This page is about the original 2004 release of The Firebard, which was re-recorded and re-released in 2014.
All songs written and arranged by Randy Ellefson, Copyright 2004 Randy Ellefson (ASCAP).
Randy Ellefson – All guitars, bass, and drum programming
Released June 29, 2004 by Guitarosity Records (indie)
Produced by Randy Ellefson
Engineered by Randy Ellefson at The Firebard Studio, Maryland
Mixed by Doug Johnston, Randy Ellefson at Cue Studios, Virginia
Mastered by Doug Johnston at Cue Studios, Virginia
Artwork and logo by Mattias Noren
Photography by Ryan Stevenson
Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles Magazine
by Aaron Small, issue #83, November 2004
No relation to David Ellefson (ex-Megadeth), Randy Ellefson is a remarkable guitar virtuoso. Recovering from severe tendonitis in both arms, it took Randy two years to record his debut instrumental album, The Firebard. Containing ten tracks, this is not your usual fret board wankery. Of course the solos are plentiful, but the focus is on bright, energetic riffs ranging from crunchy to melodic. Randy also supplies the bass parts and drum programming. The fact that the percussion is computer generated is fairly obvious, nevertheless Ellefson utilizes the technology to its utmost advantage. Not content to play a Fender, Gibson, or Ibanez, Randy actually manufactures his own homemade guitars, which he certainly makes sing.
by Celtic Bob of Metal-Rules.com, September 2004
Hailing from Maryland, USA classically trained guitarist Randy Ellefson delivers a strong instrumental debut album. Randy received his Bachelors of Music degree in classical guitar which in turn partially led to him suffering from a severe case of tendonitis. He did his 4 years of playing requirements in only 2 years. He was unable to play guitar for over a year and even then he could barely play once a week. Four years passed before he could play Rock music again and even now is restricted to 3 hours a day every second day. It was because of this that it took over 2 years to get this record recorded.
Clocking in just under an hour this all instrumental album ranks up there with the greats like Satriani and Vai. The crunchy yet melodic guitar sound is very reminiscent of the great guitar albums of the late 80’s and early 90’s (Think SURFING WITH THE ALIEN). Randy has brought back guitar solo’s which seem to be missing in allot of today’s newer releases. Add in great riffs and a solid rhythm section and you got THE FIREBARD. There is nothing really slow on this disc just allot of great guitars overlapped with some amazing solos that can put Malmsteen to shame. You can easily see the classical influence and training in places. There was no holds barred when recording this, Randy just gave it everything he got. You can tell he was playing with everything he had. Even without knowing the hardship he went through you will still appreciate this recording and easily rank it up there with the greats of the past.
Hard Rock has a new name in guitar players and it is Randy Ellefson. Hopefully this is just the beginning.
“Buoyant, melodic, and fresh with vitality, Randy Ellefson’s playing is an inspiration all over this intimate, personable yet rocking instrumental album. Playing since age 13, Ellefson is classically trained and well equipped to soar with this debut album.”
Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles, KnuckleTracks #84 CD Notes
“Randy Ellefson is a remarkable guitar virtuoso.”
Aaron Small – Brave Words and Bloody Knuckles
“Randy Ellefson is a dazzling and nimble-fingered axe wielder.”
Dan McAvinchey – Guitar Nine Records
“…it is obvious that Ellefson is an amazing rock and metal guitar player…”
Greg Yost – Music Monthly Magazine
“The CD is awesome Randy. A job well done. Looking forward to it playing on my show.”
Simon – Austrailian Radio – www.musicallyincorrect.com
“There is a lot more riffing going on here than one would expect. So, instead of endless directionless solos, these ten tracks actually have the structures and cohesion of actual songs. This is what’s always missing from these [instrumental guitar] discs…Randy’s playing ability is unquestionably top notch.”
