Kings of Thrash with special guests Hatriot, Corrosive Vengence and Takacs perform on February 22 at The King of Clubs. Doors are at 6:30pm and tickets are $30
Unlike many others of his generation, guitarist Jeff Young didn’t jump to the next thrash band after leaving Megadeth in 1989. Instead, he continued learning – and practicing – flamenco and gypsy music, studied under the Assad brothers (famed Brazilian guitar virtuosos), released solo albums, and started an internet radio show, Music Without Boundaries.
Seemingly, Young had left his past behind with no plans of looking back until he was contacted about appearing in a documentary about former Megadeth drummer Nick Menza, who tragically passed away on stage in 2016. It was this occasion- under sad circumstances – that led to Young and former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson sharing a stage for the first time in decades at the NAMM Convention in L.A. as part of an all-star jam paying tribute to Ronnie Montrose.
Six years later, in May 2022, Young and Ellefson again shared a stage, this time as part of the Ultimate Jam Night honoring the music of the Big Four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax). The response was overwhelming and not only did the fans want more, the booking agents saw this as a great opportunity and thus Kings of Thrash, with Chaz Leon (vocals/guitar) and Fred Aching (drums) rounding out the lineup, was born.
Initially planned as a way to spotlight Megadeth’s first album, 1985’s Killing Is My Business … and Business is Good!, and third album, 1988’s So Far, So Good … So What! – the only album Young appeared on, the Kings of Thrash have been working on new, original material that, as Young tells me, doesn’t follow the Megadeth template.
Not too bad for a kid who grew up playing in cover bands near Dayton, Ohio. That’s where our conversation started.
I understand that you lived in Kettering, Ohio when you were a kid.
Yeah, between Kettering and Centerville area. I went to Fairmount West, class of ’80. I only went a half year because I had enough credits. I was already out playing in a cover band and we went so far as the Knoxville World’s Fair opening for Artimus Pyle of Lynyrd Skynyrd. That was post plane crash and they had all these traction machines back stage. So, yeah, Kettering, Dayton, home of the Ohio Players.
What was the name of your cover band?
I had two bands, Black Widow, which played around the Dayton area, and Raven Craft, with a singer from Cincinnati, Rich Lewis, who went on to play with Randy Piper from W.A.S.P. Randy lived in Cincinnati because of Richard for many years and they had a band called Animal.
Was it get out of Ohio as quick as you were able to?
I had read in article in the back page of Guitar Player magazine and it was about G.I.T. At that time, Tommy Tedesco and Don Mock and Joe Diorio and Frank Gembale and Scott Henderson and many more were all teaching there and that freaked me out. That’s where I wanted to be. It was really that school that lured me out there. It was like ITT Technical Institute, a one-year college. That’s what G.I.T. reminded me of when I first read that article. To get a classical guitar degree, you have to take a bunch of classes that will never serve you in your lifetime and you learn a bunch of nonsense. At G.I.T., I could do seven periods a day of all hands-on guitar work and theory and different genres of music. That was the perfect place and I somehow convinced my parents to help me get out there and the rest is history and a mystery.
You joined Megadeth in 1988 and left the band a year later. How does it feel to be talking about this stuff 35 years later?
I guess that’s a testament to the duration and timelessness of the music, so that’s a good thing, right?
After you left Megadeth, could you have ever imagined that you’d be playing these songs decades later?
Other than maybe at a jam night doing one song or a couple, nope, never would have imagined it. I did the Megadeth thing in my 20s, which is really a good experience to do that while I was young, and then I was really fortunate to do the Brazilian thing in my 30s with the Assad Family – Odair and Sergio. To sit at the feet of those two guitar masters, heralded as the greatest guitar duo in history by their fellow peers, chosen by Yo-Yo Ma to arrange his Brazilian album and to be taken on tour, somehow I lucked into this.
It’s funny. I was on the front page of the Dayton Daily News right around the time I was having a guitar built by a guy in New York named Thomas Humphrey. That was the guitar the brothers played and that was what introduced me to the family, the guitar luthier Thomas Humphrey. I ended up moving to Brazil, over 4 years living in Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro.
When people ask me what it was like playing with Dave Mustaine, I’m a little bit aghast, to be honest, so I send them this video and they don’t really bring that topic up once they see these guys play. Then they have a whole set of new questions.
Would you say that it went from like driving a car when playing with Megadeth to flying a plane when playing with the Assads? Was it that different of a world for you?
