When Guitar World magazine recently included Nita Strauss in its “10 Female Guitar Players You Should Know” list, a line was drawn in the sand. Fret-heads, obsessed with the likes of Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, were suddenly very aware of the talents of this L.A. shredder who had previously been peddling her wares with all-female Iron Maiden tribute The Iron Maidens.
In 2014, Strauss replaced Australian musician and former Michael Jackson player Orianthi in Alice Cooper's band, and her standing as one of the top guitarists in the country was cemented. Strauss isn't only one of the top female guitar players you should know about, she's one of the top guitarists, period, that you should know about. Frankly, she shreds most male players to, ummm, shreds.
“I started playing at 13, and growing up in L.A. it was such a great breeding ground for musicians,” Strauss says. “Of course, it's the most competitive music scene but it's an amazing education, growing up in L.A. with the best of the best from everywhere. Every great musician from every city all over America and all over the world, really — they all come to L.A. to play their music. Growing up in our music scene really drove me to continue on and get better.”
Strauss' first band was a tiny death-metal outfit, and her first gig was a Battle of the Bands in the San Fernando Valley, where she grew up. The only people in the audience, she says, were her dad, the singer's girlfriend and one of the drummer's parents. As far as Strauss was concerned, she could only go up from there. But it was a cult Ralph Macchio movie that changed her life.
“I discovered my love of shred guitar specifically when I saw the movie Crossroads, which just about any guitar player will tell you that movie is life-changing,” she says. “Once I saw [Steve] Vai in Crossroads, that was my moment of, 'Oh my God, I need to find out more about this.' From that moment forward, I had to get my hands on Vai, [Joe] Satriani, Paul Gilbert, Marty Friedman records, and then on to Metallica, Megadeth and all that kind of stuff.”
Between 2011 and 2014, Strauss performed as “Mega Murray” in The Iron Maidens, playing the role of Maiden's likable guitarist Dave Murray.
“Oh my gosh, it was a blast,” she says. “Iron Maiden were legends when I was growing up, and to get to play Maiden songs and tour the world was an amazing experience.”
Strauss also has been playing on and off with re-formed '80s hair rockers Femme Fatale since 2013, alongside the inimitable Lorraine Lewis. However, Strauss' commitments with Alice Cooper have understandably restricted her involvement.
Femme Fatale “are in rehearsals right now — they're going to Wales for a festival out there,” Strauss says. “Unfortunately, my touring schedule, between my solo shows and playing with Alice Cooper, has not given me any time to play with them at all this year but it was a great time touring with them and I'm really thankful that, anytime Lorraine has shows, she still does call and offer it to me. I just wish I could do more with them.”
Strauss started playing with Cooper in 2014 in time for a mammoth Mötley Crüe tour. It was Cooper's former bass player and Winger frontman Kip Winger who recommended her to the main man.
“Kip had gotten word that they were looking for a female guitar player to replace Orianthi,” Strauss says. “It was really short notice — the tour started a little over two weeks from when I got that initial call — but Kip was kind enough to put my name forward into the hat, and from there I was introduced to Shep Gordon and Bob Ezrin, who have been part of the Alice Cooper camp for 50 years now, I guess. From that moment, I was in the band and on tour. Four and a half years now, playing with Alice, and I'm loving it.”
“Feed My Frankenstein” is Strauss' favorite Alice Cooper song to perform live, due to the fact that the '90s hit featured the talents of Steve Vai.
“He's the reason I started playing guitar, and most people don't know that he played one of the solos on that song,” she says. “For me to get to play a Steve Vai solo onstage with Alice Cooper every night, that's really a treat.”
Strauss has just released her debut solo album, Controlled Chaos. It's an instrumental shred-guitar record, as she seeks to follow in the footsteps of Vai and Satriani.
“All my heroes are shred players,” she says. “Shred guitar is what got me wanting to play guitar. So I always wanted to create something that would contribute to that scene, the shred scene. I'm really thankful that I had a little bit of time this year to make this record.”
With the exception of a Queen cover (“The Show Must Go on”), Strauss wrote all of the songs on the album, and says she has no problem expressing herself, her emotions, through music without lyrics. “I don't sing, so I've always heard a melody as something that could be played on guitar,” she says. “I find it more expressive, to make a song instrumental. Nothing against songs with lyrics — that's the vast majority of music. But if you have lyrics, the lyrics are sort of telling the listener what to think. Having an instrumental opens that up in a whole new way. The listener is free to interpret the song however it means to them. That's a really cool thing.”
With the album out as of Nov. 15, Strauss began her solo tour on Nov. 19; she reaches L.A. on Sunday, Dec. 9.
“That's something I'm extremely excited about,” she says. “Going out and seeing marquees with my own name on them, not a band name, not a singer's name, just going out on my own. That's exciting.”
Nita Strauss' Controlled Chaos is out now via Sumerian Records. She performs at Club 1720 on Sunday, Dec. 9.