2023 was a standout year for the guitar – 12 months that saw fantastic innovations in the gear space, and players of all genres raise the bar, and move the instrument forward in amazing, unique, and unexpected ways.
Sadly, though, it was also a year in which we had to say goodbye to a staggering amount of guitar geniuses who were just as innovative in their day, and helped lay the bridges that today's players cross.
Here, we recognize those guitarists, and their contributions to the instrument.
This list is presented in chronological order.
A veteran heavy metal guitarist, Sebastian Marino did tours of duty with both Anvil – playing on their 1991 album, Worth The Weight – and Overkill, contributing to the latter group's The Killing Kind, From The Underground And Below, and Necroshine albums, respectively.
Later, Marino pivoted to backstage work, becoming a sought-after guitar tech and crew member for a number of notable rock acts.
“Seby was a dear friend and I will miss him profoundly,” wrote Anvil singer/guitarist Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow of Marino. “Worth the Weight was an extremely special Anvil album and it will keep Seby alive through our history forever!”
A beloved figure in Glasgow, Scotland's music scene, Alan Rankine helped found Electric Honey Records, a student-run label headquartered at Glasgow's Stow College (now Glasgow Kelvin College). Electric Honey served as the home for early releases by Biffy Clyro, Snow Patrol and Belle and Sebastian, and provided those and many other groups crucial support and exposure in their formative years.
Rankine also played guitar in The Associates – a unique post-punk group that found success in the UK in the early '80s with the top 20 hits Party Fears Two and Club Country – and found success as a producer, manning the boards for releases by Paul Haig and Cocteau Twins.
In a statement posted to Belle and Sebastian's Facebook page, the band's drummer, Richard Colburn, said, “If it wasn’t for Alan, our path would’ve been very different. We owe a lot to him. Alan was a fantastic, generous and talented person who will be sorely missed by everyone that knew him. He was an unbelievable musician and his musical legacy will live on forever.”
By any measure, Jeff Beck was one of the greatest, and most influential, guitarists of all time. His aggressive, fearless approach to the instrument seamlessly blended influences from blues, jazz, and... well, whatever else caught Beck's fancy. His fingerstyle playing was always expressive – ignoring showiness in favor of powerful, flawlessly executed melodic runs, pinpoint phrasing, and jaw-dropping bends.
Stepping into the giant shoes of Eric Clapton as his replacement in the Yardbirds in the mid-'60s, Beck pushed the popular group to new artistic heights, influencing countless psychedelic-, blues- and garage-rock-minded guitar players in the process. It was on his own, though, that Beck displayed the full, staggering breadth of his talent and creativity.
Beck began his solo career with a pioneering, thundering instrumental titled Beck's Bolero, and would go on to innovate for the remainder of his life. He helped shape the sound of blues- and hard-rock guitar with 1969's Beck-Ola, combined rock and fusion approaches as no one had before with 1975's Blow by Blow, returned to his rockabilly roots on 1993's Crazy Legs, flirted with techno on 1999's Who Else!, and touched on classical orchestral arrangements on 2010's Emotion & Commotion.
“If you ask me about some other players, I might lean toward their early work but with Jeff Beck, I immediately think of his most recent record,” Joe Satriani said of Beck's constant evolution in a 2021 Guitar World interview.
“How does he make us all feel that the most happening Jeff Beck is the one that’s happening right now? That’s pretty remarkable in an industry that’s so focused on what you did decades ago or your highest-charting thing.
“As you and I are talking,” Satriani continued, “he’s working on something that’s going to blow us away, and we’re not going to know about it for a bit, but you know he isn’t just sitting around doing nothing and he’s certainly not thinking about something he did in 1972! It’s a combination of pure talent, constant innovation and fearlessness.”
A legend in the annals of '60s and '70s rock, David Crosby was a larger-than-life figure who served as a rhythm guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the Byrds, and subsequently Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Neil Young). Grounded in folk techniques, plus an eclectic mix of other influences, Crosby's playing helped bolster his greatest strength – his songwriting.
After growing dissatisfied with, and departing, the Byrds in the late '60s, Crosby teamed up with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, creating with them a hugely influential soft-rock sound powered by dazzling harmonies and killer songcraft across the board. Though he wasn't the supergroup's foremost hitmaker, Crosby's contributions to CSN(Y) – such as the defiant counterculture anthem, Almost Cut My Hair – brought a more daring, experimental, and atmospheric side to the group's radio-friendly catalog.
