Skip to main content

16 pro guitarists name the live shows that changed their lives

Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Nita Strauss, Tom Morello
(Image credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images; Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Gibson; Dave Simpson/WireImage; Ollie Millington/Redferns)

Billy Gibbons shares a Texas flood of live memories: “T-Bone could do it behind his back, doing splits on the floor, standing straight, whatever. He was a fretboard genius“

BACK TO LIVE: “I was, of course, blessed to grow up in Texas, where there are and have been so many amazing guitar players, so I’m going to keep my focus right there at home. From my earliest days to last week, I have seen, and continue to see, remarkable talents all around me.

“Let’s go into the wayback machine and talk about Rocky Hill, the big brother of my compadre Dusty [Hill, ZZ Top bassist]. Rocky has largely been overlooked as one of the great Texas gun slingers behind the six-string. His playing was mean and deliberate. There wasn’t a day where he picked up a guitar and didn’t mean business. I had the great fortune of inheriting his wonderful rhythm section of Frank Beard, the drummer without a beard, and Dusty on bass. 

“Rocky found a nightspot called Miss Irene’s in Houston’s Fourth Ward, which had been a honky-tonk, and persuaded the proprietor, Miss Irene, to let him do Monday nights. Keith Ferguson (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) was on bass and it was a rare, delightful and grand moment to get to see Rocky cut loose. Rocky Hill doing Blue Monday at Miss Irene’s was something you won’t soon forget.“

T-Bone Walker

"Even today, years and years after T-Bone’s passing, there are guitar players – including me! – trying to figure out how he created those remarkable sounds and licks while his guitar was lying flat in front of him" – Billy Gibbons on T-Bone Walker (Image credit: Chris Morphet/Redferns)

“As the curtain is slowly lifting and things begin thawing out from our year-plus-long musical freeze, I recently had the pleasure of hearing B3 organ master Mike Flanigin, who is in the Jungle Show with me and Jimmie Vaughan, tear it up with the lovely Sue Foley at Austin’s Sagebrush Lounge. 

“Then, who should happen to get up and join them on stage but Anson Funderburgh, whose particular blues style enters that hallowed realm and lofty regions where the great American art form called the blues goes to another level. Anson and I were sitting on the sideline, and he was just hoping to be a fly on the wall. 

“I urged him to go tear it up and he did. They did a 20-minute rendition of the instrumental track Don’t Lose Your Cool, a delight from Albert Collins, and once they got it going it was hard to get the car pulled to the curb. It was fierce!

“Having grown up in Texas, I had the opportunity to see a plethora of truly fantastic, wholly original blues guitarists rom all over the state during my formative playing years. Freddie King was from up north in Dallas, Albert Collins was in Houston and Gatemouth Brown was from the Gulf Coast. 

“Each of them was mind-bending each time I could see them – and see them I did. Seeing those guys was great inspiration. Their playing styles were just as inspirational as anyone, and they were so unique that every performance showed how it was possible to do your own thing. That also includes the granddaddy of them all, T-Bone Walker, from down in the Beaumont area.

“Even today, years and years after T-Bone’s passing, there are guitar players – including me! – trying to figure out how he created those remarkable sounds and licks while his guitar was lying flat in front of him. And, of course, T-Bone could do it behind his back, doing splits on the floor, standing straight, whatever. [He was] a fretboard genius who never failed to inspire and remains a delightful force to this day.“


Tom Morello

Tom Morello

(Image credit: Joby Sessions/Future)

THE CLASH, THE ARAGON BALLROOM, CHICAGO, 1982

“Seeing that my favorite musician, Joe Strummer, used the exact same little Music Man amp that I had in my mom’s basement made me realize that rock wasn’t something I might be able to do in the future. I was doing it now.”

METALLICA, LOS ANGELES COLISEUM, LOS ANGELES, 1988

“Metallica were sandwiched between Kingdom Come and Dokken on the Monsters of Rock tour. They sounded 10 times louder and 10 times better than any of the bands on the bill, and the entire stadium erupted into a chair-throwing, fence-scaling awesome midday heavy metal riot. I’ve never seen another band deliver such an ass-kicking to the rest of a bill.”

