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FUSION-INSTRUMENT-OF-CHANGE-GUITARISTS

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of Change

“Little Wing”
Vernon Reid Band of Gypsys Revisited
@ The Blue Note (NYC)
2015
  —
((( honorable evolution )))

Vernon Reid

Yardbirds
Eric Clapton
Jimmy Page
Jeff Beck …

Jimi Hendrix
Duane Allman

Eddie Hazel
Frank Zappa
Larry Coryell

Carlos Santana
Prince
John McLaughlin While still in his twenties, John McLauglin was invited by Miles Davis to play on his latest project, Bitches Brew. Many credit McLauglin’s guitar as the fire that lit the fuse of what became “Fusion” music. At the time (early ’70s), Miles’ and McLaughlin’s electric guitar-charged sound attracted much popular attention, and for the first time since its “Golden Age,” Jazz was propelled back into the Rock N Roll mainstream.

Hot Rats
Caravanserai
Spectrum
Blow By Blow
Teaser

Davis LPs. But he achieved guitar-god status with his own Mahavishnu Orchestra, where he made his Gibson spit fire like a many-headed dragon. A breakneck stylist, McLaughlin was peerless, mixing psychedelic rock, R&B, gypsy jazz, flamenco and Indian raga techniques. That polyglot mastery earned him huge respect from jazz and rock peers alike: Jeff Beck called him “the best guitarist alive.”
KEY TRACKS: “Right Off,” “The Noonward Race”

Duane Allman
I grew up playing slide guitar in church, and the whole idea was to imitate the human voice: After the old lady or the preacher stopped singing, we had to carry on the melody of the song just like they had sung it. Just in those terms, Duane Allman took it to a whole other level. He was so much more precise than anybody who’d ever come before. When I first heard those old-school Allman Brothers records, it was strange to me because the sound was so similar to what I had grown up listening to.
Listen to “Layla” – especially when it goes into that outro. Duane is sliding all over that melody. I used to put that on “repeat” when I would go to bed. All of us guitar players sit and practice, but that’s one of those records where you want to put the guitar down and just listen.
Eric Clapton told me he knew working with Duane was going to take guitar music to a whole new place; they had a vision, and they got there. Clapton said he was really nervous about two guys playing guitar, but Duane was the coolest cat – he’d say, “Let’s just get down!”
Duane died young, and it’s just one of those things. You could tell he was going to get 50 times better. But God works it out like that, and that’s the legacy he left behind. In my iPod is everything Duane recorded. I listen to Allmans tunes at least every other day. b/ Robert Randolph

KEY TRACKS: “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post,” “Blue Sky”
• Remembering Duane Allman
• The Allman Brothers Story

Frank Zappa
“When I was learning how to play guitar, I was obsessed with Frank Zappa’s Shut Up ‘N’ Play Yer Guitar,Phish‘s Trey Anastasio said in 2005 of Frank Zappa‘s 1981 collection of intricate and blistering solos. “Every boundary that was possible on the guitar,” Anastasio said, “was examined by him in ways that other people didn’t.” As the absolute boss of his bands, including the legendary lineups of the Mothers of Invention, Zappa fused doo-wop, urban blues, big-band jazz and orchestral modernism with an iron hand. As a guitarist, he drew from all of those sources, then improvised with a furious and genuine delight. His soloing on “Willie the Pimp,” on 1969’s Hot Rats, is an extended studio party of greasy distortion, chomping wah-wah and agitatedblues slaloms. In concert, Zappa would “walk around, doing his thing, conducting,” Anastasio recalled. But when he picked up his guitar for a solo, “he was completely in communion with his instrument … It became his own personal soul music.”
KEY TRACKS: “Willie the Pimp,” “In-a-Gadda-Stravinsky”
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Frank Zappa

Eddie Hazel  Legend has it that Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain,” the 10-minute solo that turned the late Eddie Hazel into an instant guitar icon, was born when George Clinton told him to imagine hearing his mother just died – and then learning that she was, in fact, alive. Hazel, who died of liver failure in 1992 at age 42, brought a thrilling mix of lysergic vision and groove power to all of his work, inspiring followers like J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) and Lenny Kravitz. “That solo – Lord have mercy!” says Kravitz of “Maggot Brain.” “He was absolutely stunning.”
KEY TRACKS: “Maggot Brain,” “Funky Dollar Bill”
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’

