A little below this space, Mike Salfino put up Dave Marsh’s list of the 30 greatest rock’n’roll guitar players of all time, circa 1980, from RollingStone magazine.
I love lists. In fact, I think we all do. And, I used to love Rollingstone, having subscribed since my birthday in 1969 (I was 17, and as a subscription bonus, I got a copy of 1+1+1=3 by The Sir Douglas Quintet, and which I still posses) until about ten years ago when fashion and politics seemed to me more of the focal point of the magazine, as opposed to music.
And, that is ok, for the nature of existence is change. But, by a decade ago, I was becoming a good enough guitar player myself that I began subscribing to Guitar Player sort of just to drool over the gear, for I am a gearhead, but also because the magazine wrote about things I was more interested in than The New Kids on the Block.
Anyway, in 2011, on my birthday no less, Guitar Player’s Darrin Fox placed his list of the 50 greatest rhythm guitar players of all time. Mind you most of the guys on the list we would think of lead players, but I think Fox is looking more a the context of how the guitar, as a rhythm instrument, works with the bass and drums and whatever else to help create the groove.
Because, without a groove, a song is nothing.
But, the list–which is simply alphabetical avoiding any border skirmishes on rank–is so vastly different from Marsh’s, though virtually all the players on it were indeed playing in 1980. And, I personally think the list is a better indicator of actual musicianship than Marsh’s anyway.
And, while we see the names we would expect, like Keef and Steve Cropper, the spread from Maybelle Carter to Joao Gilberto to Tom Morello to Earl Slick to Malcolm Young, represents not just great players, but players whose style influenced the context of their career, band, orchestra, or all of the above.
Here is the link to the Top 50, with Fox’s reasoning for each player.
Lists like this are as difficult as defining who started rock ‘n’ roll, who started punk, who started heavy metal, etc. What should get you on the list? Innovation? Fancy chops? Putting influence and chops together? Who knows? To give you an example, I can’t imagine a list of rhythm guitarists without including Andy Gill from Gang of Four who, more than anyone before, as far as I know, used the guitar totally as a rhythm instrument, and was tremendously influential in doing so. Yet he’s never on these lists. Why? The author probably doesn’t even know Gang of Four, that’s why. I could produce several examples for Mike’s Rolling Stone list as well. “It’s all a load of bollocks, and bollocks to it all.”
the problem with you Steve is I never know where you stand on things.
at least he did not rate them in any order.
I take a back seat to no one in my love of rhythm guitar. It has been a long love and she never lets me down.
All these lists should either be longer or shorter. This list is worth it for the commentary alone. I learned two names of great rhythm players I always loved but never knew their names: Alex Weir from the Bros. Johnson and Jimmy Nolen, the guy who played on Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag.
Also, author Darrin Fox (gotta be a pseudonym) gives credit to dozens of players who deserve to be mentioned, yet I’ve never seen anyone else give them the props. I found myself saying “damn right” dozens of times. I don’t know some of the jazz players – how anybody heard them unamplified is beyond me. All credit to Mr. Fox. However:
Amen Steve on Andy Gill.
If Richie Havens and Johnny Ramone qualify then Johnny Thunders and Steve Jones should qualify first. And I don’t care how you measure it, sound, feel, technique, or a pleasant mixture of all three, Phil Manzanera is a great rhythm guitar player.
Two false notes. One is Joe Perry who “never sounded cliched.” Joe never sounded anything BUT cliched. The other is Danny Kortchmar, who has been ruining songs since 1967.
I don’t suppose there is anything WRONG with listing Steve Stevens but he doesn’t exactly jump to mind.
These lists always give the obligatory nod to Johnny Ramone. It’s like, “We need a punk guitarist to legitimize our list!” “How about Johnny Ramone?” “Yeah, great idea. He’s on everyone else’s list.” And, to play devil’s advocate on Johnny, if you read his book, I don’t think he ever played a guitar solo on any of the Ramones albums. (I’m not sure he ever bothered learning to play solos.) Not that that should keep him off a rhythm guitar list, but should it keep him off a “Great Guitarists” list? Maybe.
I did read the Johnny Ramone book, Durward loaned it to me. He never actually says “I never played a solo” but he does imply that Walter Lure (Heartbreakers) played them. I always figured that Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” was Johnny, because the last time I saw them he played it live. The “solo” consists of picking the notes of D, F#m and E.
Stumbled on your guys conversation of my story! Thanks for all the kind words….and Darrin Fox is my real name! I was an editor at GP for over 10 years. This particular story was a real treat, and it allowed me to shine a light on some guys who never get mentioned anywhere (Alex Weir, Tony Maiden to name two), as well as guys who have been crucial to my understanding of the instrument. I can’t say I agree with every player on the list (other editors were adamant about getting “their guys” in there), but there is nary a clunker in the bunch.
Stumbling is what we do around here…nice work, Darrin, you went far beyond the usual ho-hum choices.