Ten Classic Rock Guitarists
Ten guys who helped make rock 'n' roll history
The world of rock has had many illustrious axemen over the years. They come and go, and you sometimes wonder what happened to them; for instance, if they’re still alive and plucking. Well, here’s a list of vintage rock guitarists who helped make rock ‘n’ roll what it is today – a great reason to get out of bed every morning!
1. Robbie Krieger has come full circle with the Doors, one of the most unique and influential rock bands ever. Krieger started as the band’s lead guitarist back in 1966, joining up with legendary singer/poet Jim Morrison. What many people may not know is that Krieger wrote many of the songs for which the band became famous, including “Love Me Two Times,” “Touch Me,” “You’re Lost Little Girl” and, most memorably, “Light My Fire,” perhaps the greatest Top 40 rock tune of the 1960s. Krieger showed his unique guitar style with long solos on songs such as “The End,” “When the Music’s Over,” and the long version of “Light My Fire.” Generally playing his signature Gibson SG, Krieger’s guitar style shows many influences - sitar music, flamenco, folk, jazz and blues. In the early 2000s, the Doors reformed, with Ian Asbury replacing the deceased Jim Morrison. Krieger also continues working as a solo artist and studio musician.
2. Robin Trower
Robin Trower started as lead guitarist for Procol Harum in the late 1960s, but the band didn’t play what Trower really dug, that is, Strat-charged, psychedelic blues. Going solo in the 1970s, Trower started a power trio, whose first hit album was Bridge of Sighs, released in 1974. Trower, along with Frank Marino and others, became one of many so-called Jimi Hendrix imitators, though his own style is quite evident. Hey, everybody influences everybody else, right? Although Trower’s music hasn’t equaled Hendrix’s bold, inventive legacy, he created many memorable riffs. Later, Trower joined up with ex-Cream bassist Jack Bruce in the early 1980s, but the result was unmemorable. As of the 2000s, Trower continues performing in a quartet, though his heyday certainly appears to have been the 1970s, the music of which he often plays in concert.
3. Alvin Lee
Alvin Lee began playing lead guitar in 1960 with the core of a rock band that would eventually become Ten Years After, which released its first album in 1967. The band’s breakthrough came with Lee’s rollicking, frenetic, singing-out-of-the-side-of-his-mouth performance at Woodstock, perhaps stealing the show, and propelling the band to stardom, which it maintained until the middle 1970s. At this point, Lee, feeling limited by the band, left Ten Years After and formed Alvin Lee and Company, “a funky little outfit,” as Lee called it, releasing the double live recording In Flight, an R&B and rock extravaganza in 1975. Then Lee formed a power trio called Ten Years Later, of all names, garnering recognition and praise. In the 1980s, Lee formed the Alvin Lee Band. To date, Lee has released many solo efforts, including Saguitar in 2007. Alvin Lee passed on March 6, 2013.
4. John Fogerty
John Fogertywas lead singer and guitarist for yet another 1960s San Francisco Bay Area band named Creedence Clearwater Revival. Its first hit “Susie Q” showed some of Fogerty’s blazing, psychedelic-edged guitar work. Creedence Clearwater Revival was perhaps the best Top 40 rock band in the country in the early 1970s, pumping out Fogerty-penned hits such as “Proud Mary,” "Fortunate Son" and “Who’ll Stop the Rain.” After the breakup of Creedence in 1972, Fogerty launched a solo career, utilizing both country and rock idioms, sometimes playing all the instruments on recordings. Then his career took a nosedive. But Fogerty made a comeback in 1985 with the release of “The Old Man down the Road.” Then Fogerty made still another comeback in 1997, releasing Blue Moon Swamp, which won a Grammy for Best Rock Album. Currently, Fogerty tours and records as a solo act, performing all over the world.
5. Johnny Winter
Johnny Winter, back around 1970, was the only rock guitarist around who seemed to have the fire, dash and overall-prowess of Jimi Hendrix. (They even jammed together once, the audio recording of which can be found on YouTube. Incidentally, Johnny and brother Edgar, performed at Woodstock. Didn’t everybody?) Primarily a blues guitarist and hailing from Texas like fellow guitar slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan, Winter played as fast as greased lightning. Winter often took blues standards such as “Good Morning Little School Girl” and “It’s My Own Fault” and made them into his own power rock tunes. Maybe Winter’s greatest album from the 1970s, his optimum period, was Johnny Winter And Live, performed with guitarist Rick Derringer. Perhaps Winter’s best known tune is “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo.” Winter also earned accolades producing Muddy Waters’ covers. Johnny Winter passed away on July 16, 2014.
