Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Rock Guitar At It's Best

Beside my love of basketball, the other great love of my life is music. Been playing guitar since I'm about 15 and been singing even longer. In bands, on stages, real crowds, money, the whole nine. And while I love so many genres of music, hard rock/rock music is always front and center. Vocally, I go blues based in the vein of Paul Rodgers & David Ruffin, but on the six string, the influences are as varied as Rodman's haircolors with the Bulls. These 10 players listed are who formed my style of playing and still provide so much inspiration. Let's begin......

John Lennon/George Harrison-The Beatles

Favorite Guitar Moment: Happiness Is A Warm Gun

What can you say about these two visionaries that hasn't been said before. Besides being the twin guitar originators in a mainstream band and one half of arguably the greatest group in music history, they were always revered as incredible songwriters and cutting-edge stylists as well. My choice of "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" as my favorite guitar moment revolves around two things. The way the song goes from the classic otherworldly Lennon sound of a single "clean" guitar picking chords and then the rough chord changes and "nasty" tone through the verses that segue into George's light wah-wah solo. And then the song ends with a "brightness" in sound and words when John makes you believe that "true" happiness could come from a warm gun. Classic. Genius. Unparalleled. And when they both made their solo music, their singular visions stood out and created some of the most endearing songs put to tape. From pop icons to psychedelic pioneers to their legendary status in today's culture, the Beatles were and still are the standard that all pop/rock bands wind up compared to at some point. And for good reason. Listen to their progression, from pop song cheeriness, to more adventurous alt-rock sounds to the psychedelic deep lyric end to the masterworks they created, The Beatles stand alone as the band that could do everything.

Eric Clapton

Favorite guitar moment: Keep On Growing

To hear Eric Clapton play guitar is like watching Michael Jordan play basketball. Always on point, no holes in the game, consistently great and loved and respected by peers and fans alike. Whether it was Cream as one piece of the incredible triangle of sound, or as a member of the Yardbird where he cut his teeth on the blues, or as a member of Blind Faith were his legend exploded like a supernova, Eric did things in ways never before heard by a white blues player and his moniker of "God" was well-earned. Before Eric became a megastar as a solo artist, he formed a group with various studio musicians to put his lustful feelings for the wife of Beatle George Harrison down in words and music. Widely regarded as Eric's best work, the studio sessions took on a huge boost to the power of the music with the recruitment of Duane Allman. The album blazes from front to back and the guitar work is exquisite. My favorite example is "Keep On Growing" but "Layla" IS the masterwork that it is portrayed as. "Growing" just has a looseness to it and a straight-ahead driving force that showed the passion that was flowing through those classic sessions. The ending solo to the song is a masterwork in lead playing. The phrasing and tone are incredible and in this instance, Eric plays alone without Allman's slide work and it is a tour de force. The song has long been a a favorite of mine and plays over and over on trips to the Florida Keys. On a bright summer's day, with the windows open and the Gulf breezes blowing, the long trek to the southern most point of the USA is just that more enjoyable with this song playing in the background. It will make you think of palm trees, beaches and sunshine.

Jimi Hendrix

Favorite Guitar Moment: Bold As Love

How do you describe the indescribable? How do you wrap your mind around sounds never before heard? How do you compare an interplanetary entity to the modern musicians who STILL can't figure out a 1/10th of what the Voodoo Chile did with the instrument? Are those questions varied enough? Then you have an idea of what Jimi was all about. Jimi holds a special place in my heart because A)I'm a left-handed player like Jimi was and b) my father smoked a joint with him in '68 after a concert at the Filmore in NYC and said Jimi was so cool to him and his buddies (my dad was 19 so that was just before my creation in 1970) and my dad was a Hendrix disciple from then on. Never mind that his music and creativity are still unmatched. Jimi's voice, although not a classically "great" voice, had a sound all it's own, like Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, legendary songwriters who's voices sometimes took a beating from the press and fans alike. His songwriting could be viewed in two categories, straight ahead rock songs like "Purple Haze" or "Foxey Lady" or the polar opposite in eclectic, bizarre sounds, never before heard chord progressions and out of tune playing at times that just seemed right in the essence of "Are You Experienced" or "If 6 Was 9". To hear "Bold As Love" is to her the genius at the height of his game. The spacey lyrics (no doubt fueled by the acid that would soon take his life), the jazzy-fusion chord structures throughout and one of his best vocal performances put this song over the top for me. And if you listen to the song with a fine-tuned ear you can hear the solo being played back in reverse, a trademark that Jimi made his own in recording sessions and was later used by other virtuosos like Jimmy Page and Steve Vai. "If I don't meet you no more in this world, I'll meet you in the next one, and don't be late." Read that sentence. And think of how out-there yet comforting that statement is. And bizarre. And freaky. That was Jimi. Unreal.