To be honest, I think what prepares you for any gig is a lifetime of learning and things that you’re into. What I’ve learned by playing with such seemingly diverse bands and traveling the world, and this really hit me one day when I was sitting in Spain at lunch, is that no matter what culture you’re from, we all kind of want the same thing at the beginning of the day. We want good food, good friends, good music, and some good extra curricular activities of some sort. It doesn’t matter what language you speak.
And what I learned about music, as I was getting into flamenco and discovering Paco de Lucia, John Mclaughlin, and Al Di Meola, is that musical styles are not as different as they may seem. For instance, on the Megadeth album I played on, there’s two songs that immediately come to mind – “Set the World Afire,” the end solo that I do at the tail of the song, and also my solo in “Mary Jane,” the progressions revolved around an E to F, E minor to F. They call that a phrygian mode. You would hear that same progression in the theme to Jaws. That is the exact same interval in “Set the World Afire” and it’s the exact same interval in thousands of flamenco tunes.
It’s a really unique style of music but as soon as you hear that E to F progression, you know it. Flamenco guitarists know how to improvise and how to play and there’s usual scales you would play to get that gypsy sound. I could hear style in a lot of rock players I heard over the years, like Uli Jon Roth from the Scorpions and Michael Schenker. Then, later, you’d hear Randy Rhoads do a little bit of that style and you’d hear it even more when Yngwie Malmsteen came out, he was doing a ton of this.
This scale that both rock players and European players like Uli Jon Roth and Schenker play, very German tectonic modes and scales and rhythms, they were tapping into that sound by osmosis. Even growing up in Kettering, without a great flamenco teacher, I was able to get a little bit of that in my playing. When I got into Megadeth, I was trying to channel flamenco and Paco de Lucia in those two songs and that kind of vibe. I think if people go back and listen to those two solos, they may hear a little bit of that in there. I was doing my best to get a little bit of that vibe. In thrash metal, I thought it would be cool to get flamenco sounds and gypsy scales which I always loved and would give a little uniqueness to the music and my playing, giving me a little bit of my own sound.
What are you thinking about as you work on new, original Kings of Thrash music?
We’re making the effort and going to the extra expense with the originals we’re writing with Kings of Thrash by going into the studio to record. It’s tricky to find a studio that has a 24-track and can maintain it and has an engineer who knows how to work it. We’ve already been in the studio to lay down our first original song, “Bridges Burned.” We put it on two-inch tape. Fred Aching, our drummer, he’s from Peru, we went into LAFX where Eddie Kramer’s doing all the posthumous Jimi Hendrix stuff. Much to Fred’s credit, we did it in one take and it’s a tricky drum thing when you hear it. I was really stoked about that.
I read that the new stuff you’re working on doesn’t necessarily sound like Megadeth, that it is more like Tool.
We have four songs. We’ve mentioned, in our writing sessions, a lot of bands that have influenced us, a lot of styles and sonic tapestries that have gone into these four songs. The vibe and playing field we’re on, I think the Megadeth fans are going to dig it. There’s really blazing drums with a lot of cool syncopations and stops and starts. The guitars are doing really cool stuff all the time, it’s heavy. But, some of the melodies have a bit of a Soundgarden vibe and Maynard/Tool, a little bit of that, kind of vibe. Our singer, Chaz Leon, in addition to fronting a Megadeth tribute, which is how we got hooked up with him by accident, he also fronts a Soundgarden tribute. He has a bit of that in his voice, even when he sings Megadeth.
He and I are writing the vocals together and I’m keeping his voice in mind as I’m working on the melodies and lyrics. I know how his range is. I think people are going to really be excited because it’s more melodic. There’s other influences in there. Since my time in Megadeth, David and I have listened to tons of different albums and music and learned exponentially lots of life musical lessons since then so we can bring all the best of what we brought back in our twenties and what we’ve learned since and bring it into this kind of music.
So, if I’m hearing correctly, Kings of Thrash is more than just you guys going out and playing Megadeth songs.
Going out and doing these albums was the offshoot. David and I were writing an EP together and there’s an event out in Hollywood at the Whiskey A-Go-Go called the Ultimate Jam. It happens every two weeks. And there’s a different theme every couple of weeks. I played the Eddie Van Halen tribute. They did a Ladies of the ’80s night and one for Ukraine. It was at the Ukraine one where a band did a System of a Down song and a mosh pit broke out. Two weeks later, the theme was the Big Four and that’s how Kings of Thrash was born. They asked me to get up and do some Megadeth. I said, “Well, I’m writing some original stuff with David Ellefson. Want to see if he’ll fly out here?” He flew out from Arizona. They matched us up with Chaz because we needed a singer and the organizers knew him from previous jams and that he could do it. Fred played some Slayer with some other musicians that night, we didn’t even get to hear him until we saw some videos a few days later. We knew he was the guy. It was all sort of born that night. We went out and did four warm-up shows our here in L.A. back in October and the fourth was back at the Whiskey where we recorded multi-track, three camera shoot that’s going to be coming out on Cleopatra Records. It’s a DVD, double CD and, in the summer, vinyl. We mixed it out of the box, as we say, analog style and we’re very excited. It’s called Best of the West: Live at the Whiskey A-Go-Go. It comes out March 24.