Crosby brought that same restlessness to his solo career, which began with 1971's If I Could Only Remember My Name, an often sparse but strong LP whose foreboding, hazy atmosphere forecasted the sounds of the indie-folk explosion of the 2000s and 2010s. Though his career was derailed by a much-publicized battle with addiction in the '70s and '80s, Crosby – once sober – would remain active onstage and in the studio for the remainder of his life.
“The soul of CSNY, David’s voice and energy were at the heart of our band,” Neil Young wrote in tribute to Crosby. “His great songs stood for what we believed in and it was always fun and exciting when we got to play together.”
Antony “Top” Topham
Before Clapton, Beck and Page, there was Antony “Top” Topham, who co-founded the Yardbirds and served as the band's first lead guitarist. Though he'd leave the group in late 1963 – before any of the band's studio material – he helped establish their energetic, blues and R&B-influenced sound.
Topham pivoted to session work in the late '60s and the beginning of the '70s, notably lending guitar work to future Fleetwood Mac keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie's solo debut, Christine Perfect. He released his first, and only, solo album, Ascension Heights, in 1970, and would go on to join the Subud spiritual movement, after which he changed his name to Sanderson Rasjid.
Remarkably, a full 50 years after his original departure from the group, Rasjid rejoined a reconstituted Yardbirds in 2013, before leaving the band for good two years later.
“He’d been my best friend at school, and had introduced me to the music I fell in love with,” Yardbirds guitarist Chris Dreja said of Rasjid in 2007. “Pretty soon, we were playing four or five nights a week. which made it a paying proposition.”
With fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd, Tom Verlaine drove the sound of Television, a proto-punk quartet that specialized in nervy, arty rock driven by tight rhythms and Verlaine and Lloyd's interlocking, weaving guitar work.
Though never commercially successful, Television left a significant mark on New York City's nascent punk scene in the mid-'70s, which included a number of bands that would go on to significantly eclipse them in popularity years later, such as Talking Heads, the Ramones, and Blondie.
Influenced by avant-garde music and jazz as much as rock, Verlaine brought his unique musical vocabulary to the guitar, and helped define Television's revolutionary debut single, Little Johnny Jewel, Parts 1 & 2, and their seminal 1977 debut album, Marquee Moon.
Verlaine, Patti Smith once wrote, played “lead guitar with angular inverted passion, like a thousand bluebirds screaming.”
A perennially underrated Strat-slinger, Jesse Gress spent many years in Todd Rundgren's band, and also played with the Tony Levin band, and with former Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty.
Gress is most well-known, however, as an instructor. He was a longtime contributor to Guitar Player magazine, and authored both tab and score books – for the Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Guns N’ Roses, and more – and his own lesson tomes, such as The Guitar Cookbook and Blues Lick Factory.
“Jesse was an institution,” Guitar Player editor-in-chief Christopher Scapelliti said of Gress. “His lessons were like gold to our readers, and everyone was a better player for the knowledge he shared with us. I was sorry that he left the magazine to focus on his music and writing, but we were all very lucky to have benefitted from his wisdom, insights, and talents for so many years. God bless him.”
A multi-instrumentalist and session guitar great, David Lindley featured prominently on albums by Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Ry Cooder, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Rod Stewart, and, most famously, Jackson Browne.
Lindley contributed to each of Browne's albums from 1973's For Everyman through 1980's Hold Out, shining on lap steel in particular. With the country tinge of his steel work, Lindley helped – through his contributions to Browne's work and to many similar albums of the period – shape the sound of West Coast soft-rock in the process.
Lindley's session schedule remained busy far beyond the '70s, and he even found time to record a number of albums with oud/hand drum master Hani Naser, experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser, and drummer Wally Ingram.
“The loss of David Lindley is a huge one,” Jason Isbell wrote on Twitter upon hearing of Lindley's death. “Without his influence my music would sound completely different. I was genuinely obsessed with his playing from the first time I heard it. The man was a giant.”
Guitarist Gary Rossington was a key member of Lynyrd Skynyrd – arguably, along with the Allman Brothers Band, the most popular and influential Southern rock band of all time – for their entire history. Indeed, at the time of his death, Rossington was the band's last surviving original member.
Along with Allen Collins and first Ed King, then, later, Steve Gaines, Rossington was an integral part of the band's trademark three-guitar attack. That three-guitar-sound, coupled with frontman Ronnie Van Zant's unapologetic but nuanced lyrics about the Skynyrd's rough 'n' tumble life in the South, won them a national audience that transcended genre.
