I got to thinking lately that there's a certain set of albums that I know extraordinarily well. They're the ones I wore out (not literally; too young to have enjoyed the degradation of vinyl) when I started listening to music on my own. Some I never listen to anymore, but each one has a special place in my musical background. There's plenty of music that I've since studied, loved, performed, and beaten into my head more extensively than anything I heard as a teenager, but those early albums were my beginning. It doesn't matter what else I obsess over or whether I ever hear them again, their influence will always be with me in a way nothing else will.

I've never thought about this enough to compile all these albums into a list. Given their status in my development, I might do myself a service to identify and embrace them. I tend to ignore them as I continually explore new avenues, but if I could hold up any collection of music that might uniquely define a part of me, this is it.

I divided them into three periods. Pre-Guitar is what I listened to prior to the day I started playing at age 14 in February 1998. Beginning Guitar is the small explosion of listening I did in the next year or two. Intermediate Guitar begins with my discovery of Stevie Ray Vaughan and ends with my departure for college and a world of mp3s in August 2001.

Pre-Guitar: 1990-1998

I suppose I was a late bloomer musically. There was a decent amount of music around when I was small. My parents usually listened to oldies or classic rock in the car. I was into MC Hammer for a while. But I didn't catch on until high school that there's so much more to hear and love.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Soundtrack
That's right. It was one of the first and few cassettes I owned. I haven't heard it since I was 9 years old, and I can't recall any of it now, but I might sing along with every word and note if I heard it today.

Dangerous - Michael Jackson
This was the first CD I owned. I was into Free Willy, and I thought MJ's eyes looked cool on the cover. Plus "Black or White" and "Jam" blew my mind through radio.

Phantom of the Opera
I was in love with this music in 6th grade. Never saw it live. Finally saw the movie in 2005. The final cadence of "Music of the Night" will crush your soul then send you to the rapture with five little chords.

Graceland - Paul Simon
I never knew what it was like to enjoy every track on an album until I borrowed this from my parents. I always assumed there would be a few weak links. But they don't have to be there if it's a masterpiece.

Achtung Baby - U2
Another of my first CDs. My aunt gave it to me so I could "listen to some real music." She was way ahead of me, because while I listened to it constantly due to lack of selection, I didn't love it until I gave it a re-listen a few years ago.

Skynyrd's Innyrds - Lynyrd Skynyrd
My dad and I used to listen to the extended version of "Free Bird" on the 10-minute drive to my summer swim practices every day. During the breakdown with the fast repeating patterns, he'd say "I can do that."

Bringing Down the Horse - The Wallflowers
"One Headlight" was the first time I flipped out over a new song on the radio and had to buy the album.

Jimmy Buffett
I heard this stuff more than anything else growing up. Thanks Mom and Dad!

Beginning Guitar: 1998-1999

I plugged away at my dad's old acoustic guitar with Internet guitar tablature for a few months before I took my first lessons. Greg Wright was my guitar teacher in the Kirkland/Redmond/Bellevue, WA area. I quickly learned all the power chords, pentatonics, and palm-muting I needed to recreate the post-grunge alternative rock I was digging.

Ixnay on the Hombre - The Offspring
Credit "The Meaning of Life" for spurring me to pick up the guitar. That's one killer riff, and it still gives me chills.
Smash - The Offspring
Ignition - The Offspring
Americana - The Offspring
By the time Americana came out, I had reached a level where I could pick out guitar parts and learn them before the end of a song. This was the first time I did it with an entire album.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness - Smashing Pumpkins
"Bullet with Butterfly Wings" kicks ass.
Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins
I never owned this, but borrowed it from a friend so I could learn "Mayonnaise".

The Colour and the Shape - Foo Fighters
One of my all-time favorite albums, I still come back to this once in a while.
Foo Fighters - Foo Fighters

Sublime - Sublime
"Same in the End" helped me discover the gain knob on my little Fender practice amp. Never turned it down after that.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik - Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Under the Bridge" is required repertoire for every budding guitarist. (Side note: "Sir Psycho Sexy" was playing in a family pizza establishment in Bellingham, WA when I picked up an order a few months ago. I discreetly suggested they skip to the next track.)

Even though I've never owned their albums, I also count as heavily influential all the radio hits from the following bands.
Green Day
Pearl Jam
Stone Temple Pilots

Intermediate Guitar: 1999-2001

Within a year after picking up the guitar, my listening and playing moved from grunge/alternative/pop/punk sounds into blues- and virtuoso-rock. My world revolved around Stevie Ray Vaughan, and for the first time I was listening to music for the sake of hearing great guitar playing.

Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan
My dad played this album for me in late 1998. He'd heard it before, but both our jaws hung open for the entire 40 minutes. It turned me on my head, and for a while nothing but SRV could satisfy my ears.
The Sky Is Crying - Stevie Ray Vaughan
In the Beginning - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Live Alive - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Live at Carnegie Hall - Stevie Ray Vaughan
In Session - Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan
In Step - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Couldn't Stand the Weather - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Soul to Soul - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Family Style - The Vaughan Brothers

Smash Hits - Jimi Hendrix
South Saturn Delta - Jimi Hendrix
Everyone knows Hendrix from a young age through classic rock radio, but Stevie's recordings of "Voodoo Chile", "Little Wing", and "Third Stone from the Sun" showed me there's a lot more to experience than "Purple Haze" and "Fire". This album was a collection of unreleased but well-recorded bluesy/psychedelic tracks.

Lie to Me - Johnny Lang
Wander this World - Johnny Lang
This guy was hot shit, a big blinkin' beacon on my radar as I went on my blues kick. I loved his playing, but he reminded me that the human voice is a hell of an instrument, too.

Damn Right I Got the Blues - Buddy Guy
My dad took me to my first BB King concert in the summer of 1999. I revered BB because I knew of his influence, but it was all three opening acts who really caught my attention: Indigenous, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Buddy Guy.
Trouble Is... - Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Live On - Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Things We Do - Indigenous

Surfing with the Alien - Joe Satriani
My first taste of virtuoso rock, I heard "Satch Boogie" on the radio one day and had to have it.
Crystal Planet - Joe Satriani
G3 Live in Concert - G3
And my first taste of Steve Vai, who later became another favorite, up on the pedestal with SRV. My impression of him hasn't changed since then: love his playing, can't stand his hamming.
Passion and Warfare - Steve Vai
Totally blew my mind, but what a weird dude.
The 7th Song - Steve Vai
My girlfriend gave this to me in high school, so I married her.