I have long had a love/hate relationship with The Top 10 (20, 50, 100) All Time Guitarist lists. As in, I love to see how much hatred and rage they can generate in my arrogant pedantic know-it-all bile-soaked soul. It is absolutely guaranteed that at some point, a guy who doesn't belong within a fer-piece of any list will be ranked far above a Giant, and I'll want to tear the heads off the dolts who had the temerity to write/publish such tripe.
So, in that spirit, I've decided to have my head torn off. I've been writing for Huffington Post since June of 2010 and it only occurred to me last week, Hey, I have a forum! I can make my own damn list. Oh, boy! Oh, boy!
[Check my archive... I have plenty of posts about plenty of the guitarists mentioned in this one.]
You are about to embark on a journey (sorry, no Neil Schon) into the mind of a Total Dick when it comes to the subject of (guitars and) guitar players. It's simple, really... I know more than you. Nyaaaah Nyaaah Nyaah Nyah Nyah!
Seriously, I do.
I've been playing guitar for OH MY GOD, NO! 48 years! I'm fucking good, too. A lotta good it does me!
I own Fenders, Gibsons, Rickenbackers, Epiphones, Gretsch, Danelectro, Vox, Marshall, Hiwatt... and I'm playing at least one of 'em for about an hour a day, every day.
So, be quiet, settle in, read! And then... write and tell me you agree with all of it.
In not-really chronological order, I present, The Most Influential Guitarists.
Whoa, whoa, wait. Wait!
Influence does not convey personal preference. This is not about "the best." The best is nothing more than an opinion. Below are, to my mind, the guys who have concretely shaped modern music, nothing less. This is not about guys who are really, really good, the primary reason your boys, Gatton and Buchanan, and whoever else you're gonna be pissed off about, got left out, I can promise you. Some personal favorites get a mere mention, some, none at all. I can also guarantee you that the day this goes up on Huffington Post, I will remember someone staggeringly important who I for got about. Chances are YOU will hip me to that.
When it comes to jazz, after all these years, I have never really clicked on who might be The Influence, so, I've left them guys out. Plus, really... jazz? Influence? Who listens to that shit? I'm joking!
Lest you go ballistic in the next five minutes, keep mind what the word influence specifically means...
Influence: the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.
Okay, here we go! No?! Now what!
One last Dick Caveat: I made the decision that in the cases of guitarists whose (considerable) influence was, in my opinion, almost totally negative, and there are several, I've left them out. There's enough dissing below.
Got it. [Looking into camera and mouthing, "Is he always like this?!"]
Les Paul: If there is a Number One, Lester be that one. The One. Try this... He invented multi-track recording, invented echo/reverb, invented variable speed recording, pioneered mixing, pioneered the solid body electric guitar. Had about 100 hit rekkids in the 1940s and '50s. As a guitarist, he played with a fluidity and speed simply never heard before. I saw him live a few times back in the 1980s. In his 70s, he cut every guitarist I've ever seen to ribbons, at least in terms of psycho-technique. And it's no myth... The best electric guitars ever made are Gibson Les Pauls from the 1950s. Yes, yes, chill, for god sakes, the Fender Stratocaster is a rock solid silver medalist. Nothing and no one, not one piece of recorded music you hear, would sound the way it does without Les Paul. I don't even have to use the word "literally." Les Paul don't need no stinkin' literally. His impact killed the dinosaurs. A full blown 20th century boy-genius... The Thomas Edison of Guitar!
Charlie Christian/Django Reinhart: Look, I'm not really a historian. I don't know all that much about these two guys. One's a black guy born in Texas, hung around Kansas City awhile, played with Benny Goodman... the other, a French Gypsy, who played incomprehensible guitar with two paralyzed fingers. More than that, look 'em up. That's what Wikipedia is for. I've heard their stuff, of course. So did Les Paul back then, nudge nudge wink wink. And, whoa... Hey, these two are The Jazz Giants... there ya go! Only they're even more than that. One can tell that something special is going down (with Charlie, the zygote-moment of the guitar as a solo instrument in a band setting, with Django, pure lunatic genius!). But, frankly, for me, only just. The fidelity (or rather, the lack thereof) of these two's recordings from the 1930s and 40s is sadly distracting and detracting. But, know this: single note solo/lead guitar starts (as in the Big Bang) with these two. Charlie is the ocean. Django is the sky.
Chuck Berry: It should be said that it's Chuck Berry's lyrics (and his delivery) that make him one of the two or three most seminal cats in the rock 'n' roll game ever forever. But, his simple bent-note blues-based guitar licks (none of exactly which I've ever stumbled onto earlier than his stuff), with their one finger/two strings anchor, are basically the motherflippin' genetic code of Rock Lead Guitar. I had no idea how to even begin to play lead guitar once I was a handy little rhythmer (Johnny Lennon's term) with two years under my belt. When an older pal showed me my first Chuck Berry lick, the entire world of lead guitar just appeared before me like magic. I suspect no more than 15 million other guitar players have experienced this precise moment of revelation.
