July 2019 – The Story of Modern Music in 1,500+ Facts – Part V

Introduction

Okeydokey guitar and music fans out there. If you are reading this 5th part of the series of articles, I hope you know the routine by now, so I won’t bore you with any further preamble and we can get on with the latest episode.

If you would like to (re)visit the first four parts (covering 300 years) of the story to‑date, you can do so here (each link opens a new browser tab):

Before we delve in to the Fifties, I was asked a very good question following the last article, which was…

Question(s): “A young Elvis Presley sang ‘Old Shep’ in a talent contest… he came 2nd. I would dearly like to know who beat the future ‘King’ of rock and roll. Do you happen to know if it was a fellow pop star?”

Answer: Many reports say that the young Elvis came 2nd. However, in a later interview, Presley said that he came 5th. The photograph of the prize giving presentation suggests that Presley may be correct in his recollection as three others are holding prizes while the young Presley, standing on the far right of the photo below wearing glasses, is standing empty-handed. The winners, as far as anyone knows, did not go on to become famous.

 

This also raises the point of illustrating the facts. I actually have some interesting images for each and every fact listed in these articles. While a picture can convey many words, to add that many photos, each publication would become humongous to wade through. I know people like to see pictures, rather than read volumes of sometimes repetitive narrative. On this occasion, it is probably better not to illustrate each fact. Apologies to all the picture loving people out there.

Once again, so much happened in the course of the 1950s that the decade demands a discrete article to itself. Let’s go…

The Story of Modern Music Part V 1950-1959

For many people, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll heralded a whole new era of popular music. So, as we get to the 1950s, this article will cover what was going on in the world that enabled such a musical revolution to take place and the fundamental cultural changes that went along with it. The world would never be the same again. It is worth remembering that, at the time, not everyone was excited about change and many conservative traditionalists fiercely rejected and resisted such a rebellious and irreversible transformation.

Historical Context 1950-1959

For most developed economies, the 1950s was a period of slow recovery from the severe consequences of WWII. However, the world was not without conflict and warfare in many other regions including in Asia, Africa and South America. The Cold War continued to fester, fuelled by intense competition between the democratic United States and communism Soviet Russia. The bitter rivalry included reciprocal nuclear weapons testing, military escalation and the start of the ‘space race’. The McCarthy ‘witch hunts’ of communist subversive and treasonous American citizens fuelled bitter political conspiracy and widespread public paranoia. The threat of mutually assured destruction maintained a fragile stalemate between west and east. By the end of the decade, as employment and income levels began to improve, individual freedoms and opportunities would lead to a paradigm shift in civilised countries including radical social, political, technological and cultural change that would set the dynamic scene for following decades.

Year

Global Events

1950

The Korean War started between the communist North supported by Russia and China, and the capitalist South supported by America – the war lasted until 1953 when the Korean Demilitarized Zone was implemented to separate North and South.

1951

The precursor to the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was formed when six countries signed the Treaty of Paris.

1952

British monarch, King George VI died and Elizabeth II became Queen of the United Kingdom.

 

Republican politician and army general Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected 34th President of the U.S.A.

1953

New Zealand mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay became the first people to reach the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.

 

One of the first films to depict youthful rebellion and which would become a reflection on American social tensions, ‘The Wild One’ was released, directed by Laslo Benedek and starring Marlon Brando.

 

The scientific paper describing the double-helix structure of DNA was authored by Britain Francis Crick and American James Watson.

1954

The term rock ‘n’ roll was coined by DJ Alan Freed and the associated teen culture became hugely popular, particularly in America and Britain.

 

British athlete Roger Bannister becomes the first man to run the four minute mile.

1955

Renowned German physicist Albert Einstein died in Princeton, New Jersey, America in 1955 at the age of 76.

 

The Warsaw Pact defence treaty between Russia and seven neighbouring Eastern Bloc states was signed during the ‘Cold War’ standoff.

 

The classic film drama of teen alienation, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ was released, directed by Nicholas Ray and starring James Dean.

 

The phenomenally successful MacDonald’s fast food chain was established in America by Ray Kroc.

 

The Vietnam War between the Communist North and the Capitalist South started, which lasted until 1975.

