Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Guitar Heroes in Rock n' Roll Heaven
Let's start with the big three who ALL played in the Yardbirds in the 60s (though not all at the same time)
1) Eric Clapton
2) Jimmy Page and
3) Jeff Beck
To these we must of course add quite a few others who could 'bring it' on any given night.
1) Pete Townsend
2) Jimi Hendrix
3) Eddie Van Halen
4) George Harrison (well, sometimes)
5) Stephen Stills
6) Neil Young
7) Carlos Santana
8) Mr. Lukather (of Toto fame)
9) Joe Walsh
10) Steve Howe
11) Duane Allman (and his side kick Dickey Betts)
There are others who deserve honorable mention: 1)Leslie West; 2)The various lead guitarist of bands like AC DC, Queen, Journey, Collective Soul, Johnny Winter, Jefferson Airplane (not the Starship version), maybe Z.Z. Top, and though he was mainly a blues guitarist-- Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Of the much more recent generation of guitarists Eric Johnson and Mr. Vai come to mind who could both 'shred' on demand.
As for the best albums featuring a lead guitarist, I would start with the best live (and remastered) album ever, bar none--- The Who-- Live at Leeds.
One listen to the amazing versions of Magic Bus and several of the others on this album and it is over. You ask yourself-- Who were the other five guys also playing guitar in that band?
There are some performances by Jimi Hendrix that are right up there as well, but sadly no definitive live lp. The live performance of Carlos Santana at and after Woodstock performing material from the first lp and Abraxas ranks up there, as do some of the performances of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Howe.
As a guitarist, I have to say that speed is not everything. There were often complaints that Clapton could not play as fast as Townsend or Page or Hendrix, and they were justified. 'Slow Hand' was not slow, but he was slower than some, but his musicianship and facility could not be questioned.
If you had a 'shred off' between someone like Van Halen and Mr. Vai, it appears clear to me that Mr. Vai would win, but Van Halen is a better guitarist over all, and he is very fast indeed.
Hands down, the best tandem that played in the same band together over a considerable period of time were Allman and Betts when they played songs like Whipping Post at Filmore East.
But then there is the issue of style and creativity. Walter Becker of Steeley Dan was a very influential jazz-influenced guitarist and when teamed up with Larry Carlton those boys could hum. One has to also mention the MIT grad guitarist of Boston as well who was very creative and technologically well ahead of his time and one could add a classy Fender Stratocaster player like Jimmy Messina as well, though he falls into the folk and country rock slot.
Some bands had a BIG guitar sound, without actually having world class lead guitarists. I'm talking about bands like Poison, Guns and Roses, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Nickelback, and I could go on, but the subject of this post is LEAD GUITARISTS.
I once went to an all star concert fronted by Eric Clapton called Eric and Friends. Two of the friends turned out to be Duane Allman (who played with him on Layla), and Pete Townsend--- YIKES!!! There were not enough amps in the world for that trio, and I went home deaf and happy :)
Who would you like to add?
Posted by Ben Witherington at 5:34 PM
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Mark Knopfler. One of the very best (IMHO)
Just listen to Sultans of Swing. He is the Chet Atkins of Rock.
Well, he may be one of the most eclectic people on the planet, but I think he is probably the best guitar player to walk on the earth.
Randy Rhoads who played for Ozzy Osbourne, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Trey Anastasio of Phish and the Edge.
I would also respectfully take Neil Young off the list.
Eric Clapton is by far in the top 3.
My dad is a Neil Diamond fan. Is he rock and roll enough for your list Dr. Witherington?
Thanks for the post! It's nice to know that even Bible scholars can rock out sometimes!
I nominate Nels Cline, the lead guitarist of Wilco. His style reminds me a lot of the melodic lead guitar you hear in stuff like Steely Dan and Allman Brothers, but he has a tone all his own. Check out Live in Chicago and Sky Blue Sky.
Mark Knopler is not bad at all on a Fender Stratocaster. I like his playing, but he can't even play as well as Jimmy Messina on the exact same instrument.