6. Robben Ford
At 18, Robben Ford, heavily influenced by blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield, began his career playing with blues harp legend Charlie Musselwhite in San Francisco, and then soon left to form the Charles Ford Band with younger brother Mark on harmonica. Throughout the 1970s Ford played with such illustrious connections as Jimmy Witherspoon, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, Kiss, Muddy Waters and the L.A. Express. Ford produced the solo album Inside Story in 1979. Then Ford joined the jazz-fusion band the Yellowjackets, and their eponymous first album is one of the best fusion albums of the 1980s, particularly the unforgettable cut “Priscilla.” Having an obvious jazz bent, Ford played with Miles Davis in the middle 1980s. In recent times, Ford has returned to his blues roots with the release of Truth in 2007.
7. Peter Green
Peter Green was the founder of the spectacular Fleetwood Mac, though long before they converted to mainstream rock in the middle 1970s. A blues-rock guitarist/songwriter, Green was an integral aspect of the British blues movement along with Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, both of whom lauded Green’s playing. Following that muse, Green joined with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in 1966, sounding nearly as “God-like” as Clapton, whom he had replaced. After leaving Fleetwood Mac, Green suffered from bouts of schizophrenia, perhaps exacerbated by his overindulgence in LSD and cocaine. Green became a tramp-like recluse for six years, and then made a comeback in the 1990s, forming the Peter Green Splinter Group, eventually making nine albums with the band. Though Green’s anti-psychotic medication can hinder his playing ability, he continues to riff in concerts, performing with Peter Green and Friends.
8. Mark Farner
Mark Farner founded the fabulously successful power trio Grand Funk Railroad in 1969. Almost immediately, the band drew monstrous crowds and eventually produced numerous albums, many gold or platinum. Although Farner was never known for his technical virtuosity on the guitar, he became a kind of one-man band (as trios sometimes need!), playing lead guitar and keyboards, banging on percussion and writing most of the group’s songs. Then Farner left the band in 1977, going solo with albums such as Mark Farner. After that, Farner began playing Christian rock in the 1980s. Later, in the middle 1990s, Farner joined Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band, and finally reformed the original Grand Funk Railroad in the late 1990s. Farner currently tours, often playing Grand Funk standards as well as his solo material.
9. Jorma Kaukonen
Jorma Kaukonen’s blues/bluegrass/rock guitar style highlighted the Jefferson Airplane, an acid rock band formed in San Francisco in 1965. Kaukonen’s acoustic fingerpicking licks can be heard on the band’s album Surrealistic Pillow, particularly the cut “Embryonic Journey.” The Airplane’s lead guitarist, Kaukonen provided requisite rock chops with the best guitarists in the San Francisco Bay Area. After the Airplane broke up in 1973 (some members joining the new Jefferson Starship), Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady formed Hot Tuna, an assemblage which lasted much longer than the Airplane. Over the years, Kaukonen has recorded a dozen solo albums and joined the reformation of the Jefferson Airplane in 1989. These days, Kaukonen as his wife Vanessa Lillian operate the Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio, where Kaukonen gives guitar lessons, a new pastime he really enjoys.
10. Peter Frampton
British rocker Peter Frampton joined his first major rock group, Humble Pie, in 1969. About this time, Frampton also did lots of session work with rock luminaries such as George Harrison, Harry Nilsson and Jerry Lee Lewis. Then Frampton went solo in 1971, producing the album Wind of Change, utilizing guest artist Ringo Starr. But his early solo albums had little commercial success. This changed, however, when Frampton produced the quintessential arena rock album, Frampton Comes Alive!, one of the best rock albums of the era, and one of the best-selling live albums of all time. The album’s hook-laden hits “Baby, I Love Your Way,” “Show Me the Way” and “Do You Feel Like We Do” have become staples on classic rock stations. Since then, Frampton has tried to recapture the magic with varying degrees of success, doing some work with friend David Bowie in the middle to late 1980s. Frampton’s album Fingerprints, highlighting his versatility, won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2007.
Well, there’s the list. When I focus on more classic rock guitarists, I’ll make another list. Please leave a comment.
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