The Most Famous Heavy Rock Guitarists From Scotland
Scottish Rock has always lain in the shade of its more dominant neighbour down south. England has produced the real giants of Heavy Rock in the 1960s and 70s until the US bands took over the lead role and dominated.
The trailblazers like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath are unsurpassed in the Heavy Rock pantheon and many other great bands have arisen from England since then.
Nevertheless Scotland has played its part in no small way especially at an individual level. Several guitarists have performed on the highest stage with the best in the business.
Here in alphabetical order are the most celebrated Heavy Rock guitarists to have come from Scotland. This list includes lead and rhythm guitar as well as bassists.
PETE AGNEW (Bassist)
Born in 1946 in the musically fertile ground of Dunfermiline in Fife. Pete has been the bassist and backing vocalist with Nazareth for over four decades now. But gravelled-voiced singer Dan McCafferty and Pete go back even longer than that.
They actually met on their very first day at school when they were only five years old. After being asked to share a double-desk that fateful day a lifelong friendship and eventually a Rock n' Roll partnership developed.
With an ever-present Alembic bass guitar Pete has played on famous songs like 'Hair of the Dog', 'Razamanazz', 'Broken Down Angel' and the band's famous covers like 'This Flight Tonight' and 'Love Hurts'.
However he cites the Soul music of 1960s America as a real inspiration. Artists like Sam and Dave and especially Otis Redding have influenced the Rhythm and Blues sound of Nazareth.
On the road in the early days he remembers painful times such as in Nuremberg when fans threw the knuckle joints from scaffolding at them when they supported Rory Gallagher. How ironic that they are very popular in Germany today as well as many other places on continental Europe.
His son Lee was a drum technician with Nazareth. He then actually joined the band on drums in 1999 after the death of original drummer Darrell Sweet.
JIMMY BAIN (Bassist)
One of the most famous Scotsmen in the history of Rock Music, Jimmy was born in 1947 and hails from the Highland village of Newtonmore. He shot to prominence in 1976 with the classic 'Rising' album by Rainbow.
Playing bass guitar he formed the backline with Cozy Powell behind lead guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and vocalist Ronnie James Dio. You will hear him playing on such illustrious tracks like 'Stargazer','Tarot Woman' and 'Light in the Black'. He also appears on the 'On Stage' live album by the band.
It was only a short two year venture as he was replaced by Bob Daisley before Roger Glover became the permanent fixture on bass.
Jimmy bounced back though and formed 'Wild Horses' with fellow Scottish guitarist Brian Robertson who had left 'Thin Lizzy'. The band also featured Neil Carter who would go on to great things with 'UFO'. But 'Wild Horses' did not break through into the big time despite some strong tunes and they all parted company.
However Jimmy came back with a real bang when he was reunited with Ronnie James Dio for the brilliant 'Holy Diver' album in 1983 with also guitarist Vivian Campbell and drummer Vinnie Appice. He left Dio in 1989 although he returned to the band again for the albums 'Magica' in 2000 and 'Killing the Dragon' in 2002. He was still active, playing and touring with his band 'Last in Line', when he died unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 68.
JACK BRUCE (Bassist)
Jack Bruce was born in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow in 1943. He enjoyed his greatest success of course as the bass player and singer with Rock pioneers 'Cream' alongside Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. His style of bass playing was pioneering at the time and has influenced musicians of the instrument ever since.
He wrote the music for the classic songs 'I Feel Free' and 'White Room' as well as co-writing 'Sunshine of Your Love' with Clapton and lyricist Pete Brown. Nevertheless he also carved out a solid solo career with many releases since he left the supergroup.
He also teamed up with other notables such as the great Rory Gallagher, Robin Trower and created the band 'BBM' in 1993 with Gary Moore and Ginger Baker. They released one album called 'Around the Next Dream'.
