Monday, March 1, 2010

The RGD Hall of Fame (my favorite players)

Here's the first segment of Rock Guitar Daily's Hall of Fame.  The players who have left the greatest impressions on an impressionable mind.  The guys I go to frequently and forever shall sing their praises.  Some are larger than life, some you've probably never heard of.  Over the next few columns I'm going to list my favorite records, guitars, unknown guitarists and such.  It's a slow news period anyway, right? 

George Harrison  -  Beatle George looms large in my life, as much for his spiritual side as for his huge musical abilities.  He gave me the beginnings of any religious leanings I possess, and they are substantial.  As a guitarist, George defined melody and taste.  Early on Harrison brought a tremendous rockabilly vibe to The Beatles early recordings.  His tone cut through every mix and never clashed with Lennon and McCartney.  His chord voicings were usually played higher on the neck than John's chugging rhythms, and his solos were never less than both perfect for the song and exceptionally well played.  His phrasing and technique were superb.  As time moved on his playing evolved, becoming more melody driven and less influenced by his musical heroes.  As he became a more confident writer his use of sophisticated chord structures became a hallmark.  His first solo album, All Things Must Pass, is a remarkably beautiful production, with acoustic guitars creating a huge wall of sound, and the melodic Strat work by himself and Eric Clapton are gorgeous throughtout.  Clapton never played better than he did with George.

Mick Ronson  -  Mick's solo on Moonage Daydream remains as incredible as any solo to ever grace a rock and roll record.  With stunning speed, flash, and tone, it was and is the quintessential glam-rock guitar song.  However, it was Ronson's melodicism that always grabbed me most.  Not just a great guitarist, Ronno sang wonderfully, played great piano (Bowie's Lady Stardust), arranged strings as well as George Martin (Mott the Hoople's Sea Diver, Lou Reed's Perfect Day), and he wrote more than a few great songs.  He personified the right hand man in rock, making better everything he touched with his egoless approach to teamwork.  Many have never heard his solo album Play Don't Worry, but it perhaps is the best document that displays in full his huge range of talents.  The platinum haired spider died too damned soon.

Django Rheinhardt  -  I remember the first time I heard the mad gypsy.  I thought I'd fallen off the bus and missed school completely.  No guitarist's education is near complete without finding out why Beck and Blackmore both agree that he was the greatest that ever lived.  He played with a fire unmatched to this day, barrelling through every tune with neck breaking speed, perfect timing and a devil may care sense that remains unchallenged.  Many great guitarists dedicate their musical lives to his style and it's not hard to see why.  Shred?  Django invented it in the '30s.

Bill Nelson  -  Nelson's work with Be Bop Deluxe influenced Randy Rhoads tremendously.  He masterfully and seemingly without effort played dazzling guitar over everything he wrote, and what he wrote was brilliant (still is).  Be Bop's Sunburst Finish resides at the top of my desert island top 10.  After leaving the world of commercial rock behind, Nelson has continued to record inventive and endlessly interesting music for 35 years, practically inventing DIY.  He was recording in his attic years before it became the way of the world.  The world lost a lot when Nelson gave up big rock, but you gotta love a guy who sticks by his guns and follows his muse as opposed to chasing dollars.  A few years ago, Bill teamed with American guitar maker Campbell Guitars and they produced the Campbell Nelson Transitone, maybe the coolest signature guitar ever made.  He's been championed a bit over the last few years by Guitar Player's Michael Molenda, and that's a good thing.  Eveeryone should get to hear Sunburst Finish.

Gary Moore  -  Bluesman, rocker, bluesman, rocker....Truth is he's as good as they come at both.  Moore might be the most under valued guitar star on the planet.  His rock work in the '70s and '80s set a high mark for shredders, and he sings as well as he plays.  Whether solo or as an occasional member of Thin Lizzy, Gary never fails to bring tremendous passion to his work.  His right hand be the most authoratative I've ever heard.  Dazzling speed and a near Beckish melodicism graces his every note.  Not many have made the argument that he's the best that ever played and sang concurrently, but I will and with no apologies to the Stevie Ray crowd.  Moore has vocal chops for days, a great singer, not a 'good singer for a guitarist'....