Eddie Cochran: I've devoted an entire Huffington Post column to this man. Eddie is, without a doubt, the least acknowledged of The True Masters. This is the first rocker to multi-track all the instruments himself (in 1957 when he was 18!), obviously an avid Les Paul-er. His guitar playing is wild and wildly better than virtually every one of his contemporaries. His tone is today-modern in 1959! He was the first Rock Star to also be the lead guitarist, as well as the sultry crooner boy. That's big! But, most importantly, and in terms of influence, astounding in its singular paradigm-shift, it was Eddie who went to England in 1960 and toured, showing all the young Pete Townshends, Jeff Becks, Jimmy Pages, Ritchie Blackmores, Big Jim Sullivans, et al, in his audience, his dead-simple, but, profound secret. Eddie was using an unwound G string. Trust me on this. It's technical. That unwound G alone started a guitar revolution in Great Britain, one that continues to reverberate throughout the planet. Hell, probably 90 percent of all packs of guitar strings sold today globally have an unwound G. Thanks, Mr. Cochran. Bends real nice, sir!
Chet Atkins: If there is anyone, in any genre, whose playing is so utterly without flaw as to seem inhuman, it's Chester here. About 65 percent of what George Harrison was playing in his early solos is pure Chet. In the 1950s, Mr. Atkins was popular enough for Gretsch Guitars (the brand George played) to create an entire line with his name attached (Eddie C up there played one!). Do you really think the youngest Beatle was the only guy spacing out on Chet's chops, and in the process of imitating, became great themselves? Bonus: Chet wound up an A&R VP at RCA when they'd signed Elvis. Chet oversaw many a Presley recording session... Boi-oi-oing!
James Burton & Scotty Moore: Speaking of The King... James backed up later-period Elvis, the Everlys, Ricky Nelson, among lots of others. His playing, like Elvis's guitarist in the early backed-by-a-trio heyday, the unassuming Scotty Moore's, is clean, crisp, but, relatively primitive stuff by now. But, both James and Scotty presented guitar as the 'spotlight' instrument of rock 'n' roll. Both played with economy and therefore were sorta easy to steal stuff from. And both being tasty players, they instilled musicality into the whole shebang during its infancy. Their impact is more generational than others on this list. We feel their ripples, not their splash. A very honorable mention of the seminal Buddy Holly, the deeply anarchistic Bo Diddley and... Carl Perkins, Duane Eddy, Link Wray, Lonnie Mack, the many Dick Dales in surf music, the overwhelmingly popular Ventures, and over the pond, England's The Shadows, is in order. I resist giving them their own section because, while they were all hugely influential in bringing the electric guitar to the forefront of pop music, sonically, their actual music and style of playing didn't make much of a dent in the long run. That's why I'm not featuring (the sorta overrated) Carlos Santana or (the definitely underrated) Robbie Kriegler of Jimbo Lizard King's Doors. Again, great players who just haven't really left that much of an influential musical mark.
Jimmy Nolen: This is the man who came up with the guitar licks that define James Brown's music. Reread that! I mean it! Reread that sentence! Fuck it, this is the man who came up with the guitar licks that define James Brown's music. A master of syncopation and the use of dynamic subtlety, with an absolutely unerring right wrist (the true sex machine!), Jimmy's playing style and actual direct licks have had as much impact on the way guitar players have approached rhythm over these last 45 years, as his boss, Mr. Dynamite, Soul Brother Number One, had on the entire planet. This is a short entry because... What the hell else is there to say?! Hit me!
JohnPaulGeorge: The Beatles weren't a rock band. The Beatles were... (gasp) The Beatles. Something wholly foreign from all others. George and John, mere guitar players?! Huh? Does not compute. They were Beatles. Two. Of. The. Four. Beatles. The nubby fact is there's not been all that much direct influence over actual playing style (if you discount Wilco's last big hit) from These Gods. Of course, we're talking about the single most pervasive musical phenomenon in history. And if you want to argue that Elvis was, fair enough. Now, what musical instrument did he play again? George came up with a marvelously idiosyncratic slide guitar style, instantly identifiable, but, little copied. He was also a zen master at complementing vocals. A beautifully clean and incredibly inventive player.
Oh, and... sitar. John's guitar was probably the single sonic in the Beatles' sound that was vaguely revolutionary. His rhythm playing was up front and roughhewn, a sound not heard on anything but the most obscure blues and rockabilly tracks at that time. John's guitar gave his band that immediacy that can still be felt when you play their really early shit nice and loud. Indeed, the single most rip-shit rock guitar moment in the entire Beatles catalog is John's brief barking roar of a solo at the very end of the second side of "Abbey Road." Paul, well... Paul. My, my, my... Stuck with the bass after Stu left, Paul decided he would make the bass interesting, if only so he didn't lose his fucking mind. Instead, he revolutionized the entire concept of what a bass part should sound like. Seismic! Of all the Beatles, Paul came closest to virtuosity on his instrument. One of the saddest head-shaking ironies in the various Beatles' roles as guitarists is how many (lame-ass) obit writers, upon George Harrison's death, waxed wistfully ecstatic over "George's groundbreaking solos" in "Taxman," "And Your Bird Can Sing," "Day Tripper," "Good Morning, Good Morning"... They are indeed all brilliant brilliant guitar solos! Alas, all were played by Paul. What're gonna do.
