Considering the fact that Rock and Roll and its antecedents originated in the United States, it was appropriate to begin with the greatest American guitarists. However, it was the “British Invasion” that elevated the genre to a whole new level and was integral in creating what we now know as “Classic Rock”. Once again, this is obviously a personal and highly subjective list that could change tomorrow. Therefore, disagreement is not only welcomed, but encouraged.
- Eric Clapton- Perhaps it is a cliche to begin with the Holy Trinity of Yardbirds guitar players in general, and “Slowhand” in particular, but it is a cliche for a reason: they are all great, great musicians. It is fashionable among the hipster set to dismiss Clapton as derivative, lazy, and boring and these criticisms are true in some cases. Sometimes, he can be a little too laid back and his flirtation with nationalism is disturbing, but drunken diatribes do not erase his sublime playing, nor his tireless efforts to keep the Blues, and its African American originators, in the spotlight. Kids didn’t scrawl “Clapton is God” on English walls in the 60s for nothing. This is a very rare and cool video of Derek and the Dominoes on The Johnny Cash Show. Sadly, Duane Allman is not with them, but where else can you see Clapton jamming with The Man in Black and Carl Perkins? On a sad and very gruesome note, the drummer in the clip, Jim Gordon, murdered his mother with a hammer in a schizophrenic episode in 1983.
- Jeff Beck- The guy that replaced Clapton in The Yardbirds seems to be the one that has the most street cred, and the one that musicians seem to most respect. Maybe it is because of his progression into jazz fusion, or maybe it is because he is the least commercially successful of the mighty triumvirate of Yardbird axmen that top this list. One thing is certain, Beck has as uniquely recognizable a style as the other two. In addition, if Nigel Tufnel wasn’t entirely based on him, his look certainly was, and this alone deems him worthy of respect. On a related note, what is up with the sleeveless shirts? His arms do not look that good for a 67 year old. Check out this smoking video of Beck and number three playing a mash-up of “Beck’s Bolero” and and “The Immigrant Song” at Beck’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
- Jimmy Page- Led Zeppelin is arguably, the most influential band of all time when you consider the popularity of hard rock and heavy metal. People complain of his sloppy playing, questionable attribution of songwriting credit and even possible plagiarism, but Page was a master of building tension with his hypnotic playing and monster riffs. If guitar hero were a term in the dictionary, Page’s picture would accompany the entry. In this video, he explains and demonstrates to Jack White and The Edge how he wrote “Kashmir”.
- Keith Richards- Speaking of monster riffs, has anyone come up with more than Keef? It comes so natural to him that he can literally do it in his sleep. Sure, Brian Jones, Mick Taylor, and Ronnie Wood handled most of the lead guitar work on the seminal band’s classics, but some love needs to be given to the world’s greatest rhythm guitar player. He may not be the fastest, most agile, or technically brilliant player around, how could he with hands that look like these? However, he is at least half of the reason that the Stones are the the “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band”. Check out this clip of his most famous lead vocal song, “Happy”.
- Richard Thompson- It is astounding that this guy isn’t a household name. For one thing, he was the first and best lead guitarist for Fairport Convention, the seminal English folk rock band that influenced Led Zeppelin’s quieter moments. You can hear his understated guitar work accompanying the late, great Sandy Denny on one of the most achingly beautiful songs ever recorded, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes”. After he left Fairport, he teamed up with his wife Linda and recorded some of the most critically acclaimed albums ever. Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac, was not the only great break-up album of the late 70s. Shoot Out the Lights was recorded when the Thompsons were divorcing and remains one of his greatest releases. Check out his blistering fretwork on the title track here. Finally, who would have guessed that the world’s greatest song about a motorcycle was composed by a Brit? Enjoy Thompson’s amazing acoustic playing on “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”
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