Brian May’s guitar work in Queen is among the most admired in rock history and one of his biggest fans came from his own band. During a chat with Total Guitar, May recalls a moment from working with Freddie Mercury that provided great joy but also a bit of regret.
May explains, “One day Freddie had a big smile on his face when I came into the studio and he popped a cassette into the player and said, ‘Listen to this, darling. This is going to surprise you.’ And what he’d done was spend the whole morning putting together all the guitar solos that he could find in the work that we’d done, and he’d strung them all together.”
“It was quite amazing,” says the guitarist. “And one of my big regrets is I can’t find that cassette. I never throw anything away. I’m a bit of a hoarder. So it ought to be somewhere. But Freddie was very proud of the stuff that I’d done and that we’d done together.“
May says that while his guitar work is recognized, Mercury had a significant influence over some of what he played. He recalled the “Bohemian Rhapsody” guitar solo that is one of the most identifiable in rock history.
Recalling the session in which he laid down the solo, May states, “This track had been evolving for a while. It was very much the product of the fevered brow of Freddie. We knew it was something very special.”
“Freddie put a guide vocal on, and then we started doing all the multi-tracked vocal harmonies There was already a rhythm guitar on there, of course. And somewhere during that process we talked about where there would be a solo, and that part of it Freddie hadn’t mapped out,” he adds.
May continues, “He said he wanted a solo in there, and I said I would like to effectively sing a verse on the guitar. I would like to take it somewhere else. I would inject a different melody. There was already a lot of color in there, but I would like to have a free hand. And I could hear something in my head at that point – long before I went in there and played it.“
The guitarist says he basically sang his guitar part to come up with the idea. “I could hear this melody and I had no idea where it came from. That melody isn’t anywhere else in the song, but it’s a familiar chord sequence so it dovetails in quite nicely,” he recalled.
“There was a lot of interaction [with Freddie], and I think that was part of the magic that we had,” says the guitarist. “We gave each other a lot of stick, really, but in a very positive way. We were always pushing each other to try things.”
During the chat, May also shares his favorite guitar solo and what he feels is the hallmark of his best solos. Revisit the magic of May’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” solo below.
Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody”