The Greatest Rock Guitarist - Who Is He?
Rock guitarists have been around in their present guise since the sixties, so is there really any one in particular who deserves the title of the greatest rock guitarist? The criteria for the title have changed over the years since loudness and speed were the king and queen of rock guitar.
It seems that rock guitar players have always been a crowd pleaser, even going back to the days of Les Paul. He may not qualify as a rock guitarist in the sense that we understand it today, but Les Paul certainly made people sit up and take notice whenever he played. Of course, Les was in at the very beginning of the solid body electric guitar's entry onto the stage, so at that time there were very few guitarists who were even interested enough to get the technique to become a great rock guitarist.
The foundation of the concept of the rock guitarist lay in the consolidation of the small group with drums, bass, lead and rhythm guitars, plus, maybe a keyboard. Groups like The Shadows, The Ventures and Dick Dale's Dell Tones made young men go out and buy guitars and sit in their rooms for hours practicing. When The Beatles became the first small group to gain international attention from people of all ages, the guitar reached the height of its popularity.
The era of the great rock guitarist began in the late sixties with Eric Clapton in Cream. But as with all innovations, there was someone else working on his flamboyant guitar technique in another part of the world. Jimi Hendrix's first appearance in England made Eric Clapton feel a little insecure on his throne, as his guitar playing and stagecraft hypnotized audiences. The extended guitar solo was born, along with its dull-witted siblings the bedroom guitar and the garage band.
If we think about who we consider to be the world's greatest rock guitarist, names from the sixties and seventies, like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton immediately appear in our heads. Indeed, most people who vote in polls about this sort of thing seem to go for Hendrix - a guitarist who had a very short life about forty years ago.
These are guitarists who became famous when loudness was king of rock guitar and flashy technique was its gay partner, but what about the guitarists whose names are not generally known, even though they were with popular bands? Pete Ham of Badfinger springs to mind, or Jerry Miller of Moby Grape. Mick Ronson was an English guitar player who made a name for himself as David Bowie's lead guitarist, and Mike Campbell, Tom Petty's guitarist for about a zillion years is admired by many guitar players but unknown to the general public. There are lots of guitarists in bands now whose approach to music is very different from the rock guitarists of previous decades, even though their debt to the music of the seventies is obvious. The question of who is the greatest rock guitarist of all time will continue with more names being added to the mix as time goes on.
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