Carlos Santana
Mexican-born Carlos Santana had just finished high school in San Francisco, in 1965, when the city’s music scene exploded, exposing him to a wealth of revelations – electric blues, African rhythms and modern jazz; guitar mentors such as Jerry Garcia and Fleetwood Mac‘s Peter Green – that became key strands in the Latin-rhythm psychedelia of his namesake band. Santana’s crystalline tone and clean arcing sustain make him the rare instrumentalist who can be identified in just one note. As for his bold, exploratory style, he gives partial credit to his acid intake. “You cannot take LSD and not find your voice,” he claims, “because there is nowhere to hide. You’re not going to sound plastic or cute.” The welcoming force of Santana’s sound makes him an ideal collaborator – his superstar-laden 1999 album, Supernatural, won nine Grammys – and enduring inspiration. Prince called him a bigger influence than Jimi Hendrix: “Santana played prettier.” b/ rolling stone magazine

KEY TRACKS: “Black Magic Woman,” “Oye Como Va,” “Soul Sacrifice”
• The Epic Life of Carlos Santana
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Carlos Santana

Jeff Beck 
Jeff Beck has the combination of brilliant technique with personality. It’s like he’s saying, “I’m Jeff Beck. I’m right here. And you can’t ignore me.” Even in the Yardbirds, he had a tone that was melodic but in-your-face – bright, urgent and edgy, but sweet at the same time. You could tell he was a serious player, and he was going for it. He was not holding back.
There is a real artistry to playing with and around a vocalist, answering and pushing him. That’s the beauty of those two records he made with Rod Stewart, 1968’s Truth and 1969’s Beck-Ola. Jeff is not getting in the way, but he’s holding his own. And he stretched the boundaries of the blues. “Beck’s Bolero,” on Truth, is un-bluesy, but still blues-based. One of my favorite tracks is the cover of Howlin’ Wolf‘s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” on Truth. There is a sense of humor – that wah-wah growl. I don’t know if Clapton plays with the same sense of humor, as great as he is. Jeff’s definitely got that.
When he got into his fusion phase, the cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “‘Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” on Blow by Blow, got me immediately. The tone was so pure and delicate. [“Superstition”] It’s like there was a vocalist singing, but there was a guitarist making all of the notes. I saw him last year at a casino in San Diego, and the guitar was the voice. You didn’t miss the singer, because the guitar was so lyrical. There is a spirituality and confidence in him, a commitment to being great. After I saw that show, I went home and started practicing. Maybe that’s what I took from him: If you want to be Jeff Beck, do your homework. b/ Mike Campbell (The Heartbreakers)

Key Tracks: “Beck’s Bolero,” “Freeway Jam,” “A Day in the Life,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” “Heart Full of Soul”
• Jeff Beck on his Legendary Unreleased 1970 Motown Album
• Jeff Beck’s Essential Bootlegs
• Jeff Beck Opens Up About Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gigs with Clapton, Jeff Beck Group Reunion
Tommy Bolin
Bill Connor
Earl Klugh
Al Di Meola

“I wrote this one for Carlos Santana, but it had too many notes.” — Al Di Meola

Introducing “Midnight Tango” in Ponte Vedra, Florida (near St. Augustine), a stop on his Return Of The Elegant Gypsy Tour (2015)

“Earth”
— Vernon Reid

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton is basically the only guitar player who influenced me – even though I don’t sound like him. There was a basic simplicity to his playing, his style, his vibe and his sound. He took a Gibson guitar and plugged it into a Marshall, and that was it. The basics. The blues. His solos were melodic and memorable — and that’s what guitar solos should be, part of the song. I could hum them to you.
What I really liked was Cream’s live recordings, because you could hear the three guys playing. If you listen to “I’m So Glad,” on Goodbye, you really hear the three guys go – and Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were a couple of jazz guys, pushing Clapton forward. I once read that Clapton said, “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.” He was just trying to keep up with the other two guys!
After Cream, he changed. When he started doing “I Shot the Sheriff” and this and that, and when he hooked up with Delaney and Bonnie, his whole style changed. Or at least his sound. He focused more on singing than playing. I respect him for everything he’s done and is still doing – but what inspired me, what made me pick up a guitar, was his early stuff. I could play some of those solos now – they’re permanently imprinted in my brain. That blues-based sound is still the core of modern rock guitar. b/Eddie Van Halen

