Thirty Great Guitarists — Including Steve Vai, David Gilmour and Eddie Van Halen — Pick the Greatest Guitarists of All Time
Who is the greatest guitarist on the planet?
On the face of it, that question is a no-brainer: It's Hendrix. Or Clapton. Or Page. Or Beck. Or ... is it?
In 2010, as Guitar World was celebrating its 30th anniversary, we picked 30 guitarists and asked them to name their guitar heroes — and the results will surprise you.
ANGUS YOUNG by Joe Perry
Apart from the usual suspects—Page, Clapton, Beck, Hendrix and Peter Green—one of my favorite guitarists is Angus Young. I first saw him when AC/DC opened up for Aerosmith in the Seventies.
They played about 25 dates with us, and I was just overwhelmed by his energy and ability to do his acrobatics without missing a note. He definitely had an influence on me inasmuch as his solos always had a purpose. Instead of using all the traditional tricks, he found a way to get inside those licks and be inventive. My favorite AC/DC song is probably “Sin City.”
For me, the essence of a good guitarist is someone who plays what the song calls for. It’s about listening to the music as a whole and then doing what you need to do. Sometimes it’s not even what you play; it’s what you don’t play. Which brings us back to Angus Young.
CHUCK BERRY by Angus Young
When I was growing up, everyone used to rave about Clapton, saying he was a guitar genius and stuff like that. Well, even on a bad night, Chuck Berry is a lot better than Clapton will ever be.
Rock music has been around since the days when Chuck Berry put it all together. He combined the blues, country and rockabilly, and put his own poetry on top, and that became rock and roll. And it’s been hanging in there.
AC/DC’s whole career has been playing rock and roll, and I’m sure you still get a lot of people tuning in to bands like us and the Stones. Younger bands will be plugging into it and taking it into the next realm. There’s always going to be another generation that will take it and give it to a new, younger audience, so I think it will just keep going on.
STEVE VAI by Tom Morello
Some instrumental guitar players are lost in a muso fog. Steve Vai is not one of them. He’s an artist, and one of the greats.
I’ve certainly learned from him, especially from his work ethic. I started playing guitar very late, when I was 17 years old. I felt really behind, and when I read about Steve’s practice regimen it really encouraged me. It also nearly killed me! While doing my college studies I was also practicing eight hours a day to amass the kind of technique that I admired in players like him and Randy Rhoads.
Once, Steve was doing a presentation at GIT, and he asked me to do it with him. He told me he’d also invited Steve Lukather, Stanley Jordan, Joe Satriani. I said, “No, bro, it sounds like it’s gonna be a shred-off.” But he said, “We’re not even gonna play; we’re just gonna discuss our craft.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
A couple of days before the event, he says to me, “Just bring your amp and guitar along in case we have to demonstrate techniques.” So of course, I get there for soundcheck, and my worst nightmare has come true: it was six of us in a row with our guitars, and it was nonstop shredding the whole time.
TONY IOMMI by James Hetfield
As far as being a riff-and-rhythm guy, my favorite guitarist is Tony Iommi. He inspired me to want to play heavy.
I admired other rhythm players, like AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, who’d just stay in the back and hold it down, and the Scorpions’ Rudy Schenker, who has a lot of percussiveness in his playing. I also liked Rush’s Alex Lifeson—people wouldn’t think of him as a rhythm player, but he comes up with some pretty amazing offbeat things.
But Iommi is the main man. To me, he seemed like one of those quiet geniuses. At one time he was the frontman of Black Sabbath, and Ozzy was off to one side; at that time, the riff was more important than the vocals. Tony can go from the heaviest minor-key doom riff to a happy mode, and it will still sound heavy. Metallica can’t do happy, but Tony can pull it off. My favorite Black Sabbath track is “Into the Void.”
ERIC CLAPTON by Eddie Van Halen
Clapton was it. I knew every note he played. Mammoth—me, Alex Van Halen and a bass player we knew—were the junior Cream.
Being limited gear-wise forced me to find my own voice on the guitar. That’s why Eric Clapton’s live jams with Cream were such an influence on me. Back in ’68, he was pretty much just using natural distortion on those live tracks on Wheels of Fire and Goodbye.