Brian May

Favorite Guitar Moment: Love Of My Life

Freddie's Foil. Pomp and circumstance in the rock forum. A true original. Brian is an orchestra in one instrument. Queen's music was operatic. Freddie Mercury's voice was just that, an opera singer with a sly sense of humor singing in a hard rock format. When Brian would play his leads or the chord progressions of their unforgettable songs, they took on a huge, over-the-top life of their own. Think of a sports arena. And then think of songs that play in those arenas. Inevitably, you will hear three Queen songs. "We Will Rock You", "We Are The Champions" & "Another One Bites The Dust". Big. The sound, the power, the voice, the majesty of Queen. Almost everything they did was just that. I think that's why "Love Of My Life" stood out for me. Almost entirely acoustic with an electric flourish for the solo, Brian put together a song with almost a Renaissance feel to it that, fit for a King or Queen. A song of angst and pain with a calling to love lost and hope for the return of that happiness, held together by Freddie's pained vocals and Brian's perfectly picked fretwork. A truly beautiful piece. By a truly beautiful band.

Jimmy Page

Favorite Guitar Moment: The Rain Song

Led Zeppelin. Probably the greatest hard rock band ever. They played the blues, straight ahead rock, mystic acoustic ballads & exotic sitar flavored middle-eastern sounds, sometimes all in one song. The band that could do it all. And those sounds all emanated directly from the Dark Lord, Mr. Page. Jimmy was always a mysterious figure. Whether it was his ties to the infamous Aleister Crowley to the shaggy dark mane that always covered his face to the exotic tunings he used in their albums, Jimmy made a niche that almost EVERY other hard rock guitarist since has tried to "borrow" from him. Whereas Jimmy borrowed heavily early on from the classic bluesman of the Delta like Robert Johnson and Sonny Walker, Jimmy's contemporaries did the same once Zeppelin was established as the foremost authority of the hard-rock sound that ruled 70's radio. While their radio staples dominated for so many years, "The Rain Song" was an example of the alternate tunings and exotic chord structures that differentiated them from the rest of the bands from that time in music history. The song could almost make you feel like you were in a grassy field, light rain falling on you and then as the song gradually grows to a crescendo you can almost feel that same rain turning into a huge downpour, lightning crashing all around. And then at the end of the song, the rain tails off and the sky's clear as the music shifts from hard chord strikes to lite picking. All of those things happen in the context of that song. And as a musician, to make someone feel the lyrics and the sound as if it could actually happen to them is a gift only a very select few have.

Keith Richards

Favorite Guitar Moment: Gimme Shelter

The man who created the most recognizable riffs of all time. One of the top 3 bands of all time. The Rolling Stones made their bones the same time the Beatles did. While the Beatles initially were recognized for their "poppy" tunes and matching outfits, the Stones were raw. Harder edged. They played the blues. Rough and tumble covers of the blues. And while the Beatles went a more psychedelic route, the Stones went a more "American" sounding route. Throughout the early 70's they had country songs, hard blues and toward the end of the decade a more dance flavored sound. These all came from Mick Jagger's love of the United States and it's music and while all of this was going on it was Keith's guitar work that kept the Stones the Stones. Whether it was the fire of "Sympathy of the Devil", the tender acoustic work in "Wild Horses" or the smooth blues in "Tumblin' Dice", Keith kept the SS Stones on point and relevant. "Gimme Shelter" has that haunting quality in the beginning of the song that Martin Scorcese has used in films to set the mood of a scene but in reality it was Keith who CREATED that mood and allowed Marty to build a fantastic scene around IT. Keith's lead work is pristine and between him and Ron Wood's rythm work the song is just filled to the brim with great playing throughout. Just a great piece from beginning to end. It would be hard to argue their title of "The Greatest Rock Band In The World". Long live the Stones.

Carlos Santana

Favorite Guitar Moment: Europa

The King of Latin Fusion. Not quite rock, not quite jazz, not's hard to pinpont exactly what Carlos does. It's just damn good. Good hard rockin, spicy sounds that can make people move on their feet and be moved to the core by the intensity and passion that Carlos plays with. Want to know how good Santana is? They have long been touted as the band that stole the show at Woodstock. Woodstock!! Maybe the single biggest music event of all-time with some of the largest names in music on the same bill and a group in it's INFANCY stole the show.? That's power. While Santana made a huge comeback in the late 1990's and still proved that they had that magic formula it was their early work that catapulted them into the foreground of the San Fransisco/California rock sound in the early 70's and carved a niche' that no other band has ever been able to fill since. "Jingo", "Evil Ways" "Black Magic Woman" & "Oye Como Va" are classic songs. Songs to light a joint to, or sit back and drink a beer to. Like Bob Marley rocked out reggae, Carlos did the same for Chicano music. And when he slowed it down like he did with "Europa" the love and passion for the instrument shone through like very few others could do. The beauty of this song was made out of Carlos' love for the planet and I experienced it being used to express love in another way when one of my cousin's used it as their wedding song. Now every time I hear it, it makes me think of a 1980's wedding and horrible hairstyles. The song is still gorgeous, though.