Vitamin Z, I like various of your choices but Metheny, Montgomery, Kottke, and Hedges are NOT rock guitarists. Metheny is my favorite jazz fusion guitarist by far, and Hedges and Kottke are both great at what they do, not they are not rockers.
David Gilmour is middle of the pack at best. As for Neil Young, go back and listen to the Everyone Knows this is Nowhere lp.
Phil Keaggy is a top drawer Christian guitarist, but not a rock guitarist, unless you are counting his brief stint with Glass Harp, in which he would not have made the top 10.
As for Neil Diamond, he is a fun pop icon, but not a rock guitarist. His voice is pleasant even for pop music, of the Elton John etc. sort. He does however have one of the finest live CDs ever--- Hot August Nights.
Prince may not be the best, but he is certainly the most underrated.
Everyone forgets one of the greatest innovators on the guitar and one of rock's most talented folks. They forget him because he was quite weird.
I don't see how anyone other than Hendrix can be #1...he was a revolutionary. I don't think the guitar would be played the way it is today if it weren't for Hendrix.
Also, I think you under-rate Vai. The variety of his catalogue BURIES EVH. From his days with Zappa, to taking over for Yngwie (Alcatrazz) and later EVH(David Lee Roth) Whitesnake, (to mention a few) to his solo work which is incredibly creative. You take that and his technique...I dunno, I don't think it's even close between he and EVH. In other words, Vai not only wins the 'shred off' but when it comes to creativity and variety, Vai wins again. (Go listen to DLR 'Eat 'em and Smile'. Ignore the silly lyrics and just listen to the guitar...phenomenal. ) I'll grant Eddie the edge in terms of enduring influence, but beyond that, I don't see it.
Guys you should've mentioned:
I especially love Nuno. Great songwriter and unbelievable guitar player. Just saw Extreme at the BofA in Boston a couple weeks ago. Amazing...
(Glad you mentioned Poison...I know it's cool to slam CC but I loved his over the top playing. Mick Mars of Motley Crue is a guy who can really play and plays solos that really fit the song.)
Sorry for the extra long comment...fun stuff, eh? 8)
I knew this list was coming! Good job!! You are an awesome student of good vintage music!
Jimi Hendrix was my favorite when I was in high school. His guitar solo in Manic Depression is just awe-inspiring. I also thought his solo at the end of "Bold As Love" was one of his best. Also, the long version of Voodoo Chile (and the short version).
The guitarist from B.T.O was really good, especially in Looking Out for Number One.
Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption, You Really Got Me, Ain't Talkin Bout Love, Hot for Teacher, and Top Jimmy were great. I think as a rock guitarist, Eddie was as good as anyone.
Your insight into Steve Vai was spot on. His songs aren't really songs, they are just background music for his bamazing fretwork. He is more of a musical masturbator than a musician.
But honestly, Phil Keaggy is the best lead rock guitarist I've ever heard, and I'm not just saying that because he's a Christian. He's fast, his notes are evocative, he plays with feeling, plus he's missing a finger! Find Me in These Fields Alone is a great rock guitar album. There are others that are too numerous to mention.
I have a live jazz guitar album called Guitar Trio featuring Al Dimeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia. It's not rock, but I have never heard a finer guitar recording. These guys blow away every rock guitar player I have ever heard (and I'm not even a jazz aficionado).
Prince's hard rock guitar work on Let's Go Crazy and Purple Rain is terrific, and his guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently weeps at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was otherworldly.
Does Chuck Berry belong on this list? He influenced pretty much everyone.
What about Randy Rhoads? Not an Ozzy fan, but this guy's good.
The guy from Metallica, Kirk Hammett. He's really good, too.
But really, your list is superb. I might bring Pete and Stills down a bit to make room for Berry or Keaggy or Prince or Howe or Robert Fripp or Eddie Hazel or the Hendrix imitator dude.
But it's all a coin flip.
Agreed that they are certainly not rockers. Just wanted to mention the names since they are so good.
Jimmy Page? A bit sloppy compared to others (but what do you expect when you are drunk and high all the time?), but so good.