1956

The Suez Crisis erupted following Egyptian nationalisation of the Suez Canal, creating conflict in the Middle East.

1957

Russia launched the Sputnik 1, the first artificial Earth satellite into space, effectively triggering the space race.

 

The European Economic Community (EEC) was established when six countries signed the Treaty of Rome.

1958

The American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was set up in Washington D.C.

1959

Marxist leader Fidel Castro established the long‑standing communist dictatorship in Cuba after overthrowing the Batista regime.

 

The British Motor Corporation launched the revolutionary and hugely successful small family car, the Mini, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis. The original model stayed in production until 2000.

 

Alaska and Hawaii formally become an integral part of the United States of America.

Musical Genre Development 1950-1959

The 1950s was a decade of innovation that saw the massive explosion of musical creativity across many genres, fusing influences and generating many new musical styles. Arguably, it was during the 1950s that modern music ‘grew up’ and any suggestions that the popular music crazes of the time were ephemeral ‘fads’ were finally dispelled. Country music remained popular with artists such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams at the forefront of a revival.

Possibly not a genre in itself but easy listening music became popular in the 1950s and lasted until the 1970s. A form of middle‑of‑the‑road (MOR) music, it found popularity on radio and then extended into various styles of background music, elevator music or ‘muzak’. Easy listening music was often instrumental or vocal interpretations of past popular music standards, rather than anything new in its own right. Some major artists tapped into the appeal, including Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, Herp Alpert, The Carpenters and Richard Clayderman.

In the post‑war years, modernistic music, broadly also encompassing experimental and avant‑garde music was being explored by many composers wishing to push boundaries either within existing traditions or by introducing original elements outside prevailing styles. The aim of many composers was to break rules, reject established conventions and challenge audiences in a creative, if frequently alienating, way. Practitioners included Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage.

During the 1950s rhythm and blues music, often shortened to R&B, became popular, being a more upbeat form of blues music. R&B emanated from mainly African‑American music that was widespread during the late 1940s. Record companies promoted R&B toward predominantly urban African American audiences. R&B’s popularity was based on a fusing many influences such as jazz, blues, country and gospel to create strongly rhythmic, beat‑based songs. R&B would, in turn, influence the emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and soul of the late 1950s and 1960s. In response to other influences, R&B changed to include other styles such as doo‑wop. Famous R&B artists of the time included Ray Charles, The Drifters, Sam Cooke, The Platters and the Coasters.

By the mid‑1950s, the cultural clash of blues, jazz and country combined to create a new phenomenon in the United States, rock ‘n’ roll, a phrase popularised by radio disc jockey Alan Freed in 1954. Bill Haley (And His Comets) is often credited as the catalyst although many other artists were instrumental in creating the new youth musical revolution, including Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Rockabilly was a very close relation to rock ‘n’ roll at the time popularised by artists such as Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. Classic rock ‘n’ roll is essentially based on a backbeat dance rhythm performed on electric guitar, bass, and drums, replacing the piano and saxophone as lead instruments. The cultural importance of rock ‘n’ roll cannot be underestimated and its impact went far beyond just a musical genre, influencing lifestyle, film & TV, art, fashion, attitudes, and language. Although its roots can be traced back to the 1930s, it was in the 1950s that rock ‘n’ roll began to pervade modern society, coming as it did at a time of immense post‑war technological, economic, social and political change. On the back of radio coverage, the 45rpm single record would provide a massive boost to sales of rock ‘n’ roll songs to America’s urban counterculture youth. Rock ‘n’ roll began to decline by the early 1960s as other forms of popular music began to dilute its impact.

Musical Facts 1950-1959

During the Fifties, many more household names that we take for granted today came into the world. Modern music began the transition from the traditional forms to more contemporary genres. As younger artists born in the 1930s and 1940s began to create the ‘new’ music, the shift in the balance of ‘facts’ from births, through achievements, to deaths are just beginning to become apparent.

Day

Month

Year

Music Fact

5

January

1950

American guitarist, producer, photographer and co‑founder of punk/new wave/pop band Blondie, Chris Stein was born in Brooklyn, New York.

12

February

1950

English guitarist, former member of progressive rock band Genesis and now a successful solo artist, Steve Hackett was born in London.