Key Tracks: “Bell Bottom Blues,” “Crossroads,” “White Room”

 

Jimmy Page
Listening to what Jimmy Page does on guitar can transport you. As a lead player, he always plays the right thing for the right spot – he’s got such remarkable taste. The solo on “Heartbreaker” has such incredible immediacy; he’s teetering on the edge of his technique, and it’s still a showstopper. But you can’t look at just his guitar playing on its own. You have to look at what he did with it in the studio and how he used it in the songs he wrote and produced. Jimmy built this incredible catalog of experience on the Yardbirds and doing session work, so when he did the first Led Zeppelin record, he knew exactly what kind of sounds he wanted to get.
He had this vision of how to transcend the stereotypes of what the guitar can do. If you follow the guitar on “The Song Remains the Same” all the way through, it evolves through so many different changes – louder, quieter, softer, louder again. He was writing the songs, playing them, producing them – I can’t think of any other guitar player since Les Paul that can claim that. b/ Joe Perry

Key Tracks: “Dazed and Confused,” “Heartbreaker,” “Kashmir”
• Q&A: Jimmy Page
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Led Zeppelin

Keith Richards
I remember being in junior high school, hearing “Satisfaction” and being freaked out by what it did to me. It’s a combination of the riff and the chords moving underneath it. Keith wrote two-and three-note themes that were more powerful than any great solo. He played the vibrato rhythm and the lead guitar in “Gimme Shelter.” I don’t think anyone has ever created a mood that dark and sinister. There is a clarity between those two guitars that leaves this ominous space for Mick Jagger to sing through. Nobody does alternate tunings better than Keith. I remember playing the chorus to “Beast of Burden.” I’m like, “These are the right chords, but they don’t sound anything like Keith.” He had some cool tuning, a beautiful chord so well-tuned that it sings. That is the core of every great guitar part on a Rolling Stones record. Keith finds the tuning that allows the work – the fretting, muting strings – to get out of the way of what he’s feeling.
I went to see Keith with the X-Pensive Winos. In the dressing room, Keith started practicing a Chuck Berry riff. I’d never in my life heard it sound like that. I love Chuck Berry. But this was better. Not technically – there was an emotional content that spoke to me. What Chuck is to Keith, Keith is to me.  By Nils Lofgren of the E Street Band
Key Tracks: “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” “Gimme Shelter”
• Keith Richards in 1981: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Keith Richards in 1988: The Rolling Stone Interview
• Keith Richards in 2002: The Rolling Stone Interview

Mick Taylor
“I was in awe sometimes listening to Mick Taylor,” Keith Richards wrote in his memoir. “Everything was there in his playing – the melodic touch, a beautiful sustain and a way of reading a song.” Taylor was only 20 when the Rolling Stones recruited him from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as the replacement for Brian Jones in 1969. His impact, on masterworks such as Exile on Main Street and Sticky Fingers, was immediate. The down-and-dirty slide on “Love in Vain”; the jaw-dropping precision on “All Down the Line” (where his playing brilliantly mimics the sound of a harmonica); the extended, Latin-jazz-inflected coda on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – it’s no accident that Taylor’s stint coincided with the Stones’ most consistently great recordings. “He was a very fluent, melodic player… and it gave me something to follow, to bang off,” Mick Jagger said of Taylor, who left the band in 1974. “Some people think that’s the best version of the band that existed.”
Key Tracks: “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “All Down the Line”
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile on Main Street’
• The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: The Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’

 

Peter Green
In late 1966, Peter Green had the job of replacing Eric Clapton in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Mayall told his producer, “He might not be better [than Clapton] now. But you wait… he’s going to be the best.” Soon, with the original Fleetwood Mac, he was Britain’s most progressive blues guitarist, with a Chicago-informed aggression heightened by the melodic adventure on albums like 1969’s Then Play On. Green soon entered a dark age of mental and health problems, returning in the Nineties with more subdued but recognizable gifts.
Key Tracks: “Albatross,” “Rattlesnake Shake”