Worrying times followed when in 2003 he required a liver transplant after developing cancer and was near death. But he recovered and in 2005 'Cream' reformed for special concerts at the London Albert Hall and New York's Madison Square Garden. But sadly he eventually passed away in October 2014.
MANNY CHARLTON (Lead guitar)
Manuel Charlton was born in 1941 in La Linea in Spain. Although born in Spain Manny's family had immigrated to Scotland in the 1960s so his Scottish credentials come from his residency in the country.
He was a founding member of the great band Nazareth and also their lead guitarist for 22 years. He created a down-to-earth guitar sound and played with a fluid style influenced by the Blues. He was also the band's producer on six albums during their heyday including the famous 'Hair of the Dog' album in 1975.
He was with the Rock legends from 1968 to 1990 before leaving to pursue a solo career although his first solo album 'Drool' came in 1997. After moving to the USA he formed the Manny Charlton Band (MCB) and they released two albums 'Stonkin' and 'Klone This' before disbanding in 2003.
Further solo work followed interrupted only by a short spell in 2006 with the Swedish rock band 'From Behind'. He formed another band 'Nazareth Featuring Manny Charlton' and toured again playing the classic tunes of the original Nazareth.
ZAL CLEMINSON (Lead guitar)
Remarkably, given his talent and skill, Zal was a self-taught guitarist. He was born in 1949 in Glasgow and as a youngster played with the Glasgow band 'Tear Gas'. The group later became the musicians for The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB).
With his white-painted Pierrot make-up and terrific guitar Zal was a celebrated character on the music scene. His live solo on the gutsy Blues number 'Framed' was especially memorable and also on hits like 'Boston Tea Party' and the band's version of 'Delilah' originally by Tom Jones.
In 1979, he joined Nazareth and recorded the 'No Mean City' and 'Malice in Wonderland' albums. Bassist Pete Agnew hailed him as the best guitarist he had worked with. After leaving Nazareth he was a guitarist with Elkie Brooks throughout the 1980s.
However SAHB reformed in 2004 with a live album 'Zalvation' appearing in 2006. This kept the memory of the late Alex Harvey alive and the great music of the band reached a new generation. In early 2008 he suddenly announced his retirement from the music business and said he would never perform live again. Few people believed him and sure enough he thankfully returned in 2017 with a new band called 'Sin Dogs' and hit the road.
JIMMY DEWAR (Bassist)
Jimmy came for the same town as Gerry Rafferty being born in Paisley in 1942. He was the bassist and vocalist for the Scottish Rock band 'Stone The Crows' and then with the 'Robin Trower' band.
With a richly expressive voice he was a very underrated singer although with Robin Trower he enjoyed great acclaim and recognition. Robin's deep and heavy blues sound inspired by Hendrix was well suited to the soulful bass rhythm provided by Jimmy.
They were playing stadiums and large theatres in the 1970s with memorable tunes like 'Bridge of Sighs', 'Victims of the Fury' and 'Daydream'. He left the band in 1983 after ten successful years. A solo album 'Stumbledown Romancer' was released in 1998 although it had actually been recorded in the 1970s.
Tragically Jimmy died at aged only 59 in hospital of a stroke in 2002. He had suffered brain damage during an operation several years earlier from which he never fully recovered.
JOHN DUNCAN (Lead Guitar)
Big John Duncan is not strictly speaking a 'Heavy Rock' guitarist but some literary license is allowed. A physically larger than life figure in the history of Scottish Rock music.
Big John memorably filled the TV screen when he appeared with Punk Rock band 'The Exploited' on Top of the Pops in 1981. Their performance of 'Dead Cities' injected some much needed angry attitude and energy into the show. However he left the band soon after in 1983.
Arising from the glowing embers of the last flickers of the Punk era John moved onto 'Goodbye Mr McKenzie' who had great success in Scotland in the 1980s. They became more renowned retrospectively for the presence on vocals of a young Shirley Manson before she shot to fame as the female singer with Garbage.
