Recently, I was trawling through some old content in Rolling Stone (I’m a bit of a nerd like that), when I came across this article written in 2015. For the piece RS assembled a “panel of top guitarists and other experts,” including Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore, Robbie Krieger and Brian May, to vote for the greatest guitarist of all time.
Here’s the top ten:
Justifying the choice of Jimi Hendrix for the top spot, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello wrote the following:
“Jimi Hendrix exploded our idea of what rock music could be: He manipulated the guitar, the whammy bar, the studio and the stage. On songs like “Machine Gun” or “Voodoo Chile,” his instrument is like a divining rod of the turbulent Sixties – you can hear the riots in the streets and napalm bombs dropping in his “Star-Spangled Banner.”
His playing was effortless. There's not one minute of his recorded career that feels like he's working hard at it – it feels like it's all flowing through him. The most beautiful song of the Jimi Hendrix canon is “Little Wing.” It's just this gorgeous song that, as a guitar player, you can study your whole life and not get down, never get inside it the way that he does. He seamlessly weaves chords and single-note runs together and uses chord voicings that don't appear in any music book. His riffs were a pre-metal funk bulldozer, and his lead lines were an electric LSD trip down to the crossroads, where he pimp-slapped the devil."
I mean, you can’t really argue with Morello’s justification. Saying that, though, these top ten/top 100 lists tend to leave me somewhat cold. It’s a bit arbitrary. What makes a guitarist great is an entirely subjective thing, and creating a “leaderboard” doesn’t really feel like it’s in the spirit of rock n’ roll.
So with that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to put a spin on the well-worn format. I don’t want to know who the greatest guitarist of all time is. But what I do want to know is who your favourite guitarist is, and why they mean so much to you. Let us know how you got into their music, what it is about their playing that inspires you, whether you’ve met them; whatever you feel is significant about your relationship with their music.
To kick it off, here’s mine: Jimmy Page. I vividly remember the first time I saw the “Whole Lotta Love” video on MTV (likely some time around the year 2000).
That riff floored me.
That apocalyptic mid-section scared me.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
As a British adolescent, I was shocked to discover that Led Zeppelin were a British band. I’d assumed they were American; we Brits were too reserved to make this kind of racket, surely?
From there, I rabidly consumed everything that Jimmy had ever done, and was amazed by his balance of virtuosity with an on-the-edge, almost avant-garde-at-times style of playing. Pretty much every modern rock guitarist is influenced by Jimmy, but none of them can really play like Jimmy Page. It’s testament to his genius and part of the reason I love him so much.
So that’s my story. But what are yours? Sound of loudly, verbosely and vigorously in the comments section, on social media, or wherever it’s convenient for you to communicate. Let us know who you love to listen to and why!
Cal Jam doesn’t get the same love as festivals like Monterey Pop or Woodstock. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t have the late ‘60s countercultural cred, happening a full five years after the summer of love reached its peak. Maybe it’s because it was staged to be filmed for television (as part of ABC’s legendary “In Concert” series). Why do I love California Jam so much? It is because it established the record for the largest concert sound system ever assembled? Was it because it featured the first ever appearance of the Good Year blimp at a music festival?
Guitar lessons eventually followed. But, classical guitar didn’t grab me in the same way that my own freeform compositions had. Firstly, I didn’t know any of the songs I was supposed to be learning. Secondly, it required the kind of co-ordination and finger dexterity that I was – at that time at least – far too impatient to master. “I read somewhere that there are these things you can use to hit the strings so you don’t have to use your fingers. I think they began with a P,” I once told my guitar teacher. “The thing that begins with a P is called practice,” he replied. He was right, of course, but that didn’t mean I wanted to hear it.
This week, to satisfy my yearning for live music, I’ve taken a deep dive into my record collection and rediscovered some live favourites. Given how much joy I’ve got out of these records, I thought I’d share them with you today. Putting together this list, I’ve tried to take the road less travelled. I didn’t want to put together a list of classic live albums that everyone already knows like the back of their hand. Instead, my three picks serve as alternatives to some of those classic albums, offering a new look at some legendary bands.