Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Baby Boom's Favorite Guitar Players

It's probably pointless to fisk Rolling Stone's recent list of (drumroll) the 100 greatest rock guitarists, but the list is so Boomer-centric as to demand a riposte. Stand back

100. Lindsay Buckingham: see right off the bat there's a problem. Buckingham would doubtless place high on a list of 100 great songwriters, but I couldn't tell you one famous solo he's played. 

99. Thurston Moore: first of all, his co-guitarist Lee Renaldo deserves to be here as well. Second, Sonic Youth was/is the leading avant-rock band of the last 30 years, influencing virtually every hip act that came in their wake. These guys need to be about 75 places higher. 

98. Alex Liefson: Rush was never a Rolling Stone fave, so I guess Liefson should be happy to have placed here to begin with. 

97. Steve Jones: I can think of a dozen punk guitarists who should be in Jones's place. His post-Pistols career was so negligible as to almost  completely detract from the two or three immortal riffs he managed to squeeze out.

96. Bruce Springsteen: another "songwriter" award. Quick name a famous E-Street band solo that did not involve the saxophone. 

95. Roger McGuinn: jesus, the man only defined folk-rock for all time, and was a key member of the best American band of the Sixties. Place him a lot higher. 

94. Peter Buck: brought guitar back to the synthetic '80's. Led college rock to stadiums. Never stopped searching for new chord voicings. Cranked out great albums, year after year, for 10+ years. But Boomers have never heard of him, so he's way in the back. 

93. Paul Simon: Ha! Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha! Are you kidding?! Another songwriter's award, not to mention sentimental Booomer choice.

92. Dimebag Darrell: probably the greatest post-Van Halen metal guitarist. That should be worth a place in the mid-70's.

91. Dave Davies: should be a joint award with Ray, who wrote all those riffs that Dave soloed over. 

90. Tom Verlaine: one of the few new wavers who could solo like a hippy.  

89. Bonnie Raitt: she is a damn good slide player, but there's a bit of affirmative action here. A lot of good players were left off so there could be one woman on the list. 

88. Carl Perkins: we're so far away from rock's hillbilly roots, it's surprising anyone remembered to put Perkins on here. A classy choice.

87. James Hetfield: second only to Tony Iommi in defining what a metal riff should sound like. Belongs a lot higher, given how ubiquitous his sound has become. 

86. J Mascis: brought the wah-wah pedal into post-punk. He was the first guy who really played a style of music you could call "grunge." Secretly influential, so his obscurity drops him below the Kurt Cobains of the world. 

85. Andy Summers: another songwriters award, only Summers didn't even write The Police's songs. Give him credit for bringing synthetic guitar sounds into the mainstream, I guess. 

84. Joe Perry: First of all, this needs to be a joint award with Brad Whitford, whom Perry never fails to praise. Second, Aerosmith was/is literally the American equivalent to the Stones/Zeppelin: a raging hard rock riff machine that defined the Seventies. Every metal and hard rock band that came in its wake has worked their way through Perry's playing. It's inexcusable for him to be way down here. 

83. Eddie Hazel: Funkadelic's dirty funk-metal master places here because of his magnificent solo on "Maggot Brain."

82. Nils Cline: the "guy from Wilco" has made some of the best instrumental jazz-rock of the last 30 years often to little acclaim. I saw him in a tiny basement club a few years ago playing Weather Report songs while a party was going on in the next room. A blistering player as good and as exploratory as Jeff Beck. 

81. Lou Reed: another songwriters award. Which do you prefer, his one-note solos or his two-note solos? 

80. Buddy Holly: I love the solo for "That'll Be The Day," and his rhythm work was outstanding, but this is almost a songwriter's award. 

79. Mike Campbell: really? Tom Petty's guitar player needs to be here?

78. John Fahey: someone who could play rings around most of the people on this list. Should be higher, given how much he influenced the sound of acoustic players. 

77. Willie Nelson: Willie's a great player, no doubt, but I thought this was a list of rock musicians.

76. Robbie Kreiger: this is when I want to strangle the Sixties. How, besides Jim Morrison nostalgia, does  The Doors's guitar player place anywhere on here?