Nevertheless they gained a strong cult following and were highly regarded in musical circles. Since those heady days John has been involved in many various projects. Most significant among these was with Kurt Cobain no less He worked as a technician but also as a musician with 'Nirvana' on tour in 1993.
He later moved to the Netherlands and worked as a roadie and also a bouncer which surely comes as no surprise.
GIULIANO GIZZI (Lead & rhythm guitar)
Born in Glasgow and the most influential member of the popular band Gun. Giuliano or 'Jools' as he is know is also the main creative writing force behind their success. After cutting his teeth on the pub and club circuit Giuliano hit the ground running with the Gun album 'Taking on the World' in 1989.
His rhythm guitar and also lead moments has powered the many great tunes from the band through the years. Songs such as 'Better Days', 'Money', 'Higher Ground', 'Don't Say it's Over', 'Crazy You' and their smash hit cover of Cameo's 'Word Up' all sung by Mark Rankin on vocals.
The band eventually split in 1997 after four albums. However 11 years later there was a reformation but this time with ex-Little Angels singer Tony Jepson for a while before Giuliano's brother and the band's bassist Dante Gizzi took over vocals in 2010.
An appearance at the Download Festival followed by a new album appropriately called 'Break the Silence' marked a good year in 2012.. Further albums followed with 'Frantic' in 2015 and 'Favourite Pleasures' in 2017
CHRIS GLEN (Bassist)
Another Paisley 'Buddie' who was born in the town in 1950. Chris enjoyed a fantastic career in the 1970s and 80's music scene. While playing bass guitar with local Glasgow band 'Tear Gas' the whole group was recruited by Alex Harvey.
They became the Sensational Alex Harvey Band or SAHB for short and the rest is history. The description was entirely appropriate as the band emblazoned their name across the music business and in the annals of Scottish Rock music. Songs like 'Midnight Moses','Boston Tea Party' and the classic 'Faith Healer' were just some of their impressive catalogue.
Chris went on to international success when he joined the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) in 1981. As well as the German axeman Chris rubbed shoulders with the likes of ex-Rainbow stars Graham Bonnet and Cozy Powell and was also later joined by SAHB colleague Ted McKenna on drums.
In recent times Chris has still been active on the music scene. Although Alex Harvey died in 1982 he had already left his own band and they had continued for some time. The old crew got together in the 1990s as 'The Party Boys' and reformed SAHB again in 2004. He now performs as 'Chris Glen and the Outfit' playing the old classic hits but also had a stint with MSG in 2010.
HAMISH GLENCROSS (Lead guitar)
Born in 1978 from Dundee he certainly has probably the greatest Scottish sounding name of any guitarist. Hamish played lead guitar with Doom Metal merchants 'My Dying Bride'.
Along with bands like 'Anathema' and 'Paradise Lost' they have been at the forefront of the genre in the UK since their inception in 1990. Hamish joined them in 1999 and played on six of their albums. Top songs featuring his guitar are 'Love's Intolerable Pain', 'Deeper Down' and 'Bring Me Victory'. His weapons of choice are Jackson guitars, especially the 'Randy Rhoads' model.
He also played lead guitar in another Death Metal band called Vallenfyre and recorded on their album 'A Fragile King' in 2011. He left My Dying Bride in 2014 and became the singer and guitarist in the band Godthrymm
Before dedicating himself to the world of Rock music Hamish was an actor and best remembered for the TV show 'Children's Ward' on ITV in the 1990s.
LES HARVEY (Lead guitar)
Les was born in Govan in Glasgow in 1944 and was the younger brother of the legendary Alex Harvey. Les was a guitarist in several Scottish bands in the 1960s and 70's. His most famous project was when he set up the band 'Stone the Crows'.
Their name came from a cockney exclamation by Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin, when Les played with a band called 'Cartoone'. The band were supporting Led Zeppelin on a US Tour in 1969 and they also supported 'Spirit' around that time.
