Friday, July 6, 2007


Hendrix eclipsed all the old school guys easily. But he died, which is a shock the art of rock guitar never recovered from. Jimmy Page is a first rate idea man, a great producer, a conceptualist of hard rock architecture, but he is easily the worst heavy-rep fretman I've ever seen--fast , knowledgeable, but very sloppy, so full of mistakes, painful to listen to, bordering on incompetent, without the Hendrix genius for turning mis-fingerings into an advantage.

Allan Holdsworth is in a class by himself who merged the spidery phrasing of Harvey Mandel with the "Sunship" style acceleration Coltrane favored in his most period of most frantic playing. His solo albums are inconsistent, but the band materials where I think he's done work approaching guitar genius are

Perry Como did not play the guitar.
a hard rock band with former Coliseum drummer Jon Heissman, which I heard a few years before the emergence of Van Halen. Holdsworth's fleet, punchy runs remain breath taking. Material is better than average riff-rock, and serves the guitarist just fine.

-- Soft Machine

Instrumental work, full on jazz rock, and Holdsworth takes a long solo on "Hazard Profile", choice post-McLaughlin/Coryell guitar work. Holdsworth is in state of transcendence.

Believe It
-- Tony Williams Lifetime

Great match up, Lifetime chapter two. Williams drives the jazz/fusion session masterfully--god, I miss him--and Holdsworth sears the scales in angelic overdrive.

Clapton is one of the great white blues guitarist, but he is not a blues man, but a pop star. And these days, he is kinda dull, considered by too many as being the definition and savior of blues guitar while the likes of Buddy Guy, Michael Hill, Johnny Winter and BB King are still breathing. He is trading on the remains of his charisma, I think.

Beck is singular, unique, cool, the Miles Davis of rock guitar to Hendrix's Coltrane, but he cannot keep a good thing going, breaking bands faster than many can eat lunch. It would've been nice to have a series of albums by the same band that one could dip into to see how the music developed over time, but Beck has a hard time committing. He seems to get bored in a hurry with what he's doing.
Ritchie Blackmore: a case of great guitar talent wasted in a bad band, Deep Purple. His solos on "Smoke on the Water" , "Highway Star' and many others are classics, little gems of perfection, but you had to put with macho-posturing to get to it. Blackmore, to my knowledge, never really did the electric work that showed unencumbered by lame vocals and moronic lyrics, though I understand he has a Celtic - themed acoustic project that might be worthwhile.

I cannot imagine Zappa sounding like anyone except himself.

Bloomfield, who I saw many times, including with the original Butterfield Blues Band, was at least ten years ahead of his time. His story is the best anti-drug message I can imagine.

I was a guitar obsessive for years over a slew of players--Larry Coryell, Leslie West, Ritchie Blackmore -- but I was in my teens and early twenties, after all, and matters of family, work, sobering up , and substantial career change consumed the time I would otherwise have spent waxing on , 24/7, about my favorite guitarists.

The sad part of the story is that I know some fellows, from a variety of circumstances, who are my age, late forties, and rattle on about their musical agendas at the drop of a beret. I did an interview with Ozzie Osborn in the early eighties for a weekly when Black Sabbath were coming through town, and an acquaintance named Roy couldn't get over the fact that I was the undeserving son-of-bitch among his associates who'd received an audience with his Ozziness.

Roy complimented on this fact, saying that I must be something special to get the interview --"You met Ozzie, Man, that's doesnt jus happen, bro, you met Ozzie, I mean , The Oz, the god damned Oz shook your hand , bro..."-- and then would kneel , valet style. Of course, being a young asshole myself, I got a kick out of that, but he kept it up for weeks, months, months turned into years, a decade passed, friends got married, had kids, other friends died of many different things, life became full and complicated, and close to twenty years later, around the time I turned forty, I was in the local market when Roy turns up in the aisle pushing a cart, thick around the middle, hair long, grey and thinning.

"Hey, how's the Oz man" was the first thing he said. I said I was okay, and after the expected pleasantries, he asked me what I thought of Randy Rhodes, Osborne's guitarist who was killed in a plane wreck. Not much, I said, I liked Van Halen better.

"But Randy played with Ozzy, man" he said," and you met Ozzy. Where's that at? Randy Roades played behind Oz and he could..."

Jeff Beck has always been the most adventurous of the Yardbirds triad, and he's easily the most unique: only Hendrix rivals him for advancing rock guitar by light years, and it's lucky for us that he's stayed alive to add to his legacy.Jeff Beck is easily the best of his generation: he has made more than a few awful records, but his guitarwork was always with out equal. He is the only one of the original British blues-rock pioneers who's learned how to blend his style musical situations than strict-rock: at his best, he is riveting as no other guitarist can be. The Truth / Beckola band rocked like a mother. People left their concerts with out eyelashes. Becks' guitar licks sliced the meat in the butcher shop across the street powered the generators at the ER when the lights went out. Rod Stewarts' singing forced ugly cops to stay indoors on nice days.

