As the son of Paul Stanley of Kiss, it’s easy to assume that Evan Stanley—whose band Amber Wild is on the verge of breakneck success—was born to play guitar. And while that may well be true, the younger Stanley didn’t pick up his six-string specifically because of Kiss. Sure, Kiss factored in, but so did folk music, punk, and indie rock, leading to a style that’s equal parts shred, melodic, and anthemic. One listen to Amber Wild’s debut singles “Breakout” and the gorgeous sounding “Silver,” shows that Evan Stanley is primed for success, and then the vehicle to that success will no doubt come via Amber Wild.
Stanley rides his various Rock N Roll Relics curios hard and drives his sound through weighty Huges & Kettner heads, leading to an inspired sound that’s as grand as the licks his dad laid down with Kiss in the ’70s. That’s heavy praise, but the songs are there, the musicianship is top-flight, and the hype is real. Anyone who saw Amber Wild open for Kiss during the final leg of their End of the Road World Tour will tell you as much.
Amber Wild and guitar heroics aside, Stanley loves music through and through. And so, during a rare break in the action, he dialed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to dig into the ten albums that changed his life. But it wasn’t easy: “It’s impossible to choose my all-time top ten records,” he says. “So much stuff shaped me, so I’m choosing the records that were the most influential on me as a person, guitarist, and writer.”
“In no particular order, here we go…”
Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1965)
Choosing a favorite Beatles album is like choosing a favorite kid—I can’t really do it. But there’s something about Rubber Soul that makes it my favorite Beatles record on more days than not. There’s so much depth to it for it to start with “Drive My Car,” then into “Norwegian Wood,” and into “You Won’t See Me,” then “Nowhere Man.”
Those songs are so ridiculous, and their sonics hold up; they really sound and feel fresh. It’s a record I’ve listened to. I don’t know how many times… countless. And every time I hear it, it’s still like the first time. It immediately gets me back to that feeling of why I got into music in the first place: that it’s like magic; there aren’t words to describe it as it’s beyond words.
Led Zeppelin III – Led Zeppelin (1970)
Again, choosing a favorite Zeppelin record is the same thing. How do you do that? It’s just so ridiculous. But Zeppelin’s III is special because I remember getting it in a stack of CDs my cousin and her husband gave me for my 13th birthday. They were always into cool music. That stack ranged from Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to Led Zeppelin’s III and everything in between, and they were just like, “This will give you a pretty wide range of stuff. Find what you love.”
I had heard Zeppelin before, but this record was when Zeppelin really connected with me. Growing up, you hear little bits of the greats all the time, but sitting down and listening to that with focus and effort blew my mind. “Immigrant Song” is ridiculous, “Celebration Day” is crazy, and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is probably my favorite guitar track of all time; it’s just unhinged in just the most incredible way.
I had never heard guitar playing even remotely like that before. So, hearing that and being a new player, I was like, “Okay, this is where it’s at.” Cover to cover, with Zeppelin III, I mean, it has a bit more of that moody acoustic mystic feel to it. This is the Zeppelin album that got me into Zeppelin.
Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds (1965)
When I was about 15 or 16, I got into this album, and it blew my mind because it opened my world to a whole other type of guitar playing. My foundation is British blues and American blues, but British blues always have a kind of tea, and Mr. Tambourine Man is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s a super compressed, really clean 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, layering the most incredible, gorgeous melodies you’ve ever heard. And then, on top of that, Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby sing in a way that only they can together. It was so cool because those harmonies are wild, but it’s like the Crosby, Stills & Nash thing. They’re not barbershops; they’re weaving in and out, and the lead voice constantly changes.
So, hearing the totality of that record was nuts; I’d never heard anything like it. When I got my first turntable, it was one of the first actual vinyl records I got, and I spun that ’til it wore out. I was listening to that record cover to cover at least three times a day, every single day, for months.
Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, aka The Beano Album by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers (1966)
When I first started playing guitar around 13, my dad gave me a Buddy Guy CD and a Best of British Blues Volume Two compilation. There was “Steppin’ Out,” the John Mayall song with Clapton on that compilation, which was crazy. I played “Steppin’ Out” repeatedly, found what album it was from, and learned to play it like that.
By the time I was 15 or 16, I had learned every single guitar part on every track on this record was one of the catalysts that drove me to play. I was young enough that I hadn’t heard much of that guitar playing. I was just getting into guitar, which set me down the British blues route because my dad and many guys told me that if I wanted to get great at guitar, I needed to get into blues, which is the foundation for really great playing.
All the blues I heard were cool but a little laid back, but when I listened to this album, my mind was blown because it had the emotion of American blues channeled through these super angsty 20-something-year-olds, and that was something I identified with more.