Kim Simmons

Dave Davies
You can trace all things loud and riff-y right back to the Kinks‘ Dave Davies, starting with the fantastically simple power chords of “You Really Got Me,” which he recorded at age 17 – setting off a run of proto-metal singles from “All Day and All of the Night” to “Till the End of the Day.” Davies, who created the distortion on “You Really Got Me” by slicing an amp speaker with a razor, has laughed off claims that it was actually played by an uncredited Jimmy Page: “Who’d want to play a solo that crazy, anyway? Only Dave Davies could do that.”
Key Tracks: “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night”
• Dave Davies Steps Out of Kinks Shadow
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’

 

Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend doesn’t play many solos, which might be why so many people don’t realize just how good he really is. But he’s so important to rock – he’s a visionary musician who really lit the whole thing up. His rhythm-guitar playing is extremely exciting and aggressive – he’s a savage player, in a way. He has a wonderful, fluid physicality with the guitar that you don’t see often, and his playing is very much a reflection of who he is as a person – a very intense guy. He’s like the original punk, the first one to destroy a guitar onstage – a breathtaking statement at that point in time. But he’s also a very articulate, literate person. He listens to a lot of jazz, and he told me that’s what he’d really like to be doing. On “Substitute” you can hear the influence of Miles Davis’ modal approach in the way his chords move against the open D string. He was using feedback early, which I think was influenced by European avant-garde music like Stockhausen – an art-school thing. The big ringing chords he used in The Who were so musically smart when you consider how busy the drumming and bass playing were in that band – it could have gotten chaotic if not for him. He more or less invented the power chord, and you can hear a sort of pre-Zeppelin thing in the Who’s Sixties work. So much of this stuff came from him.  By Andy Summers
Key Tracks: “My Generation,” “I Can See for Miles,” “Summertime Blues”
• The Rolling Stone Interview: Pete Townshend
• The Who: Last Time Around

Mick Ronson
It was an exhilarating collaboration – Mick Ronson’s terse phrasing and skewering distortion igniting David Bowie‘s sexually blurred confrontation, during the latter’s king-glam role as Ziggy Stardust in the early Seventies. “Mick was the perfect foil for the Ziggy character,” Bowie said. “We were every bit as good as Mick and Keith or Axl and Slash… the personification of that rock & roll dualism.” The historic partnership actually predated Ziggy Stardust, hitting its first peak in the long, metallic furor of Bowie’s 1970 recording “The Width of a Circle.” Ronson’s blues-with-flair style was also a vital component on sessions for Lou ReedJohn Mellencamp and Morrissey, and during his second great partnership, in the late Seventies and early Eighties, with ex-Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter. “I want people to say, ‘Wow, isn’t that great, and isn’t it simple?'” Ronson, who died in 1993, once said. “If you get sort of fancy and cluttered, you’re just baffling people with science.”
Key Tracks: “The Width of a Circle,” “Suffragette City”

Chuck Berry
When I saw Chuck Berry in “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” as a teenager, what struck me was how he was playing against the grain with a bunch of jazz guys. They were brilliant – guys like Jo Jones on drums and Jack Teagarden on trombone – but they had that jazz attitude cats put on sometimes: “Ooh… this rock & roll…” With “Sweet Little Sixteen,” Chuck took them all by storm and played against their animosity. To me, that’s blues. That’s the attitude and the guts it takes. That’s what I wanted to be, except I was white.
I listened to every lick he played and picked it up. Chuck got it from T-Bone Walker, and I got it from Chuck, Muddy Waters, Elmore James and B.B. King. We’re all part of this family that goes back thousands of years. Really, we’re all passing it on.
Chuck was playing a slightly heated-up version of Chicago blues, that guitar boogie – which all the cats were playing – but he took it up to another level. He was slightly younger than the older blues guys, and his songs were more commercial without just being pop, which is a hard thing to do. Chuck had the swing. There’s rock, but it’s the roll that counts. And Chuck had an incredible band on those early records: Willie Dixon on bass, Johnnie Johnson on piano, Ebby Hardy or Freddy Below on drums. They understood what he was about and just swung with it. It don’t get any better than that.
He’s not the easiest guy in the world to get along with, which was always a bit of a disappointment for me – because that cat wrote songs that had so much sense of humor and so much intelligence. The old son of a bitch just turned 85. I wish him a happy birthday, and I wish I could just pop around and say, “Hey, Chuck, let’s have a drink together or something.” But he ain’t that kind of cat. b/ Keith Richards