Oh yeah, all readers here need to check out Willy Porter is you like guitar players. Here is my post on him:
What about David Gilmour? I am not into noisy shredders. Give me Gilmour and his beautiful tone and melodic solos any day.
My actual favorite guitarist is Steve Rothery of Marillion. He is very much from the Gilmour school. His solo on the song Easter is my alltime favorite guitar solo.
Pearl Jams Lead Guitarist (name escapes me at the mo)
Keith Urban - I know he is a country artist, however, he has won many guitar playing awards and can rock it on the axe.
Peace, and some great choices Ben, i agreed with alot o your choices except neil diamond, didnt really 'shred' did he.
ooops....sorry my bad, i meant to say i agree with what you said ABOUT neil diamond but did not agree with neil young as a rocker.
Dick Dale, of surf guitar fame.
Though short-lived, Jeff Buckley has to make it on every top guitar player list. Very jazz influenced, syncretistic style. As a creative genius, and quality musician he can't be beat. I doubt I would have to post this as an add on if he had lived another ten years.
I've watched many great guitar solos live and on video over the years, and the most amazing by far was Hendrix. Watch his performance of Red House from Woodstock some time. I'd bet that if you polled the rest of the players on the list, they'd put him at the top.
Sorry Ben, but leaving Paul Kossoff off this list is a huge mistake. I'll agree with you that the Who Live at Leeds is the best ever live album, but the best track is The Hunter from Free Live. Koss' opening guitar riff is incredible.
I know that you said that Free didn't make enough albums to get Paul Rogers into your singers' list, but I have to respectfully (or not respectfully - as you choose) disagree.
Have a listen to Mr Big on Free Live before you put your bass player list together!
My top three: Koss, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton. Number four would be Rory Gallagher (whom you have also ignored - I can only assume you are very busy and his name slipped your mind). Good stuff Ben - keep it up.
How about Chicago's Terry Kath on the blistering quadruple live album from the early 70s? I'd also put a vote in for John Mayer. You haven't mentioned U2's the Edge - not fast or flashy, but one who has a truly distinctive sound and style. How about Larry Carlton, Elliott Randall, Geoff 'skunk' Baxter and Dean Parks who each played blistering guitar on various Steely Dan albums?
You know, this could be the most controversial entry you've dared to post on here! Nothing riles up a muso like a list of the top ten guitarists! ;-)
I am quite a Steve Vai fan - his speed and technical brilliance is amazing, BUT his slow work is also incredible and his ability to play in such a way as to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck is amazing (see For the Love of God live for example). Plus he's just an incredibly fun entertainer to watch! The way he can interact with his band and have such amazing stage presence, whilst also playing ridiculously hard music makes me laugh with amazement...
I reckon somewhere up there I'd include Robert Fripp of King Crimson as much of his solo work is quite amazing as well (including his atmospheric 'frippatronics' synthy stuff). Also I do like Richie Sambora from Bon Jovi's solo work which is quite bluesy and Claptonesque in places. And Steve Morse is pretty impressive. Seeing him play with Deep Purple a couple of years ago was a highlight for me!
As for Phil Keaggy - I remembered hearing one of his albums years ago and absolutely hating it! It was hideously cheesy and didn't appeal to me at all. So when I was in America I was at a music festival and a friend of mine more or less had to drag me there to see him play an acoustic set. Gosh! It was an amazing set! Forget his studio CDs and see him live and solo - It's a whole other experience!!
Hmm, that's a pretty comprehensive list. You've just about hit everybody imaginable.
Ross Childress is the lead guitarist for Collective Soul. One of the few bands from that era that I actually liked!
Maybe consider Peter Green of the early Fleetwood Mac? Though one might consider him a blues guitarist, his other contemporaries seem to note him as an important influence.
My kind of post Dr. W. Just a quick note on the "No definitive live LP for Hendrix" comment - check out Band Of Gypsies - that's definitive in my book. I challenge you not to be floored by "Machine Gun".