NINE INCH NAILS, LOLLAPALOOZA, 1991

“I had never heard of Nine Inch Nails before the 1991 Lollapalooza tour. Trent Reznor and company put on the most exciting, outrageous, violent, ferocious, industrial punk-metal cage match that I had ever seen on stage. Until that moment, I didn’t think you could ever rock properly with keyboards in a band, but Trent proved me wrong.”


Sarah Longfield

Sarah Longfield

(Image credit: Ken Susi)

ANIMALS AS LEADERS, THE EAGLES BALLROOM, 2010 

“Seeing Animals As Leaders live for the first time (they were opening a tour for Circa Survive, who I also love!) was incredible. I’d been watching Tosin Abasi’s guitar work online a bit and was really inspired by how out-of-this-world it sounded, so getting to see them live was really inspiring. Tosin was also teaching on that tour, so I managed to get a lesson from him that ended up totally changing the way I approach guitar. I consider that show to have a huge impact on how my guitar style evolved.” 

DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN / GENGHIS TRON, THE LOFT, 2007

“This concert was the first I’d been to without a parent (I was 14) and it absolutely blew me away. I only got to catch a bit of Dillinger’s set because I had school the next day haha, but it was monumental in defining them as a huge influence for me. 

“I remember Genghis Tron was also on the bill (another of my favorite bands) and that was the first time I’d ever seen anyone try and blend heavy music with screaming AND synthesizers in a way I’d never heard done before. It was perfectly heavy, hypnotic and crushing. Genghis Tron also just released a new album after a long hiatus – you should absolutely check it out!”


Eric Johnson

PETER GABRIEL, AUSTIN COLISEUM, AUSTIN, 1982 

“I saw Peter Gabriel during his tour for the album Security. It’s one of my favorite records, so to see him perform it live was really special. The whole show was brilliant – the presentation, the mix. After all these years, I still remember how I felt when the band played the song San Jacinto – it was so overwhelmingly powerful, like a spiritual experience. I had tears in my eyes. The next day, I read a review with the headline: ‘Peter Gabriel – pretentious and boring.’ Really?”


John Petrucci

John Petrucci

(Image credit: Olly Curtis/Future)

RUSH, NASSAU COLISEUM, LONG ISLAND, NY, 1982

“My first concert. I was 12, and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The whole arena smelled like pot – I’ll never forget that. At that time, Rush were like these mythical figures to me; they didn’t exist in the real world. Suddenly, there they were, in the same place as me – I couldn’t believe it. Even though I had terrible seats, I didn’t care. When they played La Villa Strangiato, Alex Lifeson did a solo that ripped my face off. Everything about the show was phenomenal. It was very inspiring.”

TOMMY EMMANUEL, TOWN HALL, NEW YORK CITY, 2018

“My wife, Rena, and I went to see Tommy play a solo show in Manhattan, and man, it was such a beautiful experience. Watching Tommy play was like seeing the reason the guitar was invented. His talent is just beyond words, but he also draws you in with his warmth and humor. We were in the second row, and I guess he spotted me and knew who I was, because he asked for me to come backstage and say hi. He was so nice to Rena and me. It was great to make that personal connection with him.”


Vernon Reid

Vernon Reid

(Image credit: Steve Thorne/Redferns)

FUNKADELIC, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, 1973

“My first concert experience dovetailed with the first album I bought with my own money – Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop. I saw them when they were on a bill with Rare Earth and the headliners, War, at Madison Square Garden. Funkadelic were explosive, a driving spectacle of rock and funk. I’d never seen anything like it before in my life. Eddie Hazel destroying Maggot Brain was a standout feature of that show.”

MUDDY WATERS, THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS, 1980

“In 1980, I played Europe for the first time with Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society at the world-renowned North Sea Jazz Festival at The Hague in Netherlands. After taking my first flight in a jet plane and checking in to my first fancy hotel room (while standing next to the legendary Mr. Dizzy Gillespie), I witnessed Muddy Waters’ All-Star Blues featuring Pinetop Perkins on piano, James Cotton on harp and Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy on second guitar. It was an incredible show, the spirit of blues boogie made fully manifest. Muddy Waters was in top form, and the band was on fire. This still remains the greatest show I ever had the privilege to attend.”

