Children of a Lesser Guitar God
Perhaps no "best of" lists outside of sports generate as much rancor as the ranking of guitar players. No doubt there is this very day some poor punter standing at the pearly gates and decomposing in a shallow grave who crossed axes with the wrong barroom stranger over the relative merits of people who, lets face it, make a living by pressing their fingers into strands of wire.
What we're trying to say is that we want to talk about guitar players.
Children of a Lesser Guitar God - Laboring in the Shadows
We recently came across a few lenses that ranked the best guitarists of all time (see lens-roll at right). These were inspired by rankings appearing in Rolling Stone and elsewhere to which noble Squidmasters did take offense. Wheretofore their own rankings.
These lists tend to be dominated by familiar names, be they Elder Gods (e.g., Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Page, Keith Richards, David Gilmore, Carlos Santana), technical wizards (Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Ywinge Malmsteen, Eric Johnson), hot contemporaries (Slash, Tom Morello, Mike McCready, Jack White), classic rock heroes (Joe Perry, Peter Frampton, Richie Blackmore, Randy Rhodes), or players who lean towards blues (Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, Billy Gibbons) or fusion (Jeff Beck, Steve Morse, Robert Fripp, Al Di Meola). You sometimes find artists known primarily for their session work (Jeff Baxter) and, on rare occasion, lesser-known names from the classical or folk community. Of course, these lists always leave off everyone's favorite guitar player: the one they left off.
And not for nothing. These are some of the biggest talents and innovators that ever picked up the guitar. However, this got us thinking about the guitar players who labor in their shadow. Players who are not household names, but whose work you may have enjoyed just the same. Players who are in the band, rather than players who are the band. They might not turn up ever in the top 100, but if you throw out the top 100, then they too might get some recognition. Sure, the money and groupies are nice, but they probably spend many an hour staring wistfully up at the lonely night sky wondering when anyone is ever going to make a Squidoo lens about them.
So, given our obsession with making lists, we did. Here's a dozen or so notable guitar players who labor in the shadow of the Greats. Children of the Guitar Gods to be sure, albeit one of the lesser Guitar Gods. Sort of like how Zeppo never quite got the same respect as Groucho, Harpo, or Karl. We wrote a little intro for each of our selections, then found a sample of their greatness on YouTube for you to enjoy.
What we're shooting for here is not merely here a song we like and X happens to play guitar on it but rather here is a song (or a band) that, while perhaps catchy on its own, is made glorious by X's guitar work Feel free to check our work. Also, our selections skew towards older bands (it's hard to tell if you are ignored if you haven't been around awhile). But let's say the only hard rule is the player can't be on the Rolling Stone top 100 list (we'll provide a copy of that below).
Without further ado, we present... CHILDREN OF A LESSER GUITAR GOD.
James Mankey - Concrete Blonde - Selection: True
Concrete Blonde came out of the L.A. music scene of the '80s and moved towards pop and airplay based on Johnette Napoloitano's vocals and strong songwriting. The band also featured the great guitar work of the versatile James Mankey. Compare the straight-up three-chord simplicity of "Still in Hollywood" with the subtle textured playing Mankey delivers here on "True," both from the band's debut.
Elliot Easton - Cars - Selection: Candy O
The Cars were a radio mainstay back in the techno-heyday of the 70's and 80's. People seem to remember them as a new-wave keyboard band (or that frontman Ric Ocasek's married supermodel Paulina Porizkova). What we remember is Easton's guitar work. His iconic riffs for "Best Friend's Girl" and "Just what I Needed" are instantly recognizable, and his fills and breaks always include just the right amount of flash that turns them from good to great. We dare say 30 years of hockey games and classic rock radio overplay have worn the edges off the band's big hits. So check out Easton's work on the slightly less-familiar title track from their second release Candy O. The 10 second solo at 1:15 is hotter than the Vargas cover art.
Berton Averre - The Knack - Selection: My Sharona
A song eventually undone by its own popularity, "My Sharona" was catchy, then recognizable, then, alas, tiresome. But Holy Cow! What a glorious solo by Berton Averre (starts around 2:50). The song still gets play on classic rock stations but - unbelievably - THEY CUT OUT HALF OF THE SOLO!!11!! (so does the official video for the song - the one below does not). Really, Corporate America? The extra 20 seconds to sell corn nuts or whatever is worth this blasphemy? Shame on you.
Billy Zoom - X - Selection: The Have Nots
A legend among punk rock fans but mostly unknown in larger music circles, X was the rare band that identified as punk, yet had members with formal musical training, including the great Billy Zoom (nee Tyson Kindell). Zoom was replaced by Tony Gilkyson after a falling out with the band, and even though X's later work was more radio-friendly (Hey Zeus gets our vote as the most underrated CD of all time), they were still ignored by corporate radio. They'll play Green Day but not X. Go figure.
Here's Zoom playing on "The Have Nots" from X's Under the Big Black Sun.
