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Why Great Guitarists like Hendrix, Clapton and Van Halen became Famous

Updated on April 22, 2014
Who is this guy?
Who is this guy?

You Gotta Have The Songs

My contention is that Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and the majority of legendary famous guitarists would not be of the legend staus had it not been for charted hit songs. People tend to believe that these guys were so good that they would have got success and notoriety on their talent alone.

My belief is absolutely not. Much of the general public doesn't know major talent and wouldn't care unless there is a great song or a great act behind it and even then the guitar solos are secondary.

Fans tend to know that these guitarists are great not because they figured it out themselves but because the media told them.

I remember hearing Hendrix when I growing up and wondered what all the fuss was. Yet people kept telling me he was the greatest and I really liked Purple Haze and Hey Joe so when people asked me who was the best guitarist I would tell them "Jimi Hendrix!" of course. Later as I started playing and getting into his music I realized his incredible impact not through the pop tunes but by the incredible live jams he did.

None of that stuff made it to the mainstream radio and probably wouldn't have sold many records to the general public if it did. He got known because he had 7 songs in the top 100 in the US and 12 in the top 100 in the UK. Hey Joe, Purple Haze (the 1st one I heard), All Along The Watchtower, Foxy Lady etc.This is what got the public to know him. And of course he was immensley talented so he could live up to all the hype.

Eric Clapton got known because the Cream had so many hits. Their third album, Wheels of Fire, was the world's first platinum-selling double album. Prior to that he was not a wordldwide houshold name when he was in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers or in the Yardbirds.

Cream's biggest hits were I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, Crossroads and Badge.

To this day Clapton continues to put out hit songs.

Van Halen would not be a houshold name had it not been for David Lee Roth's frontman personality and the songs they wrote together.

Famous Bands Without Hits

There are many bands that have toured and played for so long that they build up a huge following and are able to sell out concerts and sell albums. Metallica comes to mind. Eventually they became more mainstream because of, you know it, accesible radio songs. Enter Sandman and Nothing Else Matters come to mind.

I'm betting if you ask the newer fans what the guitarists names were they wouldn't know.

Grateful Dead anyone?

Best Unknown Guitarists

There are so many unbelievably good guitarists that never caught the publics attention yet they are or were as good or better than the legends.

American guitarist Michael Bloomfield? Just as good as Clapton. Hit songs? No therefore no public awareness.

Danny Gatton anyone? This guy was scary good yet no mass recognition.

Roy Buchanen?

As great players go Scotty Anderson from Ohio is absolutely amazing. I'm a huge fan.

Every town is filled with the local guitar "legends" some of who are better than the known but there's only so much room at the top. Marketing plays a big role of course but if one doesn't have the popular songs behind them then it seems like nobody really cares. Except for us hardcore guitar fans.

Sometimes certain guitarists will get a litlle name recognition if they get a gig backing up someone famous. That seems like it goes away after the gig is over unless they can use that to promote their own material.

Jennifer Batten is an amazing guitarist who toured with Michael Jackson but not many know who she is these days.

My Favorite Lesser known Guitarist

Jeff Beck. Definitely not as obscure as some of the others mentioned but didn't get as well known as his buddies Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page even though he is and always has been technically superior.

Now Jeff Beck has a pretty big following and is quite successful. Had he had as much airplay and hits and his buddies more people would know about him.

Almost everyone can name some Clapton and Hendrix songs. The average non guitarist...Jeff who? Or yeah Beck that singer.

Who Is Your Favorite Guitarist From This List?

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The Unknown Guitarist You Like and Why

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    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 19 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      I recently read an Albert Lee interview in one of those major guitar magazines we all know so well. Albert is 70 now, and said he'd be playing as long as he could - and he has to. He said his royalties sure wouldn't pay for a retirement.

      I saw a webpage sometime in the past week about Allan Holdsworth - and how he struggles every month just to make his rent and eat.

      Yep, either of those guys are better than tons of the ones who made a lot more money being in some hit popular radio hit band. What a life. Well, we all have a struggle .

    • Guitar Wizard profile image

      Mark Edward Fitchett 3 years ago from Long Beach

      That is a great song and I agree.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi Guitar Wizard, Eric Clapton was great for his song, Tears in Heaven. He touched all generations with it. Great Hub. Stella

    • profile image

      Mike Lintro 3 years ago

      For sure there are hundreds of extremely talented guitarist who are not famous. I can see how it would have to do with having "the song" to get you there. Also you need the recording studio. If you have a deal with a top record company they will recognize you good work and have the power to get it to the top.