13

February

1950

English solo singer, songwriter and ex-member of progressive rock band Genesis, Peter Gabriel was born in Chobham, Surrey.

19

February

1950

English singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder of rock group Wishbone Ash, Andy Powell was born in London.

20

February

1950

American bassist, guitarist, songwriter and co‑founder of jazz rock band Steely Dan, Walter Becker (1950-2017, 67) was born in New York City.

24

February

1950

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and perennial rocker George Thorogood was born in Wilmington, Delaware.

22

April

1950

English born American singer, songwriter and guitarist, Peter Frampton was born 1950 in Bromley, Kent.

13

May

1950

Legendary American soul singer, songwriter, keyboard player and producer, Stevie Wonder was born in Saginaw, Michigan.

13

May

1950

English guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of Anglo‑American rock group Fleetwood Mac from 1968 to 1972, Danny Kirwan (1950-2018, 68) was born in London.

3

June

1950

Pioneering American singer, songwriter, bass guitarist and actor, Suzi Quatro was born in Detroit, Michigan.

18

July

1950

English business entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin empire including Virgin Records and Virgin record stores, Richard Branson was born in London

2

August

1950

English guitarist and singer, best known for his work with rock band Wishbone Ash, Ted Turner was born in Sheldon, Birmingham.

30

August

1950

English guitarist with, amongst others, Whitesnake and Snafu, Micky Moody was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire.

10

September

1950

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of rock band Aerosmith, Joe Perry was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

14

September

1950

Great English guitarist and co-founder off blues/rock band Free, Paul Kossoff (1950-1976, 25) was born in London.

2

October

1950

English guitarist, bass guitarist and founding member of progressive rock bands Genesis and Mike + The Mechanics, Mike Rutherford was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

5

October

1950

Great English guitarist and one-time member of rock band Motörhead, ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke (1950-2018, 67) was born in London.

20

October

1950

Legendary American singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and bandleader of The Heartbreakers, Tom Petty (1950-2017, 66) was born in Gainesville, Florida.

22

November

1950

American guitarist, actor and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E. Street Band, Steven Van Zandt was born in Winthrop, Massachusetts.

22

November

1950

American bass guitarist and co-founder of post-punk alternative rock bands Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, Tina Weymouth was born in Coronado, California.

9

December

1950

Award-winning British singer, songwriter and guitarist, Joan Armatrading was born in Basseterre, Saint Kitts in the Caribbean.

31

January

1951

English guitarist, producer and former member of art rock bands Roxy Music, 801 and Quiet Sun, Phil Manzanera was born in London.

1

February

1951

Great American blues guitarist and skilled slide guitarist, Sonny Landreth was born in Canton, Mississippi.

4

March

1951

Highly accomplished English pop, rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, Chris Rea was born in Middlesbrough.

6

March

1951

Terrific American blues/rock guitarist, singer and songwriter, Walter Trout was born in Ocean City, New Jersey.

17

March

1951

American guitarist, best known as co-lead guitarist with rock bands Thin Lizzy and more recently, Black Star Riders, Scott Gorham was born in Glendale California.

20

March

1951

American blues/rock guitarist, singer, bandmate and older brother of the late Stevie Ray, Jimmie Vaughan was born in Dallas, Texas.

27

April

1951

American guitarist, songwriter, co-founder and former member of hard rock group, KISS, nicknamed ‘Spaceman’, Ace Frehley was born in The Bronx, New York City.

7

May

1951

Formidable Puerto Rican/American rock guitarist, who frequently played with David Bowie and James Brown, Carlos Alomar was born in Ponce.

7

May

1951

Prolific English guitarist and former member of heavy rock band Whitesnake, Bernie Marsden was born in Buckingham, Buckinghamshire.

21

June

1951

American rock guitarist, often seen as sideman to ‘The Boss’, as well as a solo artist, Nils Lofgren was born in Chicago, Illinois.

30

June

1951

Amazing American jazz fusion bass guitarist, composer and founding member of Return to Forever, Stanley Clarke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

2

August

1951

English guitarist and member of psychedelic progressive rock band Gong and founder of electronic dance band System 7, Steve Hillage was born in London.