I had no money and couldn’t afford a fuzz box or a wah-wah or a ring modulator, or whatever Hendrix had in his whole rig. I just plugged straight into an amp and turned it up to 11. So in order to get a different or unique sound, I had to learn to squeeze it out of the strings with just my fingers. I never had a guitar lesson in my life, except from listening to Eric Clapton records.
JIM McCARTY by Ted Nugent
I discovered the most powerful musical influence of my entire life when I played the Walled Lake Casino outside of Detroit. It was either 1959 or 1960. My band the Lourdes opened up for Martha & the Vandellas, Gene Pitney, and Billy Lee & the Rivieras, who went on to become Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. Their guitarist was Jim McCarty, who played a Gibson Byrdland through a Fender Twin.
Standing there watching McCarty rip into his leads, I thought, Dear god in heaven, what is that? It was so outrageous, so noisy, yet so musical and so rhythmical. I realized that simply playing a song would never do again.
After I heard him play, I went on a gee-hah to get a Byrdland and a Fender Twin amp—because of the crispness, the thickness, the style of his playing. It was about using all the fingers, all the strings, all the time.
That’s where the multi-rhythmic patterns on my song “Stranglehold” come from, with all the grace rhythms, all the counter-rhythms, all the pedal tones that never stop. I’m playing multiple parts on the guitar by using various incremental touches to each string. And that’s because of McCarty.
KEITH RICHARDS by Steven Van Zandt
The British invasion of 1964 to 1966 turned Americans on to our own rock and roll pioneers and blues players. I grew up on Keith Richards, and his lead on the Stones’ versions of Chuck Berry songs helped reinvent the guitar for Beck, Clapton and Jimmy Page.
I always felt that you go through that muso phase and stay there or get out. I went out the other end. I didn’t want to be a virtuoso for a minute. So I came full circle to the fact that the guitar solo must serve the song—that’s more important.
JIMMY HERRING by Alex Skolnick
Some may not know Jimmy Herring’s name, but they will know the bands that he’s played with: the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic, and Jazz Is Dead. He’s a hero of the jam-band scene, which is kind of funny, as stylistically he’s very influenced by jazz.
Jimmy has his own band called Aquarium Rescue Unit, who operate on a level similar to [jazz-fusion group] Weather Report. Having said that, although people like the Dave Matthews Band and Bruce Hornsby took them out on tour and begged their own label to sign them, Aquarium Rescue Unit never got a decent record deal and eventually disbanded [in 1997]. They reunited in 2005 and have played somewhat sporadically since then.
Jimmy is an incredible player. He has the bluesiness of Warren Haynes or Johnny Winter and the vocabulary of John Scofield, with an element of Steve Morse thrown in. If that sounds appealing, then track down a copy of Aquarium Rescue Unit’s 1993 album, Mirrors of Embarrassment. Play it, and you’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of him until now.
RITCHIE BLACKMORE by Phil Collen
The first gig I ever went to was Deep Purple, during their Machine Head period. They played “Highway Star,” and it blew me away. And that’s when I decided to start playing guitar.
Ritchie Blackmore was a huge influence because he was flashy. I love really flashy lead guitar playing, and Blackmore’s technique is great. It’s aggressive. When he hit a chord, it was like being punched in the face. I don’t really care about finger picking, and acoustic doesn’t satisfy me. It’s electric, screaming loud rock that I love.
As far as what he’s doing now [playing Renaissance-style music with Blackmore’s Night], I honestly respect him. The fact that he’s still playing and is passionate about it is great, even if it is a bit wonky and weird. He can take liberties. He’s Ritchie Blackmore.
GLENN TIPTON & K.K. DOWNING by Zakk Wylde
When I think of underrated guitarists, I go for some of the guys in really big bands, the ones who get overshadowed by the achievements of their band act. For instance, when Journey is mentioned, you think of great songs and amazing vocals. But who ever praises Neal Schon? And that guy can play up a storm.
That’s why I pick Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing from Judas Priest. It’s two guitarists, yes, but you always think of them as one. They are the ultimate twin guitarists in metal—they go together. Just listen to the amazing riffs they’ve come up with over the years. And these guys can shred with the best.