Free Bird – the closing track on the band's 1973 debut album, (Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd) – has become, in the 50 years since its release, one of the most iconic rock songs of all time, while Skynyrd's funky 1974 hit Sweet Home Alabama (co-written by Rossington) has become a classic rock staple, especially in the South.
Rossington survived the tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of Van Zant and Gaines, and, a decade later, helped spearhead the band's reunion – with Johnny Van Zant taking his older brother Ronnie's place on vocals.
“Gary was not only a great guitar player, he also composed a lot of the classic guitar melodies that Lynyrd Skynyrd is known for, and he co-wrote so many of their timeless songs,” Warren Haynes wrote in tribute to Rossington. “Their unique blend of influences, filtered through their own musical personalities, created a style of music all to itself which became the soundtrack to millions of people’s lives. Gary was leading the charge.”
A thrash/progressive metal guitar veteran, Jim Durkin co-founded the band Dark Angel, and played on their first three albums – 1985's We Have Arrived, 1986's Darkness Descends, and 1989's Leave Scars.
Though they never reached the commercial success of the so-called Big Four of thrash, Dark Angel were influential, and well-respected by their peers, with Durkin's equally brutal and complex guitar work leading the way.
In a GoFundMe created to help Durkin's family with funeral and memorial costs, Durkin's loved ones spoke of both his guitar acumen and kindness.
“While best known for creating ear-blistering, adrenaline-inducing, soul-slaughtering guitar riffs and writing songs that would become legendary in a genre of metal that his band helped create,” the statement reads in part, “he [Durkin] was also a gentle giant with an incredible singing voice who would stop everything to move an injured animal – insect, bird, reptile, mammal – out of harm's way.”
As a co-founder of Hawkwind, Mick Slattery played a brief but significant role in the development of what would come to be known as space-rock.
Though he left the group in 1969, before their debut album, Slattery featured featured on the band’s first demo, and played with them at their legendary first shows at the All Saints Hall in Notting Hill. Decades later, Slattery re-surfaced as a guitarist in Space Ritual, a band comprised mainly of former Hawkwind members.
In a social media post announcing Slattery's death, Hawkwind singer/guitarist Dave Brock wrote of his “fond memories from our younger days.
“In the late ’60s, we used to rehearse in my upstairs flat in Putney and also in the basement of Bob Kerr's music shop in Gwalior Road, playing loud music, much to the annoyance of our neighbors.”
For almost three decades, Wayne Swinny served as the lead guitarist for nü-metal mainstays Saliva. Swinny brought a brawny, hard-riffing classic rock element to Saliva's sound, opening them up to listeners slightly turned off by the Korns and Slipknots of the world, and making them a crowd-pleasing live favorite.
In a statement following Swinny's death, Saliva vocalist Bobby Amaru said that Swinny “was a guitar hero onstage, with all the rock ‘n’ roll swag that most guitar players dream of.”
The younger brother of Eagles multi-instrumentalist Bernie Leadon, Tom Leadon served as one of the guitarists in Mudcrutch – the band Tom Petty fronted before he found fame with the Heartbreakers.
Though Leadon fell out with Petty in the early '70s, and departed from Mudcrutch before the latter transformed the band into the hugely successful Heartbreakers, Leadon would go onto lead a fruitful music career in Southern California.
With his brother, Bernie, Don Henley, and Glenn Frey, Leadon co-wrote the Eagles' Hollywood Waltz, played in Linda Ronstadt’s backing band, and with the band Silver, which scored a top 20 hit in 1976 with the song, Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang.
After decades out of the spotlight, though, Leadon – at Petty's request – re-joined the latter and his former bandmates in a reunited Mudcrutch. The resurrected Mudcrutch – with Leadon and Campbell on guitar, and Petty on bass – would go on to record two albums, 2008's Mudcrutch and 2016's Mudcrutch 2, and stage multiple successful tours, before disbanding following Petty's untimely death in 2017.
Leadon's Mudcrutch bandmate – and Petty's six-string sidekick in the Heartbreakers – Mike Campbell, described Leadon as his “deepest guitar soul brother.”
“We spent countless hours playing acoustic guitars and teaching each other things,” Campbell said of Leadon. “A kinder soul never walked the earth. I will always miss his spirit and generosity. Sleep peaceful my old friend.”
As the guitarist and co-founder of Quireboys, Guy Bailey helped bring straight-ahead, no-nonsense rock back to the upper regions of the UK charts, just before the arrival of the grunge tidal wave.