SOUNDGARDEN, HAMMERSTEIN BALLROOM, NEW YORK CITY, 2012

“Soundgarden is my favorite band of early '90s era other than my own – we were both Lollapalooza alumni. Like Living Colour, Soundgarden also had a breakup and hiatus. King Animal marked their triumphant return, and the Hammerstein Ballroom show did not disappoint. 

”Chris Cornell was in full, glorious voice, and Kim Thayil, one of my favorite electric iconoclasts, was on fire. Drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepard epically navigated the odd times and tunings of their alt/metal/prog music that still moves me so powerfully. The Day I Tried to Live gave me solace at a dark time in my life. It was the last time I would see Chris Cornell live.”


Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa

(Image credit: Future)

DICKEY BETTS/GREGG ALLMAN, COLEMAN’S, ROME, NY, 1983

“My first concert was the Dickey Betts Band opening for Gregg Allman’s solo band at Coleman’s in Rome, New York. It was in the summer of 1983. I was 6 and my father snuck me in. [It was] a life-changing event. Warren Haynes was on guitar with Dickey, and Dan Toler played guitar for Gregg. It was the first time I saw a sunburst Les Paul played in anger. The first time I saw real pros.”

B.B. KING, HAMPTON BEACH CASINO BALLROOM, HAMPTON, NH, 1991

“I opened the show for Mr. King, who was on fire this particular night. He was 66 and still as vibrant as he was when he recorded Live at the Regal [in 1964]. His singing and playing on The Letter were so soulful that I started weeping. It was the first time I ever cried because of music. I was 13 years old and forever changed.” 

DANNY GATTON, JOHNNY D’S, BOSTON, 1990

“The greatest display of Americana guitar playing I have ever seen in my life. Danny had invited me to sit in on that mini run he was doing on the East Coast. He had his ’53 Telecaster, a modified Vibrolux and a Super Reverb. I have never witnessed any type of musician with such mastery and command of an instrument. He personified the idea that putting in the work pays off. He also loved the gear. He inspired me to be a nerd like him.” 


Reeves Gabrels

JEAN-LUC PONTY BAND, PALLADIUM, NEW YORK CITY, 1977

“This pretty intense night began with Larry Coryell/Alphonse Mouzon followed by the Lenny White band with guitarists Jamie Glaser and Joaquin Lieviano. Al Di Meola sat in for two epic songs. Daryl Stuermer was the guitarist in Jean-Luc Ponty’s band, and I thought, ‘After all that awesomeness, I wouldn’t want to be in Daryl’s shoes.’ I needn’t have worried for him: He was the picture of grace, fire and elegance, owning the bandstand and the night. I learned three things that night: Always be true to yourself as a soloist. Count on the fire. And never underestimate Daryl Stuermer.“

TALKING HEADS, ORPHEUM THEATRE, BOSTON, 1980 

“This was the new, expanded Remain in Light-era nine-member band. It was Fela Kuti and P-Funk go to art school. What I wasn’t prepared for was Adrian Belew. They slowly expanded the band through the first few songs, unleashing Adrian at the end of Psycho Killer.

“Guitar as a pure sound source – but under complete control of the operator. I had never seen or heard anyone do that. I went home that night and stared at my Stratocaster leaning against the wall. How and what the fuck was Adrian thinking? Mind blown.” 


Gretchen Menn

Gretchen Menn plays the Bose L1 Pro32

(Image credit: Future)

JEFF BECK, TEMPE MUSIC FESTIVAL, TEMPE, AZ, 2006

“I was surprised to find myself unsuccessfully suppressing tears at a rock show. Though almost everyone I admire waxes poetic about Jeff  Beck’s playing, I hadn’t been able to fully get into it… until I experienced it live. I can only describe it as stunning, bordering on spiritual. 

