100 Guitarists

Book Update: 60,000 words or thereabouts. I stayed up late last night.

I've been thinking about guitarists lately, partly because of a recent blast of invective from the mouth of Ted Nugent. I've never been a fan of Nugent's music, but I don't begrudge him the right to speak out on political issues. Of course, he didn't actually say anything about politics, choosing instead to stand in front of a crowd and invite four sitting Senators to suck on his machine gun. (Obama, Clinton, Boxer, and Feinstein, if you were wondering--and if you see a demographic distinction between the typical heavy metal audience member and the four politicians Nugent targeted, you're not alone.) Of course, as the Secret Service has occasionally taken pains to explain to certain over-enthusiastic commentators, threats are not protected by the First Amendment, and I'm hoping a couple of burly, Glock-packing agents are even now explaining this nuance of Constitutional law to Nugent, preferably in a very small room, under hot lights, using very short words spoken slowly and clearly.

But the most bizarre element of this teapot-sized tempest has been that some people in the blogosphere seem to think that Nugent's status as a rock star should make him immune from criticism. This brings up two points.

First, I'd note that the Dixie Chicks caught hell from Nashville, right-wing radio, and a variety of audience members merely for expressing embarrassment over George W. Bush's Texan roots--no machine-gunning was expressed or even implied--so I hope those same folks are willing to apply the same hell to Nugent's rather more directly threatening comments.

Second, it's certainly true that Nugent is a rock star, but in my personal opinion, his status as a guitar "god" is mystifying. He's loud, yes, but I've never heard anything by him to suggest that he's anything else. I could name a hundred guitarists I'd consider superior.

In fact, I think I will:

It's not meant to be a definitive list. You may notice the lack of heavy-metal "stunt guitarists" who often appear atop such lists as this, which is simply due to the fact that I don't listen to them much (and don't always enjoy what I'm hearing that much anyway.) These are just my favorite git-fiddle players, in alphabetical order, with sample song/artist and commentary.

