Remembering the guitarists we lost in 2022

(from left) Syl Johnson, Keith Levene, Wilko Johnson and Kim Simmonds perform onstage
(Image credit: James Fraher/Redferns, Tom Hill/Getty Images, Rick Diamond/Getty Images for IEBA, Edu Hawkins/Redferns)

2022 was a terrific year for the guitar, one that saw thrilling developments in new gear, and players of all musical inclinations push the instrument's boundaries in a variety of exciting new directions.

However, it's also been a year in which we've, sadly, had to say goodbye to a number of guitar greats, who – with their work in pop, rock, blues, punk, metal and more – helped pave the way for today's advancements in the instrument.

Here, we recognize those guitarists, and their contributions to the instrument we hold so dear.

Marc Lee Dé Hugar

A co-founder of Australian glam-metal outfit Candy Harlots, Marc Lee Dé Hugar helped shape the band's energetic, hard-edged sound. 

Though he left the band before the release of their 1992 debut album, Five Wicked Ways, Dé Hugar's fretboard fireworks helped build the band's live reputation in their native Sydney.

In a tribute to his former bandmate on social media, Candy Harlots vocalist Mark Easton cited Dé Hugar as a "guitar genius.”

“Marc was 17 when he joined the band, after he played me a tape of his playing," Easton wrote. "He played so fast I thought he had sped the tape up, so I went around to his grandmother's house in Paddington to see if he was for real and he proceeded to blow me away!”

Meat Loaf

An occasional guitarist, Meat Loaf – the stage name of one Marvin Lee Aday – will forever be known as one of rock's most iconic singers.

His 1977 opus, Bat Out of Hell, is one of the best-selling albums of all time, and melded a hard-rock guitar attack with powerful orchestral arrangements and theatrical vocals.

Remarkably, during the peak of the grunge era, Meat Loaf experienced an incredible second surge of popularity with Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell, and its enormously successful power ballad centerpiece, I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That).

Don Wilson

As The Ventures' rhythm guitarist for an incredible 57 years, Don Wilson served as the bedrock of the most commercially successful instrumental rock band in history.

Wilson's muscular rhythm work – borne out of the days when the Ventures performed without a drummer – in tandem with Nokie Edwards' memorable leads, inspired everyone from Eddie Van Halen to The Beach Boys. 

Peter Blecha, author of Sonic Boom! The History of Northwest Rock, From Louie, Louie to Smells Like Teen Spirit, noted Wilson's quiet, but unique, impact.

“[You've] gotta admire a musician who carved out such a lucrative and impactful career playing mainly rhythm guitar," Blecha told The New York Times earlier this year. "Guys who have accomplished that comprise a rather short list.”

Syl Johnson

If the name Syl Johnson doesn't ring a bell right away, don't worry, you've almost certainly heard his work.

The fiery, passionate soul singer's seminal 1967 track, Different Strokes, is one of the most sampled tracks in the history of hip-hop, while his biggest hit – a 1975 version of Al Green's Take Me to the River – brought the classic soul tune (originally a Green album track) to national audiences.

Johnson was a versatile musician, with guitar skills that matched his unmistakable vocals beat-for-beat. His music will certainly live on – in complete and sampled form – for generations.

Ian McDonald

A co-founding member of both King Crimson and Foreigner, Ian McDonald was a gifted multi-instrumentalist who could play... well, just about everything.

During his time with those groups, McDonald played – in addition to guitar – keyboards, plus a variety of woodwind and reed instruments. 

Though he only played with King Crimson for their first year of existence, he made extensive contributions to the band's hugely influential debut album, 1969's In the Court of the Crimson King.

“Ian brought musicality, an exceptional sense of the short and telling melodic line, and the ability to express that on a variety of instruments,” Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp wrote in the liner notes to the band's 1997 box set, Epitaph.

Mike Cross

With fellow guitarist Joey Mazzola, Mike Cross anchored the dual-guitar attack of the Detroit band Sponge. 