The co-writer of all of the tracks on the band's hugely successful 1990 debut album, A Bit of What You Fancy – including the album's UK Top 20 hit single, Hey You – Bailey was a low-key, but integral, Keith Richards-like presence in the band; both personality-wise and on guitar.
“Guy was the kindest, funniest man you could have the pleasure of being around,” the Quireboys' frontman, Spike, wrote of the guitarist. “He was loved by everyone he ever worked with, all the bands he ever toured with and all the Quireboys fans he ever met. He certainly loved you all more than you will ever know.”
Though the name Ian Bairnson may not immediately ring a bell, you've definitely heard his skilled fretwork.
A native of the Shetland Islands, Bairnson was an A-list session guitarist who appeared on albums by Paul McCartney & Wings, Kenny Rogers, Tom Jones, and, notably, lent an acrobatic, bend-heavy solo to Kate Bush's 1979 smash, Wuthering Heights.
Bairnson was also a key member of the Alan Parsons Project, serving as the group's chief guitarist on every single one of their studio releases. So, if you've ever wondered who played the thundering guitars on the Parsons Project tune Sirius, a dramatic instrumental that became immortalized as the entrance music for the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls, that's Ian Bairnson.
Remembering his late bandmate, Parsons said that Bairnson was “a musical genius.”
“He was a true master of the guitar,” Parsons said, “he knew every possible playable guitar chord and how to describe it – 'G Minor Sixth Add 9' or 'C Sharp Major Ninth Add 13,' but amazingly, he never took the time to learn conventional musical notation.
“Another indication of his incredible talent was when he picked up the saxophone and played it like a pro on stage with the British incarnation of The Alan Parsons Live Project – he had only spent a few short weeks learning the instrument.”
Though never an official member of the band per sé, Lasse Wellander helped drive ABBA's world-conquering sound as their stage and studio guitarist of choice.
In the studio, Wellander's precise, song-serving playing was a crucial ingredient to the band's incredible string of hits. Onstage, though, the superstar quartet gave Wellander a surprising amount of room to stretch out – a particular example being his soulful solo on the Live At Wembley Arena version of Eagle.
“If you listen to the Live At Wembley Arena album, for example, it was much looser than on the records,” Wellander explained to Guitar World in a 2022 interview. “Of course, we played the things that belonged to the song, but there were parts where it was much looser. It sounded rockier live than on the record, and there were some solos.”
Eagle, Wellander told Guitar World, was his favorite ABBA song to play live.
“I liked Eagle because I had a long guitar solo in that song,” he said. “I enjoyed it all, actually, but I looked forward a bit more to that number. It was amazing being out on the road. We played six days at Wembley Arena, full house.”
Mark Sheehan was a prolific, much-sought-after session guitarist, but it was with the band The Script that Sheehan made his greatest impact.
Influenced by R&B and hip-hop, Sheehan's deft touch on the guitar helped make the band a bona-fide sensation, particularly in their native Ireland.
Irish President Michael D Higgins led the salutes to Sheehan after his untimely death, citing his and the Script's “originality and excellence.”
“Through their music, Mark and The Script have played an outstanding part in continuing and promoting this proud tradition of Irish musical success across the world.”
Otis Redding III
A son of soul legend Otis Redding, Otis Redding III was a guitarist who worked extensively to promote the musical legacy of his late father, and also played guitar in the The Reddings, and with soul veteran Eddie Floyd.
Having picked up the guitar at a young age, Redding formed The Reddings as a teen with his brother, Dexter, and a cousin, Mark Lockett. One of their early singles, 1980's Remote Control, became a top 10 hit on the Hot Soul Singles chart, and made the lower reaches of the Billboard Hot 100.
After The Reddings split up in 1988, Redding briefly joined soul veteran Eddie Floyd's band as his guitarist, but on one condition.
“He [Floyd] said, ‘You can play guitar with me, but you’re going to have to sing a few of your dad’s songs,’” Redding told WCSH-TV in 2018. “I was like, ‘Huh? I don’t sing,’ you know. And he was like, ‘Well, you’re going to sing Dock of the Bay with me tonight.’”
From then on, Redding began to more frequently play and sing his father's songs, working to – with the help of his family's Otis Redding Foundation – preserve the musical legacy of his father. Redding also worked with the Foundation to organize summer camps that help teach children to play music, and served as the board president for the local chapter of Meals on Wheels.
Alongside the likes of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot was part of a wave of elite singer-songwriters to emerge from Canada in the late 1960s.
Lightfoot was both commercially and critically successful, scoring major hits with 1970's somber If You Could Read My Mind and his 1976 epic, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which fully established him as one of the world's pre-eminent guitar-slinging storytellers.