*Duane Allman (Whipping Post/Allman Bros.)
Maybe the best on this whole list.
*Carlos Alomar (Fame/David Bowie)
Funky, gravelly, nasty stuff.
*Dave Alvin (Long Chain On/Knitters)
Twang to burn and speed to match it.
*Chet Atkins (anything at all)
He can play absolutely anything.
*Martin Barre (Locomotive Breath/Jethro Tull)
JT's secret weapon; precise and emotional
*Paul Barrere (Fat Man in the Bathtub/Little Feat)
Brilliant deep-fried funk-rock
*Steve Bartek (You Really Got Me/Oingo Boingo)
Somewhere between punk and Yes.
*Skunk Baxter (My Old School/Steely Dan)
Jazz gone out back to smoke a little doobie.
*Adrian Belew (Sharkey's Day/Laurie Anderson)
Belew can play his guitar with a fork.
*Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode)
The man only invented rock guitar.
*Dickie Betts (Jessica/Allman Bros.)
Underrated, but brilliantly melodic.
*Billy Bremner (Back on the Chain Gang/The Pretenders)
A rockabilly artiste.
*Bob Brozman (Twelfth Street Rag)
The unquestioned genius of the slide guitar.
*Lindsey Buckingham (World Turning/Fleetwood Mac)
The brains and backbone of Mac's sound.
*David Byrne (The Great Curve/Talking Heads)
Writer/singer yes, but also guitarist.
*James Burton (anything from King of America/Elvis Costello)
Played with BOTH Elvii.
*Mike Campbell (An American Girl/Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers)
TP's secret weapon
*Martin Carthy (The Great Valerio/with Maddy Prior)
Unique acoustic style--gorgeous.
*Alex Chilton (O My Soul/Big Star)
The lost genius of southern pop music.
*Eric Clapton (While My Guitar Gently Weeps/The Beatles)
Is he really God?... maybe.
*Steve Cropper (Green Onions/Booker T & the MGs)
The Colonel tears it up.
*Mike Cross (Born in the Country)
Multi-instrumentalist and great entertainer.
*Rick Derringer (Rock & Roll Hootchie-Coo)
The poor man's Eddie Van Halen.
*Denny Dias (Do It Again/Steely Dan)
Founding member and sitarist par excellence.
*Elliott Easton (My Best Friend's Girl/The Cars)
New Wave's greatest guitar player.
*The Edge (New Year's Day/U2)
His entrance on this solo is one of rock's great moments.
*Dave Edmunds (Crawling from the Wreckage)
He deserves a Ph.D. in rockabilly.
*Peter Frampton (Do You Feel Like I Do)
It's not just effects, folks: he's good.
*Robert Fripp (It's No Game/David Bowie)
One of the all-time best, period.
*Bill Frisell (Dumbo & Timothy/Frisell & Wayne Horvitz)
Angular, creative, challenging.
*John Frusciante (Californication/Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Funk with depth? He has it.
*Steve Gaines (I Know A Little/Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Best. Skynyrd. Guitarist. Ever.
*Lowell George (Tripe Face Boogie/Little Feat)
Barrere's dark twin--pure genius.
*Billy Gibbons (I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide/ZZ Top)
The only ZZ player who matters.
*David Gilmour (Dogs/Pink Floyd)
Possibly the greatest slow guitar player on earth.
*Johnny Graham (Shining Star/Earth, Wind & Fire)
The best funk guitar solo in history.
*Jay Graydon (Peg/Steely Dan)
"Wah-wah" nails this tasty solo to the wall.
*Gary Green (Free Hand/Gentle Giant)
If you've never heard this one, go find it now.
*Jonny Greenwood (Paranoid Android/Radiohead)
A sonic wizard of the finest kind.
*Dave Gregory (Scissor Man/XTC)
Technically brilliant, yes, but full of power & energy.
*Michael Gurley (Dorina/Dada)
Another unknown who ought to be known. Terrific.
*Steve Hackett (Dancing with the Moonlit Knight/Genesis)
Brilliant, and years ahead of his time.
*Nick Haeffner (The Great Indoors)
Another obscure guitarist who deserves wider fame.
*Kirk Hammett (Sad But True/Metallica)
He shreds, he scores!
*George Harrison (And Your Bird Can Sing/The Beatles)
Melodic and hugely influential.
*Jimi Hendrix (Little Wing)
Do I worship him? No. Do I respect him? Oh, hell yes.
*Robyn Hitchcock (You and Oblivion)
Great writing may obscure his great guitar work. It shouldn't.
*James Honeyman-Scott (The Wait/The Pretenders)
No show-off, but an artist of noise.
*Steve Howe (Siberian Khatru/Yes)
Self-taught, and a mighty fine teacher he was.
*Ernie Isley (Voyage to Atlantis/The Isley Bros.)
A Hendrix disciple with his own feel.
*Jorma Kaukonnen (Embryonic Journey/Jefferson Airplane)