With their psychedelic jangle-pop influences and grunge-y image, Sponge were mainstays of rock radio in the mid-'90s, with minor hits like Plowed and Molly (16 Candles Down the Drain).

Though never matching the supernova success of some of their peers in the genre, Sponge were nonetheless a part of the grunge tsunami, with Cross's well-written riffs helping cement the band's success during the era.

Joe Messina

As one of the three main guitarists in the Funk Brothers, the house band for the iconic Detroit label Motown, Joe Messina played on innumerable timeless hits.

His guitar work can be heard on Martha & The Vandellas' Dancing in the Street, The Temptations' Ain't Too Proud to Beg, and Marvin Gaye's landmark 1971 album, What's Going On, to name but a few examples.

As if that wasn't enough, he also created the Interval Study Method, a playing technique that uses diatonic and chromatic scales.

Chris Bailey

As the frontman, (sometimes) guitarist and sole constant member of The Saints, Chris Bailey was one of punk's formative figures.

The Australian band's debut single, 1976's (I'm) Stranded, was a watershed moment in punk rock, beating just about every group but the Ramones to the buzzsaw guitars/pop hooks/breakneck tempos equation. 

Bailey's sophisticated songwriting, however, set The Saints – for the entirety of their near-50-year existence – apart from the vast majority of the band's more simple-minded and spikey-haired contemporaries.

Cold Chisel frontman Jimmy Barnes, in a tribute to Bailey following the news of his death, called him simply "one of the greatest songwriters this country [Australia] has produced."

Guitar Shorty

Born David William Kearney, Guitar Shorty played with the likes of Ray Charles, Guitar Slim and Sam Cooke, and recorded with Otis Rush.

After touring with Cooke, Kearney settled in Seattle, where he met a young guitarist by the name of James Marshall Hendrix.

"Back when he'd [Hendrix] come in off the road, when I was in Seattle, he'd come and sit around, and we'd swap ideas," Kearney told the Chicago Tribune in 1993. "He told me he went AWOL [from the army] many times to watch me."

Kearney was a regular performer at blues festivals around the world in his later years, and continued touring and recording well into his 80s. His final album, Trying To Find My Way Back, was released in 2019.

Ricky Gardiner

A noted session guitarist at the time, Ricky Gardiner – through his work with producer Tony Visconti – came to know David Bowie and Iggy Pop in the mid-'70s.

Gardiner contributed extensively to Bowie's hugely influential Low album, and Iggy Pop's critically and commercially successful 1977 LP, Lust For Life. Most notably, Gardiner authored the unforgettable main riff to The Passenger, one of the latter album's most enduring songs.

"Dearest Ricky," Pop wrote on social media after hearing of his death, "lovely, lovely man, shirtless in your coveralls. Nicest guy who ever played guitar."

Kelly Joe Phelps

Originally a jazz bassist, Washington native Kelly Joe Phelps transitioned to acoustic blues – often playing lap-style slide guitar solo – in the mid-'90s.

His albums in that vein attracted a small but devoted following, with his virtuosic guitar work in particular drawing much admiration.

"I don’t believe in God necessarily but he could pick up a guitar and put us in touch with something much bigger than ourselves," singer-songwriter John Smith wrote of Phelps in a tribute on social media. "His way with the guitar meant that time and space went sideways: the whole audience entered a trance."

Jim Schwall

A guitarist and vocalist best known as the co-leader of the Siegel-Schwall Band, Jim Schwall was renowned in the Chicago area for his technical prowess and distinctive guitar sound – the latter of which was shaped by his frequent use of an amplified Gibson B-25 acoustic.

Formed with Corky Siegel in 1964, the Siegel-Schwall Band took over the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's residency at Big John's on the north side of Chicago, and recorded a number of albums – from 1966 to 1970 – for the Vanguard Records label.

