There’s no question that My Chemical Romance are one of the biggest bands in rock—and as anyone who’s seen guitarist Frank Iero’s broken Epiphone SG in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame already knows, the band’s relationship with Gibson guitars has helped them earn their rightful place in the rock god pantheon. However, in order to truly understand the band’s obsession with Gibson, we need to trace the band’s roots back to a series of seminal rock albums from the past 35 years that directly influenced the band’s unique sound and vision.

David Bowie The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972) — As the mastermind behind David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band, guitarist—and exclusive Les Paul player—Mick Ronson spearheaded a groundbreaking approach to the guitar, which perfectly complimented Bowie’s androgynous persona. Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is still heralded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time and for good reason: From blues-inflected rockers like “Suffragette City” to arena-ready anthems like “Ziggy Stardust,” Ronson’s signature Les Paul tone is as evident in My Chemical Romance guitarists Frank Iero and Ray Toro’s playing as Bowie’s theatrics are when it comes to frontman Gerard Way.

Alice Cooper School’s Out (1973) — While David Bowie embodied My Chemical Romance’s flair for the dramatic, the original shock-rocker Alice Cooper clearly influenced the band both aesthetically and musically. While Cooper was the mouthpiece for the band, guitarist Glen Buxton helped define their sound—and he couldn’t have done it without a little help from Gibson. Sporting a Gibson SG with three gold humbuckers, Buxton’s distinctive tone helped him write parts like the legendary opening riff to “Schools Out,” which still sounds as menacing today as it did the day it was recorded. Or, as Neil Smith, the drummer for the Alice Cooper band, says during a tribute to Buxton posted elsewhere on this site, “he made Keith Richards look like a Boy Scout.”

Thin Lizzy Jailbreak (1976) — Ever wonder where Frank Iero and Ray Toro came up with the harmonized guitar break during their breakout single, “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)”? Well, look no further than the grooves of Thin Lizzy’s sixth LP, Jailbreak. Sporting a ’59 Les Paul, lead guitarist Scott Gorham played in the upper register while fellow Les Paul enthusiast Brian Robertson doubled his part on the lower frets on classic tracks like “The Boys Are Back In Town” and “Jailbreak.” If that weren’t enough of a tribute to these Irish rockers, it seems as if Toro borrowed his afro-coif from Thin Lizzy’s frontman Phil Lynott, who was one of the first rock musicians to popularize Toro’s signature hairstyle.

The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols (1977) — My Chemical Romance may not remind you of the England’s most notorious punk band, but MCR’s music embodies the same punk spirit as the Sex Pistols. Sporting a cream-colored Les Paul Custom (that he allegedly stole from Mick Ronson at a David Bowie concert), Steve Jones’s playing on songs like “Anarchy in the U.K.”  and “God Save The Queen” from the band’s sole studio album didn’t just redefine rock music, they turned the entire genre on its head. Additionally, the album paved the way for today’s Warped Tour superstars by proving you didn’t need solos or fancy fretwork to create music that’s truly transcendent—and the fact that the disc sounds just as powerful thirty years after its initial release is a testament to that fact.

The Smiths The Queen is Dead (1986) — Before he joined Modest Mouse last year, Johnny Marr was using Les Paul Goldtops and SGs to craft brooding rock masterpieces with the legendary alternative act the Smiths. Although his previous band wasn’t as aggressive as My Chemical Romance, the band’s soft-spoken frontman Morrissey embodied the gothic aesthetic that MCR have built their career on. The Smiths were also “emo” before the word existed; in fact, the best song on The Queen Is Dead is called “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” and expounds on the sentiment that meeting one’s untimely demise next to the one you love is “such a heavenly way to die.” Uplifting stuff, huh?

AFI Black Sails in the Sunset (1999) — Although AFI are considered peers of My Chemical Romance these days, the band existed seven years before MCR formed and had a sizable discography before their relatively recent mainstream breakthrough. While Black Sails In The Sunset wasn’t their most successful album, it marked a sea change within the band and showed them bypassing supercharged punk rock for something darker and more introspective. Remind you of anyone else? Plus, Jade Puget favored Les Paul Studios, proving to skinny punk rockers everywhere that you didn’t need to have arms the size of tree trunks to harness the unholy power of the Paul.


Ray Toro: 2001 Les Paul Jr, 1999 Les Paul Standard, early ‘70s Melody Maker
Frank Iero: 2006 SG, 79 Les Paul Custom, 2006 Les Paul Studio, 2002 Gibson Les Paul Standard

Photo of Frank Iero by Adam Bielawski