An acoustic masterpiece.
*Earl Klugh (I Want to Thank You/Bob James)
This solo has stuck with me for decades.
*Mark Knopfler (Tunnel of Love/Dire Straits)
Brilliant, inspiring, and unique.
*Alvin Lee (I'd Love to Change the World/TenYears After)
An oldie but a goodie.
*David Lindley (Running on Empty/Jackson Brown)
Master of the lap steel.
*Richard Lloyd (See No Evil/Television)
Punk artistry of the highest order.
*Gary Louris (Ten Little Kids/The Jayhawks)
A fuzz-box orgasm. God, it's good.
*Mike McCready (Yellow Ledbetter/Pearl Jam)
A superb improviser shows off.
*Roger McGuinn (Eight Miles High/The Byrds)
Twelve strings, no waiting.
*Johnny Marr (Armageddon Days Are Here/The The)
The best thing about the Smiths.
*Brian May (Brighton Rock/Queen)
A doctorate in astrophysics AND all this. Wow.
*Dan Miller (Damn Good Times/They Might Be Giants)
He makes TMBG rock.
*Marc Moreland (Ring of Fire/Wall of Voodoo)
Inventor of "the Roswell Sound."
*Steve Morse (Gina Lola Breakdown/The Dixie Dregs)
Great technique meets great instinct. A master.
*Maury Muehleisen (Operator/Jim Croce)
Lost master of the acoustic lead guitar.
*Jimmy Page (When the Levee Breaks/Led Zeppelin)
Obvious, but for a reason.
*Andy Partridge (Books Are Burning/XTC)
Not like other guitarists. That's good.
*Les Paul (anything)
The man built an electric guitar from a four-by-four, for pete's sake.
*Joe Perry (Walk This Way/Aerosmith)
Snarling boogie-metal at its best.
*Glen Philips (Razor Pocket)
Another technician with a heart---awesome live, too.
*Prince (Let's Go Crazy)
Don't let the showmanship obscure his breathtaking skills.
*Robert Quine (Girlfriend/Matthew Sweet)
Clean, stinging, abrasive refreshment. Ahh.
*Elliott Randall (Reeling in the Years/Steely Dan)
One of rock's greatest solos here.
*Vernon Reid (Middle Man/Living Colour)
Hard-edged, fluid, and innovative.
*David Rhodes (I Have the Touch/Peter Gabriel)
The ultimate underrated sideman.
*Marc Ribot (Gun Street Girl/Tom Waits)
His neck has more frets on it or something.
*Keith Richards (Gimme Shelter/The Rolling Stones)
He may be a zombie, but jeez.
*Carlos Santana (Moonflower/Santana)
The Sustain Man; we're still hearing notes he hit in 1971.
*Joey Santiago (Vamos/The Pixies)
Punk? Alternative? I don't know and I don't care.
*Joe Satriani (Surfing with the Alien)
Bald, bold, and beautiful.
*Tom Scholz (Long Time/Boston)
He defined the sound of rock for years to come.
*Bryon Settle (Sway/Trailer Bride)
This solo gives me a little stiffy every time I hear it.
*Brian Setzer (Bodhisattva)
Not just a Skunk Baxter recreation--a terrific solo.
*Tommy Shaw (Blue Collar Man/Styx)
A guilty pleasure, yes, but a sweet one.
*Slash (Paradise City/Guns n Roses)
Just drunk enough for hard-rock brilliance.
*Steve Stevens (Rebel Yell/Billy Idol)
More vital to Billy than even the sneer. Excellent.
*Andy Summers (Demolition Man/The Police)
The Quiet Policeman gets a bit noisy.
*Kim Thayil (Rusty Cage/Soundgarden)
Never approaches a song the way you expect.
*Richard Thompson (Tear Stained Letter)
A legitimate candidate for #1 on this list.
*Glenn Tilbrook (Another Nail in My Heart/Squeeze)
Tastiness personified--and can sing.
*Pete Townshend (Rough Boys)
All-star rhythm guitarist, all-star guitar showman.
*Nigel Tufnel (Hell Hole/Spinal Tap)
You've got to be great to be this funny.
*Stevie Ray Vaughan (Scuttle Buttin')
Another candidate for top of the list. Awesome.
*Eddie Van Halen (Could This Be Magic?/Van Halen)
Big slide--my favorite VH cut
*Tom Verlaine (Marquee Moon/Television)
A punk song that Yes would envy. Superb.
*Joe Walsh (Life in the Fast Lane/Eagles)
Often imitated, never duplicated.
*John Williams (Cavatina from "The Deer Hunter")
Not rock, but dayyammm!
*Ronnie Wood (Maggie May/Rod Stewart)
Just sloppy enough to be wonderful.
*Neil Young (Ohio/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Uncompromisingly noisy.
*Frank Zappa (Cosmik Debris)
No one else can do all he could. That's probably a good thing.

There. No Nugent. No machine guns. And it's all First Amendment-protected commentary too boot!

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 27, 2007 7:19 PM.

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