Tipton and Downing have influenced generations of young guitarists, but a lot of the time these kids don’t even realize that what they’re playing all started with Judas Priest. Tipton and Downing have also given metal a subtlety that’s often overlooked. Both appreciate that sometimes you are most effective when you back off the pedal a little. You don’t need to be blazing all the time.
They’ve worked together for so long that each immediately understands what to do in a song. Sometimes Tipton is soloing and Downing is riffing, and then they’ll change over—it’s not like one does the lead work and the other does the rhythm. This is also what they introduced into metal: the idea of not only being a great lead player but also being prepared to let the other man have the spotlight when it matters to the music.
Without Tipton and Downing, metal would be very different. That’s why I have such a high regard for them. In my book, they rule.
LESLIE WEST by Martin Barre
Leslie West made a big impression on me when Mountain supported Jethro Tull on a long U.S. tour during the early Seventies. In those days, opening acts weren’t too friendly, and it all became a bit competitive, but Mountain were lovely guys, and we really hit it off. They were such a great band. I loved Leslie’s larger-than-life style, they had great songs, and they were so incredibly tight. In that last respect, they taught Jethro Tull a lot about being a band.
I know of at least three people that were affected by Leslie’s playing style—myself, John McLaughlin and Mick Ralphs [of Mott the Hoople and Bad Company]—but I’m sure there are plenty more. Leslie has such recognizable tone, and I love the melodic way he plays; every note counts. He never resorts to the pyrotechnic approach or feels the need to be overly clever.
If you want a good starting off point for a beginner, go with Climbing!  or Nantucket Sleighride . I still love what Mountain did with “Theme from an Imaginary Western.” My goodness, they brought that to life, especially onstage.
JEFF BECK by David Gilmour
I’m sort of horribly, pathetically fannish about Jeff. Ever since “Hi Ho Silver Lining” came out [in 1967] when I was 20-odd years old, I’ve revered him and his playing. In many ways he is just the best guitar player. And 40-something years since he came to prominence in the Yardbirds, he is still the only person pushing forward in that way. He’s never retreading old ground; he’s always looking for a new challenge.
Jeff’s scarily brilliant. He’s a tightrope walker. I’m not. I like to cover all my bases and make myself secure with a great band, with the music all rehearsed. I just walk out there, and if I didn’t even play anything it would still sound great. Jeff’s different. He’s out there mining that seam.
JIMI HENDRIX by Joe Satriani
The first thing that really flipped me out was hearing “The Wind Cries Mary” on the radio. Before that, I was a drummer, and I started from watching the Rolling Stones and the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. But as soon as I heard Hendrix, that was it.
What made him great was his choice of notes. When you hear “Machine Gun” from Live at the Fillmore, you have no idea what’s going to happen in the next few minutes. You’re totally unprepared. With “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return),” you can’t believe how perfect a performance it is, and it’s just a blues thing in E.
Unfortunately, the Seventies were a hellish period for many great players, if you look at Hendrix’s comrades, it was a rough road. But look at someone like Jeff Beck—he just gets better and better.
I saw him a month ago in Oakland, and I was just in tears standing at the side of the stage listening to him playing “Where Were You.” Nowadays, as a guitarist you want to celebrate what you’ve been able to play, which goes back to quoting other great players, but you also feel a responsibility not to copy those people. In my mind, when I’m playing, my heroes are sitting on my shoulders.
BRIAN MAY by Steve Vai
I don’t think enough is really said about the brilliance of Brian May’s guitar playing, in the sense that it’s overshadowed by the greatness of the music itself. The Queen II album was one of those pivotal moments that just nailed me to the wall.
He’s probably one of the top identifiable guitar players, even more so than Beck, Page and Clapton. They’re all so identifiable, but Brian May had such a tone in his head and in his fingers. It speaks volumes. His contribution to orchestrated guitars is unprecedented. There was nothing like it before him.
To me, it was like when Edward Van Halen came along and reshaped the sound of electric guitar. That’s what I heard in Brian May’s playing. It’s something that’s inherent in the brain of the guitar player.