The shame of his career is his inability to keep a band together for any real length of time. Had he found the right folks, his recorded output might have been more consistent than it is. I wish he'd keep his bands together longer than has been his habit, because it would be a gas to see what he'd sound like with musicians he really gelled with. Anyone who wants to hear some of the freshest and flashiest guitar on disc ought to seek out the work of the late Danny Gatton. A fantastic hybrid of rock, country, blues and jazz, Gattons' playing could slash and burn and run circles around the fretboard like no ones' business. My guess is that he's was a technically accomplished as Steve Morse, but with an ear to the ground.
Jerry Garcia had his random moments when he and the Dead connected on a number of levels during those lengthy jams, but he was really an interminable improviser without much imagination beyond his diddling sense of phrase. I'll take Allen Holdsworth or Pat Metheny for extended improvisation: there is far more money in their musical banks.

Robert Hunter, though, is one of the best rock lyricists ever.

Optimum Coryell is, in my opinion:

Spaces --Incredible album, with John McLaughlin on second guitar, Miroslav Vitous on bass, and Billy Cobhmam on drums, this is one of the greatest jazz-guitar albums ever. Coryell is a lyrical blur over these strong compositions, and McLaughlin's back up and second-gun soloing anticipates the band leader's moods nicely.

-- --With Steve Marcus on sax and Mike Mandel, a unique jazz rock album, mainstream compositions and approaches to the arrangements with Coryells' cranky , buzzy guitar chops dicing and slicing --his then recent work with Sonny Sharrock on the Memphis Underground album with the other wise forgettable Herbie Mann shows here. Steve Marcus is in Coltrane overkill on his alto--those squeallllllly high notes will make you go deaf, but he is an energetic soloist.

Alvin Lees' problem is that he's only had one guitar solo, which he plays over and over again. It's not an issue of style, but of repetition. He's a one trick pony.
Buck Dharma was the cats' meow in the seventies with Blue Oyster Cult, but I always found him sterile, if proficient. Bland professionalism. BOC were also one of the dullest bands I've ever seen. Their dalliance with fascist chic hoodwinked some critics who needed symbolism to commit discourse upon, but I thought they were just silly.

There's a tendency of fans to buy into the faux tragic sweep of rock history, and to locate the "death" of the music with some event where the possibility of being legitimate at what you do became impossible. For guitar fans, that is the death of Hendrix, after whose passing no one could play as well as, and certainly no one could adopt or play in the style of because to do so would be a transgression against some deified shrine. This makes no sense, and is antithetical to music making, which is a living activity, not a bunch of notes on a page or locked on some scratchy master tapes. Hendrix certainly modeled is guitar work on guitarists before him, he modified what he liked and used to create his style, and he extended the possibilities of the music he loved by his treating the music as if he owned it. It was his creation, everything that influenced him became his own in his hands, with the result being the guitar work we discuss today.

To revisit the old neighborhood, SRV was a distinct and powerful guitarist, just as Hendrix was distinct from his mentors Albert King and Buddy Guy. "Voodoo Chile (Slight return)" sounds eerily similar to the original, but that is in the proper spirit of homage, and for other tracks, the influence is weighed with Vaughn's own personality, which is strong enough on its own.

While there's no doubting that Vaughn was deeply influenced by Hendrix, he did developed his own style, and created his own sound with what he did with the notes. For slavish, note-by-note infatuation with Hendrix's guitar work, you're on more solid ground citing Frank Marino or Randy Hansen. Vaughn created his own thing and his own feel, inspired by an obvious source that he acknowledged many times in his playing life. Even if he WAS derivative, I'm not so sure that's always a bad thing.
Agreed. It is impossible for any musician, or any artist, to not be derivative to some degree in their work, at some time. What matters is how well the influences are absorbed and make for a foundation on which to build your own expression. Vaughn had moved rather compellingly to his own style before his death. Marino, or even Uli Jon Roth, say, have never gotten beyond the box that the Hendrix factor has become.

From the get go,George Harrison's guitar work was about taste and melody, in being sprite and joyful in the notes he played.

Brian May was tasty at what he did, I think, but he was an uninteresting soloist, really, though I think it would have been interesting to have he and Steve Howe switch bands. May might have given Yes some more guts, how brought Queen more grace. Both bands, though, sank musically under the weight of their top heavy conception: the music lost drive and direction, it became dull and cranky, and both bands stumbled.

Nice licks were played , though.
LESLIE WEST!!! playing "Dreams of Milk and Honey" on the live side of Flowers of Evil by Mountain is pure, snarling, bell tone genius. Sure , call it repetitive: I quite literally know every note of this forty minute jam by heart. No, I am not a Deadhead given to listening to wandering guitar noodling. I think West achieves a moment of genius here: he never equaled this performance again.
If Keith Richards drew his inspiration in extending the sound of Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters into a new kind of rangy, chest thumping howl of macho badness, Harrison took from not just Berry but also Carl Perkins and James Burton and understood the stoic, bittersweet nature of their country-tinged phrasing, and had not a little of the "swing" these cats possessed in spades.

Most important, I think, is his genius for simplicity. He didn't play all the notes, just the right notes, and beyond that , he played them with an unexpected originality that made his solos some of the most memorable in rock and pop.

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