High Strung: The 25 All-Time Weirdest Guitarists
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter
Worried about American coming under missile attack from evildoers in faraway lands? No doubt you'll sleep easier knowing Jeff "Skunk" Baxter is counseling our elected officials on missile defense. That's right—the beret-wearing former Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan guitarist currently works for the U.S. Department of Defense as an adviser to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. Baxter apparently immersed himself in defense manuals and technical weapons texts while his bandmates were out partying, and now peppers his interviews with anecdotes that begin, "When I was in Afghanistan—well, I can't tell you
The unlikeliest guitar hero to emerge from the New York City punk scene, the bald, bearded and bespectacled Quine looked more like a lawyer than a lead guitarist—before joining Richard Hell & the Voidoids, he'd actually spent three years writing tax law for Prentice Hall Publishing. But Quine's musical presence was commanding as hell, and his ability to whip off the most mind-bendingly surreal solos without breaking a sweat won him work with such notorious hard-to-please figures as John Zorn, Tom Waits and Lou Reed. And on Reed's The Blue Mask, Quine did something no guitarist has accomplished before or since: get a killer tone out of Peavey Bandit amplifier.
A sorely underrated player in the annals of P-Funkdom, rhythm guitarist Lucius "Tawl" Ross turned on George Clinton to the high-energy sounds of fellow Detroiters and the Stooges and the MC5, and his distorted, protopunk riffs perfectly complimented Eddie Hazel's freaky leads on the first three Funkadelic albums. Tawl's voyage on the Mothership came to an abrupt ending 1971, following a tête-à-tête he'd had with his long-dead mother while tripping on a winning combination of raw speed and at least six hits of pure LSD. Though he briefly resurfaced int he Nineties, Tawl Ross essentially remains the Syd Barrett of funk.
The West Coast psychedelic scene's answer to Syd Barrett, Alexander "Skip" Spence was a free spirit who took a serious wrong turn in 1968 during the recording of Moby Grape's second album: believing a bandmate to be possessed by Satan, Skip tried to "save" him with a fire ax. After a stint in New York City's Bellevue Hospital, he wrote and played everything on Oar, a thoroughly deranged amalgam of folk, blues and psychedelia that's since become a cult classic. Unfortunately, Oar marked his last period of prolonged semi-lucidity; doomed to battle schizophrenia and substance abuse issues, Skip was in and out of various institutions until his death from cancer in 1999.
Everyone associates B-52's with Fred Schneider's campy bark and the bewigged antics of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, but these perennial new wave faces wouldn't have gone far without the twangy licks of Cindy's guitarist brother, Ricky. Heavily influenced by the disparate likes of Captain Beefheart and Joni Mitchell, Ricky (who allegedly learned guitar by playing along to TV commercials) used a variety of weird-ass tunings on his old Mosrite, dispensing with the D and G strings entirely. At a time when Dire Straits and Van Halen ruled the rock roost, Ricky's thrift shop, surf-meets-spaghetti western sound was a total revelation.