75. Joni Mitchell: can't argue with this.  She's a lot more sophisticated a musician than anyone's ever realized. 

74. Dick Dale: you need surf guitar on your list, so it's either Dale or The Ventures. Dale wins through charisma.

73. Kurt Cobain: another songwriter's award. Dave Grohl plays better guitar. 

72. John Frusciante: meh. recorded a million solo albums no one's listened to, in addition to his work for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. As with the E Street Band, we're dealing with a guy who isn't the main soloist. Kind of an affirmative action pick (guys, we need a mainstream player for the 90's!)

71. Robert Johnson: inspired all of the British blooze guys at the top of this list. Actual style sounds nothing like rock music. 

70. Jack White: have to appreciate that the guy brought fuzz-laden guitar into the multi-platinum mainstream. Still, his style and approach were, in their way, very Boomer friendly. 

69. Richard Thompson: a great player who hasn't lost a step in 50 years. 

68. John McLaughlin: a jazz guy, but his speed influenced a lot of rock guys, so he belongs. 

67. T-Bone Walker: BB King's always going on about Walker, but still...this is not someone who is listened to much these days. (indeed not listened to much since the 1940's).

66. Leslie West: hey, gotta love Mountain, but this is a Boomer pick. Should be at, oh, around 95/96.

65. Slash: should be a joint award with Izzy Stradlin. Should be a lot higher because he's one of the few post-Seventies guitar players who could equal the classic rock masters. 

64. Duane Eddy: a ghost from rock's past. 

63. Johnny Winter: played a lot of classic solos. Not quite a guitar hero, even though he was a real virtuoso. 

62. Robert Fripp: the gold-standard for experimental rock guitar pre-1980. Funny to think of how many people sat in the mud listening to King Crimson while waiting for the likes of Pink Floyd to take the stage.

61. Dickie Betts: there are three (!) Allmans Brothers guitarists on this list, which is two too many. Is it rude to mention that Betts got fired a few years ago for lousy playing?

60. Ron Asheton: as an old punk, I like to see Asheton on the list, but James Williamson was the superior Stooges guitarist. Regardless, he's way too high up. 

59. Robbie Robertson: another songwriter's award. Too high on the list. 

58. Peter Green: granted that Green-era Fleetwood Mac is very cool, and always impresses civilians, but there's already a lot of British blooze players on this list. 

57. Rory Gallagher: a cool pick, as Gallagher's a very underrated Irish player from the second-wave of Brit blues. Still, if Rory's here, George Thorogood should be here, too. 

56. Albert Collins: he's a great player but...there's already a lot of blues guys showing up on a "rock" list. 

55. John Lennon: the rationale is that he's a great rhythm guitarist, which is true enough, but this is really another songwriter's award, not to mention a sop to Boomers. 

54. Joe Walsh: played on enough Eagles records to earn his place here, but I gotta say, I have heard "Life's Been Good To Me" enough times for this lifetime. 

53. Otis Rush: hey, I love Otis Rush! 

52. Clarence White: Rolling Stone needs to explain why White is so high up, while Roger McGuinn is so far down. 

51. Johnny Marr: his work with The Smiths is so good, even aging hipsters at Rolling Stone could appreciate it, but someone needs to call out Marr for the rock-star bloat that has (heh) marred his more solo work. 

50. Richie Blackmore: Ok. Was the first real metal soloist. Wrote the immortal "Smoke On The Water" riff. Did double duty in Deep Purple, and the equally great Rainbow. Stick 'im at #50! Grunt. 

49. Muddy Waters: I know he played the guitar and all, but he's known as a singer and songwriter. 

48. Johnny Greenwood: Radiohead has two other guitar players, but somehow Greenwood gets singled out. A little too high up for my taste.

47. Stephen Stills: it's true that Stills has a sophisticated musical mind. But, that mind has been used to make some of the dullest hippie blather imaginable. 

46. Jerry Garcia: kind of shocking to see Jerry so far down the list. Sometimes dying isn't the wisest career move. 

45. Link Wray: heavy metal before it was metal

44. Mark Knopfler: very tasteful soloist from an era that denigrated guitar solos. #44 seems just about right. 

43. Hubert Sumlin: probably the only blues guy whom rock fans would instantly recognize as "one of us." His distorted chord runs showed up in a lot of Zeppelin songs. Under-rated to to the point of being unknown, Sumlin deserves a lot more notice. 

42. Mike Bloomfield: the original white boy blues guitarist. 

41. Mick Ronson: Jeez. Not to show any disrespect, but this is almost a songwriter's award for David Bowie. Definitely belongs a lot lower down the list. 