I remember working with Frank Zappa for the first time. I had just moved out to Los Angeles, and nobody knew me. I was 21. I went to the Rainbow Bar & Grill, and Brian May was there. I couldn’t believe it. I mustered up every little bit of courage and went up to him and said, “Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I play guitar. I’m here in town with Frank Zappa.” He said, “Oh, really? Why don’t you come down to our rehearsal?”
I went down, and he brought me up on the stage, and he let me play the guitar—the guitar that he built with his dad [the “Red Special”]. I couldn’t even believe that I was touching this instrument! He was so kind and so warm, and for who? This kid, you know? And I played his guitar, and it sounded like Steve Vai. Then when he played it, it sounded just like Brian May. It was very apparent to me that his tone is in his fingers and his head.
He’s a class act from head to toe, and it shows in his playing. I can listen to any player and pantomime their sound, but I can’t do Brian May. He’s just walking on higher ground.
MARTY FRIEDMAN by Jason Becker
When I was 16 years old, I sent a demo tape to Mike Varney of Shrapnel Records. He called me and said I should go and meet Marty.
I went to Marty’s tiny apartment in San Francisco. We started jamming, without amps. That moment changed my life. What he was doing was so new to me. The unique bends, vibrato, exotic scales, phrasing and timing were fascinating to me. And then it hit me: he was a lot better than I was. I started to sweat. I tried to play my best stuff, but my musical mind had already shifted. I knew I wanted to learn from this guy.
Marty was very complimentary of my technique and the melodies on my demo tape. He started coming over to record his songs on my four-track. He taught me the second harmonies and counterpoint lines. Once he saw that I was a sponge for learning, he started incorporating some of my ideas. I feel like every day that I jammed or wrote with Marty was like taking lessons for a year. He taught by example, and with his influence I learned how to be my own unique creative artist. Even to this day, when I am composing and I get stuck, I think to myself, What would Marty do?
EDDIE VAN HALEN by Richie Kotzen
This is kind of embarrassing, but the first time I heard Eddie Van Halen was on the solo for Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” I was like, “Man, that’s unbelievable. Who is this guitar player?” I asked around and found out it was Eddie Van Halen. Then I ended up getting some Van Halen records, and after that I just really wanted to play like him.
He didn’t sound like any other guitar player, but it was more about the way that he played the notes. Everyone talks about Van Halen’s sound, but it really has to do with his timing, his rhythm style and his phrasing. It’s more about that to me than the amp or whatever guitar he’s using.
The first time I saw Eddie play, I had the best possible seat. Because we had the same guitar tech, I was able to watch him from this little room under the stage, where he goes to change guitars or do whatever. It was pretty incredible.
YNGWIE MALMSTEEN by George Lynch
Every little microevolution of the guitar that came along in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties influenced me. The number of people I didn’t appreciate is probably a much smaller list.
Yngwie is one of those players that had a huge impact on me. His neoclassical style was just mind-blowing to me. I was raised as a blues player and learned my chops in the late Sixties, early Seventies, so it was all incredibly new to me. Just the ferocity of it was mesmerizing. The ease with which he does it was fascinating, too.
Ultimately, guitar-driven Eighties music had wound itself to the point of absurdity and inaccessibility. I mean, how many people can actually appreciate that kind of music? It’s just an elitist speed contest. But Yngwie created the trend. On a pure playing level, players that create music that touches people are always viable. And that’s why he’s still around and a lot of the other guys aren’t.
MICK TAYLOR by Slash
Mick Taylor had the biggest influence on me without me even knowing it. My favorite Stones records were Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers. Those three were major to me because I was exposed to those records as a kid when they first came out. Mick Taylor played on a couple of those records and went on to play with the Stones for a couple more. As I got older and started playing guitar, I always gravitated to his style.
People always mention Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Angus Young…all the obvious ones. But there are guys like Mick Taylor and Joe Walsh that were as important. Mick Taylor had a really cool, round-toned bluesy sort of thing that I thought was really effective.
One of the greatest Mick Taylor solos is on “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?” from Sticky Fingers. It’s the kind of stuff that’s almost like old Eric Clapton—it’s very simple stuff, but it’s about how the notes are placed and how you approach them. The new guard of guitarists always forgets about doing simplistic and very effective guitar playing that speaks to you. It’s not all about two-handed tapping.
