it was stunning. The good thing I noticed immediately was the guitar work. I thought, ‘Oh, this guy’s good. There’s no doubt about it.’ So we got to work together, Brian and I, on a couple of different projects over the years, and he’s a very sweet man.”

As Hackett also added, he now owns one of Brian May’s signature models. And that guitar, as Hackett says, sounds like May himself:

“And I’ve got one of his guitars, funnily enough, the design that he came up with — that famous guitar that he and his father made out of a piece of spare fireplace or something.”

Steve Hackett (prod. by Brian May) - Don't Fall Away From Me

“And it’s very idiosyncratic — as soon as you play it, it sounds like Brian, but it’s got this sort of upper harmonic facility when you put the neck pickup out of phase with the other two, so you get this kind of onboard wah-wah sound that is quite thrilling. It has to be said — it’s almost like you’re operating in another octave.”

“You need some distortion with it, and what have you, but he’s a great player. I say I’m waxing eloquent about the abilities of my friend Brian.”

In another part of the interview, Hackett discussed writing music and general issues with creativity as a musician. When asked about Frank Zappa’s saying how all of the good music has already been written and that ideas have been exhausted, the guitarist said:

“Well, if I’m depressed, I’ll say, ‘Music isn’t doing anything surprising’ at a certain point, and then other times, if I’ve just done something that I happen to be in love with, I’ll be thinking conversely, ‘Music is always doing something surprising.'”

STEVE HACKETT - Can Utility And The Coastliners (Live in Brighton 2022)

“So it all depends on your mood on the day, and whether you want to be quoted or not. I would say there are times when I’ll come up against a writer’s block and then another time there’ll be a breakthrough, and I’ll be thinking, ‘No, all those guys in wigs did wonderful stuff, certainly.’”

“But beyond that, beyond Bach, there has to be… you know, at one point, I was going to do an album called ‘Bach, Blues, and Beyond’. I still haven’t gotten around to that. Maybe it will be a compilation, and I’ll do that, but it’s all of those things I’m prepared to entertain — Baroque music, blues music, and beyond. And the fusion of the two, which is what we have today with Bach, who is the father of Western music as we know it.”

“There was some interesting stuff going on before Bach, but in the main, he’s head and shoulders. And then you’ve got all the other incredible keyboard players that followed and that they used to teach — and perhaps they still do, I’ve never learned formally — but the idea of teaching keyboard and violin, as the twin bastions of composition.”

STEVE HACKETT - Watcher Of The Skies (Live in Brighton 2022)

“Nothing wrong with that, except that I never subscribed to that; for me, guitar was always a symbol of freedom, and so I accepted those chains willingly. Willingly. Yes, I have to pay homage, so at least one of my albums featured six pieces of Bach. I accepted the yoke and the challenge voluntarily because I love the music, and the beauty of it, but you do have to be good to do that stuff. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a lifelong commitment. Even if you’re lousy at it, it’s still a lifelong commitment. It’s not forgiving stuff — you’re not doing the easy thing.”

Photos: Mikemertes (Steve Hackett at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona), Raph_PH (TaylorHawkTributeWemb030922 (208 copped))

Author

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.