Later that year came 'Stone the Crows' who also included the superb female singer Maggie Bell with another great artist Jimmy Dewar alongside them on bass guitar. Top tunes included 'Danger Zone', 'Blind Man' and 'I Need Your Love'.
Tragically Les was killed in 1972 in a freak accident when he was electrocuted onstage in Swansea in Wales. With moist hands he touched a live microphone that had not been earthed and after collapsing in front of 1,000 fans he died in hospital. A sad loss to music at the young age of only 27 years old.
JIMMY McCULLOCH (Lead guitar)
Brought up in the West of Scotland after being born in Dumbarton in 1953, Jimmy rose to fame in 1969 with Thunderclap Newman with their massive hit 'Something in the Air' which was a UK No.1.
After a spell touring with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers in the UK and Germany he joined the power-blues outfit 'Stone the Crows' to replace the late Les Harvey. He worked on their 'Continuous Performance' album and played on the tracks 'Sunset Cowboy' and 'Good Time Girl'.
After the band split he teamed up with none other than Paul McCartney when he joined Wings in 1974. He recorded on the albums 'Venus and Mars' and 'Wings Over America'.
But in 1977 he left Wings to join with the reformed 'Small Faces' on a tour of the UK. He played guitar on their album '78 In the Shade'. A year later he went heavier and joined with fellow Scots Rockers Jimmy Bain and Brian Robertson in the 'Wild Horses' band although he did not record material with them.
In 1979 McCulloch joined a band called 'The Dukes' and appeared on their one and only album. Sadly in the same year he died in London of heart failure induced by a heroin overdose at the age of only 26 years old.
NEIL MURRAY (Bassist)
Born Philip Neil Murray in Edinburgh in 1950, his CV is like an encyclopedia of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Neil has played with the greatest in the Rock music business. Aside from that he is recognised as being a superbly gifted and melodic bass player in his own right.
He has collaborated with the likes of Black Sabbath, Queen, Michael Schenker, Gary Moore and Peter Green amongst many others.
But of course he is most associated with his long-running membership of Blues Rockers Whitesnake during their early years. Fronted by David Coverdale and enjoying great success artistically and commercially the band were at the forefront of British Heavy Rock in the late 70's and early 80's.
Neil featured in nine albums including classics like 'Lovehunter, 'Ready an Willin' and 'Come and Get it'. He also recorded bass on the famous 1987 album which was simply entitled 'Whitesnake' and heralded the much sought after American breakthrough.
However Coverdale decided to completely renew the line-up and Neil's time with the band was over. After playing with many artists and projects through the later years he joined up with fellow Whitesake guitarist Micky Moody and others in the band Snakecharmer playing both original songs and Whitesnake covers.
FRANKIE POULLAIN (Bassist)
Born in Edinburgh in 1967 with the exotic title of Francis Gilles Poullain-Patterson. But better known as Frankie Poullain, the bass player for Rock band The Darkness. He plays a Gibson Thunderbird IV bass guitar.
Together they had commercial success in 2003 with the hit album 'Permission to Land' which sold millions. It spawned hits such as 'I Believe in a Thing Called Love', 'Growing on Me' and the power ballad 'Love is Only a Feeling'.
He left the band in 2005, citing "musical differences" as the reason and the band itself eventually split up in 2007. Frankie then wrote a book in 2008 called 'Dancing in the Darkness' chronicling the ups and downs of his time in the band.
But he returned when The Darkness reformed in 2011 with the original line-up and they played at the Download Festival in Donington Park that summer. The following year a new album called 'Hot Cakes' was released and they went back on the road again as well as releasing more albums.
BILLY RANKIN (Lead Guitar)
Born in Kirkintilloch near Glasgow in 1959, at school Billy actually learned to play the cello and studied music. But at the tender age of only 15 years old he was playing the local live circuit with his first rock band called 'Phase'.
By then he recalled that "I was probably earning more than my cello teacher and learning more than he could ever teach me just by being in a rock band."