Keith Richards: I should probably have a hyphenated Ronnie Wood and Brian Jones here. What with "guitar-weaving" and all [stifled yawn]. C'mon, maaan, it's Keef! For me, Keith was the first guy I picked up on as a LEAD guitarist, the summer of 1964. My first guitar idol, to be precise. His influence isn't felt in his lead guitar work. By late '68, it was getting obvious that he couldn't keep up. His solo on "Sympathy For The Devil," compared to what, say, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix were doing by then, is pretty fucking creaky. No, Keith's contribution was/is much bigger... and threefold. His specific style of rhythm playing is one of Rock's most iconic and generic musical signatures, and has been for decades.
If you want to freshen the air in the room, pick up a guitar and play the intro to "Brown Sugar," "Start Me Up," "Shattered," "Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Rocks Off," and several dozen more and... You are rocking, right? No. The universe is rocking! Keith found a key that opened the door to Guitar Groove Heaven. His other global influence... He single-handedly, (oh, be quiet, it's true!) led the Western World to Reggae, a rhythm and vibe of universal acceptance. Reggae didn't need Keef. But, I'd say he sped the acceptance by a decade or two. Thirdiliciously, my God, who didn't want to be him? How many tattooed love boys are still out there doing their Keith in the mirror every morning for 10 minutes, just to make sure they still have it. Ummmm, no, you don't. Never did, Axl. Geriatric Keef, on the other hand, for the most part, still poops platinum pellets of Rock Cool.
Pete Townshend: Well, this one's a bit... Okay, look, this is my life's hero, okay. I mean, I'm writing a book on The Who and I cruised past 30,000 words at least 40 paragraphs ago. So, I'll be as brief, dry, objective... as I can be. Pete is responsible for no more than 90 percent of every stage move rock guitar players have been performing for the past few decades. Basically, onstage, virtually every rock guitarist (period!) is play-acting Pete Townshend back in his bedroom. Just blatant unapologetic mimicry! The fact is, visual gimmickry as a given in a standard issue rock concert, began with The Who. Costumes instead of uniforms, smoke bombs, black-light effects, custom-made gear, strobes... all The Who, all first! No band I've ever found looked as pist-off evil before the American release of the debut "My Generation" album. In that cover shot, and virtually all their early publicity photos, they look like they're about to actually beat the crap out of someone.
In other shots, Pete and Keith in particular, seemed to show up to shoots deliberately wrecked or deeply hung over. In 1965! How many thousand band photos have you seen where one and all are exuding that exact vibe? The one band that merits a big tip of the hat re: The Who, is The Kinks. Pete Townshend has openly confessed to basing the first few Who singles on the first few Kinks singles. What cheek! I fell hard for the Stones' insouciance, but, they seemed to be play-acting compared to The Who. You can look at live footage from any era, half the time Pete's onstage, he looks like he's ready to pick a fight. Abby Hoffman found out it wasn't a pose at Woodstock. And... as members of KISS, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Nirvana, et al, will tell you, smashing your guitar is the un-top-able ending to a rock show. And while this might not be all that relevant here, no one, but NO ONE destroyed guitars like Pete Townshend. "Sacrificing something I love"? Fuckin' blow me! I'm reducing this $1800 piece of shit to KINDLING! Pete was a vandal! And it just so happened that the noise an electric guitar makes when it's being vandalized is so fuckin' coooooool!
And... musically, Pete and his band, The Who, were the first to declare the instruments at least as important as the singing. That alone is monumental. Further more, they were the first of the British bands to have dispensed with the rhythm/lead two/guitar line up. I can recall seeing The Who on Shindig and being disconcerted by the oddness of just one guitarist and a lead singer. It is useful to point out that The Who's rhythm section, bassist John Entwistle and drummer, Keith Moon, are both at the very top of The Most Influential lists on their respective instruments. John and Keith's astoundingly rich sonic backdrop allowed Pete Townshend to mix 'n' match lead and rhythm playing at will. Hell, Pete got away with Musique Concrete noise half the time, thanks to his rhythm section. And... Pete pioneered guitar sonics and arrangement gimmicks, even certain ways of strumming, that are now just part of Rock's DNA. And... one afternoon, back in early 1966, while having lunch in an East End pub, Pete drew a picture on a napkin for his meal mate, Jim Marshall (yes, rock fans, that Marshall!). It was the layout of the amp Townshend wanted Mr. Marshall to build for him. It called for 2 square speaker cabinets, with four 12" speakers in each, and a separate amplifier than could be stacked on top of, or next to, the speaker cabinets, which would sit one on top of the other.
Pete Townshend designed the Marshall stack! A generic pop culture icon of rock guitar playing, of rock 'n' roll itself. And yes, the use of raw feedback, the wanton destruction of the sacred wood 'n' wire beasts, the power chording, the Bo Diddley "Roadrunner" string scrape, the sheer noise, the huge tone, the patented Who anticipated and delayed rhythm accents, that fookin' nose, the fact that one can hear nascent Punk and Metal in his playing years before either musical movement erupted, the fact that a player of Jimmy Page's stature can admit that sometimes he has no idea what Pete's doing in his idiosyncratic lead playing, the fact that he threw me a guitar... Well, I'm gonna take it that you get the fuckin' idea.