RANDY RHOADS by Frank Hannon
I was always a big fan of Randy. In 1980, when Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz came out, some friends of mine went to see him perform in Oakland and came back raving, saying, “Man, we saw this guitarist today, and he was better than Eddie Van Halen!”
This was a few years before we started Tesla. I was already playing guitar and was a big fan of Eddie Van Halen. So we went down to the local record store and got the album, and I was infatuated from day one. Randy was doing everything that Van Halen did, and more. It was the classical knowledge that he was incorporating into the guitar. The arrangements on “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley” were unbelievable. I think a lot of the soloing on Van Halen tracks were improvised, which is cool. Randy took it a step further. His discipline probably came from his mother who taught him at her music school [Musonia School of Music in North Hollywood]. When I was a kid I would read the guitar magazines, and he would always mention that his mother was a big influence.
I went to visit the school, and I met Randy’s brother, Kelle, and his mother Delores, who is nicknamed “Dee.” “Dee” was also the title of an acoustic song on Blizzard of Ozz, which was a big influence on me. If you listen to my acoustic solo on “Love Song” it’s really inspired by that. I played that for Dee when I met her recently. She loves meeting fans, and she told me some stories about Randy. She said that his favorite song was [the Big Band swing tune] “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” how he found his first guitar in his father’s closet, and how when he was in London recording Diary of a Madman he would spend all his downtime studying classical music at a university. She just lit up when she talked about Randy. I have a video of that meeting on my web site.
ZAKK WYLDE by Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal
I first heard Zakk in 1986, when he was with a New Jersey band called Zyris. The next thing I knew, he was playing with Ozzy. Like Zakk, I had been a huge Randy Rhoads fan, so I was very happy that Ozzy picked Zakk to be his guitarist.
When you hear Zakk’s playing, you know right away that it’s him, with that distinctive use of harmonic vibrato on the lower string. Before he came along, every time you saw a blond-haired guitarist kicking a Les Paul’s ass you thought of John Sykes. Now you also think of Zakk. In addition, he’s very diverse stylistically, with the southern rock of Pride and Glory [Wylde’s early Nineties group], the singer-songwriter style of his Book of Shadows album  and, of course, what he does with Black Label Society.
I met Zakk for the first time about a year and a half ago; he was a guest on my friend’s TV show. His visit to the studio was supposed to last for three hours, but he ended up staying for 14. Besides being a phenomenal musician, Zakk’s as good-hearted as I expected. I hope that some day we can do it again.
B.B. KING by Billy Gibbons
My favorite guitarist is B.B. King. His album Live at the Regal, recorded in 1964, remains a classic. The electricity, the crackling atmosphere… Plus, it’s a great sound, recorded with a full band, horns and piano, and a rabid audience thrown in.
B.B.’s distinctive one-note style, his sustain and attack, that kind of call-and-response thing between the vocals and the solos… He’s taken for granted now, which means he’s underrated. Obviously, he’s a maestro entertainer rather than a blues purist, though he can be that too. He’s a former cotton picker, but he remains so self-effacing, plus he has a great sense of humor, lyrically and in life. He’s got class.
MALCOLM YOUNG by Scott Ian
Malcolm Young has got to be the most unsung, underrated guitar hero of all time. He’s the backbone of AC/DC, the greatest rock band ever, and has written some of the most amazing riffs you’ll hear. This is the man responsible for more great rock moments than any other guitarist you can name. Is Malcolm Young the greatest rhythm guitarist in the world? No contest.
I recall being given one of his guitar picks recently after a gig on the band’s current tour, and it was half worn down. But you know what’s astonishing? Apparently that pick was used on just one song during the band’s set that night. Malcolm gets through a pick for every song because he hits the strings so hard. It’s amazing. The man is truly a one-off.
When I first started to listen to AC /DC, it was Angus who caught my attention. He was the lead guitarist and got all the glory. But in about 1979, when I began to get into guitar playing in a serious way, I gravitated toward Malcolm. I was listening to what he did, because he was the guy writing the music. I now appreciate just how incredible he is. He’s a songwriter, not a shredder, but without him what would AC /DC sound like?
