Sunday, 27 October 2013
ELDER MUSIC: Lead Guitarists
This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
This is probably a column for the Boomers and for those who are interested in rock music; that may exclude some of my readers.
I've written before about guitarists but that was a long time ago (in blog years), back in the early mists of time of my writing these things, so I thought it was time to revisit the topic.
This is something that creates endless discussion so - those who aren't interested I suggest you venture over to Bad Astronomy or somewhere.
Looking at my selections, I found that although I started this to celebrate guitar heroes, it's rather turned into a celebration of unsung heroes - well, little-sung heroes perhaps (with exceptions, of course).
Anyway, we all have our favorites and these are mine.
I'll start by going into grumpy mode and suggest that Led Zeppelin was the catalyst for rock music's downward slide. Really nothing against them – Jimmy Page is one of the finest guitarists around – it's just that they inspired all those heavy metal bands - the thrash metal, grunge and whatever-metal. So, end of the diatribe, let's get to the music.
There are two guitarists that I oscillate between as being the finest in this genre. I'll start the column with them in alphabetical order so you can't read anything into my choice of who I prefer.
Leading off is MICHAEL BLOOMFIELD.
Michael came from the blues. He was born and grew up in Chicago and as a teenager he'd go along to the blues clubs and jam with the artists. They were mightily impressed with his playing.
He first came to general notice as the guitarist in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. After that he played with Bob Dylan – he supplied the guitar on Bob's first electric albums and he also accompanied him on the famous/infamous Newport Folk Festival gig where Bob changed folk music forever.
Later he performed solo and with his friend Al Kooper, who also performed with Bob on record and in concert. Together they produced half of one of the best rock albums ever (Michael went walkabout and didn't perform for the second half). That was "Super Session.” From that, Albert's Shuffle.
The other contender is ROBBIE ROBERTSON.
Robbie started his career as a member of The Hawks who backed rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins. He later played with Bob Dylan - indeed, taking over Michael's role.
The Hawks later became The Band. No more needs to be said. Robbie was the guitarist and main songwriter for the group, and he wrote most of their classic songs, including this one, All la Glory.
STEVE CROPPER was a studio musician but he also played in a group.
That group was Booker T and the MGs. The studio where he played was Stax and he played with pretty much every great soul singer in the land. He also wrote songs, often in collaboration with his good friend Otis Redding. Others as well after Otis died.
Anyone who has listened to any soul music would have heard him play.
Steve's guitar style is unlike other guitar heroes. He belonged to the "less is more" school and there was not a superfluous note in his playing. Those who are movie buffs will have seen Steve in the Blues Brothers films, the first one especially.
Here Steve, rather uncharacteristically gets (slightly) carried away on Booker T & the MGs' Soul Dressing.
JAMES BURTON is rather similar to Steve. He won't play anything that's not required but what he plays is exactly right.
James was also a studio musician but he too played in bands backing fairly famous musicians starting with Ricky Nelson. He was there on all those early hits and in the TV program as well.
Later when Elvis did his comeback concerts, James was an integral part of the band. He was a founding member of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band.
Getting back to the early days with Ricky, this is Believe What You Say.
DICKEY BETTS was the "other guitarist" for the Allman Brothers' Band when Duane was still alive.
After Duane's death, Dickey took over the role of lead guitarist and I prefer his playing to Duane's. That statement will get the Duane-ists offside but that's the way I call it.
Norma, the Assistant Musicologist, is a real fan of Dickey's and she suggested Ramblin' Man which she says is a real steering wheel thumper (you know, if you're sitting at a red light and it's playing...)
JOHN FOGERTY wasn't appreciated in the sixties by the other San Francisco groups of the time, maybe because he was from the East Bay. How's that for a rather superficial take on things?
The general public, though, took Creedence Clearwater Revival into their collective heart. I think the problem with the other bands is that Creedence produced really fine, and usually, short songs that were instant classics.
Those songs still sound good today, unlike a lot of those other bands' noodling around. From an early album, one of Creedence's best songs, Lodi.
You may not necessarily know GRADY MARTIN but you will have heard him nonetheless.
He was yet another studio musician who backed mainly country and pop singers in the fifties and sixties. If you've ever listened to Marty Robbins from that time you will have heard Grady - most particularly, of course, the lovely guitar playing on El Paso.
ROSS HANNAFORD will probably not be widely known to most readers, except those from the sun-burnt country.
Ross was the lead guitarist for the great Australian band, Daddy Cool. Since then he's been in several bands and played on many records for other musicians and still performs regularly.
Rather surprisingly for such a great and well-known (in this country anyway) musician, he can often be seen busking outside the South Melbourne Market usually with his friend Bart Willoughby of a Saturday morning.
The A.M. and I like to stop and listen (well, who wouldn't? The music is so good) and leave several bucks in the guitar case.
Here's Daddy Cool from 1971 with Come Back Again. Ross Wilson is the lead singer.
ALBERT LEE is my pick as the finest guitarist playing at the moment. I know I've said that before but I'll keep on doing so until you get sick of me.
For newcomers, Albert was a member of The Hot Band backing Emmylou Harris. He was also a long-time member of the Everly Brothers' backing group and has played with Eric Clapton's band. Indeed, he was once fired by Eric for playing too well and showing him up.
These days Albert has his own band, Hogan's Heroes, and also often plays with Bill Wyman in his group.
On this track, Albert multi-tracks on acoustic and electric guitar. Seventeenth Summer.
I'll finish with the first and most important guitarist in rock & roll, CHUCK BERRY.
This song has launched a thousand, maybe a million, rocks guitarists' careers. Johnny B. Goode.
Yes, I can hear you from here. Where's Jimi? Where's Eric? Where's (insert your own favorite here)? The answer is: Not on my list.