“We have lost one of our greatest singer-songwriters,” wrote Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon learning of Lightfoot's death. “Gordon Lightfoot captured our country’s spirit in his music – and in doing so, he helped shape Canada’s soundscape. May his music continue to inspire future generations, and may his legacy live on forever. To his family, friends, and many fans across the country and around the world, I’m keeping you in my thoughts at this difficult time.”
The brother of guitarist/singer Randy Bachman and drummer Robbie Bachman, Tim Bachman co-founded Bachman–Turner Overdrive with his brothers and bassist Fred Turner in the early '70s.
Though he left BTO, as they came to be known, in 1974, Bachman still lent a deft six-string touch to some of the band's major early hits, including Let It Ride and the ubiquitous Takin' Care of Business. He would return to the BTO fold a decade later, playing guitar and contributing backing vocals to their final album, 1984's Bachman–Turner Overdrive.
“I am the last of my family on this side with all my memories of our life growing up in Winnipeg,” Randy Bachman said of his brother in a Facebook post, “So grateful for that. I’m sure my parents welcomed him home with my other two brothers who have passed in quick succession since the pandemic. I was the oldest. Rest in peace.”
A veteran guitarist best-known for his time with Kurt Vile & the Violators, Rob Laakso was an understated indie guitar hero and multi-instrumentalist.
Aside from his well-regarded time with the Violators, Laakso also played guitar in the renowned indie bands Swirlies and Mice Parade, and worked as an audio engineer on projects for Google, Apple, and Adidas.
“Rob and I worked close together on [Vile's] B'lieve I'm Goin Down... and Bottle It In,” Vile wrote of his late bandmate. “He co-produced many of the tracks alongside me, engineering often [and] playing many different instruments, slaying with ease.
“Wakin on a Pretty Daze was his first full time Violators record and you can see the shift [in] epic proportions from [2011's] Smoke Ring for My Halo to it.”
Though less of a household name than contemporaries like Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, Tony McPhee was a pillar of British blues-rock guitar in the late '60s and beyond.
As the guitarist and singer for the Groundhogs for the majority of their 50-year existence, and a go-to session guitarist – McPhee toured and swapped licks with a who's who of British rock royalty, including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall.
As a testament to McPhee's blues acumen, he and the Groundhogs backed the legendary John Lee Hooker on multiple UK tours in the mid-'60s, which, in turn, led to the band baking other visiting blues luminaries, such as Little Walter and Jimmy Reed.
Though they had stiff competition, Hooker regarded the Groundhogs as “the number one British blues band” of their time.
A beloved figure in metalcore guitar, Ryan Siew got his start as a teenager on YouTube, garnering attention with his pinpoint covers of finger-twisters by Killswitch Engage, Intervals, and Periphery.
Siew would go on to further prominence as a guitarist in the Australian metalcore band Polaris, who received ARIA award nominations for their first two albums; 2017's This Mortal Coil and 2020’s The Death Of Me.
YouTuber Ryan ‘Fluff’ Bruce was one of many guitarists to salute Siew, writing in an emotional statement, “We were literally just talking about 5150s and Friedman BEs like we always did. It was such a pleasure to know you and see you grow into a world-class musician. I am crying for your family and your band. Rest easy, brother.”
A post-hardcore guitar hero, Rick Froberg served as the frontman and guitarist for a number of bands, most notably Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes.
Often working with his guitar partner-in-crime, John Reis, Froberg was unafraid to experiment, and all too happy to change his style on a dime – from the ambitious noise of Drive Like Jehu and his and Reis's pre-Jehu band, Pitchfork, to the battering-ram, garage-punk force of Hot Snakes.
Of his friend and musical partner, Reis wrote, “He will forever be remembered for his creativity, vision and his ability to bring beauty into this world.”
Alongside Neal Schon, the band's sole constant member and lead guitarist to this day, George Tickner was one of the co-founders of Journey.
Though he left the group before they became permanent radio fixtures with giga-hits like Don't Stop Believin', Tickner helped shape their early material, performing on their 1975 self-titled debut album. Tickner was the co-writer of a number of its tracks, including Mystery Mountain and Of a Lifetime.
Though Tickner left the group after their debut, the material he wrote with Journey continued to be used by the band in the coming years, with songs co-written by the guitarist appearing on their second and third full-lengths – 1976's Look Into The Future and 1977's Next.
“Godspeed, George,” Schon wrote in tribute to Tickner, “thank you for the music.”