If you’ve never heard him play—and can there be anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard Malcolm Young?—then go and listen to the opening chords of “Back in Black.” If that doesn’t move you, then you have no soul. The other songs I’d strongly recommend are “Riff Raff” and “Beating Around the Bush.” The way he takes straight blues riffs and siphons them though the AC/DC sensibility is a lesson to all guitarists.
GEORGE HARRISON by Elliot Easton
I was 10 years old when the Beatles played the Ed Sullivan Show [in February 1964], and I was already playing a little guitar. To see George Harrison there, standing off to the side, looking down at his guitar while he played his licks—to my impressionable mind it defined what a lead guitarist was.
I knew right then what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to be like the guy in the middle—the guy looking down at his guitar and playing all the little fills and solos. Harrison taught me about short solos and hooks, and what a hook is. All those mid-Sixties Beatles tracks—whether it was “Day Tripper” or “Ticket to Ride” or whatever—they all start with a guitar lick that you wait to come around again in the chorus. That’s where I learned to do that.
ULI JON ROTH by Kirk Hammett
Around the time of Metallica’s Death Magnetic sessions, I began listening again to some of the rock music of my teens, and it inspired me all over again. I’d forgotten how much those guitarists meant to me.
Uli Jon Roth is one of those players. When I started listening to him again, I realized that I can still learn a lot from him. I love his choice of notes, the attitude behind his playing and the way his solos “up” the level of his songs. He took Scorpions to a totally different level. After his solos, you’re left there shaking your head. It’s like being sideswiped by a truck.
The track I love the most is the one I play every night, “The Sails of Charon,” from Taken by Force. The opening motif is just great. It’s spooky sounding, exotic. It’s very old-school heavy metal. People in the audience who know the song recognize that I’m flying the flag for that old-school metal, and they come to me and say, “Bro, ‘Sails of Charon’ rules!” There are a lot more Uli Roth fans out there than I expected.
NEIL YOUNG by Nancy Wilson
Neil is identifiable whether he’s playing acoustic or electric guitar. For acoustic he has a completely unique type of tuning, detuning, attack and release. He plays a song called “Bandit,” from the Greendale album, and there’s a live version of it that’s incredible. He chooses a specific guitar that can be detuned on the low string down to a C and picks the particular gauge of string that will rattle in the perfect way. It sounds so wrong that it’s right. I think nobody in the world would do that on purpose except for Neil Young.
He has a monstrous electric guitar sound, too, and on “Cinnamon Girl” he recorded what is probably the best one-note guitar solo ever. He puts more feeling into one note than anyone else. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Of course, it’s his tone that makes all the difference. Touch sensitivity accounts for about 90 percent of everything. Neil has such expressive playing that he can play a onenote solo and make it memorable for decades, for generations.
FRANK ZAPPA by Dweezil Zappa
I was never intimidated by my father’s technique. I think most guitar players are just excited to see somebody do something they didn’t think was possible. We’d sit and play together, but what Frank was doing was musical. I couldn’t grasp it at a young age—it was too sophisticated for me. He’d show me inversions of chords and composition devices—moving triads around the neck and stuff. It sounded neat, but I didn’t always understand what was happening musically.
I do the Zappa Plays Zappa tour because I want to get Frank’s music more into the public eye. I want him to be better understood. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about his music and him as a person. First of all, Frank was really a composer who used a rock band like an orchestra. He could hear stuff in his head and just write it down. I didn’t have a musical background; I was just a guy who learned things by ear—more a guitar player than a musician. The first thing I learned was the incredibly fast passage toward the end of “The Black Page.” It took me a good five or six months, and I had to totally change my picking technique in order to play this thing. I’d have to play it really slow for hours and hours and hours. I definitely think Frank would enjoy that we go to such great lengths to get it right with Zappa Plays Zappa.
PETE TOWNSHEND by Ace Frehley
I got all my rhythm work from listening to Pete Townshend and Keith Richards. I think Pete is a wizard when it comes to chords. He can play the same chord in, like, 20 different positions, doing inversions, suspensions… Just listen to Tommy. I’m a huge fan.
