Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Thousand Guitar Pickers in Guyville

Frank Zappa said rating musicians is ridiculous, I agree.  Judging the merits of blues, rock,  jazz or classical guitarists is all conjecture and a matter of personal taste.  Rolling Stone magazine recently released their list of  the top 100 guitarists of all time. (Not to be confused with David Fricke's similar Top 100)  I agree that Jimi Hendrix should head up the list, everything after that is up for debate.  

Naturally it's a conclusion deduced by guesswork, anyone that says otherwise is lying. It's not like there's some scientific or mathematical formula to compare sustained tones or speed riffs.   I disagree with some of the picks, especially Derek Trucks #16. Trucks is a wunderkind, but is he better than James Burton or Carlos Santana?... not by a long shot.  He reminds me of the speed metal players, blazing fast with great technical expertise, but without a hint of personality.

B.B. King #6, is rated way too high, to me he always sounded too polished and corny.  The new generation of blues rockers prefer the gritty style of Albert King #13 or the kinetic energy of Buddy Guy.  Keith Richards  #4  ahead of Chuck Berry #7 ?,  considering Keith plays nothing but riffs he jacked from Chuck, shouldn't Berry be ranked higher?  Keith Richards wasn't even the best guitar player in his own band (that honor went to Mick Taylor) and he sure didn't improve with age. To be honest neither Richards or Berry belong in the top twenty.

Les Paul #18,  if we're picking old guys  why not pick Andres Segovia? Seriously though, Les Paul's cascading riffs predated and influenced every genre of rock music known to man.  Freddy King #15 didn't really distinguish himself  from the other Kings on this list. But, he still plays circles around many of those ranked ahead of him.  George Harrison at #11 is just wrong, he was hardly an elite guitarist.  Ranking Carlos Santana #20 is a travesty. Lately it's been cool to bust on Carlos, although, every living musician on this list  would sing his praises. 

Here's Rolling Stone's top twenty and my synopsis of each, if you disagree (and I'm sure you will) just keep in mind, there will never be a consensus on something as hypothetical as "Who's the Greatest Guitarist of All Time." And yet, it's so much fun arguing about it.

1.   Jimi Hendrix (the man with the guitar is still unmatched, the future & present king)
2.   Clapton (everything after Layla was anticlimactic, dogged by addiction & racist statements)
3.   Jimmy Page (I have him at #2, it's just a shame he didn't do more after Led Zeppelin)
4.    Keith Richards (not really a lead guitarist, but he understood his limitations)
5.    Jeff Beck (#3 in my book, hard wired and edgy, not everyone's cup of tea)
6.    B.B. King (such a soft silky touch, sadly after 1969 he was basically a lounge act)
7.    Chuck Berry (on guitar he was a rock & roll innovator and competent blues player)
8.    Eddie Van Halen (set the standard for an entire generation of metal guitarists)
9.    Duane Allman (a truly gifted player who helped invent the southern rock genre)
10.  Pete Townsend (great songwriter & composer, loud & messy guitarist)
11   George Harrison (not an elite guitarist, limited skills, little progression after 1970)
12   Stevie Ray Vaughn (Sad demise, was at a crossroads in terms of style when he died) 
13   Albert King (left handed electric blues original, so good that everyone stole from him)
14   David Gilmour (overlooked due to Pink Floyd's artsy tendencies, an inventive player)
15   Freddy King (a dynamic  guitar sound, more raw & urgent than Albert  or B.B.)
16   Derek Trucks (channels Duane Allman, his clear antiseptic leads are emotionless)  
17   Neil Young (has a distinct sound, but his flat colorless tone can grow tiresome)
18   Les Paul (the wizard knew how to build them and he could also play them)
19.  James Burton (played w/ Ricky Nelson, Elvis, Emmy Lou, brilliant in the studio or live)
20   Carlos Santana (equal to Clapton, adept at blues & rock, his low placement is disgusting)

Here's my "official"  top twenty list:

Some would rank Eddie Van Halen much higher, many would ignore Frank Zappa's legacy and others may scoff at me for including Dick Dale.  My criteria included, the artist's body of work, their influence on other players and innovations. 

1.   Jimi  Hendrix                                    
2.   Jimmy Page                                      
3.   Jeff Beck                                         
4.   Eric Clapton                                      
5.   Duane Allman                                  
6.   Albert King                                    
7.   Carlos Santana                                  
8.   Johnny Winter                                   
9.   James Burton                                    
10. Buddy Guy                                      
11. Stevie Ray Vaughn
12. Freddy King
13. Eddie Van Halen
14. Pete Townsend
15. B.B. King
16. David Gilmour
17. Frank Zappa
18. Robin Trower
19. Neil Young
20. Dick Dale