“Beyond his legendary phrasing, dynamics, breadth of sonic expression, raw emotion and fearlessness, his characteristic magic and mojo is something difficult to describe and must be appreciated live. Now having seen at least a half dozen Jeff Beck shows, I’ve learned I’m not alone in being moved to tears when he plays A Day in the Life.’” 

DANIELE GOTTARDO, GUITARE EN SCÈNE, SAINT-JULIEN-EN-GENEVOIS, FRANCE, 2016 

“This is a huge guitar celebration in an idyllic location. In 2016, Carlos Santana and Joe Satriani headlined, and an array of guitar heroes were on the bill, including Daniele Gottardo. Daniele’s music is intricate and virtuosic, distinctive in that he blends electric guitar with chamber orchestra. 

“Knowing him as I do – he’s my best friend, hero and, as of 2019, my husband – I’ve seen the brilliance but also the struggles and sacrifices that go into his work. To watch him perform so powerfully under conditions he and his music merit was profoundly beautiful.”  


Nita Strauss

IN FLAMES, THE WILTERN, LOS ANGELES, 2004

“I was 17, freshly off my first few weekend runs and summer tours with my band at the time when In Flames came through LA with Killswitch Engage, who were about to release The End of Heartache. Both bands were incredible, but when In Flames started their set with those incredible dueling guitar harmonies, my heart was just beating out of my chest. I had never heard guitar tones sound that huge on stage! Sounds crazy, but I was almost in tears at the sheer energy and power in the room that night.”

QUEEN, FIRE FIGHT AUSTRALIA, SYDNEY, 2020

“This was actually one of the last shows I performed at. I was in Australia with Alice Cooper, and we joined a charity bill at the last minute to support bushfire relief efforts. Queen was the headliner that day. I had been friendly with Brian May’s guitar tech before our set, and when Queen went on, he let me sit side stage with him. 

“Those guys keep their amps loud! So hearing Brian May’s soulful, melodic playing so close was unreal. I felt the rush of the audience singing along to the melodies of his guitar solos wash over me, and it really solidified just why those songs, those solos are so iconic.”


Steve Stevens

EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, 1973 

“This was my first real concert. I went with my best friends, and as soon as we entered the arena, the smell of ‘wacky tabacky’ was overwhelming. We felt like we were among our people, our tribe. The show was on a massive scale for its time: quadraphonic sound. 

“ELP were the first band to use an actual lighting truss with rear projection. They were supporting Brain Salad Surgery, and the concert was the perfect combination of mind-numbing musicianship and big-time showmanship. Watching these guys from England do their thing was like seeing Martians who had just landed on stage.”

YES, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, 1974

“Touring behind Tales from Topographic Oceans, Yes presented themselves on a grand scale with lighting designed by their album artist, Roger Dean. I had waited since 1972 to see my favorite guitarist, Steve Howe, and I had learned much of his music, so I was glued to him. He really was the ultimate rock guitarist. 

“The band sounded incredible – you could hear every note. I remember shaking my head in disbelief at how damn good they were. They opened to a tape of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. To this day, hearing the finale of that piece brings me right back to being a 14-year-old kid, thinking, ‘One day… I will play that stage.’” 

PRINCE, THE RITZ, NEW YORK CITY, 1980 

“I didn’t know who Prince was, but my manager at the time, Bill Aucoin, got me a ticket and said, ‘Go see this guy.’ As I got up to the balcony of the Ritz, I saw Mick Jagger and Tina Turner at a table. I thought, ‘Wow. Who the hell is this guy?’ Out came this little dynamo – black trench coat and panties. Girls were screaming and going wild. 

“By the second song, Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?, I was speechless. I knew I was witnessing greatness. His band was powerful, as well – guitarist Dez Dickerson played his ass off. Over the years, I saw Prince many times, but that first time felt like I was watching something historic.”


Eric Burton (Black Pumas)

RICHIE HAVENS, WOODSTOCK, 1969

“[The performance of] Richie Havens doing a cover of the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. Anytime I get to revisit Richie, it’s always very special. I love guitarists for their originality in how they elevate songs in their playing. Richie took an unorthodox disposition to strumming the chords of the song while also adding his own chords to the mix for an exceedingly original rendition of a popular song we’re used to hearing a certain way.” 


