It was the performance of a lifetime, the day Marty Friedman would become a man. No, it wasn’t his first gig with thrash-metal giants Megadeth nor was it his first time performing in Japan after leaving Megadeth and moving there in 2003. But it was a day that would set the tone for his career.
It was his bar mitzvah at Oseh Shalom in Laurel that prepared Friedman for a lifetime of performing.
“The bar mitzvah experience prepared me in so many ways for what I’d be doing for the rest of my career, which is basically studying really hard, learning a ton of material and living with this material,” he said, “honing it and getting good at it and going up in front of a bunch of people and performing the material the best [I can].”
Friedman’s career would include forming several bands prior to joining heavy metal icons Megadeth, for which he played lead guitar on five albums and one E.P. over the course of a decade, releasing a full catalogue of solo albums and becoming not only a mainstay of Japanese music, but also a TV personality, earning himself the nickname “Ryan Seacrest of Japan.”
The Maryland native, who lives in the Shuinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo, kicks off a month-long U.S. tour at Baltimore Soundstage on Wednesday, Sept. 9. It’s his first American tour in more than a decade.
While he grew up in Laurel, he considers the Baltimore show – the first stop on his tour – a big homecoming. Not only will family and childhood friends be there, but he said some “special stuff” may make its way into this show.
“I’ve never played a solo show [in Baltimore],” Friedman, 52, said. “It’s a big personal deal to me.”
Friedman’s upcoming tour will feature material from 2014’s “Inferno,” which marked his first album of original material in four years and his first in nearly a decade to be released worldwide simultaneously. The album features collaborations with those who consider Friedman an influence, with whom he did a back-and-forth songwriting process.
The resulting album, with its head-banging rhythms, lightning fast guitar work and epic song structures, features contributions from acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela as well as members of Children of Bodom, Revocation and Danko Jones as well as the first collaboration with fellow guitarist Jason Becker since he and Friedman were in Cacophony, a band the two co-founded in 1986.
“I wanted to do something a little more intimate than just have a bunch of friends blast solos on my stuff. I wanted them to be committed to it, ‘You guys, you write this song,’” he said. “I wanted that enthusiasm.”
Although he’s be returning to the state where he gave his first “performance,” Friedman doesn’t consider himself religious these days. Still, Judaism has been intertwined in Friedman’s music, from the band that inspired him to play guitar to those he connected with in the industry to his love of performing “Hatikvah” in Israel.
Friedman first picked up guitar at the age of 14 after seeing KISS in concert. At the time, he didn’t know that founding members Gene Simmons, born Chaim Witz in Haifa, Israel, and Paul Stanley, born Stanley Eisen in Manhattan, were members of the tribe.
“I had no idea they were Jewish. As far as I was concerned, they were from another planet,” he said. “It was amazing, obviously. Life changing. … You’re 14 and you’ve just smoked your first joint and you see KISS … that’s pretty much the ultimate time and place in someone’s life to see something like that.”
He would form several bands before co-founding with Becker heavy metal band Cacophony, which featured highly technical guitar shredding. His work in that band, as well as his debut solo release, “Dragon’s Kiss,” in 1988, earned Friedman a name in the heavy metal scene.
He joined Megadeth in 1990, and that fall, the band released its landmark album “Rust in Peace,” which earned the band a Grammy nomination for best metal performance.
Although Megadeth lead singer and founder Dave Mustaine never told Friedman, according to some reports, the singer had reservations about Marty Friedman as a stage name.
“What can you do? I really had a name. I couldn’t change it to Marty Rocketship,” Friedman joked, adding that his name took on different status when he left the United States. “One of the great things about being in Japan, all of a sudden my name is cool because nobody knows it sounds like a bald accountant with a pot belly.”
Being Jewish didn’t come up much – “My Jew-fro gave it away a few times,” Friedman quipped – and he noted that there are a lot of Jews in the heavy metal and rock scenes.
During his time in Megadeth, the band garnered mainstream attention and airplay and sold more than 10 million albums. But in the late 1990s, Friedman started listening to something new to him, Japanese pop music or J-pop. While it seemed to be from a different musical planet than heavy metal, Friedman was sucked in by the complex chord changes and musicality of J-pop.
“I started listening to it all the time, 100 percent,” he said. “I just kind of abandoned everything else because I was so passionately into this Japanese music.”
Friedman left Megadeth in 2000 and moved to Tokyo in 2003 to make his mark on the Japanese domestic music scene. He has since performed in Asia’s largest venues including The Tokyo Dome and Budokan and has written and played on several Japanese Top 10 hits.
“If anything, I do much more metal here,” Friedman said. “The metal I was playing [in the U.S.] was really traditional, old-school heavy metal. Now I’m injecting metal into modern pop music and dance kind of things, all kinds of strange modern genres.”
As he made his mark on Japanese music, he also became a television personality, hosting programs and being featured in national ad campaigns. He estimates that he has made more than 600 network TV appearances in Japan.
“I kind of wanted to avoid it [becoming a TV star in Japan]. I came here to do music and my music started taking off little by little,” Friedman said. “So when I started making waves in the domestic world just like I wanted, I got offered to do this TV show, it was like a comedy-variety show.”
The show apparently needed someone who could play guitar, who knew about Japanese music and spoke fluent Japanese, so Friedman fit the bill. Out of that show, one of Japan’s top management firms picked up Friedman, and they’ve been managing him for 10 years now.
“It’s been a fantastic addition to my life in general,” he said.
While Judaism is not a big part of his life in Japan, he has reconnected to his roots in various ways over the years. When he toured Europe in 2012, his entire band was Israeli, so he asked them all the questions about Israel and Judaism that were on his mind.
“I got to hear Jewish stuff from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. These guys see everything,” he said. “I just absolutely had a blast. I learned more from these guys in a couple of weeks on tour than I did in the last 15 years.”
Every time Friedman has played in Israel, including on that tour, in the 1990s with Megadeth and on another solo tour in 2007, he has played “Hatikva.”
“I wouldn’t go there without playing it,” Friedman said. “What a weapon that is.”
He loves performing in Israel, he said.
“The audience, they all look like total metalheads, it looks like a total Slayer concert,” he said, referring to another famed thrash-metal band. “Every single one of them is Jewish and every single one of them has an uber-Jewish name … [a guy’s name is] Shlomo Goldberg and he’s wearing a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt.”
Marty Friedman performs at Baltimore Soundstage, 124 Market Place, Baltimore, on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 7:45 p.m. Opening bands include Midnight Eye and Exmortus. Tickets are $25 in advance and $28 at the door. Visit ticketf.ly