Chris Poland’s signature legato was born from tragedy. As a teen, his left hand accidentally punched through a plate-glass window and cut tendons in his fingers. He lost the ability to bend his index finger, and lost feeling in his pinkie. As a result, he learned unique fretting techniques that set the bar for inventive metal soloing on the first two Megadeth albums, and an impressive collection of solo and band projects.
Today, he leaps from jazz with Polecat to metal with Queensryche and Lamb of God to fusion with Ohm.
Fans of your playing in Megadeth think of you as a metal guy, but you’re actually from the Mahavishnu Orchestra school.
I ripped off all that stuff. On “Sister Cheryl,” the ascending chord part is basically half the section from “Electric Dreams.” I learned all the chords from “Birds Of Fire” and a lot of the chords from “Inner Mounting Flame.” McLaughlin does a lot of triads with his thumbs doing bass roots here and there. I was so into the band that I incorporated those chords into whatever I do.
How did you develop that fluid legato?
The outro solo on Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” has ascending and descending lines that got me started. Once I began listening to jazz and fusion, I started listening to a lot of Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker. I don’t have their harmonic knowledge, but when you listen to something long enough, you emulate it a bit. I just like the way it sounds. I’m a huge Holdsworth fan.
How did Ohm come together?
I tried some vocal projects with my brother and different guys and it was always so contrived, except for Damn The Machine, which was heartfelt. We tried best we could, but it just didn’t fly. One day, I called Pag [bassist Robertino Pagliari] because we played in a band called The New Yorkers and were into the fusion thing that was happening with Billy Cobham, Tony Williams, Return To Forever, and those bands. Pag was into Brand X.
We were doing well around town, then The Knack came out and L.A. decided that they didn’t like our music anymore. So we quit. I went through all these bands trying to get record deals. I called Pag and I said, “Let’s just play music we like and work jobs.” Otherwise, you’re just standing around wondering why you’re not playing. It’s the same way I felt in Megadeth. For a while it was fun, but after a while you’re like, “I can’t write anything with the band because it all has to be in this pigeonholed thing.” Now we do what we do. We’re never going to make any money, but I don’t think anybody is.
You’ve played on records by Lamb of God, Geoff Tate’s last Queensryche record, and jazz with Polecat. Which is the most challenging?
I played on Michael Angelo’s record and it was the fastest thing I’ve ever played! (Laughing) It was the fastest rhythm section I have ever heard in my life, and I know it was played by human beings! It just freaked me out!
This article originally appeared in VG Febuary 2014 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.