The Best of Freddie King: The Shelter Years by Freddie King (2000)
As I said, a lot of American blues to me is a little bit laid back, but Freddie King, he fu*king goes for it! This compilation blew my mind. It’s after “Hide Away” and all that stuff. This was when he was signed to Leon Russell’s label, and it was cool because he was a little later in his career. From my understanding, they treated him like a priority artist and gave him the budget to get the musicians he wanted, and he just went for it.
The Shelter Years is so gutsy and angsty; he sings his absolute ass off. “Low Down in Lodi” is just wild, and so is “Five Long Years.” There’s so much stuff on there. Freddie’s tone is different than I was used to; he just cranked the treble and the amp. But somehow, with him playing, it’s aggressive and never shrill or ice picky. He played with so much swagger and really got the most out of a note.
Mixed Bag – Richie Havens (1966)
Another record that still to this day holds up. It has an amazing sense of space and depth for something recorded in the ’60s. The song choice is crazy because he was the ultimate cover artist. “I Can’t Make It Anymore” is Gordon Lightfoot’s song, and his version of “Eleanor Rigby” is amazing, but his version of “Just Like a Woman.” on that record gets me every time. His voice is super rich, and I think he’s one of the best rhythm players on the planet.
Then there’s live stuff on YouTube. There’s a live version of him doing “Here Comes the Sun” on YouTube, and he’s playing the guitar with his thumb, he has it tuned open, and he’s just laying his thumb across and letting his right hand go off; it’s so tasteful and effortless when he plays. It’s one of my feel-good albums; if I listen to it, I know everything will be alright.
Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)
Joni’s voice and her lyricism are so beautiful. It was one of those records I heard for the first time while working at this deli by my place doing deliveries. And with every paycheck, I’d go down to Freakbeat Records on Ventura Boulevard and buy some used CDs because they were so much cheaper.
The owner knew me and said that I’d like Blue, and that was my introduction to Joni Mitchell. “California” is mind-boggling; the way she writes is crazy. She’s like an unsung hero of guitar. She’s got super interesting tunings and voicing and just how she connects her voice to her guitar. Being from California and hearing about this completely different California from that song was surreal.
So, I was around 17, working at this deli, when I got a delivery order right before we closed with the name “J. Mitchell.” I thought, “Mitchell isn’t uncommon, so what are the chances it was Joni Mitchell?” So, I take the order, I get up to this big house in the Hills, knock at the door, and fucking Joni herself answers the fucking door. I never get starstruck; I was just at a loss and caught so off guard I didn’t even say anything.
So, she called back the next day for another order, and I delivered it. I had to tell her that I’m a huge fan. She invited me into her house to talk about music, asked me what I wanted to know, and told me all these stories for about half an hour. Meanwhile, the deli was blowing up my phone [laughs].
Jonie was amazing; she is the sweetest person on planet Earth and very passionate about music. I’ve got to meet many of my heroes through my dad, but being able to do so as a deli worker rather than “Paul Stanley’s son” has a different feeling when they don’t know who I am.
Crosby, Stills & Nash – Crosby Stills & Nash (1969)
CSN’s first record was it was kind of like The Byrds all over again. Their harmonies are beautiful, and then you hear “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” it’s like they took it to another level; their harmonies are telepathic. They sound like one voice. The musicianship on that record is so amazing, and as I understand it, Stephen Stills did a lot of it. He was the kind of guy who did most of the music, and the bass playing, and the fantastic guitars are incredible. All of those songs… I mean… “Marrakesh Express, “49 Bye-Byes,” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” are all crazy. Those songs are just second to none.
American Idiot – Green Day (2004)
This was the first record I fell in love with that was totally independent of my parents. They never played Green Day for me. They never talked about Green Day. There was no association whatsoever. I think I was about 10 or 11 when it came out. This is the first record on my list that I fell in love with before I hit my teen years. American Idiot didn’t sound like anything that my parents played, and I loved it. It was wild.
“American Idiot” is a song, even when you’re 10, that you think, “What the fuck are these guys going on about?” And then, “Jesus of Suburbia” is a nine-minute masterpiece that blends like six different songs. There’s not one miss on this album. It’s a 13-song album, and very few people can justify 13 songs, but every single one is just incredible.
The production is flawless, the writing is incredible, and the guitar riffs are what set me off. When I first started playing guitar, I learned “Holiday” and was like, “Hell yeah, this is what I’m gonna do.” So, that record was everything to me.
Hot Fuss – The Killers (2004)
I can’t get enough of this record to this day. I listened to it at least once a week, cover to cover. It’s just so great. It’s new wave, pop, punk, and rock mixed together. It’s just so effortlessly everything, and I love that! “Mr. Brightside” is definitely the greatest guitar riff of this generation. And then there’s “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine;” I even love “Change Your Mind,” which is one of the deeper cuts for sure. I love that song; I think it’s fantastic.