Crowned By Fire:Justin Manning
You should never underestimate the value of a mentor. When you are a guitar player and your mentor is Zakk Wylde, your mentor is a god. Thus, is the story behind Justin Manning and his band Crowned By Fire.
If you ask Justin, he will tell you he is a drummer that plays guitar. However; when you see him play the fiddle; it is hard to imagine that he is anything but a premier guitarist that has not lost sight of what he feels is a lost art in rock and metal…shredding and kick ass solos, which were once a staple. He was introduced to music at a young age, playing guitar starting at age 10, but was also introduced to some of metal’s elite through his stepfather at Musicians Institute (MI) including Lemmy Kilmeister. Perhaps if he were older and actually knew who Lemmy was, it may have had a different effect, but when you are 10, all you do is absorb the information and don’t get caught up with the thought “ THIS is Lemmy!”
After toiling in a few bands that weren’t really what he was looking for artistically, Justin landed a gig as Zakk’s guitar tech and lived at is what is now known as the Black Vatican, Wylde’s recording studio. That experience was without question a turning point in his life in general, but especially as a guitarist. Not only touring along side of some of the biggest and most influential names in metal, but being able to absorb knowledge, the one-on-one sessions with arguably the greatest rock/metal guitarist of our time. Zakk taught him things about guitar playing that some take for granted like scales, which Justin knew nothing about. It changed him as a person and a musician to see Zakk and BLS playing little venues, small shows on a nightly basis and walk in and expel annihilation on the place. There is no disparagement to musicians getting lessons or studying the art of music in schools and institutions, but you can’t pay for the lessons Manning received, as an artist and in just being bad-ass. Justin was even a heavy metal babysitter when Zakk’s kids wanted to go on Ozzfest with their dad, Justin watched his kid’s while Wylde was on stage. Go on tour with Ozzy, BLS, Down, Meshuggah and more and watch 2 cool kids while their dad jammed with Ozzy and BLS seems like a dream babysitting gig…and an awesome summer.
You don’t just land a gig with Zakk Wylde, right? Well, in Justin’s case it truly was happenstance. Playing guitar in the corner of a party in the late 90’s, Justin’s shredding caught the ear of a woman, who appeared to just be a fly on the wall. She introduced herself and insisted that he meet her boss…she was Zakk’s accountant. Justin got the chance to meet one of his guitar heroes and shortly thereafter there was an incident that received some buzz in the music community regarding Zakk’s guitars falling of the trailer during a tour with Crowbar…and in stepped Justin since obviously someone else was soon out of a gig.
Pretty much every musician can point to a particular artist of artists that struck a chord with them and made them think, “Fuck yeah…that’s what I want to do. For Manning, it was Slash and then later Dimebag and Zakk. The first time I met Justin at The Dragonfly, we were just talking, hanging out. I distinctly remember he and I having a conversation about the differences in the music he plays with Crowned By Fire. As I listened to their set, I could hear so much Sabbath and Pantera influences, but as he pointed out, what is missing from metal today is shredding. Comtemporary metal bands have great guitar work, but where are the mind melting solos and riff’s like the guitar player is working a Strativarius? Manning brings that element back, but with the artistic integrity of all those premier axe men that came before him, influenced him and even taught him. In addition to the aforementioned experiences, Justin also tech’ed for George Lynch and during performances was given the opportunity to play 4 songs on stage with Lynch Mob.
Make no mistake though, Crowned By fire is not just the Justin Manning show. Similar to Black Label Society, certainly Manning’s guitar is showcased a la Zakk, but CBF isn’t a bunch of scrubs just there to show off Justin, they are a killer band that was formed by Justin and vocalist John Fitterer. After Manning soaked up so much from top of the line musicians about how it is done, the bands he played in was akin to a man playing with boys and was insistent that those around him had to be at a different level, thus the pairing with Fitterer. There were recent line-up changes with the addition of the all-star rhythm section of Nic Miller on bass and William Liermann on drums, that have only served to propel the band even further than where they have been. They were signed back in 2008 to a deal with Molten Metal Productions in the U.K. and spent 5 weeks in Florence, Italy recording their debut album “Prone to Destroy”. 2011 will produce their follow-up to be produced by Sterling Winfield who has worked with (Pantera, King Diamond, Hatebreed, Rebel Meets Rebel and more.
I would consider Justin Manning a friend, just because of our history and how we met about a year ago. What I have come to love about the guy is the way he views himself. He isn’t the shredding metal guitar player, instead he is a self-described drummer and a redneck that doesn’t even listen to metal as much as he listens to country music and gangsta rap. He lives in the sticks, but is cognizant that there is so much rock n roll missing from metal. The internet or the way music is distributed and received has paved this alternate road taken by so many bands these days…music and especially rock/metal was a lifestyle, it was a party. Doesn’t mean you have to be wasted or on drugs, but “livin like a rockstar” is a truth in life. Justin Manning has seen how to live, breathe, act and use his craft EXACTLY like real rockstars do.