Edwin Wilson was a master luthier who – during his decades-long tenure at Gibson – served as a major figure in the development of the company's True Historic and Collector’s Choice series, and in the creation of signature models for some of guitar's biggest names.
Starting with Gibson in 1985, Wilson initially Custom Art and Historic department, before taking the reins at the company's True Historic builds division. After three decades with Gibson, Wilson left to take up a role as the Head of Research and Development at Vista Musical Instruments Ltd., the parent company of the revived Harmony brand and Heritage Guitars.
“Very sad to hear of the passing of Edwin Wilson,” Joe Bonamassa wrote of the luthier on Instagram. “Back in the day, Edwin was instrumental in developing prototypes for both my signature Les Paul and 335 models as well as the Collector's Choice series for Gibson Custom. He was a good dude – gone too soon.”
A native of Ireland, Sinéad O'Connor rocketed to international fame in the early 1990s. Despite generating considerable controversy with her outspoken political views – particularly an infamous 1992 performance on Saturday Night Live that saw her tear a photo of Pope John Paul II to pieces on live television – O'Connor's raw, straightforward songwriting touched millions of listeners worldwide, and forecasted the wholesale post-'80s transformation of popular music.
O'Connor channeled her traumatic childhood into her self-produced 1987 debut album, The Lion and the Cobra, and became a superstar in 1990, when her re-interpretation of the sweeping Prince ballad, Nothing Compares 2 U, topped the charts in the US, UK, and a number of other countries.
O'Connor's originals addressed political issues and the singer's struggles with her mental health with incredible candor, helping open the door for countless other songwriters to do the same in their own material.
Though her commercial standing never recovered from the aforementioned SNL performance, O'Connor remained unbowed, politically, in the face of criticism, a boldness that also extended to her eclectic studio output.
Her 1992 LP, Am I Not Your Girl?, explored the world of jazz standards, while 2002's Sean-Nós Nua returned the singer to her traditional Irish roots. 2005's Throw Down Your Arms, meanwhile, saw O'Connor taking on classics from the reggae catalog.
“Really sorry to hear of the passing of Sinead O’Connor,” Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar said of the singer in a statement. “Her music was loved around the world and her talent was unmatched and beyond compare.”
As a first-call session bassist and guitarist, and a member of Poco and, most prominently, the Eagles, Randy Meisner was one of the key figures in the development of the breezy folk- and country-influenced West Coast soft-rock sound that dominated the airwaves and charts throughout the '70s.
Meisner joined Poco in the late '60s, and though he left the band before the dawn of the '70s, the exposure helped him land a number of high-profile session gigs, including spots with Rick Nelson, James Taylor, and Linda Ronstadt. Those sessions, in turn, led him to Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and Bernie Leadon, with whom Meisner would co-found the Eagles.
Meisner played bass with the group until 1977, contributing to the band's trademark harmonies and singing lead on a number of tunes, most prominently the classic Take it to the Limit.
Saluting Meisner, the Eagles wrote that he was “at the forefront of the musical revolution that began in Los Angeles, in the late 1960s,” while recognizing him as “an integral part of the Eagles and instrumental in the early success of the band.”
To say that singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez had a unique career would be quite the understatement. He released only two studio albums in his lifetime – 1970's Cold Fact and 1971's Coming from Reality – each featuring plain-spoken, acoustic-driven folk songs á la early Bob Dylan, often couched in luscious string and horn arrangements. What really made Rodriguez, as he was known, stand out, though, were his lyrics.
Mincing no words, Rodriguez documented the many woes of his native Detroit, telling tales of addiction and poverty while scorning the corrupt politicians and businessmen that played a significant role in the city's marked decline from its post-World War II heyday.
Commercially, however, the two albums flopped, and Rodriguez soon left music, and took up a series of manual labor jobs in Detroit.
Entirely unbeknownst to him, though, Rodriguez's two albums found their way into South Africa, where their focus on the mechanisms behind oppression, poverty, and racism connected in a profound way with citizens segregated by the country's brutal apartheid regime.
The Detroit native became a massive star in the country, but remained for decades unaware of his belated success, all the while never earning a cent from his ample South African record sales.
His incredible story was the focus of the Oscar-winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, which helped finally bring Rodriguez the Stateside fame he long deserved in the early 2010s.
Though he was cheated out of royalties and didn't see success until his twilight years, the singer/songwriter harbored no regrets or bitterness.
“There have already been rewards just from the opportunity to do all this,” he told The New York Times in 2012. “I guess we all want to get there right away, but I believe it’s never too early, never too late.”