Jeff Richardson – Urotsukidoji’s Underground
Regarding Legends: “Some very nice playing. Your attention to detail, both in terms of technique and production, is outstanding. The rhythm guitars are extremely tight and aggressive, with some very tasty little fills here and there reminiscent of Jake E. Lee (I’m thinking of those cool alternate-picked 16th-note arpeggios where each note is played twice). A superb example of well-synchronized double-tracked rock guitar. Soloing is good, also extremely well synchronized double-tracking. The tone and delivery are reminiscent of Adrian Smith. It’s refreshing that, unlike other hard-rock guitar instrumentalists, you don’t try to play as fast as you can all the time. The ascending chromatic riff is very cool, reminding me of something Randy Rhoads would have done. Awesome guitar tones – it’s clear, detailed, but not too buzzy. “
Regarding Legends: “Love it! Really strong, uplifting chords, and melodic-but-still-ass-kicking leads. (Cool bass lines, too!) Love those galloping rhythm parts. And I love a fuzzy sustain–like that long descending phrase at 2:31 (followed by that awesome climb-up!). “
“Thanks so much for the superb album! WOW! That’s all I can say after a first audition. Superbly played and brilliantly composed. I’ll be honored to play it in my show, and I’m sure my listeners will be so enchanted and delighted as I was.”
Ovidiu Dumitrescu – Romanian Radio Show “For Love of Guitar”
“I had a listen to The Firebard online – great work! Very impressive, particularly given the additional hardships you’ve had to face to record the project.”
Adam Friedman – www.cinematicmusic.com
“Randy really brings the guitar to life as his focus on shreds and riffs is the standout among all else. [The Firebard is] a compact disc to take in one track at a time.”
Mike Lazaris – Hard Beyond Driven
The Firebard is “one great instrumental release from a person who deserves to be recognized.”
Orpheus – www.Metal-Temple.com
“Thank you for sending us your music. We are very impressed.”
Rich Rock – www.metalshoprocks.com
This is the earliest composition on the album and captures my overall sound pretty well. As usual, I stumbled into the music while playing with chords and discovered the opening riff. The second riff, where the lead guitar enters, was written on a classical guitar, but it wasn’t until I wrote the riff at the climax (4:21) and its variations (all the remaining riffs) that I formed a song. These drums are the first I programmed with my feet on the drum machine, which I had rigged with letter openers. The lead theme at 2:54 was the first music I wrote after tendinitis took away my playing, and the guitar solo at 4:04 was in my head for years, so I was pleased to get it pretty close.
2. Weekend Warrior
A motif is a short musical idea, and I try to write my songs from only one or two motifs usually found in the rhythm guitar part. The second riff is where most of the riffs under the guitar solo come from, while the opening riff is the source of all other sections. The guitar solo is the hardest music I’ve played after tendinitis and was so demanding for me that after writing, practicing, and recording a phrase, I had to stop playing for the day. This continued for several weeks until the entire solo was done. The solo was recorded several months after the other leads in this song because I wasn’t sure what to play and knew it needed to be big.
I often practice technique unplugged, and that’s when I wrote the opening rhythm guitar part in between exercises. I had new gear at the time and hadn’t created new sounds yet, so I started playing with lead tones, none of which I liked. In frustration, I turned on a huge reverb and delay setting, mostly as a joke, but it actually sounded pretty good. The edge was too strong, though, so I flipped my guitar switch to the neck pickup and instantly wrote the opening melody. More leads quickly followed, and soon I had most of the main parts, but it wasn’t until recording the album many years later that all the “chorus” variations were written, or the entire second pass.
4. Into The Act
Sometimes composers demand more cleverness from themselves, and I originally thought the opening riff was too obvious for me to keep, but less pretentious people than me liked the directness of it, so I kept the whole song and am glad I did. The rhythm guitars under the solo are one of my favorite variations on previous material (and were written years later), and I was also glad to get a quote of the “chorus” theme in there, too. The double lead guitars in the chorus were a big concern because making all the parts audible wasn’t easy.
5. Chimes of Passion
This is the last song I started writing before losing my guitar playing to tendinitis, and it was still in pieces. It is fairly easy to play and was one of the first songs I could play afterwards, and since I could only play about one minute before having to rest, the alternating guitars in the beginning made it ideal for my first post-tendinitis recording. I pieced together a rhythm section, then discovered lead guitar was easier on the arms if playing melodies. Without meaning to, I wrote first one lead melody and then another, and another…until I was surprised that I’d written all lead guitars up to the solo section. At the time, this was a big deal for me, for it showed there was life after tendinitis. I could still compose, and still make a recording. Thrilled, I wrote rhythm guitars for the solo and then the remaining leads. You can probably tell the lead playing is quite simple even though this was re-recorded later. It was the last song started before tendinitis, and the first finished after it.
6. Still at Large
The most recent composition here, “Still at Large” is a personal favorite. It reminds me of a hot pursuit even before the somewhat chaotic middle, which was largely improvised during one of my occasional bursts of frustration with “the rules”. I knew I wanted to start a riff (at 3:22) with a certain chord, and when I stumbled upon an odd key change, I ran with it, purposely destroying all sense of key by leaping between tri-tones, falling down chords in half steps, and then improvising what turned out to be a theoretically complicated passage at 3:47. Thinking in multiple keys at the same time and determined to not suggest any of them for more than a moment, I ended up using all 12 pitches on the fifth string while alluding to D major/minor, E major/minor, and A major (despite this, it’s just a simple IV-V-I progression). Fortunately, it sounded good to not play lead over this, since that might have been quite hard!
Aside from this, the entire song was written from the opening rhythm and chord, which ranks as my most simple motif. The coda (at 5:48) was arranged in my head. As for the lead, I was most happy with the passage at 2:55, partly because I had no idea what to do there for the longest time and it turned out to be one of my personal highlights.
7. Motif Operandi
As with all songs on the album, the riffs were written first and, in this case, fairly quickly. Something about the conciseness of the material suggested the song was a more pure example of my motivic development style, which characterizes my composing and is my modus operandi. It was during the writing of the guitar solo that I regained some of my lead improvising ability, which I had lost after tendinitis, mostly on account of it being too demanding for my arms to handle.
8. A Far Cry
I often play this simple tune to warm up or cool down, and the opening riff is similar to piano music. A lead theme that consists of only two notes is a rare thing, and while it is nicely straightforward, I like the harmonies added the next time around. Guitar music often sounds like it was written specifically for the guitar, so part of what I like is that it simply sounds like music. The pedal tone lead guitar towards the end has always been fun to play despite the danger of rushing it. A free download of the tablature is available from www.randyellefson.com.
Standing in a room with my guitar one day, I thought to myself, “I haven’t written anything simple in a while”. The next thing out of the guitar was the opening riff for “Epic”, but I couldn’t leave well enough alone and ended up writing three other versions with increasingly active rhythms. I shook my head at this, since it was typical of me. I had just bought a new 8-track recorder but hadn’t tested it yet, and, knowing my tendency to go overboard, I purposely chose to record the new riff instead of a song. That way, I wouldn’t be tempted to work on it, so I recorded and then doubled the riff. Two tracks down, six to go.
I started improvising some chords (at :38), and then added these to the recording. On the fourth track, I improvised a simple melody (:57) that turned into a repeating line at 1:18. On the fifth track, I wrote some double-stops in a higher register, at 1:15. On track 6 (at 1:32), I struck the high E string repeatedly, tapping a harmonic, and on the seventh track I added the first lead guitar. I later erased this and replaced it with a bass, for the lead I improvised onto track eight (at 1:53) was better. All of this had been done in about 30 minutes without me realizing what I was doing. I had taken my “simple” song and turned it into one of the more complicated things I’d written. Oops! The remaining music was written years later, and I’ve always liked the lead cascade at 3:25, the sad melodies at 3:59, and the ghosting chords underneath.
This song’s motif (the first four notes) is similar enough to part of “Epic” that I’ve always thought of them as a pair (“Epic Journeys”). The motif is three short notes (usually ascending) followed by a longer note, and this forms all of the music up to the solo. The opening lead is peculiar to play despite sounding natural, but the “chorus” (:58) is the standout. As I improvised, I had the call and answer idea and worked it out on one guitar first. The simplicity of it allows the rhythm guitar part to come through. I’m always up for a challenge, and since the start is in C# minor, a good portion of the guitar solo is C# major – not your friendliest key, with 7 sharps. The hardest part of writing this was figuring out how long to make the big rest in the middle, though it sounds obvious now.