Eleven Forgotten Rock Guitarists
Don't forget these guys!
The years go by and you wonder what happened to so-and-so. So I decided to compile a list of rock guitarists who made a splash of some sort a while back and then suffered more or less from diminished exposure, waning popularity - or death. At any rate, they left a legacy of fine licks that I would like to share with everyone.
Keep in mind, this list is in no particular order. After all, who could be considered the most forgotten rock guitarist of all?
1. Trained as a classical pianist, John Cipollina didn’t just play the usual pentatonic rock and blues riffs; he meandered about the fretboard, producing a plethora of melodic and evocative notes, inflected with plenty of whammy bar, his signature, particularly during the psychedelic era. Simply stated, nobody played lead guitar like John Cipollina! One of the forerunners of the San Francisco Bay Area sound in the middle 1960s, Cipollina played lead guitar for the fabulous Quicksilver Messenger Service, until the band went “poppy” in the early 1970s. Perhaps his best effort with the band was the album Happy Trails, recorded live. Then Cipollina played for Copperhead and numerous other bands until his death, attributed to respiratory problems, in 1989.
2. Rory Gallagher, an Irish-born singer and lead guitarist was another one of those rockers from the British Isles who took American blues and gave it a modern spin. Gallagher joined the trio Taste in the late 1960s, which toured with groups such as Cream and Blind Faith, and was overall considered an impressive entity in the ilk of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Then in the 1970s, Gallagher formed his own trio, essentially going solo, as he played his brand of impassioned, energetic blues. Eric Clapton once said that Gallagher “got him back into the blues.” Gallagher was also known for his long performances. Later, his music showed a jazz influence, and his blues assumed a more “mature” sound. Rory Gallagher died of complications related to a liver transplant in 1995.
3. Growing up in New York City, Elliott Randall played with the likes of Richie Havens, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Then, in the early 1970s, Randall formed the group Randall’s Island, and their eponymous first album, including such catchy tunes as “Take Out the Dog and Bark the Cat,” is a classic. In 1972, Randall went to California and played guitar on Steely Dan’s first album Can’t Buy a Thrill. Guitarist Jimmy Page considers Randall’s solo on “Reelin’ in the Years” his favorite. Over the years, Randall has worked primarily as a session player for artists such as the Doobie Brothers, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, and has also worked as a musical consultant on Saturday Night Live and for filmmaker Oliver Stone. Randall currently performs with Randall’s Rangers.
4. Leigh Stephens was lead guitarist for Blue Cheer, a blues-tinged, acid rock power trio that erupted upon the San Francisco Bay Area scene in 1968. The Band’s fuzzy, distorted version of “Summertime Blues,” climbed to number fourteen on the Billboard Hot 100. Their first album, Vincebus Eruptum, is a definite forerunner of heavy metal and grunge, anticipating groups such as Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath. Incidentally, Blue Cheer called itself the loudest rock band in the world. Unfairly compared to other rock trios such as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Blue Cheer’s music was, in comparison, raw and chaotic, like watching an erupting volcano after taking a hit of Purple Owsley. After recording two albums with Blue Cheer, Stephens went on to form Silver Metre in 1969. Stephens performed at the Summer of Love Fortieth Anniversary concert in San Francisco in September 2007.
5. Tommy Bolin started his career as a guitarist for the rock group Zephyr, producing two albums and opening for such bands as Led Zeppelin. Then in 1972, Bolin played on Billy Cobham’s album Spectrum, which highlighted Bolin’s talent for blazing jazz-fusion guitar, and this may be Bolin’s best work. Next, Bolin replaced Joe Walsh in the James Gang, churning out two albums, Bang and Miami. Then, in the middle 1970s, Bolin replaced Ritchie Blackmore, lead guitarist for Deep Purple and also produced the solo album, Teaser. Unfortunately, drug addiction got the better of Bolin at the very young age of 25. After playing a gig with Jeff Beck, Tommy Bolin, having taken a variety of hard drugs, died of complications thereof on December 4, 1976. Chuck Morris said that Tommy was so good he “could cry on that guitar.”
6. One of many so-called Jimi Hendrix imitators in the 1970s, Frank Marino was perhaps the best of that bunch, with all due respect to lovers of Robin Trower, naturally. In the late 1960s, Marino had some kind of direction-altering epiphany while hospitalized for overindulgence in the drug LSD and, reacting to this, the press started saying Marino was Hendrix reincarnated, though Marino denies this hype. (Listening to Marino’s version of “Purple Haze,” you might think the story was true!) At any rate, suitably inspired, Marino then formed the group Mahogany Rush in 1970, eventually producing over ten albums with the band. Over the years, Marino has also produced two solo albums. Interestingly, he has two sons, Danny and Mike, who play in rock bands. In an interview, Marino was asked who he would love to jam with, alive or dead, and he chose Jimi Hendrix. Surprise!
