Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton: Queensrÿche

Why You Should Know Them

Queensryche has sold over twenty million records worldwide, and are responsible for creating one of the greatest concept albums of all-time, Operation: Mindcrime. Behind that success was Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, whose talents both as shredders and composers led the group to worldwide recognition while pushing the boundaries of progressive metal.

DeGarmo and Wilton started the band Cross+Fire in 1980, covering songs from Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. By 1981 they changed the name to The Mob (after Black Sabbath’s “The Mob Rules”) and recorded a demo. However, the name The Mob was already in use, so the band changed its name to Queensryche, after the first song on the demo, “Queen of the Reich.”

The success of the demo led Queensryche to London to record their first full-length album, The Warning. The sound started to become more progressive while maintaining its heavy metal influence and Queensrych would tour the U.S. in support of that album as the opening act for KISS.

Queensryche followed up The Warning with Rage for Order in 1986. However, in 1988, Queensryche would release one of the greatest concept albums of all-time: Operation: Mindcrime. Imagine if you took Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Pink Floyd, and threw them into a blender. The album tells the story of a brainwashed junkie tricked into performing assassinations for an underground movement. The guitars on the album follow the ups and downs of the character, showcasing DeGarmo’s and Wilton’s composition and playing skills. You can hear the Pink Floyd influence on the dark, solemn tracks such as “Suite Sister Mary,” followed seamlessly by the track “The Needle Lies,” which features the blistering guitar solos and aggressive riffing of heavy metal. The album set the bar for progressive metal and paved the way for bands like Dream Theater, who expertly blend musical virtuosity with complex composition.

Queensryche followed Operation: Mindcrime with Empire, released in 1990. The album achieved huge commercial success, going triple platinum (3 million album sales) and reaching the Top 10 on the charts. The album had less progressive arrangements than Mindcrime but began to experiment with new instrumentation. The song “Silent Lucidity” featured an orchestra and became a tremendous hit.

The Gear

Both guitarists shared the same gear up until Empire—Marshall JCM 800 100-Watt heads through 4x12 Marshall cabinets with Celestion Vintage 30 speakers, and Roland and Yamaha rack-mount digital effects processors. DeGarmo was playing Kramer “super strats” while Wilton played various Fender and Gibson guitars. Around the time of Operation: Mindcrime they both switched to ESP guitars. The tone for the album was very bright and aggressive, particularly Wilton’s tone. DeGarmo used a slightly warmer tone to balance out Wilton’s icepick-to-the-head sound, but overall both guitars were very vivid.

On Empire, both guitars became much warmer, mainly due to the switch from Marshall JCMs to huge Bradshaw rigs with so many effects that both guitarists had trouble keeping track of what they had.

Wilton’s rig used an FET 900 power amp, a Tubeworks Mosvalve power amp, and a Wizard preamp. DeGarmo’s rig used an FET 900 power amp with a Soldano preamp. Another key to the tone for this album was the cabinets they used to record with. Instead of the standard 4x12 cabinet, they opted for recording the guitar parts through 1x12 custom speaker boxes they nicknamed “compression boxes” that really pushed the limits of the speaker. Their rigs pushed the speaker so hard that they blew up three of them during recording.

Where Are They Now?

DeGarmo left Queensryche in 1997 after becoming jaded with the music industry. He performed with Jerry Cantrell, and released an EP with Spys4Darwin before disappearing from the music world entirely. In 2011, DeGarmo was interviewed on a possible reunion with Queensryche to which he replied, “Well, I’ll never say never. I don’t know how likely it is though. I’m still on good terms with everyone. We’re still connected and communicating. We have the chemistry, that’s not an issue.”

He has been working on a project with his daughter, Rylie DeGarmo since 2009 that finally came to fruition in 2015 entitled, The Rue, a six-song debut album. DeGarmo obtained his pilot’s license and is now making his living as a jet pilot.

Wilton has remained in Queensryche (along with long-time bandmates Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson), releasing another album in 2011. The band went through a period from 2011-2013 where the right to the band’s name, Queensryche, was being contested between the band and its former vocalist, Geoff Tate. The court officially ruled in 2013 that the remaining members of the band had the rights to their name while Tate could only play Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II in an entirely unique performance.

In 2015, Wilton and Queensryche released another album entitled Condition Human, which he described as, “A beautiful innocence surrounded by the darkness of a jaded unpredictable world.” Recently Wilton completed the Condition Human tour with his band and in 2016 released a music video for the song “Bulletproof.”

Back to the Top 40 Under-Appreciated Guitarists of the 1980s.

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