As the guitar-slinger for The Band – who backed Bob Dylan on some of his most influential work, before embarking on a remarkable career of their own – Robbie Robertson left an indelible mark on rock guitar, and had a major role in shaping the sound of the 'Americana' genre (even though he himself was Canadian).
The Band shepherded Bob Dylan through his infamous mid-'60s transformation from protest singer to Strat-wielding rocker, and, later in the decade, established themselves as roots-rock pioneers with one of the greatest debut/sophomore album opening salvos in rock history – 1968's Music From Big Pink and 1969's The Band.
Robertson was the band's leader, and that very creative dominance would lead the group – despite their enormous success – to call it quits with an epic concert they called The Last Waltz. Packed to the brim with the group's superstar friends, it was captured for posterity by Martin Scorsese, and went on to become one of the most famous rock concert films of all time.
Indeed, Robertson's most prominent post-Band work would come with Scorsese, with whom he worked on over a dozen film soundtracks – collections that showed the true breadth and scope of Robertson's musical talent and knowledge. Their last collaboration was Robertson's score for Killers of the Flower Moon, which was released in October of this year, after the guitarist's death.
In his final Guitar World interview, originally published in 2019, Robertson credited Dylan with inspiring him to bring a cinematic sense to his guitar playing and songwriting – with the Band and on his own.
“There was a tremendous sense of freedom from what Bob uncovered and revealed to the world. It was like, there are no rules.
“Even years later when I started making solo records I found I was almost scoring the songs as opposed to strumming along or picking a little riff behind it. It was almost like it was going to be a sonic experience – and that’s continued.”
Best known for his four-year tenure in Whitesnake, Bernie Marsden was an incredibly accomplished rock and blues guitarist, respected and loved by players across the genre spectrum.
Having previously played with Paice Ashton Lord, UFO and Glenn Cornick’s Wild Turkey, Marsden co-founded Whitesnake with frontman David Coverdale in 1978. The guitarist would contribute significantly to the band's first five albums – most prominently co-writing the song Here I Go Again – before departing in 1982.
With his beloved 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard, “The Beast,” Marsden went against the era's prevailing trends by relying more on phrasing and soul than speed to express himself on the instrument – a distinct touch that continued to shine throughout his prolific solo career, and in gigs with Ringo Starr, Gary Moore, Joe Bonamassa, and Robert Plant.
Joe Bonamassa, a close friend who collaborated with Marsden, cited the guitarist as “a great encourager, a confidant, a brilliant writer and most of all… a dear friend.
“He was the best of the best and championed so many young careers while being such a brilliant musician on his own. I never saw him happier than the time we camped out at Abbey Road Studios for a month writing music together for what would become [Bonamassa's] Royal Tea album. So much talent wrapped up in such a wonderful human being.”
Jack Sonni spent years in the late '70s and early '80s toiling as a relatively obscure session guitarist and Rudy’s Music employee, before he was recruited by Mark Knopfler to join Dire Straits in the mid-'80s.
Sonni joined in time to make a small contribution to the band's extraordinarily successful 1985 album, Brothers in Arms, and performed with the band at that year's record breaking Live Aid mega-concert.
Sonni only remained with the group for two years, but would go on to work for Seymour Duncan and, later, assist in the development and launch of the game-changing Line 6 POD.
“A sad farewell to our old friend Jack Sonni, whom I met when he was working at Rudy’s Music Stop on 48th St,” Knopfler said of his late bandmate on social media.
“Jack was a genuine guitar enthusiast who loved to play, jam, and talk guitars and amps all day. He joined us on tour during the Brothers in Arms era and took to life on the road with the band like a fish to water.”
The COO of instrument retailer Sam Ash, Sammy Ash helped guide the company – founded by his grandfather – through an era that saw the demise of many formidable names in music retail.
Knowledgable and much-loved in the industry, Ash also happened to have come up with the name of one of the most famous effects pedals of all time; the Ibanez Tube Screamer.
“The name was suggested by the Sam Ash Music family, by Jerry [Ash]'s son Sammy Ash,” Tube Screamer inventor Susumu Tamura told Guitar Player in an interview earlier this year.
“Sammy asked, ‘Do you know how the Cry Baby pedal got its name?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it sounds like a baby crying.’ And he said, ‘This sounds like a screaming tube amp.’ So when the Maxon OD808 Overdrive Pro was born, Ibanez’s overdrive was named the TS808 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pro.”