Jimi Hendrix: You know the photo of 15 year old Bubba Clinton shaking JFK's hand... Sometime in late 1965, Les Paul and his son, while driving home through Jersey, stopped at a bar & grill called the Allegro. There was a guitarist auditioning on the little bandstand, "a kid playing a [Gibson] Les Paul Black Beauty, left-handed. Man, was he all over that thing!" as Les put it (doncha love that that was the guitar he was using!). Les was flat-out taken aback. This young southpaw, this "kid," was an amazingly good, powerfully exciting, unique-attack guitar player. He ended his "set" and split. "Who was that?" Les asked the bartender. "No idea! Too damned loud!"
For the next couple of years, now and then, Les would think of that wild player in that NJ bar, wondering whatever happened to him. One day, someone showed Les Paul the cover of "Are You Experienced". Les shouted, "It's the kid!" Pete Townshend was asked a decade or so ago if, after all the time had passed, he still harbored any resentment towards Jimi for historically kinda hogging some of Pete's credit on things like feedback, guitar smashing, etc. Pete's reply, "It would have been an honor to have Jimi Hendrix fuck my wife." Well, all righty then. The liner notes (how quaint!) for Jimi's first album said something like, "Jimi breaks the world into interesting fragments. Reassembles it. You hear with new ears." Shit-into-chocolate hyperbole was always the order of the day re: liner notes back then. In this case, it was simply an accurate way to describe Jimi's playing/writing/arranging.
His influence is felt most directly in the beyond-unique sonics he brought to the table, all of which are now simply part of the lexicon. "Beyond-unique sonics." Well, that's pretty anemic for having your motherfucking brain turned inside out. I can vividly recall a feeling while listening to "Are You Experienced" akin to the way people described tripping on acid. You never really saw/heard the world the same way afterwards. As a manic 14 year old Who fan, I tried to play "Are You Experienced" off as just a really cool album. But, in my heart, I knew I'd heard The Revolution. As a player, Jimi is kinda like Muddy Waters' singing. You can find the same notes, play 'em on a Fender Strat, through an old Marshall stack, but, really, you won't come close, Robin Trower. There is one name that must be included in this Hendrix section, Curtis Mayfield. He is one of the bedrock monsters of the entire 'soul guitar' oeuvre, in fact, perhaps the ultimate example of that "guitar in a tux" elegance that typified the stabs, scrubs, fillips, glissandos, of Urban Guitar.
Point being, when you hear Jimi doing those beautiful series of sexy wistful triads (3 note clusters) in "Little Wing," what you're hearing is Jimi showing off to Curtis, "Look what I've come up with coppin' your shit, brother!" Indeed, Jimi's years of apprenticeship included a total immersion in the world of Jimmy Nolen as well, before he, Hendrix, hit us like a meteor. Every guitarist in this entire Most Influential rant is here because of HIS FINGERS and WRISTS. Their "sound" is physicality. But, with Jimi Hendrix, it's more than that. While he was healthy (his first three albums, his performing from '66 'til '69), Jimi's hands tapped directly into something even more impressive than Keef. James Marshall (can you believe that's his middle name, I mean, come on!) Hendrix found a door with his guitar to another world entirely. I have heard "Purple Haze" over 1000 times in my life.
To this day, I wait for the solo, once again, trying to imagine where he is on the neck as the overpowering genius of his head/heart/fingers glides and skips through my psyche, teasingly, eternally out of my grasp. Oh, by the way, on the fade out, that's "the kid" using the old Les Paul trick of overdubs sped up an octave. For the record, excluding alien life forms is not my style. Consequently, Jimi being from Neptune wasn't a problem here.
Jimmy Page: If there's a musical designation for MVP, I think I might have to vote for Mr. Page, a 360 degree player/writer/producer. As a constantly working session player in London in the mid-1960s, Jimmy was immersed in any number of styles of music, all of which required its own style of playing. All of which went into his own hopper for later usage, one of the reasons Led Zeppelin had such a diverse oeuvre. Jimmy also gave hope to us guitar players who lacked in the fine-motor-control department. Jimmy's sputtering blustering mess-with-finesse style of lead guitar (one of the most intoxicating sounds in the world!) pointed the way for the crude, the lewd, the unglued, the simply less fortunate. Something Townshend and The Kinks' gorgeously ragged Dave Davies, can obviously lay some solid claim to, as well. In fact, Dave Davies' solos (No, not played by Jimmy Page... who did play rhythm on those songs because Dave's big brother, Ray, rock genius, was already in the control room producing those early singles!) on "You Really Got Me" and "All The Day And All The Night," remain as wild, as ecstatically cathartic, as they did when each and everyone one of us first heard them.
But, back to Mr. Page, what gets me after all these years is Jimmy's recording production. Led Zep I and II sound like it they were recorded less than six months ago. A classic like, say, "Tommy," sounds like a demo made on Garage Band. A wonderful player like Reverend Billy G in ZZ Top chases, and often captures, The Tone. Jimmy just kinda tossed it off first time out. Guys are still ripping off solos and their tones from Zep's first two albums over 40 (gasp!) years later. I know I am!
