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Mike Varney
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History: Talent Scout, Innovator and Visionary are fitting titles for Mike Varney.
Today Amazon.com lists over 357 different albums available from Shrapnel and it's various subsidiary labels, many of which were produced by heavy metal pioneer Mike Varney who says one of the projects he is most proud of these days is his jazz label, Tone Center.
On the roster: The guitar tribute to jazz great, Miles Davis, “Jing Chi” featuring Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip (Yellow Jackets) and Vinnie Colaiuta (Zappa, Sting, Steely Dan). Steve Smith's, Vital Information group, and the band he assembled with their CD entitled “Flashpoint” with Miles Davis ex sax man Dave Liebman ( who appeared on the cover of Downbeat within the last year ), bass legend Anthony Jackson ( Chick Corea, Paul Simon, Steely Dan) and keyboardist Aydin Esen (Pat Metheny, Gary Burton). Tone Center, which can claim Grammy nominated artist CAB, Blues Bureau and the New York-based progressive rock-oriented label Magna Carta, of which Varney holds a 50% interest.

When Varney founded Shrapnel in 1981, he introduced new guitar heroes to their generation. The small independent record company based in Novato was pioneering a guitar-dominated hard-rock genre that many thought was extinct. Night Ranger's Watson released his first solo album, “Lone Ranger,” on Shrapnel and he has since worked on several others with Shrapnel, including a Cream tribute album. Watson says Varney's own fretboard talent is underrated.
“Mike came to my studio as a guest guitarist to play a rockin' guitar solo on one of the tracks along with me and Steve Morse,” he says. “I'll bet it would surprise some of the young guitarists out there just how capable he is,” says Watson.

Varney made a name for himself as a young bassist with the Nuns (arguably one of the first punk bands in SF). They founded the Mabuhay Gardens scene and opened for such acts as Blondie and the Ramones. Varney soon left the Nuns and joined forces with long time Marin resident Rocky Sullivan and ex-Quicksilver guitarist John Cippolina. During his stint with the Rocky Sullivan band, he was spotted by Jefferson Airplane/Starship vocalist Marty Balin, and was enlisted to co-write a rock opera called “Rock Justice,” about arock star on trial for not having a hit. The “opera” debuted at San Francisco's Old Waldorf and featured Varney's band, Cinema. Varney then co-produced the EMI records release of the Rock Justice soundtrack in 1980. The record came out and bombed. “I realized I'd rather be on the other side of the deal and was not that interested in pounding the pavement anymore as a guitarist,” says Varney.

The 23 years old Varney was invited to author the monthly “Spotlight” column in Guitar Player magazine, which ran for about 10 years and further cemented him as young man with his finger on the pulse of a burgeoning era for electric guitar music.

Varney is responsible for many successful music pairings and solo career launching.
On numerous occasions Varney has discovered acts and placed them with major labels such as Interscope, Geffen, Columbia, Capitol, Warner Brothers etc. "I play the niches and leave the rest to the corporate giants. I also stay profitable, own my masters and am virtually debt free, says Varney.
He brought in Swedish guitar player Yngvie Malmsteen and teamed him with Shrapnel signee Steeler. On the strength of Malmsteen's guitar playing, the release became the biggest-selling record in Shrapnel's short history. Malmsteen went to have success with Alcatraz but found greater success with his solo album, “Rising Force” on Polydor Records, which lead to international metal stardom. He introduced Cinema bassist Jeff Pilson to the band Dokken in 1982 who went on to have a string of platinum records together. Varney introduced Marin resident vocalist Eric Martin to Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert who formed Mr. Big and continued on to have platinum success in the USA and years of similar success overseas. After having their careers jump-started by their Shrapnel connection, guitarist Marty Friedman joined MTV staple band Megadeth and guitarist Jason Becker teamed up with former Van Halen vocalist David Lee Roth replacing Steve Vai.

In 1991 Varney formed a sub-label, Blues Bureau International, which featured former Deep Purple and Black Sabbath singer Glenn Hughes. Soon other notables like Rick Derringer, Leslie West (formerly of Mountain), Pat Travers, and Marin's Neal Schon came on board. This led to a new direction for Shrapnel.

Current Credits: Releases from this last year include established artists such as: George Lynch, formerly of Dokken; former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee; blues great and former Novato resident Joe Louis Walker; and vocalist Kevin Dubrow, who sold 10 million records in the 80's fueled by his band Quiet Riot's hit “Cum on Feel the Noiz.”

"At the end of the day, it is my passion for music that never wanes and my belief that tomorrow will hold a new opportunity to capture some incredible performance on tape. I think this is in essence what drives me,” says Varney.

Mule and Rolling Stones keyboardist, Chuck Leavell, Varney's most promising new guitar star, ex-Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5, appeared on nine magazine covers last year including the cover of Guitar Player and has just completed his second Shrapnel record “Songs For Sanity” before heading off on the Ozzfest with cult icon and platinum artist/film director Rob Zombie.

"I have just finished producing a new Pat Travers record P.T. Power Trio 2 and a new Eric Gales. I start producing a new record by Leslie West, known best for his hit song "Mississippi Queen" which was covered by Ozzy last year. We have a new John 5 record coming in '06," says Varney. John 5 was Marilyn Mansons co-songwriter/guitarist for three records and now is working with Rob Zombie. We released a record a few months ago with Marc Rizzo, guitarist from SoulFly.

From Tone Center, look for a new Steely Dan tribute which is almost finished and produced by guitarist Jeff Richman and includes a core band of Jimmy Haslip ( Yellow Jackets) VInnie Colaiuta ( Sting, Zappa) Ernie Watts and Keyboardist Peter Wolf with guitar performances by Al Dimeola, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, Jay Graydon, Elliot Randall, Jimmy Herring, Frank Gambale and more. "We have a new record by legendary jazz guitarist Steve Kahn coming out in February featuring Drum icon Jack Dejohnette and bass legend John Patitucci. In addition we have a record by Dennis Chambers drummer for Santana with T Lavitz ( Dixi Dregs, Widespread Panic, Jazz is Dead), Dave Fiuczyinski and bassist Jeff Berlin and a host of other new recordings slated for 2006," adds Varney.

After a long hiatus, Varney began writing the monthly column again at the beginning of 2005. "The column continues in the tradition of uncovering remarkable guitar talent of all ages," says Varney.

Between the four labels, Varney is producing about 30 new releases each year.

Bio information courtesy of Mr. Jeff Burkhart
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