Key Tracks: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven”
• The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Chuck Berry
• The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time: Chuck Berry
• Video: Chuck Berry Rocks Blueberry Hill

Dickey Betts
“I’m the famous guitar player,” the late Duane Allman said, “but Dickey is the good one.” The two spent less than three years together in the Allman Brothers Band, but they established an epic rapport – jamming at length, trading solos and playing their famous twin-guitar leads. After Allman’s death in 1971, the group continued with Betts, scoring with “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.” For all his blues and slide chops, his roots are in jazz, and you can hear the influence of his clean-toned modal soloing in every Southern rock group that’s followed.
Key Tracks: “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Jessica”
• Dickey Betts Talks About Dismissal, Lawsuit

 

Rory Gallagher
“It seems a waste to me to work and work for years,” Rory Gallagher told Rolling Stone in 1972, “and just turn into some sort of personality.” Instead, the Irish guitarist, then only 23, became legendary for his nonstop-touring ethic and fiery craft. Playing a weathered Strat, often wearing a flannel shirt, Gallagher electrified Chicago and Delta styles with scalding slide work and hard-boiled songwriting. His fans included the Edge and Bob Dylan, who was initially turned away backstage at a 1978 show because Gallagher didn’t recognize him.
Key Tracks: “Bullfrog Blues,” “Laundromat,” “Walk on Hot Coals”

Steve Cropper
Peter Buck has called Steve Cropper “probably my favorite guitarist of all time. You can’t think of a time when he really ripped off a hot solo, but he just plays perfectly.” Cropper has been the secret ingredient in some of the greatest rock and soul songs: As a teenager, he had his first hit (“Last Night”) with the Mar-Keys; he went on to spend most of the Sixties in Booker T. and the MGs, the Stax Records house band that played on hits by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. Since then, his spare, soulful playing has appeared on records by dozens of rock and R&B artists, including a stint in the Blues Brothers’ band. Think of the introduction to Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man,” the explosive bent notes in Booker T.’s “Green Onions” or the filigreed guitar fills in Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” – they all bear Cropper’s signature sound, the quintessence of soul guitar. “I don’t care about being center stage,” says Cropper. “I’m a band member, always been a band member.”
Key Tracks: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” “Green Onions,” “Soul Man”
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Otis Reddings’ ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay’
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Sam and Dave’s ‘Soul Man’

 

Les Paul
Les Paul is best known as the genius who invented the solid-body guitar that bears his name. But he was just as imaginative as a player. “He made the very best guitar sounds of the 1950s,” said Brian Wilson. “There’s nobody that came close.” A long string of hits in the Forties and Fifties (on his own and with his wife, singerguitarist Mary Ford) established his signature style: elegant, clean-toned, fleet-fingered improvisations on current pop standards. Paul created a groundbreaking series of technical innovations, including multilayered studio overdubs and varispeed tape playback, to achieve sounds nobody had ever come up with – check out the insect-swarm solo on his 1948 recording of “Lover.” Until shortly before Paul’s 2009 death at age 94, he was still playing weekly gigs at a New York jazz club, with adoring metalheads in the audience. In Richie Sambora’s words, “He had all of the licks, and when you heard it, it sounded like it came from outer space.”
Key Tracks: “How High the Moon,” “Vaya Con Dios,” “Tiger Rag”
• Les Paul: The Guitar Great’s Life in Photos
• Les Paul: 1915-2009
• Les Paul Remembered: Guitar Greats on their True Hero

Chet Atkins
As a record executive and producer in the Sixties, Chet Atkins invented the popwise “Nashville sound” that rescued country music from a commercial slump. As a guitarist, he was even more inventive, mastering country, jazz and classical styles and perfecting the ability to play chords and melody simultaneously, thanks to his distinctive thumb-and-three-finger picking style. “A lot of it was trial and error,” Atkins told Rolling Stone in 1976. “I just had a damn guitar in my hands 16 hours a day, and I experimented all the time.” Atkins could be laid-back and restrained (as heard on iconic recordings like Hank Williams‘ “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” Elvis Presley‘s “Heartbreak Hotel” and several of the Everly Brothers’ early hits). But his own instrumental-heavy solo albums are an endless bag of guitar tricks, mixing harmonics, arpeggios and pure notes with a brilliantly clear tone. “I think he influenced everybody who picked up a guitar,” said Duane Eddy.
Key Tracks: “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Wake Up Little Susie”