Rick Nielson - Cheap Trick - Selection: Need Your Love
Lead guitar player and general crazy man for the long-running Cheap Trick, formed in 1974 and still playing shows to this day. We dare say too many Cheap Trick songs reduce Nielson to riffs and power chords. However, if you dig a little deeper in their catalog, you can find songs that let him stretch out a bit. Case in point: "Need your Love" - a cut that gets overshadowed by the band's more radio-friendly (one might say overplayed) tracks like "Ain't that a shame" and "Surrender."
Mark Farner - Grand Funk Railroad - Selection: Shinin' On
Singer, songwriter, keyboard and guitar player, Farner was the driving energy behind Grand Funk Railroad, a band that was a veritable force of nature in the early 70's. On stage, Farner was also the quintessential buff, shirtless, tight-pantsed, golden god, a sort of prototype David Lee Roth / Eddie Van Halen hybrid that music scientists would later learn to separate, purify, and perfect. Check out Farner's work on "Shining on", from GFRxR's excellent second live album.
Billy Squire - Selection: Lonely is the Night
Squire was a rising star in the 80's then famously committed career suicide with "Rock Me Tonight," the MTV video for which made fans turn on him like zombies on Linnea Quigley. His big hits like "The Stroke and "In the Dark" tend to bury Squire's guitar work under the rest of the song. For a better look at his chops, check out the solo on "Lonely is the Night."
Honorable Mention: Glen Buxton - Selection: Hard Hearted Alice
Yes, that Alice Cooper. The band's music was overshadowed by their stage theatrics, and given their macabre (some might say juvenile) lyrics, its easy to overlook that Alice (nee Vincent Furnier) wrote some tight pop songs. Not only that, but the original Alice Cooper band featured the great Glen Buxton on guitar (who made Rolling Stone's list at #90). Unless you're Wayne or Garth you may be a hard convert, but check out Buxton's playing on the criminally unknown "Hard Hearted Alice" from 1973's Muscle of Love.
Honorable Mention: Robert Quine - Selection: Girlfriend
We'll risk the ire of guitar aficionados for daring to imply Quine is anything but a legend (he was ranked #80 in the Rolling Stone poll) just to have the chance to mention him. Respected by musicians but not what you would call a household name, Quine recorded with a number of big artists over the course of his career. You might know him from his work on Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend. Here's a clip of the band doing the title track on the old Dennis Miller show (hey, Den, NICE HAIR). Overall, they seem a little ragged (does anyone know the story behind this?) but Quine still tears it up.
The Elder Gods
Rolling Stone - Top 100 (2010)
1. Jimi Hendrix
2. Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band
3. B.B. King
4 Eric Clapton
5 Robert Johnson
6 Chuck Berry
7 Stevie Ray Vaughan Who is the better concert band - The Stones or U2 ?
8 Ry Cooder Click to answer
9 Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
10 Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
11 Kirk Hammett of Metallica
12 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
13 Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
14 Jeff Beck
15 Carlos Santana
16 Johnny Ramone of the Ramones
17 Jack White of the White Stripes
18 John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
19 Richard Thompson
20 James Burton
21 George Harrison
22 Mike Bloomfield
23 Warren Haynes
24 The Edge of U2
25 Freddy King
26 Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave
27 Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits
28 Stephen Stills
29 Ron Asheton of the Stooges
30 Buddy Guy
31 Dick Dale
32 John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service
33 & 34 Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth
35 John Fahey
36 Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG's
37 Bo Diddley
38 Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac
39 Brian May of Queen
40 John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival
41 Clarence White of the Byrds
42 Robert Fripp of King Crimson
43 Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic
44 Scotty Moore
45 Frank Zappa
46 Les Paul
47 T-Bone Walker
48 Joe Perry of Aerosmith
49 John McLaughlin
50 Pete Townsend
51 Paul Kossoff of Free
52 Lou Reed
53 Mickey Baker
54 Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane
55 Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple
56 Tom Verlaine of Television
57 Roy Buchanan
58 Dickey Betts
59 & 60 Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien of Radiohead
61 Ike Turner
62 Zoot Horn Rollo of the Magic Band
63 Danny Gatton
64 Mick Ronson
65 Hubert Sumlin
66 Vernon Reid of Living Colour
67 Link Wray
68 Jerry Miller of Moby Grape
69 Steve Howe of Yes
70 Eddie Van Halen
71 Lightnin' Hopkins
72 Joni Mitchell
73 Trey Anastasio of Phish
74 Johnny Winter
75 Adam Jones of Tool
76 Ali Farka Toure
77 Henry Vestine of Canned Heat
78 Robbie Robertson of the Band
79 Cliff Gallup of the Blue Caps (1997)
80 Robert Quine of the Voidoids
81 Derek Trucks
82 David Gilmour of Pink Floyd
83 Neil Young
84 Eddie Cochran
85 Randy Rhoads
86 Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath
87 Joan Jett
88 Dave Davies of the Kinks
89 D. Boon of the Minutemen
90 Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper
91 Robby Krieger of the Doors
92 & 93 Fred "Sonic" Smith, Wayne Kramer of the MC5
94 Bert Jansch
95 Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine
96 Angus Young of AC/DC
97 Robert Randolph
98 Leigh Stephens of Blue Cheer
99 Greg Ginn of Black Flag
100 Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Guitar player montage from Wikimedia Commons and appears under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
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