Actor hated genre until working with Zakk Wylde blew his mind – plus he’d never even heard of Bohemian Rhapsody
Star Trek icon William Shatner admits he was never comfortable with heavy metal until he made his new record Seeking Major Tom.
In fact, before he started work he’d never even heard of Queen or Bohemian Rhapsody.
Shatner’s concept album sees him recording versions of some definitive tracks from the history of rock and metal, including Freddie Mercury’s trademark number. His aim to is use established tracks to chart the adventures of Major Tom after he leaves the capsule in David Bowie’s Space Oddity.
And the actor says working with guitar hero Zakk Wylde was another revelation.
Shatner tells Spinner: “I love music and I listen to music, but I had no way of saying, ‘That’s Freddie Mercury and Queen.’ If you had asked me a year ago about Freddie Mercury and Queen I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
“If you had played me Bohemian Rhapsody I would have told you that was one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever heard – it’s operatic, it’s modern and it’s beautifully sung.
“Then if you’d told me about the history of Freddie Mercury and Queen, I would have gasped because it’s so dramatic. But I knew nothing of that until I came to it in this latter day.”
Working with Wylde helped Shatner open his mind to the emotional breadth of heavy music as the pair worked on his over of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man.
“Heavy metal music made me turn away over the years, not understanding heavy metal,” the actor says. “In my first attempt to do the lyric I realised the lyric spoke of Hell – it was like Hell to me.
“That’s where I wanted to send Major Tom, who goes to Heaven in the Sinatra song Lost in the Stars, then goes to Hell in Iron Man.
“But I had no concept of the focus of the energy that is necessary to sing those songs. It is ferocious – the guy is dying. He’s struggling not to die.”
Of Wylde, Shatner says: “I’ve never seen fingerr fly on a fretboard so quickly. He spent the whole day laying out his track and laying down another track on top of that. He was intricately working that song like an actor would do with a Shakespeare soliloquy, where every word has a meaning and our try and get the rhythm and the meaning and the sense – and yet throw it away so it doesn’t seem obvious that you’re working it. This guy blew my mind.”
With his new-found respect for rock and metal Shatner vowed to do a better job of covering Elton John’s Rocket Man, after his 1978 version became something of a laughing stock.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ve done it, it’s been mocked, and people say they liked it and people say they don’t like it,’” he observes. “Now if I go there, I go there with all consciousness of what the song really is: this guy is getting ready to leave the Earth and his wife and all that is familiar. And yet he is a rocket man and he has his pride.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do this song again and do it as I now know better.’ And that’s my interpretation.”
Seeking Major Tom is released next month – listen to samples from the album.