Jeff Beck: First off, Jeff wants you all to know that I left Cliff Gallup, Gene Vincent's guitarist, out of the James Burton/Scotty Moore entry. "That officially makes you imbecilic, mate." Anywwway... No, no, no... Oh my God, look, you're right. Okay? I fucked up. Okay? Can I talk about you now, Jeff? Thank you. For decades, Jeff Beck has kind of stood as a beacon of haughty disdain... "Here's what the fuck none of you can do!" On a good night, when he decides he's in the fucking mood, and I've been fortunate to witness several, Jeff Beck is simply the greatest guitarist in the world. Declarative! Jeff is the one rock guitar player who had/has the chops to overtly cop stuff from Les Paul... and maybe even Django! An insouciant "Goes To 11" champion able to cheekily churn out riffs that would break my fingers. A very common reaction among really good guitar players at Jeff Beck concerts is what I call, The Incredulous Giggles of Incredulity. In terms of influence, I believe Jeff's biggest contribution for the last few decades has been to keep that sonuhvuhbitch bar just out of our reach. We all keep trying to catch the fucker... and can't.
Don Rich: This guy was a fiddler who started playing guitar when he joined Buck Owens band, The Buckaroos. There are tons of incredible guitar 'pickers' in country music's history. So, why Don? Here's why. I am a New Yorker, through and through. Born and bred. Like hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of young citified Beatle-Boy guitar players in the late 1960s, I witnessed my first real country lead guitar on "Hee Haw." The early seasons of the Nashville version of "Laugh-In" featured live performances, complete with live bands, of the biggest stars in country music. Buck Owens, a legitimate country superstar, was tapped to host. Consequently, he and his band did a minimum of two songs an episode. In each song, lead guitarist Don Rich would stand there, looking as casual as a guy at a bar, his sparkle-finish Fender up by his chest, and with a big Aww, shucks! grin on his face, never once looking at his fingers, he would just BLAZE!
I, and doubtless many many other young fellers, kinda fell out of our chairs. So this is what "Nashville Cats" by the Lovin' Spoonful (and, oh my God, how fabulous a guitarist was Zally!) was about! Ho-ly crap! Don Rich, on national television, was The Country Guitarist in those crazy-fertile years. It helped that besides chops that made heroes like Keith Richards look ummm, less than glorious, Don Rich's taste was sublimely impeccable. And, let me tell you, his Telecaster's tone is being copied to this very day. Hey, right about now would be a good time to give a shout-out to the Don Rich of the 21st century, Brad Paisley. Folks, the guy's pretty much the best, most interesting guitar player working today, in any genre! No shit(kicker)!
B B King: The same quandary... How in the wide wide world of blues guitar do you settle on The Man? Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulsom, Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor, all giants. And then, there's the deadly elegant T-Bone Walker, who one could argue was blues' single note lead guitar's Charlie/Django, the very nub (while playing behind his head and with his teeth when Jimi was in poopypants diapers). Yeah, but, see, here's the thing. B B King was The Best. This is one instance where pop culture got it right. B B King is rightly the most revered and influential blues figure in the world. Hell, he's a blues guitarist who wound up a TV pitchman!
Why? Ya see, B B King is The Best. Yes, I know in my intro, I said, "best is an opinion." Not here. Not with B B. Any rebuttals on this are made by uninformed non-playing fools. When, at the beginning of the Summer of 1968, I decided that I was gonna learn to play lead guitar or fucking die, the ONLY album I played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over (dorky) and over again was "B B King -- Live At The Regal." Guess what! There were about a million of us doing the exact same thing, just that frickin' summer alone. And, not for nothing, as we Brooklynites murmur now and then, a 7/9th chord was known as "the B B King chord" amongst all the guitarists I knew back then. Why? Because the first time any of us heard the sophisticated sound of that configuration of notes was on a B B King album. That it also turned out to be one of Jimmy Nolen's favorite chords was just further manna from Heaven, courtesy of B B. Most blues players have 4 or 5 stock lines/phrases that they juxtapose over and over again. B B had at least dozen more phrases than everyone else. That is, until we all copped 'em!
If you ever hear anyone saying something stupid like, I dunno... like, "Stevie Ray Vaughn is the best blues guitarist of all time!," just know that thriller-killer-diller player SRV is up in Heaven shaking his head in disgust... It's B B, okay! King!
Eric Clapton: I have a permanent bone to pick with this man. I saw him twice in Cream, both gigs in 1967, when that band was at its freshest [puns curdle discourse]. He was brilliant. "Fresh Cream" remains one of the greatest rock albums of all time, featuring some of the tastiest, most intelligent, monstrous-toned, guitar solos I've ever heard. The solo in "Crossroads," a few years later, while actually a composite of three separate solos, stands as a primer, not only of a myriad of licks, but, the proper way to string them together.
That said, I have never in my life witnessed a talent take such a drug-induced nose dive. For me, roughly 80 percent of Clapton's output is beneath even consideration. Some of the most vacuously empty 'blues playing' I've ever heard came from this ex-junkie. That sneered, here's why he absolutely belongs here. Eric was the first lead guitarist of The Yardbirds. He was followed by Jeff Beck and then Jimmy Page. We call that a line-up! Jimmy changed the band's name to Led Zeppelin. The Yardbirds were the first band to ever release an album, "Having A Rave Up," that included live tracks, featuring actual jamming.
