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It’s safe to say that for a good 30 years now, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci has been the go-to name when it comes to prog-metal guitar. In fact, it would be difficult to think of another player in the genre who has had anywhere near the same level of impact as Petrucci when it comes to his work with Dream Theater, as a solo artist and with the instrumental prog supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment.

But before he was a progressive guitar hero to millions, Petrucci was, like most of us, a kid who loved heavy rock music and awesome playing. And as he sees it, he just happened to be lucky enough to grow up at a time when both of those things were available in serious abundance.

“I graduated high school in ’85, and I'm probably biased because of my age, but what a great period for music that was,” Petrucci says. “The Scorpions were hitting hard. Maiden. Metallica. I'm just rattling things off. But it was like the densest era of hard rock and metal guitar bands. It was amazing.”

With that in mind, Petrucci phoned Metal Edge in advance of Dream Theater’s U.S. tour in support of their new album, A View from the Top of the World, which kicks off February 2, to talk about some of his favorite players from the era. As a guy who has always worn his influences proudly on his sleeve, he acknowledges with a laugh, “I'm sure that some of these names won’t be a surprise.” Nevertheless, he continues, “these are the players that I was seriously, seriously into, and who influenced me the most.”

Joe Satriani and Steve Vai

Joe Satriani is the first one that comes to mind. Like, how could you not talk about Joe? He and Steve Vai, both those guys were making so much incredible music during the ‘80s and were huge influences on me. With Joe, the first record I heard was Surfing with the Alien, for sure. And then Steve, it was probably when he did Eat ‘Em and Smile with David Lee Roth. Right in that period, ’86, ’87, you're talking about some of the greatest guitar music ever recorded. And then a couple of decades later I found myself touring with them on G3. So it was this incredible experience of having listened to their music and learned their solos note-for-note, and then playing onstage with them. I mean, I used to subscribe to Steve Vai's lessons that he would send through the mail. They were just printed out on paper. [laughs] It was crazy.

Yngwie Malmsteen

You can't talk about that period without mentioning Yngwie. You heard Yngwie for the first time and you said, “What the hell?...” His whole thing just blew me away. I think when I first heard him, it was on an Alcatrazz tune. It was really early, before [his 1984 solo debut] Rising Force. I didn't know what he looked like or that he was a young guy from Sweden. I pictured an Al Di Meola kind of guy. [laughs] Because I hadn't heard that kind of technique done that way. It was like, what's going on there?

Randy Rhoads

Then of course there's Randy. I mean, when Blizzard of Ozz came out, that was groundbreaking and mind-blowing. And then right after that you had Diary of a Madman. Again, I'm sitting there learning every single Randy solo and song note-for-note, and then playing all those songs in my bands at the time. “Over the Mountain” was one where it had such a wicked solo, and in my school, if you could play the “Over the Mountain” solo, then you were the shit. “Mr. Crowley,” too, because it has that real long outro.

Chris DeGarmo

Queensryche was huge for me. Rage for Order in particular was a big, big album that we were all into. And when I say "we," I mean me and the original Dream Theater guys – John Myung and Kevin Moore and Mike Portnoy. We were huge Queensryche fans. And then after Rage, they came out with Operation: Mindcrime, which was like the most mind-blowing album at the time. I remember going to see them do a signing at a record store and meeting them and giving them our demo tape. This was back when Dream Theater were called Majesty. And then years later we ended up touring with them, which was so cool.

Alex Lifeson

I don't know if he’s necessarily thought of as an ‘80s guy, but that pocket of time in the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s is when my favorite Rush albums were released. Rush is my favorite band of all time, and Alex is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He’s such a big influence on me not only as a player, but on my sound and style of writing, too. When Dream Theater first came out, a lot of people said we sounded like Rush. I don’t know if that was a criticism or a compliment, but I took it as a compliment, of course!