Adrian Quesada (Black Pumas)

GUNS N’ ROSES, LIVE AT THE RITZ, 1988

“I was too young to watch it when it aired on MTV, but I somehow knew about it, tuned in live and made a night of it on my parents’ TV. GNR were still an up-and-coming band playing a small club, and they performed the most amazing badass shit I’d ever seen on TV. I always thought Slash was cool, but that night I was fixated on Izzy Stradlin. He was the coolest dude on stage, playing the coolest riffs. He was more subdued than the rest of the band, but he also looked like he’d cut you with a switchblade.”

MARC RIBOT, SESSIONS AT WEST 54TH

“A short-lived show in the late-'90s/early 2000s, Sessions at West 54th turned me on to a lot of music that was not on my radar in those days. I remember seeing Marc Ribot on at least two episodes – with his own Marc Ribot Y Los Cubanos Postizos, and playing lead guitar with Chocolate Genius.

“Ribot was at the intersection of everything I loved as a guitarist – avant-garde jazz, Latin music, rock, blues – and I be-came a huge fan instantly. He was the weirdest guitarist I had ever seen on TV, and he opened my world to all kinds of different music.” 


Ricky Byrd

THE ROLLING STONES, MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, NEW YORK CITY, 1975 

“This is the tour in which they had the ‘lotus flower’ stage that opened to form a star. At the start of the show, the first thing you heard was the cowbell to Honky Tonk Women, followed by Charlie Watts’ snare that led into Keith Richards’ guitar riff. 

“Slowly, the flower petals started to open, and there was Mick Jagger hanging on to one of the points of the star. I still get the chills thinking about it. All of these details are the reasons why I pressed on as a rock ‘n’ roll guitar player. Hard times or flush, I was absolutely committed to my path.”

THE WHO, FOREST HILLS TENNIS STADIUM, FOREST HILLS, NY, 1971 

“This tour was for Who’s Next, and the show was filled with tunes from that record as well as all the other great songs you wanted to hear. Pete smashed his guitar, Roger twirled the mic, the Ox’s bass shook the stadium, and of course, Moon was a madman. I remember Keith jumping on John’s back at the end and doing a tumblesault onto the stage. I still have the tour book from the show.” 


Reb Beach

PINK FLOYD, THREE RIVERS STADIUM, PITTSBURGH, 1988

“One of the coolest concerts I ever saw. While we waited for the show, my friend and I heard these weird, metallic noises behind us. The sounds got louder and louder till they were at concert volume. This went on for 10 minutes, and it was freaking me out.

“Suddenly, the curtain dropped and the band played an awesome song. In the middle of the show, the giant inflatable pigs deflated and dropped to the ground; meanwhile, the band made these falling noises with their instruments. It was freaky.” 

THE WHO/THE B-52S/ JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS, TANGERINE BOWL, ORLANDO, 1982

“I’ll never forget seeing the Who when they had the B-52s opening – one of the worst pairings of bands ever. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts were also on the bill, and they rocked hard, which might be why the B-52s weren’t appreciated. I liked the B-52s, but apparently nobody else did. The crowd booed and threw fruit and vegetables on stage. Where they got fruit and vegetables, I have no idea, but the stage was covered with the stuff. The band had to stop playing after two songs. I had never seen something like that happen before.”


Jimmy James (Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio)

SHARON JONES & THE DAP-KINGS, THE MOORE THEATER, SEATTLE 2016

“I saw Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings many times in Seattle because they were my musical heroes of modern soul music. I slowly got to know them and tell them what they meant to me, especially guitarists Tommy ‘TNT’ Brenneck and Binky Griptite (who backed Amy Wine-house on Back to Black with the Dap-Kings), and about the impact they had on me when it comes to soul/funk in today’s era. 

“This night was particularly special and bittersweet, because Sharon invited me up to sing to me, but she also had me sit in and play with them. It’s not often musicians get to say they got to play alongside their heroes. The bittersweet part is that it was Sharon Jones’ last big performance in Seattle before her unfortunate passing a few months later [November 18, 2016].”