40. Tom Morello: Spare me. As highly regarded for his "radical" politics (as if anyone ever lost sleep playing at socialism) as for his guitar playing. Even if he is one of the 100 best guitarists in rock, there's no way he's "better" than, say, Richie Blackmore. Drop him down to Peter Buck's spot. 

39. Steve Cropper: played rhythm guitar on a million southern soul classics, and is one of the great roots rock players, so he belongs here. Not sure if #39 is appropriate, though. His "understated" playing is often little more than background tones.

38. The Edge: Achtung Baby is as classic a guitar album as Electric Ladyland. He also forged a completely unique style that is been endlessly imitated, but never duplicated. Where Keith Richards defined rock guitar for the Seventies, The Edge did for the Eighties and, even the Nineties. This is a top 10 guy, but Boomer ignorance has struck again. 

37. Mick Taylor: was the lead guitarist for the Stones' Sticky Fingers and Exile (also Goat's Head Soup). Technically the "best" of the Stones' three lead guitar players, but really shouldn't place so high given how little he accomplished on his own. 

36. Randy Rhoads: you could easily put Uli Jon Roth or Michael Schenker here, but Rhoads has long had the sort of mystique that only comes from dying young. 

35. John Lee Hooker: don't want to offend anyone, but this is another songwriter's award. 

34. Curtis Mayfield: played some immortal funk and soul riffs, so he belongs, but you need special pleading to place him so high. 

33. Prince: it's hard to believe, but Prince has long been underrated as a guitar player. The truth is YouTube is filled with "guitar God" videos from the Purple One. 

32. Billy Gibbons: Gibbons is one of the great American blues players of the rock era, but popular culture seems content to treat him as a bit of a joke. Really belongs a lot higher. 

31. Ry Cooder: a Boomer favorite who has played on a lot of sessions. Nothing wrong with his playing, but it's hard to pinpoint the performance or album that places him so high up the list. 

30. Elmore James: Rolling Stone notes that James is known for a single lick - that ascending slide riff used as a fill on countless trashy blues-rock songs. (it's what you hear between George Thorogood's vocal lines) But, if you've ever listened to a James album all the way through, you know how repetitive that can get. 

29. Scotty Moore: Elvis's right-hand man is inevitable on a list like this, but Moore's playing was sloppy enough to earn the tag "close enough for jazz." Unlike Elvis's other guitar player, James Burton, Moore did not have much of a career outside of Presleyworld.

28. Johnny Ramone: laid down the basic template for punk players. 

27. Bo Diddly: the "Bo Diddly Beat" launched a thousand bands, including the Stones and Buddy Holly's Crickets. 

26. Brian May: one of the great studio guitarists. May really knows how to fill your stereo speakers with sound. Also arguably the best British guitar player to emerge in the Seventies. Still #26 seems a little high. 

25. Tony Iommi: the sound and style that really defined heavy metal as a genre, rather than just an extension of hard rock. Boomers hate metal, of course - it's what their kids listened to - so I guess Iommi should feel grateful to place as high as he does. Really, though, he's a Top 15 guy. 

24. Angus Young: brother Malcolm belongs here, too, as AC/DC is as much a rhythm unit as anything else. 

23. Buddy Guy: a real blues virtuoso, second only to BB King. 

22. Frank Zappa: like Prince, he's highly underrated as a guitar player because he's already famous as a songwriter, but you can't go wrong with Hot Rats, or Shut 'n Play Yer Guitar. Never stopped searching for new rhythms and harmonies to solo over. Arguably the only Sixties figure who seamlessly transitioned across eras throughout his career. #22 feels too low. 

21. Chet Atkins: a dazzling musician, and #1 on the list of 100 Best Country Guitar Players. 

20. Carlos Santana: easily the best player to emerge from Sixties-era San Francisco. Probably the best American player of his era not named Hendrix. Really should be higher. 

19. James Burton: Elvis's guitar player during the latter half of his career. Also an accomplished country session player. Doesn't feel right to place him ahead of Chet Atkins. 

18.  Les Paul: more of a jazz player and a balladeer, but the guitar named for him is a rock icon. At this point more a historic figure than a player people listen to and learn from. You need special pleading to get him all the way to #18. 