Pete has a great right hand as well as a great left hand. “Tattoo” is a great picking song, but of course he’s known best for his power strumming, like on “Pinball Wizard,” and his power chords, like on “My Generation” and the chord that opens “I Can See for Miles.” His rhythm work was just amazing.
The first time I saw the Who was the same day I saw Cream for the first time. They were both performing at a Murray the K show in Manhattan. [The revue-style show, presented by disc jockey Murray Kaufman, was called Music in the Fifth Dimension and presented at the RKO Theater from March 25 to April 2, 1967.] I was cutting school, and a friend and I snuck into the show and got down in front. It was the Who’s first New York show. I think the headliner was Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.
I saw the Who perform again, at the Fillmore East, in 1968, the day after Martin Luther King got shot. [The civil rights leader was assassinated on April 4, 1968.] The Who weren’t going to play because they were worried about riots, and I believe they ended up doing a short show. Ironically, Paul Stanley [Frehley’s former Kiss coguitarist] was there too, but we didn’t know each other at the time.
ALVIN LEE by Mick Mars
Sometimes I feel I should’ve been true to myself as a guitar player and stuck with the blues. All bullshit aside, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Alvin Lee, Jimi Hendrix…that stuff was the total shit for me. I was brought up on those players, and they all influenced me in one way or another.
When Bloomfield started getting too countrified for my liking, that’s when I discovered Alvin Lee and Ten Years After. Alvin brought a real explosive side to the blues. Some people said they couldn’t handle it, but I thought he was great.
PETER GREEN by Rich Robinson
Growing up in America, you couldn’t help but hear Fleetwood Mac’s [mid-Seventies breakthrough albums] Rumours and Fleetwood Mac on the radio all the time. And it was by getting into these records that I started to explore the Peter Green legacy. Obviously, he’d left Fleetwood Mac long before these were done, but I was influenced enough by them to want to know more about what the band had done before. And that’s when I discovered the amazing talent of the man.
His playing is just so moving. Listen to what he achieves on “Oh Well” and “Rattlesnake Shake,” and it is stunning. What he does is so interesting because he doesn’t overplay. Green understands that simplicity could hold the key to the blues.
It makes him so authentic. To my mind, Peter Green is the finest white man I’ve ever heard playing blues guitar. That’s a bold statement when you consider some of the other greats, but I genuinely believe this to be true. His playing has the soul and passion of the blues. And yet he never seems to get the recognition enjoyed by people like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. Perhaps that’s because he’s so understated. If you check out something like “I Need Your Love So Bad,” what you hear is a guitarist prepared to submerge his own ego for the sake of the song. He gets the mood exactly right. He was never flamboyant like the others I just mentioned. As a result, he’s often overlooked in the list of guitar greats.
He also has such an incredible range. You can’t ever claim that one particular song defined him in the way that you can with Hendrix.
When the Black Crowes recorded and toured with Jimmy Page, he told us so many Peter Green stories. It was clear that Jimmy loves the man’s talent. And if he’s good enough for a giant like Jimmy to acclaim, then it reinforces my adoration.
RON ASHETON by Kim Thayil
It was the Seventies when I first heard the Stooges. By then, all the albums by the New York Dolls, the Stooges and the MC5 were out of print. You could only find them in used-record stores, and the nearest was six miles away. I’d check out their racks, and once in a while I got lucky.
The Stooges’ Funhouse album was one that I found. There’s some crazy stuff on side two—some really great, aggressive rock solos. Ron has a particular gritty, sleazy sound with the groove that he lays down. And the dueling improvisations with saxophone made for some cool jazz noise rock.
The Stooges didn’t do as much of that 12-bar blues stuff. They just hit a groove and then hypnotically beat you over the head with it. They just stayed with that riff for a long time. Of course, there is a lot of blues in what Ron did, but there’s something a lot looser, too, and it was freer and it utilized chaos. It was something that was definitely not present in FM rock or Top 40 at the time. “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “TV Eye,” “Loose,” “Down on the Street”…
They’re all amazing. If rock should be about anything, it should be about freedom and rebellion, and not the stupid requirements that would be imposed upon you by the record company—like professionalism. I mean, it’s good for a person to know their damn instrument, or else you can’t come up with inventive ideas, but not to be bound by the patterns on the fretboard.