7. A definite guitar prodigy by the age of 15, Shuggie Otis (son of R&B bandleader Johnny Otis) recorded in 1969 the album Kooper Session with blues great Al Kooper. Sounding like a younger version of Mike Bloomfield, Shuggie’s licks are titillating on the tunes “Slow Goonbash Blues” and “Shuggie’s Shuffle.” Then in the 1970s, Shuggie continued his career in the jazz and R&B vein, writing the hit song “Strawberry Letter 23”. In 1974, Shuggie played all the instruments on the album Inspiration Information, a jazzy R&B, variety-filled experience evocative of Sly Stone and the Brothers Johnson, though it never really caught on. Incidentally, when Mick Taylor quit the Rolling Stones, Shuggie was offered the job, but he declined. More recently, in the 1990s, Shuggie Otis played with his own band in northern California.
8. Another guitar prodigy, Erik Braunn played lead guitar with acid rock band Iron Butterfly when he was only 16. Braunn picked lead axe on the band’s number one hit “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” one of the longest rock songs ever produced at 17 minutes. Braunn’s guitar solo on the marathon, emphasizing pedal effects, is one of the best from the period. In 1970, Braunn left the Butterfly and formed Flintwhistle, about which little is known except they performed live here and there. Then he worked as a studio musician until he formed a new version of Iron Butterfly in 1974, which lasted until 1977. Braunn, while working on his first solo album, died of a heart attack in July 2003.
9. Elvin Bishop has been playing gigs seemingly forever. Born about the same time as Jimi Hendrix in 1942, Bishop, while going to the University of Chicago, joined the renowned Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963, trading licks with fellow lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield, until Bloomfield left and then Bishop became the main guitar man, doing plenty of singing as well, sometimes with comedic intent, such as on the novelty tune “Drunk Again.” Primarily a blues guitarist, though he dabbles much in rock ‘n’ roll and R&B, Bishop formed his own group in 1968. Bishop’s biggest hit came in 1976 with the release of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love,” which made it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then in 2008, Bishop released The Blues Roll On, featuring fellow blues artists B.B. King, Warren Haynes, George Thorogood and many others. Elvin Bishop will probably still be rocking in the twenty-second century!
10. Leslie West hit the big time when he formed the group Mountain in 1969. The band’s big hit was “Mississippi Queen,” which showed-off West’s hard-driving rock guitar and wailing, hell-bent singing. Mountain also performed at Woodstock, where West played a searing guitar solo on Jack Bruce’s “Theme for an Imaginary Western.” A hefty fellow, West’s nickname was “The Great Fatsby,” though these days he looks trimmer. Then, in 1974, West formed a power trio with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Corky Laing, billed to be the next super group, but, alas, this never came to pass. For a short time, West put together the Leslie West Band. Moving on, Leslie West continues ripping along as a solo performer and occasionally regroups new incarnations of Mountain.
11. Terry Kath became the lead guitarist for Chicago in 1969. On Chicago’s debut album, Kath displayed much of his guitar versatility, particularly on “Free Form Guitar,” a solo effort on which Kath rips up and down the neck, using heavy distortion, wah-wah pedal and whammy bar, a tour de force reminiscent of the best hard rock of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton. Kath showed similar soloing prowess on the song “25 or 6 to 4.” (Speaking of Hendrix, when he first saw Chicago perform, he thought Kath was a better guitarist than he was!) Also excelling at singing and writing songs, Kath continued playing lead guitar for Chicago until his tragic death in 1978. While at a party, Kath pointed a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol at his head. Thinking the gun was unloaded because he had ejected the magazine, he jokingly pulled the trigger and the pistol went off, killing him instantly. Kath failed to realize there could still be a bullet in the chamber of the pistol!
Well, there’s the list. Some of these guys may not be forgotten, depending on one’s taste, inclination and age, of course. Nevertheless, check out their material and perhaps you’ll discover a new powerhouse from the past. Later!
Please click on the videos below and listen to Eleven Forgotten Rock Guitarists:
John Cipollina with Quicksilver
Leigh Stephens on lead guitar
Tommy Bolin with Deep Purple
Young Shuggie Otis
Erik Braunn with Iron Butterfly
Elvin Bishop in 1981
Terry Kath with Chicago
© 2009 Kelley Marks