The 47 greatest live guitar moments: the most iconic, infamous and explosive onstage antics in six-string history

11. Bob Marley records his first international hit (Lyceum Theatre, 1975)

It was over two nights in London where Bob Marley transcended from the frontman of the Wailers and into a solo artist in his own right, poised for international acclaim.

The Live! album that arrived later that year was recorded using the Rolling Stones’ Mobile Studio – also borrowed by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Deep Purple and Lou Reed – and mainly comprised performances from the first night, with Marley covering rhythm and Al Anderson on lead.

No Woman, No Cry was released as a single, resulting in his first international Top 40 hit... and the rest is history. 

12. Clapton goes strapless (Winterland Ballroom, 1976)

Filmed and directed by Martin Scorsese for a 1978 documentary, The Last Waltz was a concert organized by the Band that had taken place Thanksgiving Day two years prior. Among the list of celebrated performers appearing that night were Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan, though it’s what happened during Eric Clapton’s set that stole headlines the following day. 

When his guitar strap gave in only 30 seconds into Further On Up the Road, right in the middle of his opening lead, Clapton shouted for Robbie Robertson’s attention; the seasoned Band guitarist instantly cut in with some improvised G minor blues without missing a beat, seamlessly reverting back to rhythm once Slowhand was back in the saddle. Quick thinking!

And, broken strap or not, this is one hell of a Strat-packed jam; there are more than enough tasty licks to go around, nicely divided with Robertson in the left speaker and EC on the right.

13. Van Halen show us what they’re made of (Pasadena Convention Center, 1977)

If any concert marked the arrival of Van Halen, it was this – a widely bootlegged performance in their home city just weeks after recording their game-changing debut. Then only 22, Eddie Van Halen was very much the full package, from those perfectly overdriven tones to his whammy bar stunts and – arguably the most groundbreaking of all – the two-handed licks covering great distance at high speed with natural finesse. 

Armed with a killer set of their earliest tracks, the quartet were taking no prisoners, which is what makes the recordings such a wildly enticing listen all these years on – dazzling charisma and talent captured in its full, unadulterated glory. Guitar music would never be the same again.

“Friends, it’s true, Van Halen is here,” grinned singer David Lee Roth, as Eddie tuned his higher strings. “Do you know when we started out here, there weren’t too many people, but now it appears things have changed!”

14. AC/DC record their first live album (Glasgow Apollo Theatre, 1978)

When it comes to rock ’n’ roll power, Angus and Malcolm Young will forever be remembered as a whirlwind force unlike any other. The first live AC/DC album, If You Want Blood You’ve Got It, is more hard-hitting and direct than any of the Brian Johnson-fronted live releases that followed, with 10 choice tracks from their first five studio albums, including Bad Boy Boogie and Let There Be Rock

The Youngs strike with such ferocity, it’s a wonder they’re not breaking strings every song – and then, of course, there are those snarling leads ringing from Angus’s SG, cutting and abrasive with sustain courtesy of his 100-watt Marshall JMP MV. Truly electric stuff.

15. Di Meola, McLaughlin and de Lucía join forces (The Warfield, San Francisco, 1980)

Recorded for the most part – just as the live album title would suggest – on a Friday night in San Francisco, the three virtuosos sounded truly sublime together. From a technical standpoint, each as trailblazing as the other, it’s the combination of styles and influences at play that makes the recordings such an impressive listen. 

Di Meola and McLaughlin pick with devastating accuracy, unleashing all kinds of machine-gun fire, while it’s de Lucía who amazes with fingerstyle warmth and flamenco strums. In hindsight, Friday nights in San Fran have very rarely sounded this good.

16. Keith Richards fights off a stage invader (Hampton Coliseum, Virginia, 1981)

If you ever find yourself invading a stage occupied by the Rolling Stones, you might wish to avoid Keith Richards at all costs – because, as one enthusiastic fan found out at the beginning of the Eighties, he’ll probably wave his Telecaster around and beat you with it until you leave. 

Footage of this event was uploaded by the Stones themselves a few years ago – perhaps as a stark warning to anyone mad enough to gatecrash their set without strict invitation.

17. SRV gets booed by blues “purists” (Montreax, Switzerland, 1982)

Remember that our list included infamous moments – and this one is definitely infamous, especially if you’re an Stevie Ray Vaughan fan. During his performance of Texas Flood at the ’82 Montreux Jazz Festival, Stevie reached into his bag of Albert-King-meets-Jimi licks – not to mention behind his back, where his Strat rests for the final quarter of the epic performance. 

SRV floored almost everyone that night; a handful of very loud-and-clear blues purists can be heard (and clearly seen in YouTube clips) booing at Stevie, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton.

“We weren’t sure how we’d be accepted,” Vaughan told GW in the Eighties. Yeah, but... he must’ve known it went well when David Bowie appeared backstage – and an important alliance was born.

18. Eddie Van Halen joins Michael Jackson (Texas Stadium, 1984)

Though the Beat It solo was performed by Jennifer Batten on most of its live renditions, Eddie did end up performing his part on stage in 1984 when the Jackson Brothers reunited for their Victory tour. 

As it turned out, Van Halen were playing nearby in Dallas the same day, providing a rare opportunity for the guitar hero and popstar to join forces in front of 120,000 people. “You got it Eddie… Eddie, Eddie!” screams Jackson as a 30-year-old EVH taps away with that world-famous grin.

19. A young Dimebag Darrell rips it up (Projects in the Jungle Tour, 1984)

You don't have to to look hard to find video footage of metal legend Dimebag Darrell doing what he does best. And while there’s an abundance of material from Pantera’s glory years, it’s a video from their second album tour – filmed in 1984 when the guitarist was 18 – which surfaced some 13 years ago that best showcases just what a world-beating talent he was at such a young age. 

During an elongated guitar solo, he rips through Van Halen and Randy Rhoads licks at blistering speeds on a trans cherry sunburst Dean ML, almost without a care in the world – proof he was destined to become the guitar hero for a new age.

20. B.B. King changes a string mid-song (Farm Aid, Illinois, 1985)

When you're bending like B.B., string breakages are par for the course. In 1985, halfway into How Blue Can You Get at the inaugural Farm Aid, his B string had simply had enough. Ever the professional, he carried on singing and fronting his band while winding up a new one himself. 

When finished, he was having so much fun, he didn’t even bother bringing Lucille back in, ending the song with his arms outstretched and a big smile on his face. A true performer.

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.