I'd like to echo the pro-Vai comments. Steve can definitely shred, but he's clearly not one-dimensional. His DLR work is overlooked and his compositional abilities border on genius. For evidence, check the aforementioned "For the Love of God" and the breathtaking "Blue Powder" off the same album (Passion and Warfare).
Between Vai, Hendrix and SRV, I cannot choose. Plus, there are dozens of guitarist I love in band context.
Having seen and heard him live, you would have a hard time convincing me that there is a better guitarist in any style than Brian Setzer.
I'm a guitarist myself, and Setzer's playing had me literally laughing out loud from pure awe.
First of all though I enjoyed Zappa and his humor ('Please Don't Eat that Yellow Snow') he would be a middle of the pack guitarist. Secondly, I have Band of Gypsies, and overall the album is just fair, but Machine Gun is quite the tune. Prince is pretty darn good too, and Joe Satriani is fast as greased lightning. Brian Setzer I do like. I agree with adding poor ole Terry Kath who accidentally blew his brains out.
Gotta agree that Prince is one of the most, if not the most, under-rated guitar players around.
Richard Thompson! He has a folk background, having been in Fairport Convention, but his solo albums are amazing.
Robert Fripp! His work with King Crimson shows off amazing fast chops and heavy chords. His collaborations with Brian Eno demonstrate his innovative mind.
My personal criterion for the zenith of guitar rockdom is the coextensive nature of relationship between the player and the played. For that, I cannot see anyone being more coextensive with their instrument than Hendrix (The BBC recordings are the best live for me).
Hendrix sang with his guitar, and by that I do not mean that he used his guitar as his voice. I mean that the guitar accompanied his 'voice'(think: finding your voice). So I would make the distinction between people who display mastery of their instruments and those who coextend their 'voice' through their instruments. Under this qualification, I would appeal to Hendrix as a genus singularis.
As was previously mentioned, Clapton et al were struck dumb when they first saw Hendrix in a club in London. That speaks to his unique stature in the field and probably as to why he keeps getting mentioned here. Hendrix was not a 'techician' and it probably cuts against the spirit of this list to compare him to someone like Vai.
Hendrix is probably another reason why we can imagine another 1,000 guitarists lined up to take Vai's place when he fades away, but I have yet to hear someone truly described as 'the next Hendrix'.
My 2 cents and now I'm broke.
U2's The Edge
This list seems to skew pretty heavily towards classic rock - not a criticism, just an observation. Two contemporary guys that should definitely be added are Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Both are playing in the current incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band. If you haven't, check them out - they're far, far more than a has-been novelty act. Each also have their own bands - Haynes is in Gov't Mule, and Trucks has the Derek Trucks Band. Both are excellent.
How about Jerry Garcia? Moreover, what are your thoughts on the Grateful Dead? Although I never saw them live, they are my favorite band.
PS Is that OK for a Christian?!?!
Clapton. Best ever lead. Played in more than one band. Every one is outstanding. He makes the band better by playing lead.
Very Early Clapton was average, he was learning, willing to take instruction and improve, also a quality which leads to the best ever. Many others just quit when they hit the top. This guy reinvents him-self and the music he plays.
Clapton is not the most creative or revolutionalry guitarist, however, I believe he is consistatly the cleanist, most versatile, most evocative lead player.
Oh my goodness, if Carl didn't mention Guns -n- Roses, I was goini' to flip. Not only do they have great albums with a great lead guitarists (e.g., Use Your Illusion I and II), but one could certainly argue that Slash is a guitarist of the ranks of Eddie Van Halen. Keep in mind that both were asked to be special guest guitarists for Michael Jackson.
Also, while Ozzy's master guitarist Randy Rhodes was mention, Zack Wild, who was the guitarists for the No More Tears Album, is worthy of note, although he is nowhere near the ranks of Randy Rhodes.