Unlike today, with 10,000 splinters to sort through, all these bands hit all of us at about the same time. Kids like me who already were playing guitar dug this jamming shit beyond words! A revelation! Eric quit the Yardbirds just as they were hitting the audience-of-screaming-girls phase. His blues-purism couldn't stand the pop direction the Yardbirds were taking. In his time with John Mayall, the Grand Old Man of British Blues, and after, more than any one rock musician, even the Rolling Stones, mass-culturally, Eric led us all to the Real Guys I've mentioned in the B B King section above. One is eternally grateful, Mr. Clapton. An even more pervasive effect on all of us... Eric's tone on his one album as John Mayall's lead guitarist, achieved by playing a 1960 Gibson Les Paul with humbucking pickups through a Marshall amp, back in 1966 ('67 in the States) set the standard for what an electric guitar should sound like, period. This mellow-heat distortion, pioneered by Eric, remains the instant sonic shorthand for Rock in any context, anywhere in the galaxy.
That acknowledged, it's of historical-accuracy importance to tell you, we'd all been listening to the first Paul Butterfield Blues Band album on a semi-religious basis for at least six months before we even saw the cover of the wonderful Mayall -- Clapton "Beano" album. Therefore, all hail Mike Bloomfield! Man, I'm glad I remembered to mention him. While Mike's playing was genuinely blistering for the time (even better than Blues Project's hotshot, Danny Kalb), what history should correctly record is that it was Mike Bloomfield who singlehandedly led the Gearhead Brigade from Telecasters, to gold-top Les Pauls with P-90 pickups, to the still-reigning-supreme electric guitar, the sunburst Les Pauls of 1958, '59, '60. I was there. It was a very simple thing. You wanted to be playing what Mike Bloomfield was playing. Sorry, shoulda given you your own entry, Mr.Bloomfield.
Eddie Van Halen: My band, The Planets, were being signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1977. At the last minute, a fight broke out between two A&R VPs over our signing. Seemed one guy already had a 'guitar band' in the pipeline and was very protective of them. "I signed the guitar band for Warner Bros. Fuck The Planets!" That VP won. A guy named Eddie Something in LA had blown my deal outta the water.
Didn't take more than never to get over. I'd been working in a record store for about four weeks when the first Van Halen album came out in 1978. "Oh my God! These guys!" I was horrified! I put the LP on the store's hi-fi system. By the end of side one, even with my massive baggage, I was a Van Halen fan (very big on David Lee Roth, too). That said, Eddie Van Halen, a brilliant and monumentally important guitar player, signaled in a truly dire era of overblown empty horseshit in the history of modern music. Eddie "typing" on his fretboard was astounding. The other 15,000 guys who then had to do it, too? Oy! I never thought I'd ever get sick of Hendrix-y vibrato-bar "dive-bombs."
Eddie's legions killed 'em for me. All this aesthetically-induced negativity does not change the fact that Eddie changed what guitar playing was supposed to be. From "Eruption" forward, Eddie necessitated that virtuosity become a given in any band. It was Eddie's playing that inspired the now generic description for virtuoso showing off, shredding. Almost forgotten at this point, but, again, as someone old enough to have been there, if there was a predecessor to Eddie's flamboyant skill, it was Ten Years After's Alvin Lee. For about 18 months in 1968/69, Alvin's speed, dexterity, attack, and ability to actually improvise at 200 mph, changed the stakes. I was actually introduced to Alvin's existence by my pal Henry's rumor-spreading phone call, "Binky, oh my God, have you heard? Eric Clapton is quitting Cream to join Ten Years After on rhythm! I just bought their album! I gotta go!" Yes, that was the kind of instant notoriety Mr. Lee generated. As a struggling guitarist, I went from kinda-gettin'-there back to hopeless-dipshit the next day after I'd heard the "Undead" album by Ten Years After. Alvin Lee was perhaps the archetype of the Monster Player, Eddie's ultimate designation. Ooops! I mean, other than Jeff Beck, of course. Sorry, Mr. Beck, won't happen again. Yikes!
Tony Iommi: John Entwistle, when asked his thoughts on Metal, said, "Heavy Metal is like farts. I only like my own." To be blunt, when Black Sabbath first came out, as a fan of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, I found the Sabs to be boorish and one-dimensional, to the point of imbecility. In retrospect, they were (gloriously) all that... and... The True Beginning of Metal. Black Sabbath eliminated any aspect of sonics, songwriting, arranging, that could be construed a "frill." By the time "Paranoid" was on the radio, Black Sabbath had become a guilty pleasure. By the time I heard "Supernaut," I was just a plain old fan. There is nothing particularly "Iommi" in Tony's guitar work. He's an excellent player, to be sure, but, not breaking ground the way say, Pete Townshend does in "Slip Kid" or "Put The Money Down."
But, Tony's band and his tightly-coiled blues-based style of soloing were the exact blueprint about 130,000 bands followed devoutly. It is significant that both Tony and the guitar player immediately below (out-of-chron-sequence for this reason) played in bands fronted by one of the true legends in Rock's history, Ozzy Osbourne. That buffoon you see on TV nowadays? Lemme tell you... By the time he was 25, Ozzy could take an arena, hell, a stadium, filled with absolute dirtbag loser lunatic metal fanatics and put them in his back pocket for 100 minutes. I saw the Sabs in 1976. The band was shockingly strong. Bill Ward and Geezer Butler were about in the same league with Zep's Bonzo and JPJ and Who's Moon and Ox. But, it was Ozzy's startling toxic-level reverse-charisma (his schtick back then, I'm Just One Of You) that has powerfully stayed with me for all these decades.