“The guitar business has lost one of the greats,” Gibson Director of Brand Experience Mark Agnesi wrote in tribute to Ash. “Sammy Ash was a legend in the industry, a great father, and a passionate guitar nerd. I’m proud to have called him a friend. My condolences to the Ash family.”
The longtime stage and studio guitarist for the British electronic group Massive Attack, Angelo Bruschini helped bring a brooding rock edge to the band's atmospheric trip-hop sound.
Bruschini made a number of important contributions to the Massive Attack discography, including guitar work on the band's hugely successful 1998 album, Mezzanine. Of note on that album is Bruschini's playing on the song Angel, which sets the guitarist's alternately ethereal and industrial soundscapes over a dark, brooding beat.
Massive Attack, in a note posted to their social media accounts, cited Bruschini as a “singularly brilliant & eccentric talent.
“Impossible to quantify your contribution to the Massive Attack canon,” they wrote. “How lucky we were to share such a life together.”
The long-serving guitar player and foundational member of the iconic post-punk band Killing Joke, Geordie Walker cast a long (and often overlooked) shadow.
Perhaps the most famous example of Walker's uncredited influence is his ominously jangling opening riff to Killing Joke's era-defining single, Eighties, which was blatantly lifted by Kurt Cobain on Nirvana's smash, Come As You Are.
Part of Walker's wholly unique tone – described by Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan as “a massive sound that has influenced so damn many of us” – came from his unconventional (for post-punk, at least) six-string of choice: a Gibson ES-295.
“Originally I got that guitar because I wanted a distorted sound while still being able to hear the notes if I played a complex chord,” Walker told Guitar World in 2016.
“So the idea was that I should get a semi-acoustic distorted sound, put a contact mic in it, and blend the two sounds. But I saw that [ES-295] in an old magazine and then found one in a little store in West London for £640, which at the time was like $1,000. And as soon as I plugged in, there was the sound.”
As the legendary frontman and sometimes guitarist for the Pogues, Shane MacGowan seamlessly blended punk rebelliousness with Irish musical tradition.
MacGowan's most famous song is the Pogues' Christmas classic, Fairytale of New York, but over the course of five albums with the band, he established himself as a world-class songwriter, contrasting his and the band's boozy and rowdy reputation with evocative, beautifully sketched out and structured lyrics.
Upon MacGowan's death, Irish president Michael Higgins weighed in on the singer's legacy, saying “Shane will be remembered as one of music’s greatest lyricists. So many of his songs would be perfectly crafted poems, if that would not have deprived us of the opportunity to hear him sing them.”
An icon of Canadian rock, Myles Goodwyn served as the singer/guitarist for April Wine, a band that – despite never quite achieving household name status in the US – sold over 10 million records worldwide.
Starting out in the early '70s and stretching into the following decade, April Wine enjoyed a string of FM Radio-friendly hits – many of them written by Goodwyn.
Famously, April Wine served as the co-headliners of a 1977 show at Toronto's El Mocambo Club, playing alongside “the Cockroaches,” who turned out be the Rolling Stones under a false name.
Aside from Paul and Linda McCartney, Denny Laine was the sole constant member of Paul McCartney & Wings, and was an integral part of the post-Beatles band's sound, doubling McCartney's parts, or adding color and depth where needed.
“If Paul writes a song on guitar, and it’s a very simple thing, I would probably just try to add to that,” Laine explained to Guitar World of the band's process in his final interview earlier this year. “I wouldn’t be the main rhythm guitarist, because what the song needed was accompaniment.
“I was always pretty in with what Paul was playing, which probably makes it sound more like one part. We did that a lot, where I would play lead parts in unison with him, like on Helen Wheels [from Band on the Run].”
Though not the group's star attraction, Laine was integral to their framework, helping keep Wings together during the infamously troubled sessions for what would become their best-known and most-acclaimed album, Band on the Run. Though he – by his own admission – rarely took solos with Wings, Laine's soulful lead break on that album's Nineteen Hundred And Eighty Five is a terrific display of his skill and soulful voice on the instrument.
Laine – who also a co-founder of the Moody Blues, playing guitar and singing lead on the group's smash hit cover of Bessie Banks' Go Now – maintained a prolific solo career after Wings' dissolution in 1981, and toured frequently. Laine played live even well into 2023, revisiting classics from both his Moody Blues and Wings years.
“I can’t be strictly a studio guy. That’s how I came up, playing live,” Laine told Guitar World. “I think that’s the way the best records are made. You take that energy you get from performance and bring it into the studio. Then you come out with something good. It’s a hard thing to do in this business, but that’s what you need to do. It’s all about balance.”