Six strings, three chords, and the truth. This is, by request of my editor, the final installment on some of the most influential guitarists of the rock era… part 4. And no, Kai and Sav, Mick Mars from Motley Crüe does not make the cut.
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Another gifted artist taken far too soon, Stevie was just coming into his prime when he was killed. Blues and rock on his beat-up “SRV” Stratocaster hardly ever sounded so good, and his instrumental take on Hendrix’ “Little Wing” is still nothing short of breathtaking.
Don Felder & Joe Walsh: Try and think of an Eagles’ classic without one of these two guitarists’ signature licks (Felder’s guitar orchestration of “Hotel California” and Walsh’s “Life in the Fast Lane” riff are but two examples).
Mike Campbell: The Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist (and co-captain with Petty) is often overlooked in “best guitarist” polls, but his economical and tasteful playing and songwriting has defined three decades of not just Heartbreakers music, but also other classics like Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”
Ritchie Blackmore: Anyone who would doubt his influence over generations of rock guitarists need only listen to the opening sequence of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” ‘Nuff said.
Joe Perry: Like Mick and Keith in the Stones, there would be no Aerosmith without the one-two punch of Joe Perry and Steve Tyler as the band’s creative force. Tasty riffs and hot licks for decades, and they still remain vital and creative. Rock on.
Steve Lukather: Rarely did a recording session in Los Angeles happen in the ‘80s or ‘90s without some contribution from this monster player… when he wasn’t mining gold and platinum in his own band, Toto.
Brian May: His inspired tone and technique helped propel Queen to the top of the charts. The amazing thing (besides his guitar playing and arranging talents) is that he built his own guitars! Talk about wanting to get your tone just right…
Billy Gibbons: Tex-Mex blues-rock, showmanship, and one of the hottest guitars in a trio setting combine to take us to “La Grange” in search of “Cheap Sunglasses” for a “Sharp Dressed Man.” Try and imagine the best days of MTV without ZZ Top. Go ahead, try.
Prince: Although the Purple One moves in and out of the guitar hero role, it’s not because of lack of interest. It’s because the guy can do everything. He’s Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, George Clinton, and Paul McCartney all rolled up into one package. Did we tell you he’s a sex symbol, too? He’s just way too good for his own good.
John Frusciante: Although they had a spell without him, the Red Hot Chili Peppers aren’t so red hot without Frusciante. The guy’s a genius and an incredibly inventive player. I’m glad he didn’t become a statistic or a memory.
Lindsey Buckingham: Not as flashy as some, but Buckingham remains an incredible guitar orchestrator and arranger. But it would take a lot to fill a guitar chair once held by Peter Green, wouldn’t it?
Robbie Krieger: Although they had their share of short and sweet pop-rock hits, the Doors also brought some cool psychedelic jams to the radio back in the ‘60s. Robbie’s jazzy-rock guitar lines inspired more than a few nascent axe-slingers back in the day.
Trey Anastasio: Speaking of jams… Phish took the jam-band mantle from the Dead (as well as legions of their followers) and created a new sub-culture as Deadheads morphed into Phish-heads. It never could have happened without Anastasio’s guitar (or the rest of the band, for that matter).
The good news is that there seems to be no shortage of players picking up the old six-string, and that there will likely be new guitar heroes (like John Mayer) coming out all the time. I’ll close with two bands that have featured multiple axemen and have influenced thousands of string benders: the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Both of these bands have had multiple guitarists pass through their ranks, some no longer with us, but each one contributing to their bands’ own unique sounds. The testament to the music is that through all the losses, these two bands continue on to this day.
Rock and roll will never die.