Quite a few of you have mentioned the Edge of U2. I love his playing, but he is not a lead guitar player, he is a rhythm guitar player--- mostly chords, and some single simple line leads. I can play what he plays and I am rhythm guitar player. Now Jerry Gracia is a good guitar player. I liked his solo work better than most of the Dead stuff. The Grateful Dead are a truly fun band, of the same sort of genre as CCR-- roots music rocked and rock-a-billyed up. For what it is, its very good. I agree that Brian Setzer can play and he belongs in this same category. Among the really young guitar players I have watched and heard, the one that does impress me the most is Mayer, and I never thought I would be saying that after hearing his first lp. It is interesting that no one has mentioned anyone in the Dave Matthews Band, which I also enjoy--- they are truly eclectic.
Not sure if he could be considered a Rock 'n Roll lead guitarist, but I'd vote for The Edge from U2!
Yngwie Malmsteen. Blazingly fast.
Edgar Cruz. He's from Oklahoma City and sort of works in the shadows of the music world. You can check him out on YouTube.
Also, Adrian Legg. A guy who makes his own (odd-looking) guitar, throws some banjo pegs on it, and plays the way he does has to be on the list.
I wonder if you folks have noticed-- rock n' roll is an Anglo thing. By this I mean it is the music of the U.K., North America, and Down Under, all Brits originally. It is not, for example, a music which originated in Southern or Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa (except in former British/Dutch regions like South Africa), or South America. This has always struck me as interesting and revealing about Anglo-Saxon culture, though I am not sure what to make of it. And of course it has also been, far too often, a male dominated testosterone driven thing as well.
This is a great list. The only one I might add is Peter Frampton.
As I was reading, I just knew you were going to leave out Eric Johnson and then I was going to have to flame about how he was simultaneously the greatest and most ignored rock guitarist of all time. And then there he was. So I don't have to flame. You really do know your stuff.
Which immediately raises the question of why you could even mention rock pygmies like Def Leppard in the same post with all these other giants of the genre!!!
Nice post, just the same.
Didn't Jimi Hendrix once say that Phil Keaggy was the best guitarist? I'd be interested to have that confirmed and have a better citation if it is indeed true.
We have Guitar Hero III at the church, and it's fun to hear these young kids singing these old hard rock songs!
I have pictures of my wife playing GT III
He ain't Rock n' Roll, but Cyrus Clarke played guitar in an awesome folk rendition of Dickey Bett's (Allman Brothers) "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." The Acousticats' version is 9:54, so it doesn't quite meet the 13:04 rendition on the Allman Brothers' "At Fillmore East" album. Oh, and many of the lead guitar riffs get played by fiddles or mandolin on the Cat's Meow album. The Acousticats disbanded in 1995 and now Clarke has headed up The Cyrus Clarke Band.
What about Alex Lifeson of Rush?
Lists like this make me want to watch Crossroads with Ralph Macchio
Dave Matthews is a great player, but I typically think of him as a rhythm player. A great one - he has a very unique, often percussive, style - but I don't think of him as a lead player.
One ommission of note is Alex Lifeson. I can thank Rush for getting me into music (some of you may puke now), but seriously, those three guys are absolute masters of their instruments, and while Lifeson probably gets the least acclaim out of the trio, he's legit in every conceivable way.
One guy who is certainly a blues guy, but of whom Eric Clapton himself says is "the greatest guitar player alive", is Buddy Guy. This guy is just disgusting to watch. I've seen guys make their instruments look easy to play, but this guy plays some of the meanest, heaviest guitar you will ever hear, and it looks effortless. He's still touring. If he comes to within 100 miles of you, GO! By the way, he's about 70 years old now, but looks like he's in his 30s.
Not rockers, but worth checking out if you like acoustic guitar:
Another great topic!
Several of Gino Vannellie's new CDs you must check out:
2. Yonder Tree
3. Slow Love
Check out "A Little Bit of Judas" on Yonder Tree! All CDs are available on itunes.
I first heard the Hendrix/Keaggy thing in about 1982 or so. It's been around a while. However, there doesn't seem to be any actual evidence for it. It looks like a pop-Christian urban legend.
Stevie Ray Vaugn, Steve Vai, Brad Paisley, Albert Lee, Brian Setzer, Yngwie Malmsteen, John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, Larry Carlton, John Mayer, Phil Keegy…. How about that combination?
Back in the day...