Scotty Moore
On July 5th, 1954, Elvis Presley, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black messed around with a hopped-up version of Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” during a break in a session at Sun Records in Memphis. The guitar would never be the same: Moore’s concise, aggressive runs mixed country picking and blues phrasing into a new instrumental language. The playing was so forceful that it’s easy to forget there was no drummer. If Moore had done nothing but the 18 Sun recordings – including “Mystery Train” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight” – his place in history would be assured. But he continued to play with Elvis, contributing the scorching solos to “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog.” And when Elvis wanted to get back to his roots on the 1968 “comeback special,” he summoned Moore, for the sound that helped change the role of the guitar in pop music. “Everyone else wanted to be Elvis,” Keith Richards said. “I wanted to be Scotty.”
Key Tracks: “That’s All Right,” “Mystery Train,” “Heartbreak Hotel”

 

Duane Eddy
If there was any doubt left in the late 1950s that the guitar – not the saxophone – was rock & roll’s essential lead instrument, Duane Eddy settled the argument: See his 1958 single “Rebel Rouser,” curled with country twang and rippling with tremolo. “Chet Atkins used vibrato in a selective way – Duane Eddy used it to thrash the music,” says the Kinks‘ Dave Davies. The impact of Eddy’s hits, like “Forty Miles of Bad Road” and “Peter Gunn,” would soon be heard in surf music and guitarists such as Jeff Beck and George Harrison.
Key Tracks: “Rebel Rouser,” “Peter Gunn”

Hubert Sumlin
“I love Hubert Sumlin,” Jimmy Page has said. “He always played the right thing at the right time.” During more than two decades playing alongside Howlin’ Wolf, Sumlin always seemed to have an almost telepathic connection to the legendary blues singer, augmenting Wolf’s ferocious cries with angular, slashing guitar lines and perfectly placed riffs on such immortal songs as “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Back Door Man” and “Killing Floor.” Sumlin made such an impact, in fact, that Wolf’s greatest rival, Muddy Waters, even hired him away for a stint in 1956. Sumlin, who passed away in 2011 at age 80, played until the end, sometimes turning up onstage in the company of such acolytes as the Rolling StonesElvis CostelloEric Clapton and the Allman Brothers. “You try to tell a story, tell it right, you live the story,” Sumlin once said of his hugely influential guitar style. “It may be a little faster or a little classier, but it comes down to you playin’ the blues or you ain’t.”
Key Tracks: “Smokestack Lightning,” “Spoonful,” “Killing Floor”

James Burton
James Burton’s trademark “chicken pickin'” style – bright, crisp and concise –l is one of the most unique sounds in country music, and a huge influence on rock guitar as well. Burton got his start when he was 14, writing “Susie Q,” for Dale Hawkins, and became a teenage star when he joined Ricky Nelson’s band in 1957. With Nelson, Burton created his distinct technique: He used a fingerpick and a flatpick, and replaced the four highest strings on his Telecaster with banjo strings, so that his guitar snapped, popped and stuttered. “I never bought a Ricky Nelson record,” Keith Richards said. “I bought a James Burton record.” In the late Sixties and Seventies, he convened Elvis’ TCB band and became a go-to guy on country-minded records by Joni Mitchell and Gram Parsons, and still tours today. “He was just a mysterious guy: ‘Who is this guy and why is he on all these records I like?'” says Joe Walsh. “His technique was allimportant.”
Key Tracks: “Hello Mary Lou,””Susie Q,” “Believe What You Say”

Link Wray
When Link Wray released the thrilling, ominous “Rumble” in 1958, it became one of the only instrumentals ever to be banned from radio play – for fear that it might incite gang violence. By stabbing his amplifier’s speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the distorted, overdriven sound that would reverberate through metal, punk and grunge. Wray, who proudly claimed Shawnee Indian ancestry and lost a lung to tuberculosis, was the archetypal leather-clad badass, and his song titles alone – “Slinky,” “The Black Widow” – convey the force and menace of his playing. “He was fucking insane,” said the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. “I would listen to ‘Some Kinda Nut,’ over and over. It sounded like he was strangling the guitar – like it was screaming for help.” When Wray died in 2005, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen both performed “Rumble” onstage in tribute. “If it hadn’t been for Link Wray and ‘Rumble,'” said Pete Townshend, “I would have never picked up a guitar.”
Key Tracks: “Rumble,” “Jack the Ripper,” “Raw-Hide”