It’s cool you’re working on original material.
This is no coat tails riding thing. We’re doing this because the fans are asking us to do it. Those three Megadeth songs we played at the Whiskey just for fun for the Ultimate Jam night, the management saw it, the booking agent saw it, the fans saw it and they wanted it. This gives us the opportunity to build the Kings of Thrash name and let them see the personalities and see how great Chaz and Fred are and see how David and I are playing in this day and age. Then, maybe when we release the originals, they’ll give that a chance. It’s really hard to break a new band. We figured if we threw out an EP or an LP straight out of the gate, it would fall on deaf ears. Now, we’re hoping to start performing “Bridges Burned” in the live show really early on in the tour. People are going to be hearing original stuff from us real soon.
Had you kept in touch with David after leaving Megadeth?
We bumped into each other on and off at the big NAMM show in Anaheim every year. I’d see him and then maybe 3 years later we’d bump into each other. One year we got matched up. It didn’t get much heat because people didn’t realize he was kind of standing in the back. We jammed together with Brad Gillis from Night Ranger, Doug Aldridge from Whitesnake, Gilby Clarke from Guns N’ Roses, Jimmy Degrasso from Megadeth and Montrose, Keith St. John from Montrose and David Ellefson on bass. We did “Bad Motor Scooter.” We barely had a chance to say hello to each other that night because these are so hectic, they big celebrity jams that happened. We didn’t see each other again.
This all came about when I was invited to film the Nick Menza documentary. Nick was the drummer in Megadeth on Rust in Peace and beyond for many years. People know he passed away on stage. I ended up rooming with Nick on the road because I didn’t want to be around the drugs and stuff, even smoking, I don’t like cigarettes. I ended up rooming with the drum tech, Nick, and we became great friends. We stayed in touch. He’d been on my radio show, Music Without Boundaries.
The night before we filmed for the documentary, David and I met at the Rainbow. We sat at the back. We were about to get up and pay the bill, you know, go home and get some good sleep so we look good for filming, and I leaned over in Ellefson’s ear and I sang the riff to “Bridges Burned.” He and I had started this song back for Rust in Peace when we came off tour. He and I had written two songs and I had long since lost the demo tapes but I remembered two of the riffs. I sang it in his ear and he was like, “I totally remember that. We’ve got to get in a room and work that up.” That’s how this happened.
Since you last toured with Megadeth in 1988, are you as anxious now as you were back them? Anything you learned in ’88 that you’ll avoid in 2023?
This band gets along great. Chaz, our singer, is a lawyer by day. He is our graphic designer. He did the cover for Best of the West. He did all of our posters for the tour. David is the businessman, high level. I’m more like the musical director. I mixed the DVD. People are going to really astounded how musical it sounds. When you hear “My Darkest Hour” start, you think it’s from the studio, not a live show. It sounds so good. We do “Good Mourning” into “Devil’s Island” live on this DVD and that’s pretty beautiful. The guitar duet that Chris Poland and I do on “Good Mourning,” that has the flamenco thing, I’m playing the classical part and he’s doing a little cool thing over the top.
Your show in Columbus is at the King of Clubs which sort of picked up where the Alrosa Villa left off. It’s a great venue and one that I think you’ll enjoy playing.
I can promise I’ll throw down extra hard that night and, actually, playing my Dimebag guitar that’s on the cover of the Kings of Thrash DVD. I bought it in Dayton, I did a solo show there. I walked into Guitar Center and they had 3 Dimebag lightning bolt Cowboys from Hell blue guitars. I’d been looking for one of those. I like that shape. There’s a great sound to that shape. To find this one, it had the tone I was looking for. Anywhere I play the guitar, people are like, “Man, that sounds like magic.” I’ll bust it out for the show in Columbus.
Looking forward to the show and hearing those Megadeth songs.
We’ll have some surprises. Up to this date, all we’ve done is Megadeth live` but from the first date of this tour on, we won’t be only doing Megadeth. We’re doing some extra surprise songs from other bands.