20 Forgotten Rock Guitarists
Don't forget these guys!
The years go by and you wonder what happened to so-and-so, so here is 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 most people would like hearing again and again.
Keep in mind, this list is in no particular order. After all, who could be considered the most forgotten rock guitarist of all?
1. John Cipollina
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
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. Elliott Randall
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
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
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. Frank Marino
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. Shuggie Otis
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. Erik Braunn
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
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
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. Robbie Krieger
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.
12. 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.
13. John Fogerty
John Fogerty was 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. 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, while performing all over the world.
14. 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 Greene’s anti-psychotic medication can hinder his playing ability, he continues to riff in concerts, performing with Peter Green and Friends.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. Terry Kath
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.” 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!
According to rock legend, when Jimi Hendrix first saw Terry Kath perform with Chicago, he turned to someone and said this guy is a better guitarist than I am. But this event cannot be substantiated.
19. Mike Bloomfield
Appropriately, Mike Bloomfield was born in Chicago, Illinois, home of the Chicago style of blues, aka urban or electric blues. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bloomfield, of Jewish ethnicity, honed his blues guitar licks with bluesmen such as Sleepy John Estes, Little Brother Montgomery, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and many others. In 1965, Bloomfield’s leap forward came when he joined The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, which recorded the highly influential album East-West in 1966. Then Bloomfield became the guitarist for the short-lived Electric Flag. He also performed and/or recorded with Bob Dylan, Al Kooper, Chuck Berry, Mitch Ryder, James Cotton and numerous others. Throughout the 1970s he was a solo act and produced many albums. Notably, Bloomfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. He was discovered dead in his car on Feb. 15, 1981, age 37. (Heroin was found in his system.)
20. Duane Allman
Nicknamed “Skydog,” Duane Allman began playing guitar in the early 1960s. Even though he was left-handed, he played guitar right-handed. His first band was The Escorts and then he and his brother, keyboardist/singer Gregg Allman, formed the Allman Joys, which became the Allman Brothers in 1969. Duane Allman excelled at playing slide guitar and had exceptional improvisational skills. Only guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix or Johnny Winter seemed to share his blues guitar prowess. Duane Allman's greatest guitar virtuosity can be heard on the album At Fillmore East, recorded in March 1971. At this time the Allman Brothers were considered one of the best rock bands in the country. Unfortunately, Duane Allman died at age 24 in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971.
Please click on the videos below and listen to 20 Forgotten Rock Guitarists:
John Cipollina with Cobra
Leigh Stephens on lead guitar
Tommy Bolin with Deep Purple
Young Shuggie Otis
Erik Braunn with Iron Butterfly
Robbie Krieger with the Doors
John Fogerty and Billy Gibbons
Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac
Mark Farner with Grand Funk
Terry Kath with Chicago
© 2009 Kelley Marks