Ritchie Blackmore
Best known for the gargantuan riff at the heart of Deep Purple‘s “Smoke on the Water,” Ritchie Blackmore helped define heavy-metal guitar by mixing intricate classical composition with raw-knuckled blues rock. “I found the blues too limiting, and classical was too disciplined,” he said. “I was always stuck in a musical no man’s land.” Blackmore made waves on 1972’s Machine Head; his solos on the boogie rocker “Highway Star” and “Lazy” remain models of metal pyrotechnics. He looked back toward early European music with his next band, Rainbow – even learning cello to write 1976’s stomping “Stargazer” – and now explores Renaissance-style fingerpicking with Blackmore’s Night. But it’s his Deep Purple work that influenced a generation of handbangers. “Blackmore epitomized this fascination I had with the bare essence of rock & roll, this element of danger,” says Metallica‘s Lars Ulrich. “Deep Purple, in their finest moments, were more unpredictable than Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin.”
Key Tracks: “Smoke on the Water,” “Highway Star,” “Speed King”
• The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’

David Gilmour
As a producer and songwriter, Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour is drawn to floating, dreamy textures, but when he picks up his black Stratocaster to play a solo, an entirely different sensibility takes over: “I wanted a bright, powerful lead guitar tone that would basically rip your face off,” he says. He was a fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hardly ever played the blues – his sprawling, elegant, relentlessly melodic solos were as bracing a wake-up call as those alarm clocks on The Dark Side of the Moon. But Gilmour was also adept at droning avant-garde improv, as seen in Floyd’s Live at Pompeii days, and could be an unexpectedly funky rhythm guitarist, from the slinky riff to “Have a Cigar” to the Chic-like flourishes on “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.” His pioneering use of echo and other effects – initially inspired by original Floyd guitarist Syd Barrett – culminated with his precision use of delay on “Run Like Hell,” which directly anticipates the Edge’s signature sound.
Key Tracks: “Comfortably Numb,” “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”
• Inside Pink Floyd: Rolling Stone’s 1987 Cover Story
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Tony Iommi
I remember the first time I heard Black Sabbath. My older brother got their album Master of Reality from a kid who lived next door, and we’d been passing it around like it was crack. We were playing it with the lights down and a candle burning, when my dad burst into the room. He was like, “What is this shit?” Then he broke the record right in front of us. But the music had just struck me like lightning. I truly enter the Iommi-sphere every time I put a guitar on. Tony is a metal pioneer, but there’s a real finesse to his playing; it’s not all that fast. His phrasing has such a classic vibe, and I draw a lot of inspiration from Tony’s trilling.
I injured myself at a Black Sabbath reunion concert in 1999. During “Snowblind,” we were all holding each other, and then we fell over and I hit a chair and broke my ribs. I was like, “Fuck, it hurts so bad, but I don’t want to leave. I have to keep watching Tony play!”  By Brent Hinds of Mastodon
Key Tracks: “Iron Man,” “Sabbra Cadabra,” “Children of the Grave”
• Tony Iommi’s Journey Through Heaven and Hell
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Brian May
Probably the only guitarist to get a degree in astrophysics, Queen‘s lead guitarist (and frequent songwriter) is a brainy adventurer who’s always seeking new effects. An early goal of his was “to be the first to put proper three-part [guitar] harmonies onto a record” – like the orchestrated squeals of his solo in “Killer Queen.” Brian May layered dozens of guitar parts onto individual tracks, building palatial walls of sound. Appropriately, even his instrument sprang from his imagination: His main guitar, the Red Special, a.k.a. the Old Lady, is a homemade wonder, constructed by May and his father in the early Sixties out of components including wood from a fireplace (he has been known to play it with a sixpence coin rather than a pick). It’s yielded everything from the pirouetting, trebly solo in “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the proto-metal riffing of “Stone Cold Crazy.” “I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound,” Steve Vai said, “but I can’t do Brian May. He’s just walking on higher ground.”
Key Tracks: “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Brighton Rock”