Steve Vai

Favorite Guitar Moment: For The Love Of God

If Jimi was otherwordly, than Steve Vai is a true alien. The surname is strange. His look is odd. His sound is singular. His style produced a new 7 string version of the instrument that no one before him had the vision to create. He is the 21st century's version of Hendrix. Except his work is done without vocals and without the constraints of 4 minute radio songs. He is s technical marvel without peer. His sound is created through processors and tone enhancements that give his sound a "voice" that others haven't even begun to think about. If you ever saw the movie "Crossroads" with Ralph Macchio about the quest for the perfect sound and nirvana through music, it was Steve who played Satan's guitar ward who would "cut heads" with the latest poor soul who was dumb enough to put his own soul on the line. Playing with another genius in the 70's, Frank Zappa, and then moving on to mainstream popularity with David Lee Roth's solo project and the arena-filling Whitesnake, Vai was initially viewed as another Van Halen "wannabe". But once people saw and heard his performances they quickly realized he was something more entirely. It was on his instrumental monster "Passion & Warfare" that his full repertoire was finally put in a forum that was heard all at once. On that album, "For The Love Of God" stood out as the highlight in an album of career achievements. It would be like picking which of Michael Jordan's big-shots was the most exciting. Although there were many, inevitably most would choose the final shot against the Jazz to seal the Bulls 6th title. This song was that in musical form. While those last few moments of that Jazz game has every high imaginable from the steal to the setup to the shot to the finish, "FTLOG" carries that same vibe from the first notes to the final whammy bar pull. It should be noted that in recording this song, Steve saved it for last, and stopped playing the guitar for 2 months to get the feel of expression through reconnection that he was trying to convey. Hands bled, guitars broke and souls stirred. He is the fire that keeps "guitar heroes" everywhere sitting in their homes, practicing to be heard.

Eddie Van Halen

Favorite Guitar Moment: Little Guitars

In the history of rock guitar, there has never been one player who's style and sound has been so copied and examined as Edward Van Halen's. Coming out of California in 1978, Van Halen took the place of Led Zeppelin as the most well-respected and beloved band in the US. If half of their popularity was due to the flamboyant frontman, David Lee Roth, then the rest of the bands power and creativity came from the genius of Eddie. Known as one of the tightest live acts and being difficult to work with in the recording studio due to his meticulous preparation and follow-through on the songs he fought to create, Eddie is legendary for his fire, passion and temper. While Van Halen the band has undergone personnel changes over the years, Eddie and his brother Alex have continued to drive the Van Halen machine, right or wrong. Eddie's playing takes the best of Clapton, the best of Jimmy Page, a bit of Jimi Hendrix and even some of Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath power. His "brown" sound,as it is called, is instantly recognizable to any guitar player and his style is on full display in "Little Guitars". A flamenco-flavored acoustic opening, to a classic VH riff to start the song and played throughout and the breakdown in the middle that plays off the flamenco theme and the images of a small Mexican town and it's beautiful senoritas. All and all, a fabulous song, and although not as well-known as "Jump" or Running With The Devil", a classic to all Van Halen aficionado's.

Angus Young-AC/DC

Favorite Guitar Moment: Touch Too Much

Raw. Power. High. Voltage. These words provide the mental backdrop to what is arguably the hardest rocking heavy blues band to grace our shores. Coming from Australia in '75, The brothers Young and singer Bon Scott, provided blues rock in it's heaviest, rawest form. Their songs are radio staples for 30+ years. If you go to a bar ANYWHERE in this country, you will hear an AC/DC song on a jukebox blaring and giving the patrons the desire to drink. They are beloved by fans, panned by critics and heralded by their peers. Angus is a human flamethrower and out of his compact frame has come some of the most recognizable riffs. "Back In Black", Highway to Hell", "You Shook Me" & "Hells Bells" are some of the instantly recognizable riffs he created but "Touch Too Much" is a more refined version of the bombastic sound. A tale of a blazing hot woman, built around a pulsating beat and simple yet effective playing, it's the epitome of the AC/DC sound. Simple,brutal, raw, on the razor's edge.

And even though there are names missing here that probably could be interchangeable (Pete Townshend, David Gilmour, Andy Summers, Neal Schon, Tony Iommi, Joe Perry and Randy Rhoades, Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani among many others) these 10 are the guitarists I'd want to hear once my time is done here on Earth and I'm loungin' in heaven killin' eternal time.


H to the izzo said...

As a fellow guitar player,I loved this list.I'm moving on to jazz and lovin it.You forgot Lightnin Hopkins,if you don't know who he is -look him up

BreadCity said...

You should post some of your music up here man!

ASPOV said...

Wow, eboy, I'm falling in love! I am a lover of music--more jazz than rock, but damn if I don't want to learn to play guitar! It's never too late as they say, so I've been contemplating a purchase of an acoustic to start. Now I've got to find a good teacher who won't charge more than 40 or 50 per session. You know of a good one? And I'm totally with you on Eric, Jimmy and Carlos. My list includes Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Norman Brown, and Stuart Matthewman.

H to the izzo said...

You are all sleeping on Lightnin Hopkins,the man could make an acoustic sound like a full band.And Cheryl I'm not too sure about the U.S,but to find a one on one instructor in that price range will be tough.You're better off trying to teach yourself,thats what I did.BTW Jazz Guitars are the best sounding things ever,I've fallen conpletley in love with my new one

Pandora said...

Good post.