Randy Rhoads: There are other obvious metal-god players. Glen Tipton in Judas Priest is a brainy thriller. Metallica's Kirk Hammett plays lead guitar in the most successful metal band of all time. Ritchie Blackmore's finesse work with Deep Purple and Rainbow was long a standard. Johnny Winter and Rick Derringer, while not really metal, are American bulls. Yngwie Malmsteen, Jan Akkerman, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, the underrated Mick Mars, and several others, have kind of a circus-performer quality to their playing and personas, inspiring lots of generally deserved Wow!s (along these lines, remember the name Guthrie Govan, 'cause here he comes!) But, Randy, Randy, Randy... with Randy, it always was, and always will be... Reverence.
In this kid's horribly cut-short years (a passenger in a freak plane accident at the age of 25), onstage, and in recording studios, Randy brought an artistic precision and classical elegance to his lead guitar work, a fluidity, that seemed almost unnatural, like a metal Chet Atkins maybe? And dare I mention... RR worked with... melody! Ozzy Osbourne's entire post-Sabs sound, writing, arranging is/was Randy Rhoads. Metal is The Lead Guitar genre. It's totally overloaded with fine-motor-control lunatics nowadays. And I mean, hundreds.
That said, Randy Rhoads is, I believe, second only to Eddie VH in big-picture influence. A solid indicator of Randy's primacy amongst lead-guitar-obsessives is a dazzling coffee-table book just released by Velocity Publishing simply titled, "Randy Rhoads." In fact, it was this book that inspired me to do this whole Most Influential blog-slog in the first place. As lavish and high-end a book (a 5.5 lb. extravaganza of hundreds of photos, the full-tilt life story, beautifully written text -- the chapter about the plane wreck is almost unbearable, minute analysis of every aspect of his music) as you'd expect for a Hendrix or Lennon or Presley, Velocity surely knows its audience. On the basis of his legacy and overt ongoing influence over hundreds of thousands of guitarists world-wide, Randy Rhoads actually merits this over-the-top and delightfully exhaustive 400+ page book. If great lead guitar means anything to you beyond a pleasant and exciting sound... Take a look.
Paul Kossoff: How does a guy who never really played more than roots, fourths, fifths, sevenths, and at a snail's pace yet, belong here? Well, when you hear a guitar player in any band, in any setting, slowly strangling one note and then mournfully sliding to another and slowly strangling that one... you are hearing a guitar player attempting to do Paul Kossoff. But, really, none of us can. The only players I can think of who truly could pack the same emotional wallop into one sustained and vibrato-ed note are the Alberts, King and Collins, both monolithic blues players. One of the early master purveyor's of Clapton's tone. Anyway, we all have, forever and ever, Paul's playing in our face. Radio will simply never stop playing "All Right Now"... ever! Believe me, every guitarist-in-the-know reading this drivel is silently cheering in his head, "Fuck yeah, Koss!" Honorable mention must go to Leslie West, whose tone and economy on songs like "Mississippi Queen" were widely imitated. But, Koss... No one, just no one, made their guitar weep like Paul. And not gently either. More like sensual agony! Not in The 27 Club... because he died at 26.
Jerry Garcia: Captain Trips. The God of Jam-Bands. The Eye of the Pyramid. The Hippie Elvis. I'm not remotely a Deadhead (although side one of the Grateful Dead's "Anthem Of The Sun" actually is authentically trippy psychedelia, a groundbreaking weaving of studio and live recordings). Nonetheless, this man and his band essentially birthed a genre. Don Henley's line, "I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac..." encapsulates an entire ongoing sub-culture revolving, essentially, around one man.
A guitar player named Jerry. Who more than the Grateful Dead is responsible for songs that last more than 20 minutes? Who more than the Dead were willing to be a complete and total shambles in front of many many other humans in an effort to find something new? Who were hugely responsible for the melding of Hippie Culture with Country with their seminal "American Beauty" album? The Dead. Even as someone not all that into it, Jerry's (pretty much virtuoso) playing is identifiable in no more than two notes for me. His tone and attack, utterly unique. And wicked wicked wicked. It's fascinating that the designated Guru of Good Vibes had such a beefy ripping tone. When Jerry digs in, that guitar is getting it's ass played! In terms of invention and adventure and stepping into the void in the hope of finding something wonderful, Jerry was a master.
He had chemical help? Who gives a shit! Off the top of my head, maybe only Frank Zappa (another gargantuan tone man) could occasionally loosen the earthbound ties on something of the same level as Jerry. Frankly, I have never heard a contemporary jam-band guitarist come close to Jerry's ability to let go of his tried and true patterns and truly break into unknown territories. In his own caveman way, Neil Young pummeling the living shit out of "Old Black," his Les Paul/weapon of choice, strives for that Grok, too. Captain Rips! As far as Duane Allman, the other genuine god in the world of jam-bands, goes... I feel, at the end of the day, he was a beautifully flowing, confident blues-based guitarist with a nasty knack for slide.
Sorry, that's all. Oh, and let's pretend I laundry-listed a dozen California guitarists, okay. Roger McGuinn, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Lowell George... them's the influential guys, right. For me, the greatest moment in California lead guitar is Jorma Kaukonen's weaving in-and-out throughout Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody To Love." My baby boomer group-therapy band has tackled that song on and off for years. It's fuckin' impossible to play like Jorma! Anyway, poor poor Jerry, increasingly alone, the eye of the storm, was thrashing through an ever-thickening jungle with a machete slowly going dull... trying trying trying to find The Note. That, and his mind-rippingly impossible-to-fulfill role as Godhead Avatar, killed him in the end as surely as the syringe filled with junk. Yep, the Hippie Elvis.
