Thursday, January 21, 2010

Our Favorite Guitarists

SOME of you -- especially if you are a musician, music writer, or serious listener -- have already taken part in my informal poll of favorite guitarists. This was conceived not exactly as a historically rigorous greatest-of-all-time but the work you'd grab either if your house was burning down, or to take to the proverbial desert island. (I'm aware that these are two slightly different categories, one spurred by an instant craving the other by the opportunity for eternal contemplation. Can some musicians offer both?)

In any case, I have very roughly compiled the results. I'll admit that my method was unscientific and personally biased -- these people are friends or at least peers of mine. I allowed myself one vote, like anyone else, tho I think I will not post my own ever-changing list quite yet. And, most of those polled were born between the late '40s to the late '60s -- that is, we have fans who came of age with the British blues boom voting alongside those who grew up with college radio, alt-rock, indie, and so on. Some were primarily blueshounds or jazzheads; one is a critic of classical music.

Some generational patterns, of course, are apparent, and while most Boomers voted for Clapton, Page, Beck, Richards, etc. it wasn't enough to launch more than of them into the very top tier. Perhaps appropriately, the very highest vote getting musician is an eclectic and atypical Boomer with a significant Gen X/ alt-rock following. I was also surprised that Hendrix -- perhaps my favorite and certainly the greatest of all time -- did not simply shut down all opposition.

With no further ado, here is the list -- I don't think a difference of a single vote is significant, but this is in order of votes attained. (I have posted a poll on the right margins, using the top six names here as finalists. Sorry, folks, if your hero not on list -- I can only go to six.)

Richard Thompson
Nels Cline
Jimi Hendrix
Neil Young
Robert Quine
Keith Richards
Thurston Moore
Wes Montgomery
Roger McGuinn

Let me point out that the top four names on this list are all West Coast figures -- though of course Thompson grew up in England while Hendrix made his name there, Young is originally Canadian, etc. But Roger McGuinn is as solidly grounded in LA rock as you can get.

Some others came close -- Johnny Marr, Robert Fripp, Peter Buck, Pat Metheny, Pete Townshend. I'm struck by the huge amount of talent and huge range of styles in just a few names.


Milton said...

One of the consolations of my rapidly accelerating decrepitude is that I got to see Jimi Hendrix in concert

Scott Timberg said...

Man am I envious. Musings on Henrix and his current status when our poll is completed.

fod23 said...

Picking top guitarists is a little like favorite food -- it's not as though you're going to eat the same thing all the time. Still, interesting question.

Rolling Stone has its own list, which many regard as containing its own biases:

The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Personally I'm partial to slide, so I would include Ry Cooder and Duane Allman in a short list.

Scott Timberg said...

That "favorite foods" parallel is dead-on.

I like slide too... and by coincidence am listening to Ry Cooder as I write this. Also like Elmore James and Cedell Davis when it comes to slide guitar.

Milton said...

Hendrix was sui generis largely because he played the damn thing upside down. Watch him play, and his fingering is simply unique. (Django also had a unique sound because of his paralyzed fingers.) Hendrix also used the Strat's whammy bar more than anyone before or after. I was watching a Hendrix video feature streaming from Netflix this weekend and was also stunned by the raw musicality within Hendrix. He would be on stage, mugging to the groupies, daydreaming and just noodling almost pointlessly, then he'd hit some harmonic figure that would set him off for 40 bars of glorious, innovative harmonic structures. There was much dross (he was totally wasted much of the time), but those explosions of pure musicality made it all worth the wait.

Pete Bilderback said...

Interesting that all the finalists are men.

Full disclosure: Scott asked me, and I only listed men among my favorite guitarists. To make amends, I would like to give a nod to Tara Key of Antietam.

Key plays in a style that is similar to Neil Young insofar as her art leans toward the intuitive, raw and passionate side rather than toward the cold and technically proficient. But watching Tara play guitar live it struck me that she played in a style that I have never seen from a man. She uses her entire body to play guitar, and not in some showy "watch me play with my teeth" way. The guitar seems to become one with her body, and the movements of every part of her body becomes an integral part of the sounds that emanate of her guitar.

Scott Timberg said...

I'm envious, of course, of Milton seeing Hendrix play -- tho let me offer a dissenting memory from a musician friend who is among the most serious and wide-ranging listeners I know:
'I saw Hendrix three times and twice I was disappointed. I was a kid practicing guitar a lot and I had seen Clapton with Cream at Hunter College hardly moving on stage and creating these cascades of sound from a wall of Marshalls and an SG. Incredibly impressive. Then I see Hendrix with a Strat that perpetually went out of tune, jumping and gyrating all over the Fillmore East stage and I thought "Big fucking deal." '