17. Neil Young: another guy whose playing is underrated because he's known mainly as a songwriter. Unlike the rest of his hippie brethren, Neil's solos are grungy, loud and haven't aged a day. Still, I wouldn't place him so high.

16. Derek Trucks: another Allman Bros. guitar player? At #16??

15. Freddy King: this is the point when you start saying to yourself, "Boy, there's a lot of blues players on a list of rock guitarists."

14. David Gilmour: pioneered a lot of studio effects in the early Seventies that are still being analyzed and imitated today. The Edge, for one, owes Gilmour a lot. 

13. Albert King: secretly influential. White players might speak reverently of Robert Johnson and BB King, but Albert's sound is the one they imitate.

12. Stevie Ray Vaughn: a guy whose rep has only increased with time. One of the few post-Sixties players who equaled the legacies of the rock and blues musicians whom he followed. Managed to produce the definitive cover of the "uncoverable" Little Wing. 

11. George Harrison: Harrison was the original rock guitar hero. When he took up the sitar, everyone followed (at least for a few months), but he was left behind decades ago. Plus, it's just as likely some of those classic Beatles solos were played by Paul McCartney. George belongs here, but not up at #11. 

10. Pete Townsend: yet another songwriter's award. His power chords and showmanship get him on the list, but not all the way up to #10. 

9. Duane Allman: the only Allman Brothers guitarist who belongs on this list. Allman was one of the great roots rock players of his, or any, day. The Fillmore Concerts is one of the great live albums, and Derek & the Dominoes is one of the few super-groups that brought out the best in all concerned. 

8. Eddie Van Halen: single-handedly defined the guitar shredder style that has dominated metal and hard rock since Eddie laid down Eruption. Some of his solos are so fast and so detailed as to almost defy description, not to mention transcription. Also the first player to virtually eliminate the blues from his style. By rights he should be at #3. 

7. Chuck Berry: Berry's chording and licks are the bed rock for rock guitar, especially rock from the Sixties and Seventies. He's up at #7 based on pure merit.

6. BB King: everyone loves BB, but no one really sounds like him. 

5. Jeff Beck: a virtuso's virtuoso, but also a mercurial recluse, who's been semi-retired since 1980. Blow By Blow and Wired are two of the great instrumental rock records, and also a daring bit of reinvention as a guy known for blooz playing suddenly became a jazz-rock trailblazer. 

4. Keith Richards: rock's greatest rhythm guitarist has written dozens of kick-starting "rock this house riffs." What's amazing is that his style is so idiosyncratic. Most of his famous songs were written for 5-string guitar tuned to an open G, yet the legions of Stones covers are invariably done in standard tuning, which sounds almost, but not quite, right. 

3. Jimmy Page: a master of folk rock and proto-metal, all brought together on Stairway To Heaven, the ultimate rock guitar epic. Still, it should be a knock against him that his post-Zepp career hasn't amounted to much. 

2. Eric Clapton: when they used to say "Clapton Is God," they meant it. But, Slowhand put out a lot of dull stoner music, too. 

1. Jimi Hendrix: you think I'm gonna argue against this??   


Trey Anastasio - I don't even like Phish and I think he belongs here

Joe Satriani - raised metal shredding to an art. A rare multi-platinum instrumentalist.

Tom Scholz - those Boston albums set new standards for hard rock guitar tones.

George Thorogood - a raucus player whose Bad To The Bone is synonymous with "bad ass"

Jeff "Skunk" Baxter - a perfect tone soloing over some of the most sophisticated pop of the Seventies

Captain Sensible - high energy punk playing that heavily influenced the DC and LA punk scenes, which means virtually all of the vital American punk bands. 

Dr. Know - world's greatest punk guitar player. 

Strumer/Jones - belong in Steve Jones's place. Changed their style anew with every album.

Steve Miller - another riff meister and a master of the studio

Tipton/Downing - the original twin guitar heavy metal attack

Vernon Reid - true metal/funk crossover playing. His Living Color stuff really holds up, and is ripe for rediscovery. 

Lowell George - a great slide player, and a Boomer favorite. Shocking to see him left off. 

Phil Manzanera - a quietly experimental player. 

Harris/Smith - metal's other great twin guitar attack. 

UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot Ernie Isley!

1 comment:

  1. Lindsey Buckingham deserves to be much higher on that list. If you've never heard his live jams of "I'm So Afraid", you haven't heard guitar :-)