Todd Rundgren was listed right up there with the rest of the names on your list.
Someone else mentioned Leo Kottke: a great guitarist though not really a rocker... but I have to share one comment he made at a concert. He said he was a bit manic-depressive, but it worked out fine for him. He wrote when he was manic and edited when depressive!
I would like to add Roy Buchannan, a bit more blues, but definitely deserves credit.
Jimi Hendrix died before Phil Keaggy was in Glass Harp, so it's a baseless urban legend.
The closest is a line from an interview with Ted Nugent in Guitar Player Magazine: "I don't know what happened to that Phil Keaggy. He could have saved the world with his guitar." The funny thing of course is that Keaggy was still around and recording in Christian circles, which of course Nugent never heard of, so apparently CCM won't save the world. Keaggy is an extraordinary guitarist, but it's hard to appreciate when most of the songs aren't so great.
Hendrix was sui generis, someone who seemed created for the guitar. Clapton would be #2, though I actually like listening to Clapton more. Most of the rest mentioned are pretty interchangeable.
You've got great taste - I would put Eddie Van Halen a notch or two higher, but thats just me. He knew how to compose and could tap those harmonics like nobodies business.
I second the others wondering about Phil Keaggy's absence from the list. He is low key and a lot more diverse than just hammering out lightning fast rock riffs, but most amazing in live solo performance (as well as studio recordings). Anyone wanting to second guess this or doesn't know much about this guy, check out Phil's Acoustic Sketches 2 - amazing stuff to listen to.
Hmm, no one's even mentioned Tom Morello. He's not quite a rock legend, but he's definitely a very innovative guitarist.
I'd have to second Robert Riley's recommendation for Keaggy's "Freehand: Acoustic Sketches II," which is as good a Keaggy disc as he's ever issued. I'd have to also qualify that with the fact that 1) he's not really a rock guitarist, & 2) most of his recordings are uneven at best, but like another poster observed, you really need to see him live to appreciate his skill.
A recommendation of my own or two:
Already mentioned, but Santana's most amazing work can be found on the live-in-Japan multi-disc (formerly triple LP) "Lotus," which is simply amazing, and comes so close to the realm of Hendrix...it's clearly in the same solar system. Most others are in nearby galaxies at best.
Townsend is right up there, of course, and how 'bout Robert Randolph, who is at least on a distant, outlying asteroid belt on the outskirts of Hendrix. His show in a club here in KC about 4 years ago was the second-best live show I've ever seen in my 46 years.
Prince (truly underrated) was THE single best live show I've ever seen (the 1999 tour, with The Time & Vanity 6), channeling Hendrix & Little Richard in the same body.
Zappa, when he Shut Up & Played His Guitar, is probably on the same asteroid belt as Randolph.
Finally, It IS ok to like The Grateful Dead, particularly if your conscience doesn't convict you. The fact is, Jerry Garcia was phenomenal, both in and outside the Grateful Dead. There's not a lot of hope, but I sure hope he meant it when he sang "Jesus loves you the best." Cuz He does.
One name I have not seen listed or mentioned is mike bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Electric flag fame. I have recently become interested in his music through listening to Bob Dylan. I had heard his name before but had no idea how good of guitarists he was until recently.
Did anyone mention Steve Miller?
Brown-Forman Midnite Ramble
2008 Tribute Tour
Featuring Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Eric Johnson
Monday, October 27, 7:30 p.m.
Whitney Hall, The Kentucky Center
What about Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush and this other guy named Ace Frehley of KISS? Ace knew how to shred!
I LOVE YOUR BLOG!
One of my fav's Joe Satriani.
I like Joe Satriani.
The whole Keaggy thing. I've been torn on this as I've seen him live and think his shows are incredible. Like a lot of Christian music--especially in the 80s--sometimes the production or song-writing takes a backseat to the message. Phil's Beyond Nature, by no means a rock guitar CD, is as good as anything I've heard from more of an instrumental/new age music standpoint.
If I could get my wish, I'd love to see him sit in w/ some improv/jam rock band and see how he stands up.
Post a Comment