The band's unique collaboration with Seiji Ozawa of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Three Pieces For Blues Band And Symphony Orchestra was first performed in 1968, and demonstrated the full spectrum of Schwall's vision as a guitarist.

Manny Charlton

The co-founder and longtime guitarist for Nazareth, Manny Charlton left a significant mark on hard-rock guitar.

Charlton's no-nonsense, muscular riffing – captured most prominently on the band's 1975 hit, Hair of the Dog – was tailor-made for rock radio, and would influence countless hard-rock and heavy metal guitarists to come.

The propulsive sound of that song – also the title track of Nazareth's 1975 album, which Charlton produced – would lead a young Axl Rose to declare “Get me the guy who produced Hair Of The Dog," when his band, Guns N' Roses, were attempting to demo the songs that would make up their first album, Appetite For Destruction

Bill Pitman

One of the marquee members of the loose ensemble of Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, Bill Pitman played guitar on hundreds (likely thousands) of prominent pop and rock recordings in the '50s, '60s and '70s.

Session credits were loose to non-existent at the time, but Pitman is known to have played on The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night, The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations (on which he played bass), and Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head (which featured him on ukulele), to name just a few.

In his 2009 book, Conversations With Great Jazz and Studio Guitarists, writer Jim Carlton explained Pitman's significant impact on American music.

“Perhaps no one personifies the unsung studio player like Bill Pitman does,” Carlton wrote. “Few guitarists have logged more recording sessions, and fewer still have enjoyed being such a legitimate part of America’s soundtrack.”

Stuart Anstis

A guitarist for Cradle of Filth from 1995 through 1999, Stuart Anstis helped mold the Suffolk band into a metal powerhouse.

Though only a member of the band for four years, Anstis lent his ferocious, imaginative guitar work to two Cradle of Filth albums – including 1996's Dusk… And Her Embrace, ranked by Metal Hammer in 2021 as the fourth greatest symphonic metal album of all time – and a pair of EPs.

“Stuart – despite our eventual differences – was an amazingly talented guitarist who brought a real sense of magic to everything he wrote in Cradle of Filth," wrote the band's frontman, Dani Filth, on social media following his passing.

"For a long time he and I were bestest of friends living in a small village here in Suffolk and despite that relationship eventually changing, it did nothing to diminish the fans' appreciation of his creative flair and talent right up to the present day."

David Andersson

A member of Swedish metal group Soilwork and the more classic rock-oriented Night Flight Orchestra, David Andersson was a well-respected and versatile guitarist.

After replacing Soilwork's original guitarist, Peter Wichers, in 2012, Andersson went on to serve as a significant instrumental and songwriting presence on each of the band's subsequent albums up to the present day.

"He was one of a kind and a brilliant man in so many ways," Soilwork wrote in a joint statement after Andersson's death. "He was our guitarist for more than 10 years and had a big impact on Soilwork’s musical journey forward."

Loretta Lynn

An icon of country music, Loretta Lynn rose from humble Kentucky roots with a number of tough, plain-spoken hits that touched on previously taboo subjects in the genre. 

Don’t Come Home A- Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind) took lousy husbands to task, while Rated X looked frankly at divorce. The Pill – written about birth control – proved especially controversial with the conservative Nashville establishment.

In 2013, Lynn was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, who said of Lynn, "Her first guitar cost $17 and with it this coal miner’s daughter gave voice to a generation, singing what no one wanted to talk about and saying what no one wanted to think about."

Patrick Haggerty

As the singer and guitarist of the band Lavender Country, Patrick Haggerty was America's first openly gay country artist.

Lavender Country's 1973 self-titled debut album only sold 1,000 copies at the time of its release (it was brought to further attention by a 2014 reissue), but Haggerty's mixing of traditional country instrumentation with unapologetic lyrics that were both humorous and – inspired by both the 1969 Stonewall uprising, and his earlier ejection from the Peace Corps on account of his sexuality – frank in their examination of the violent oppression faced by the LGBTQ community, was truly revolutionary.