The Edge: I have friends that are gonna wanna smack me for even including him, let alone giving him an entry. Why? Well, when you don't like U2, you HATE motherfucking piece of shit U2. Then, you have Edge's co-star in "This May Get Loud," the newly-influential thoroughbred knockout guitarist, Jack White, being relegated to a mention in The Edge's fucking entry! Plus, those of us who know, KNOW that The Edge's entire schtick from Day One on U2's brilliant first single, "I Will Follow," and on and on and on and on... is based utterly and completely on Public Image's "Public Image."
So, I suppose this entry should be for PIL's Keith Levene. Because, Keith, old bean, this Edge cat done took your ball and ran with it to the point where he's responsible for world-wide copycat-ism. That U2 echo-jangle is a universal sonic now. Ah ha! Oh, goodie, just realized, I'm finally getting my chance to further claim... The other guy The Edge liberally copped from was... Paul Kossoff! I forgot to mention in Paul's entry that he pioneered the elimination of the 3rd. Whenever possible, Kossoff only ground out roots and fifths behind Paul Rodger's You-gotta-be-kidding-me vocals. Another reason Koss gets his own entry up there. This led to his band, Free, having this constant sort of majestic swirling effect, the guitar acting more like cyclic-chimes than a melodic instrument. Sound familiar to you... too?
Kurt Cobain: I'm including Kurt here for two reasons. One, if you're under the age of 35 and playing guitar, and not a full-on Dimebag Darrell freak, chances are, this Kurt guy is (rightly) Elvis Presley to you. Two, of all the encomiums for Kurt regarding his melodies, his lyrics, his singing, his intellect, his persona, no one ever seems to remember that this guy's guitar playing was equally superb. His technique, his which-notes-to-play choices, his ferocious tone, his deep understanding of noise-as-music, his session-players' professionalism, rubbed off on no more than a million or three young guitar players in the last 20 years. For an old fuck like me who found Hair Bands revolting (special hall pass for Warren DiMartini in Ratt), the Seattle Grunge explosion at the top of the 1990s was as welcome as a naked woman. That said, with the very notable exception of Kurt, lead guitar was the weakest link in every other Seattle Grunge band. I could rarely tell the difference between a solo in Pearl Jam or Alice In Chains or Soundgarden from one in a fuckin' Skynyrd song. Kurt's lead work was Music!
Johnny Ramone: I really really wish I could list this entry as Johnny Thunders. Yet, as seminal as The New York Dolls were to the birth of an entire genre and a half (Glam and Punk), I'd be kidding you and myself with pedantic-punk-purist posturing. I will tell you, Johnny and Syl were guitar-weavers on par with Keef and his cohorts, not in technical prowess, but certainly with the same instinctive back 'n' forth blend. I do have to repeat the famous joke that the Velvet Underground only sold 20,000 copies of their first album, but, everyone who bought it... started a band. So, sincere tip o' the Devo hat to Lou and Sterling. There were four wet nurses, The Who, The Velvets, The Stooges, The New York Dolls... Okay. But, you have to be fucking joking if you wanna argue that someone other than Johnny, Joey, Tommy, and Dee Dee mothered and fathered The Punk Revolution.
By the way, four of the five bands I've just brought up are in Jann's Treehouse, the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. That the New York Dolls have never even been considered is an aesthetic and historical botch and a disgraceful insult to my hometown heroes. One that I take personally. Oh, and that Johnny Thunders Les Paul Junior they have on display in Cleveland, it's a fucking bootleg, guys! Okay, dig this next sentence... While I certainly would never have predicted this when I opened for them down at CBGB in 1975, or enjoyed their albums, or kibitzed with John whenever he stopped by the record store I managed in the East Village in the 1980s, there is simply no denying that, at a time when kids were being intimidated by shock 'n' awe guitar hotshots like Steve Howe in Yes, Robert Fripp in King Crimson, David Gilmour in Pink Floyd, The Ramones, with their revolutionary ditching of lead guitar altogether, and John's aesthetic decision that the guitar be nothing more than an unadorned seamless distorted churning drone, gave countless kids "I could do that, too" -- inspiration and led to, I'd guess, another several million guitars sold around the world [124 words and you followed along nicely, right? Kinda like a fancyschmancy Glen Tipton guitar solo... yes, that's right, he gets two mentions].
Dee Dee Ramone did pretty much the same thing with bass guitar. In terms of "I can do that, too!," it's safe to say, Paul Stanley's raw 'big-chunk' rhythm, Gene Simmons almost-no-frills bass playing, and Ace Frehley's easy-to-cop solo style (based almost entirely on that Chuck Berry magic trick) had a real impact. If you're under 50, there's a good chance that KISS was your Beatles, right? I know... I know... Ultimately though, Queens, New York's John Cummings Ramone belongs in the Top Five Most Influential Guitarists! Kind of a riot, really!
Kraftwerk: Okay, so, how does one leave the Second Most Influential Band in History off any list regarding rock/pop/modern music? Well, for starters, none of them played guitar...