Billy Gibbons
Billy Gibbons was a guitarist to be reckoned with long before he grew that epic beard. In early 1968, his psychedelic garage band, the Moving Sidewalks, opened four Texas shows for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. According to local acidrock lore, Hendrix was so impressed by Gibbons’ facility and firepower that he gave the young guitarist a pink Stratocaster as a gift. Gibbons has since glibly described what he plays with his four-decade-old trio, ZZ Top, as “spankin’ the plank.” But from the muscular boogie of “La Grange” and the gnarly offbeat shuffle of “Jesus Left Chicago” to the synthlined glide of Eighties hits “Legs” and “Sharp Dressed Man,” Gibbons’ guitar work has been religiously true, in its thunderbolt attack and melodic concision, to his Texas forebears (Freddy King, Albert Collins) and the electric-Delta charge of Muddy Waters. “You can definitely make someone wiggle in their seat a little bit,” Gibson says of his solos, “if you know where you’re heading with it and end up there.”
Key Tracks: “Jesus Left Chicago,” “La Grange”
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Joe Perry
It’s hard to conceive a better musical foil for Steven Tyler than his longtime partner and occasional adversary. For more than 40 years, Joe Perry’s monstrous, blues-on-steroids riffs have been Aerosmith‘s bedrock. And his solos, jutting out from “Walk This Way” or slashing boldly through the high-gloss production of later hits like “Janie’s Got a Gun” and “Cryin’,” have a caffeinated energy that’s every bit Tyler’s match. “He had a streamlined style that reminded me of Keith Richards,” said Slash. “And a careless style that’s really cool.”
Key Tracks: “Dream On,” “Walk This Way,” “Janie’s Got a Gun”

Robert Fripp
Since King Crimson‘s first rehearsal in 1969, Robert Fripp has been its distinguishing instrumental voice, a singular blend of distorted complexity and magisterial sustain. That duality is best heard on the most progressive prog-rock album ever made, Crimson’s 1973 thorny-metal classic, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Fripp’s most famous guitar line is the fuzz-siren hook in the title track to David Bowie‘s Heroes. Fripp would “start up without even knowing the chord sequence,” said producer Brian Eno, adding that Fripp’s work
Key Tracks: “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “Heroes”
• King Crimson Celebrate 40th Anniversary with Rhythm and Grace

Earl Slick

Ronnie Montrose

Robin Trower

Kim Simmons

Peter Green

Steve Hillage

Leslie West
Leslie West (real name: Leslie Weinstein) first made his mark in mid-Sixties garage rock, with the Vagrants’ meaty cover of Otis Redding‘s “Respect.” By 1969, West was the heavy vengeance in the Cream-like quartet Mountain. On songs like the 1970 hit “Mississippi Queen,” West played roughened blues lines with deceiving facility and an R&B flair, through a black forest of stressed-amp distortion. “The riffs were incredible,” says Dave Davies. “He could play flashy, intricate phrases. But he wasn’t a look-at-me guy. He played with feel.”
Key Tracks: “Mississippi Queen,” “Nantucket Sleighride (To Owen Coffin)”

Joe Walsh
In Cleveland power trio the James Gang, Joe Walsh combined Who-style fury with Yardbirds-style technical fireworks and R&B crunch, notably on 1970’s “Funk #49.” The humor in Walsh’s bluesy facility came out in the talk-box flight on his ’73 solo hit “Rocky Mountain Way.” But it was when he joined the Eagles in 1975 that he truly lodged himself on classic-rock radio. Walsh brought a hard-rock edge to the Eagles’ easygoing pop songs, creating a series of indestructible licks in the process: See his staccato-snarl riff in “Life in the Fast Lane” and his elegant aggression in the dueling-guitars section of “Hotel California.” Walsh influenced the Who’s 1971 classic, Who’s Next, although he didn’t play a note on it: He gave Pete Townshend, as a gift, the 1959 Gretsch Chet Atkins guitar that Townshend played all over that album. Townshend later repaid the favor while talking to Rolling Stone in 1975: “Joe Walsh is a fluid and intelligent player. There’re not many like that around.”
Key Tracks: “Rocky Mountain Way,” “Funk #49”
• ‘Hotel California’ Voted Best Guitar Solo

Eddie Van Halen

A Florida Journalist, Photographer, and Art Director with an eclectic client list of individuals and organizations with musical, visual, educational, and editorial interests.

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