He also played with Zal Cleminson in the late 1970s with other ex-members of SAHB. But he is best known musically for his two spells with Scottish Rock giants Nazareth. He played guitar with them in the early 80's then again in the 90's
In between he had some success with solo material, especially with the single 'Baby Come Back' from his 1984 album 'Growin up Too Fast'. This was a hit in the USA.
Latterly his voice became well-known on the airwaves each morning when he became a DJ on the breakfast show at Rock Radio in Scotland until 2012. After this stint he published a book 'Billy Rankin's School of Rock' which was full of entertaining anecdotes about the business.
BRIAN ROBERTSON (Lead guitar)
Brian was born in Clarkston next to Glasgow in 1956. He became a legendary lead guitarist from his days with Thin Lizzy in the 1970s.
Wishbone Ash have been credited with introducing the twin lead guitar into Heavy Rock but there is no doubt that Brian's high-powered double act with Scott Gorham was the epitome of the style.
He recorded five albums with the band on Gibson and Fenders and pioneering the wah-wah pedal as a solo effect on the guitar.
Unfortunately after a bar brawl in Belfast in 1977 he had to call off from an important American tour with Queen. His temporary replacement was Gary Moore and although Robbo returned for 'Live and Dangerous' relationships soured and the change became permanent when Gary Moore re-joined the band.
Moderate success followed with 'Wild Horses' a group he formed with another famous Scot Jimmy Bain. But after only two albums they disbanded. Since then Brian briefly joined Motorhead on tour and for their 'Another Perfect Day' album in 1983.
He has also appeared as a guest artist on many recordings with other acts. Occasionally he appeared as a musical 'supersub' jamming at gigs with Thin Lizzy in the 1980s and more recently at tribute nights to the band that made him famous.
ANGUS YOUNG (Lead guitar)
He speaks with a strong Australian accent and he was brought up in the suburbs of Melbourne. He plays in the most famous Australian band in history.
But of course Angus Young was born in Glasgow in 1955 and spent his nascent years in the city before his family emigrated when he was eight years old
The Scots will always claim Angus as one of their own and so purely in terms of country of birth he is included in this list of great Scottish Rock guitarists. Too many great songs to mention them all but 'Let There Be Rock', 'Whole Lotta Rosie', 'Highway to Hell', 'Back in Black' and 'For Those About to Rock' will suffice.
The Australians may quite naturally take umbrage but let us remember the international make-up of ACDC. In fact from a ten year period from 1983 to 1993 there were no natural-born Australians in the band after Phil Rudd's temporary departure.
Whatever his nationality Angus Young is unarguably one of the greatest ever Rock guitarists to have duck-walked the stages of the world. Supremely gifted and a pocket dynamo of energy, sweat and facial grimace. A diminutive giant of Heavy Rock.
MALCOLM YOUNG (Rhythm guitar)
All of the above information also applies with regard to nationality. Malcolm was also born in Glasgow and was ten years old when the family Young sailed south in 1963.
Although overshadowed by his younger brother on stage Malcolm was the real powerhouse engine of ACDC on the road. Willingly taking a back seat to Angus as well as vocalists Bon Scott and then Brian Johnson in concert doesn't detract from the fact that his rhythm guitar drives the ACDC sound.
His writing of straight-forward Rock n' Roll classics is deceptively simple but conceals an inspired feel for the mastery of the chord and the stadium-filler chorus.
'Whole Lotta Rosie', 'Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be', 'Down Payment Blues', 'Highway to Hell', 'Shot Down in Flames', 'You Shook Me All Night Long' and 'Rock n' Roll Train' are just some of the memorable tunes from the riff factory
He was also the dominant personality of the band in determining how their music progressed and also the business side of their career. He was obviously doing a sterling job as ACDC had never been more popular when he retired from the band in 2014.
He had been diagnosed with dementia and suffered also from cancer and heart problems. Finally the world of music lost him as Malcolm Young passed away in 2017 at the age of 64.