Garry Roberts

A co-founder of Irish rock icons The Boomtown Rats, Garry Roberts helped drive, as their lead guitarist, the band's energetic sound during both their original run in the '70s and '80s, and again after their 2013 reunion.

“On a clear spring evening in 1975, in a pub in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, Garry became the founding member of what turned out to be a great rock 'n' roll band," the rest of the band wrote on Facebook in tribute to Roberts, "driven largely by that sound of his, a storm of massive considered noise that punched out from his overtaxed amplifiers; and which animated not just the rest of the group but audiences he played to around the world."

Keith Levene

As a founding member of The Clash and, later, Public Image Ltd., Keith Levene hugely influenced punk, post-punk, and '80s indie rock after it.

Though the early Public Image Ltd. albums on which he appeared were not huge sellers, Levene's metallic, jagged and avant-garde guitar sound on them played a significant role in shaping the guitar approaches of The Edge and John Frusciante, who, of course, went on to sell countless millions of albums with their respective bands.

"So much of what we listen to today owes much to Keith's work, some of it acknowledged, most of it not," wrote author and writer Adam Hammond of Levene on social media. 

Danny Kalb

Best-known for his time with '60s-era NYC rockers The Blues Project, Danny Kalb was a versatile guitarist skilled in both acoustic blues and folk, and electric blues, stylings.

Before transitioning to electric blues with The Blues Project – who played at the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival – Kalb was a more folk-inclined artist who, while a student in the Midwest in the early '60s, befriended and performed with an aspiring young singer/songwriter named Bob Dylan.

Kalb remained friends with Dylan after both moved to New York, and – like Dylan – was a mainstay of the city's budding folk scene in the early '60s. He also worked extensively as a session guitarist in the scene, playing on albums by Pete Seeger, Judy Collins and Dave Van Ronk, among others.

“Danny Kalb was one of my first guitar heroes, his fleet fingers bridging acoustic folk as it metamorphosed into electricity,” Patti Smith guitarist and record producer Lenny Kaye told The New York Times earlier this year. “The stinging clarity of his tone and the flurry of notes that poured from him changed the way I heard music.”

Wilko Johnson

A founding member of formative English pub rock band Dr. Feelgood, Wilko Johnson helped transform British music in the 1970s.

Johnson's percussive guitar style – inspired by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' Mick Green – was brash and loud, and stood out at a time when rock had come to be defined by side-length songs and stadium grandeur. 

Though not punks themselves, Dr. Feelgood's frenetic, stripped-down sound left an indelible mark on the punk genre, particularly influencing the early work of the Clash.

"Thousands of people play a Telecaster because of Joe Strummer, Johnson once told Guitarist [per Louder]. "Well, Joe played a Telecaster because of me!" 

Charlie Gracie

A Philadelphia native, Charlie Gracie scored a pair of guitar-heavy rock 'n' roll smashes in 1957 – Butterfly and Fabulous.

The latter was influential enough that Paul McCartney covered it in the sessions for his 1999 (mostly) covers LP, Run Devil Run.

"When we were starting out with the Beatles, the music coming over from America was magical to us," McCartney once said, "and one of the artists who epitomized this magic was Charlie Gracie."

Kim Simmonds

As the founder and sole constant member of Savoy Brown, Kim Simmonds was a huge figure in British blues-rock who – though never quite becoming a household name – influenced countless blues-inclined guitarists in his wake.  

Having cut their teeth in Britain's flourishing mid-'60s blues scene, Savoy Brown were a stage and studio juggernaut for over 50 years, releasing dozens of albums and keeping up a constant touring schedule.

"Kim Simmonds was one of kindest souls I'd had ever met in this business of music," wrote Joe Bonamassa on Twitter upon learning of the bluesman's death. "Always smiling and jovial. He along with Lonesome Dave made some beautiful records with Savoy Brown. Rest in peace Kim. You will be missed."

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Jackson Maxwell

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.