Webb Wilder  -  Webb is the only basic rock rhythm player who's name I mention in the same breath as Keith's.  And more than that, he's consistantly produced great records for 25 years and in the process worked with some of the best guitar players you've never heard, such as Donny "The Twangler" Roberts, George "The Tone Chaperone" Bradfute, and Tony Bowles.  These fellows have been burning it up on Webb's records for years, and making his shows amazing displays of taste and virtuousity.  Wilder himself is an excellent soloist, and he trades licks with these great players fearlessly.  His last live CD, Born to be Wilder, has three guitarists tossing of great licks left and right as Wilder runs this guitar circus with wit, humor, piss and vinegar.  With one foot in country and the other in rock and roll, Wilder by his own admission is loved by dozens.

Ritchie Blackmore  -   No one's favorite fellow, Ritchie is still one of the most unique and skilled guitarists I've ever seen or heard.  Throughout his run with Deep Purple and Rainbow, Ritchie displayed a great combination of riffs and sophisticated soloing.  His playing sounds like his own and no elses.  It's almost impossible to hear anyone's influence on his playing with the possible exception of Django.  Blackmore alone brought that type of gypsy improvisation to heavy rock.  I wonder if he'll rock again....I almost hope not.

Jimmy Page  -  Led Zeppelin exist on the same plain as The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and Queen.  There's no real comparing them to anything, and you know them the minute they start playing.  Page is at times almost maddeningly sloppy, but so what?  He jammed more great guitar information into a single song than anyone else.  No one has come even close in terms of guitar orchestration.  Jimmy would combine tunings, techniques, and tones to create whole worlds of sounds.  His production syle defined the sound of Zeppelin on record.  A shame he never produced for others.  And he defines guitar player cool to this day.  The man reeks sophisticated rock coolness.

Uli Jon Roth  -  Best known for his incendiary performances with The Scorpions, Uli combined a love for Hendrix and classical music, and this combination became shred guitar.  More than any single player, Roth brought mind bending technique to the world of hard rock.  Early Scorpions tunes such as Catch Your Train, and Pictured Life woke me up to a post-Hendrixian world of guitar playing.  Never had I heard such a combination of technique and over the top rock madness.  His huge tone, incredible virtuousity, and melodic sensiblities still leave me breathless.

Jeff Beck  -  Keeps getting better, and better, and better....I first heard Beck on 1968's Truth, and there's been no looking back.  The man continually forges his own path and his brilliance has never wained.  Sure I wish he worked with a singer more often, but that's my problem.  Guitar Shop set a standard for rock instrumentals which has not yet been bested.  His transcendent meditation on The Beatles A Day in the Life might be the best guitar instrumental I've ever heard.  He's been the high water mark for guitarists since 1965.  Need I say more?  There's every guitarist and then there's Jeff Beck.  A breed apart.

Michael Schenker  -   I've saved my favorite for last.  He's had more ups and downs than you can imagine, more lives than a cat's nine, but for my ears, Michael Schenker is the finest purveyor of the rock and roll guitar solo.  His work is melodic, toneful, fast, and beautiful.  His years with UFO produced a lot of the finest guitar rock in existance.  He plays with a fluidity that perfectly matched his melodic sensibilities.  His turn to heavier rock with 1980's Michael Schenker Group still compares with the best metal of the 80s.  Forget the personal crap and listen to the man's playing.  I'm hoping that the end of The Scorpions here shortly will bring back together the guitar team of Michael and Rudolph Schenker.  They've parried together brilliantly, but never for a full record since before Michael found his footing.

There you have it.  No illusions that this is anything but MY favorites.  Every person SHOULD have a different list, it makes everything more interesting, right?

Peace, love, and pretty guitars.


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