15 reclusive guitar greats who went off the grid

Matt Smith, Rowan Robertson, Vito Bratta and Michael Kelly Smith
(Image credit: George Rose / Ann Summa / Paul Natkin / Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Over the decades, droves of unassuming six-stringers have ascended to heights once thought impossible.

Once steeped in limelight, these guitar heroes graced the grandest stages, playing to ravenous fans worldwide. But for some, the heat of the overhead lights and the pressures associated with fame and fortune can be too much to bear.

For these forgotten rock soldiers, glory was only momentary, be it through dirty record company dealings, creative differences, artistic virtue, or shifting commercial tides. Though critical to the trajectory of popular music, some players we once held so dear weren't long for our musical periphery.

Fans of the guitar can surely name their favorites, many of which have stuck around and continue to influence the zeitgeist of popular music. But what about the outliers, rebels, and anti-heroes?

Below are 15 reclusive guitar greats who went off the grid. Once lost to the sands of time, today, we take the opportunity to uncover greatness long forgotten but now found.

15. Rowan Robertson of Dio

Rowan Robertson

(Image credit: Ann Summa/Getty Images)

Signature song: Hey Angel

The story of Cambridge-born guitarist Rowan Robertson is nothing short of remarkable. The wunderkind was hired by Dio at age 17, immediately launching the young shredder from obscurity to international fame. Roberson starred as a member of Dio's upstart Lock Up the Wolves lineup, providing renewed energy and charisma. 

Sadly, Dio's '90s reunion with Black Sabbath derailed the momentum, leaving Robertson alone to wander. Robertson would weave in and out of the industry in the ensuing years, settling into session and soundtrack work. 

14. Matt Smith of Poison 

Signature song: Like a Rocker

Often defined by their charismatic, Brooklyn-bred axe-slinger C.C. DeVille, it's little known that Poison once had another purveyor of lipstick-stained amplification: Pennsylvania-born recluse Matt Smith. After hooking up with Poison via a newspaper ad, Smith soon made the cross-country trek to L.A. and was an early participant in the infamous Sunset Strip Flyer Wars. 

With Poison knocking on the door of success, Smith's girlfriend became pregnant, and he chose fatherhood over rock 'n' roll excess. For Poison, the rest is history, but for Smith, his story includes a quiet life back in Harrisburg, PA.

13. Chris Weber of Hollywood Rose 

Signature song: Anything Goes

Before they were known as Guns N' Roses, featuring Slash, Axl Rose's bellwether band was called Hollywood Rose, accented by guitarist Chris Weber. Weber hung around long enough to record an infamous five-song demo before Rose unceremoniously fired him in 1984. 

Weber's biggest claim to fame is perhaps a co-write of Anything Goes, from the 1987 mega-album Appetite for Destruction. Weber would later form the über-heavy U.P.O. before giving up his rock 'n' roll dreams altogether in favor of marriage counseling, his vocation to this day.

12. John Squire of The Stone Roses 

John Squire

(Image credit: Kieran Frost/Redferns via Getty)

Signature song: Drive South

In the '80s, Squire famously co-founded Manchester darlings The Stone Roses, proving a quiet foil to enigmatic vocalist Ian Brown. Unfortunate label dealings and notorious infighting would derail the Roses by 1996, prompting Squire to form The Seahorses in 1997, producing one album. 

Now primarily focused on his painting, Squire occasionally resurfaces, but never for long. Nevertheless, the Les Paul-wielding indie hero did gift us with an appearance in July of 2022 during Liam Gallagher's summer stage showing at Knebworth – and there are talks of a future supergroup on the cards.

11. Sid Fletcher of Roxy Blue 

Signature song: Main Attraction

The height of the hair metal era brought many heroes to the forefront, with few hailing from Memphis, Tennessee. None of that mattered for shredding amp-scorcher Sid Fletcher, though, as he co-founded the criminally overlooked Roxy Blue. Despite being latecomers to an oversaturated scene, Roxy Blue were still a commanding presence.

Alas, the band quickly fell apart by 1993, and though Roxy Blue regrouped in 2017, Fletcher remains out of the picture. Instead, the dynamic virtuoso practices dentistry around the Memphis area and is successful to boot.

10. Nigel Pulsford of Bush 

Nigel Pulsford

(Image credit: Paul Drinkwater/Network/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Signature song: Machinehead

Hailed as Nirvana's U.K. counterpart, Bush was led by the duo of vocalist Gavin Rossdale and guitarist Nigel Pulsford. A few years Rossdale's senior, Pulsford proved pivotal, as his punk-oriented approach added a crushingly heavy contrast to Rossdale's pop-leaning songsmith. 

Throughout the '90s, Pulsford would lend a hand in creating multiple era-defining records before Bush called it a day in 2002. In 2010, Pulsford reportedly turned down the opportunity to rejoin a reformed Bush, instead focusing on production work while quietly living in Bath.

9. Steve Farris of Mr. Mister 

Signature song: Black/White

Often remembered as one of the more versatile players of his era, Farris is most associated with the '80s genre confused outfit, Mr. Mister. Farris' history of mysticism dates to his earliest days as an active musician, and as the years have rolled by, he's fallen off the grid almost entirely. 

Farris' highlights include session work with the likes of KISS, Eddie Money, Robin Gibb, Kenny Loggins, Diana Ross, and more. In the '90s, Farris gave up on music, forging a lucrative career in the ranching industry. With no new music in sight and no guarantees he still owns a guitar, the odds of Farris making music again are less-than-zero.

8. Jim Martin of Faith No More 

Signature song: Epic

The legend of ‘Big’ Jim Martin has only continued to grow since his exit from alternative metal legends Faith No More nearly 30 years ago. Martin spent the early ‘80s with thrash outfit Vicious Hatred, and even rubbed elbows with Metallica four-stringer Cliff Burton. But it wasn’t until the Flying V-strumming Martin joined Faith No More that his legacy was cemented. 

Martin proved prominent on Faith No More’s first four studio efforts, before internal struggles pushed the bearded berserker to show himself the door. Always quirky, and often sporting red framed glasses over a second set of spectacles, Martin’s output has been spotty since, with his one and only solo release coming in 1997. Martin quietly resides in California and has reportedly experimented in growing “extreme pumpkins” now and again.

7. Michael Kelly Smith of Britny Fox 

Michael Kelly Smith

(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Signature song: Long Way to Love

Jarringly abandoned by manager Larry Mazer on the doorstep of Cinderella's platinum-level success, a snakebitten Kelly Smith immediately formed Britny Fox. The glitter-bombed Britny Fox was a sublime display of glam excess, but Kelly Smith's fretwork stole the show. Maliciously, luck would kick Kelly Smith in the teeth again when Mazer – now KISS's manager – ejected Britny Fox from the opening slot of KISS' 1989 Hot in the Shade Tour. 

The commercial fall was precipitous from there, and Britny Fox quickly faded into obscurity. These days Kelly Smith is inactive and living quietly, focusing on animal rescue in the Philly suburbs. 

6. Harry Cody of Shotgun Messiah 

Signature song: Heartbreak Blvd

Retrospectively, Swedish guitarist Harry Cody presents as a premier talent of his era. Alongside Tim Skold, Cody would rudder Shotgun Messiah to initial glam metal success before an early '90s shift in direction saw the band move continuously toward industrial metal before falling off the grid completely. 

Known for inventive technique, playing with a chipped copper pick, and hopping genres on a whim, Cody was an outlier among the cookie-cutter masses. Though he is said to play guitar often, Cody is commercially inactive but reportedly remains open to a return.

5. Eric Bell of Thin Lizzy 

Eric Bell

(Image credit: Debbie Hickey/Getty Images)

Signature song: Whiskey in the Jar

Lauded for its twin guitar attack, at its inception, Thin Lizzy was a power trio with a sole guitarist by the name of Eric Bell. The Irish six-string master would feature heavily on Thin Lizzy's first three albums, creating the template for the band's guitar-centric sound. 

On the precipice of success, Bell faltered, abruptly collapsing into alcoholism and subsequently jettisoning himself from Thin Lizzy. Bell would go on to play with Noel Redding briefly, but aside from sporadic solo offerings, Bell lays in wait among the rolling hills of Northern Ireland.

4. Randy Holden of Blue Cheer 

Signature song: Guitar Song

In the late '60s, Holden settled in with proto-metal originators Blue Cheer, a partnership that didn't last long, reportedly due to the band's massive drug use. As the '70s dawned, Holden formed Population II and recorded the group's infamous self-titled proto-doom debut. Legend has it that Holden's label sinfully exploited him, leaving him bankrupt. 

Disillusioned, Holden left the music business and became a struggling painter, disappearing without a trace. 20 years later, after discovering Population II was being unknowingly bootlegged en masse, Holden returned, reclaimed the rights to his music, and continues to mull his next move.

3. Paul DiBartolo of Spread Eagle 

Signature song: Switchblade Serenade

After regional success with Boston-based outfit Bang, DiBartolo transplanted to NYC and formed the gritty street metal unit Spread Eagle. Brandishing a hybrid Frankenstrat, DiBartolo's muscular riffing, hyperactive solos, and affinity for vintage Marshall stacks helped garner cult status for Spread Eagle before the band's 1995 demise. 

The mighty Spread Eagle would reform in the mid-2000s, but DiBartolo, uncomfortable and fatigued with the limelight, eloped to India, where he remains.

2. Vito Bratta of White Lion 

Vito Bratta

(Image credit: Paul Natkin/Getty Images)

Signature song: Little Fighter

Hailed as the proverbial ESP-slinging voice of a generation, this Staten Island native took the world by storm with his flagship band White Lion. Unlike his '80s contemporaries, Bratta combined Van Halen worship with intuitive style, showcasing singular fluidity and eruptive mastery of his instrument. 

But by the early '90s, an emerging distaste for the music industry, combined with commercial relegation, sent this once-in-a-generation talent packing, never to retake the stage. It's said that Bratta sometimes laments his wasted talent, but not enough to draw him out of his Staten Island-based exile, which he discussed in a rare 2022 Guitar World interview.

1. Vinnie Vincent of KISS/Vinnie Vincent Invasion 

Signature song: Boyz Are Gonna Rock

Widely considered one of the more polarizing figures in rock history, Vincent's star collided with KISS at warp speed, resulting in a torrid frenzy of brazen swagger as defined by cocksure arrogance. Wielding a signature Jackson V, Vincent's innate ability to outright shred was revered by many, but his malignant temperament left him tolerated by few.

Quiet for the better part of 30 years, Vincent emerges only for sporadic, exploitative, and oft-canceled meet and greets. With the so-called 'Ankh Warrior' supposedly returning to the studio, perhaps the enigmatic Vincent's final chapter has yet to be written. 

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Andrew Daly

Andrew Daly is a contributing writer at Guitar World, a staff writer for Copper and Rock Candy Magazine, and a steady contributor for Goldmine Magazine. In 2019, Andrew founded VWMusic, a successful outlet that covers music in all its forms. A guitar junkie at heart, Andrew is proud to have interviewed favorites including Joe Perry, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Steve Vai, Richie Ranno, Brian May, and many more. Some of his favorite bands are KISS, Oasis, Spread Eagle, and Starz.