19

August

1951

Retired English bass guitarist for the rock/pop band Queen, John Deacon was born in Leicester.

21

August

1951

English bass guitarist, solo artist, one time member of hard rock band Deep Purple and currently with super group Black Country Communion, Glenn Hughes was born in Cannock, Staffordshire.

7

September

1951

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and founder of post‑punk rock/pop group The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde was born in Akron, Ohio.

18

September

1951

American punk rock pioneer, bass guitarist and member of the Ramones, Dee Dee Ramone (1951-2002, 50) was born in Fort Lee, Virginia.

2

October

1951

English singer, songwriter, bass guitarist, actor, ex‑member of rock band The Police and successful solo artist, Gordon Sumner CBE, a.k.a. Sting, was born in Wallsend, Northumberland.

3

October

1951

Award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Keb’ Mo’ was born in Los Angeles, California.

26

October

1951

Flamboyant American bass guitarist and singer with funk/soul artists James Brown and Funkadelic/Parliament, the illustrious Bootsy Collins was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

1

December

1951

Influential virtuoso American jazz bass guitarist who worked with Weather Report, Pat Metheny and Joni Mitchell, as well as a solo artist, the incomparable Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987, 35) was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

4

December

1951

American guitarist and founding member of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington was born in Jacksonville, Florida.

16

December

1951

Influential American jazz, blues and rock guitarist Robben Ford was born in Woodlake, California.

26

December

1951

Talented American jazz/rock guitarist who has collaborated with many great musicians over the course of his career, John Scofield was born in Dayton, Ohio.

11

January

1952

American contemporary jazz session and solo guitarist, Lee Ritenour was born in Los Angeles, California.

20

January

1952

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, artist and long‑term member of iconic rock band KISS, nicknamed ‘The Starchild’, Paul Stanley was born in New York City.

7

March

1952

The influential and popular weekly music magazine, The New Musical Express (NME), was launched in the UK.

7

March

1952

American guitarist (as well as bassist and drummer), singer, songwriter and member of funk band The Isley Brothers, Ernie Isley was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

17

March

1952

Irish guitarist and member of heavy rock bands Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne, Bernie Tormé (1952-2019, 66) was born in Dublin.

2

April

1952

American bass guitarist with southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leon Wilkeson (1952-2001, 49) was born in Newport, Rhode Island.

4

April

1952

Legendary Northern Irish blues and rock guitarist extraordinaire, Gary Moore (1952-2011, 58) was born in Belfast.

14

May

1952

Scottish/American singer, songwriter, guitarist founder of alternative rock band Talking Heads and solo artist, David Byrne, was born in Dumbarton, Scotland.

15

July

1952

American guitarist, singer, songwriter and member of proto punk rock band New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders (John Genzale, 1952-1991, 38) was born in Queens, New York.

19

July

1952

American guitarist and member of southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allen Collins (1952-1990, 37) was born in Jacksonville, Florida.

21

August

1952

Hugely influential English guitarist, singer, songwriter, actor and co-founder of punk rock bands The Clash and The Mescaleros, the great Joe Strummer (1952-2002, 50) was born in Ankara, Turkey.

19

September

1952

Legendary American guitarist, songwriter, producer and co‑founder of funk/disco/dance band Chic, Nile Rodgers was born in New York.

1

October

1952

Great American rock guitarist and sideman extraordinaire, Earl Slick was born in Brooklyn, New York.

8

November

1952

The UK’s first ever popular music singles chart was introduced by The New Musical Express (NME) magazine. At Number 1 was Al Martino with ‘Here In My Heart’.

14

November

1952

Versatile and prolific American guitarist and songwriter, Johnny A (a.k.a. John Antonopoulos) was born in Malden, Massachusetts.

1

January

1953

American country singer, songwriter and guitarist, Hank Williams died of drug and alcohol-related heart failure in Oak Hill, West Virginia at the age of 29.

6

January

1953

Scottish-born guitarist and co-founder of Australian rock band AC/DC, Malcolm Young (1953-2017, 64) was born in Glasgow.

10

January

1953

American jazz guitarist who has played with Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham and Miles Davis, as well a successful solo artist, Mike Stern was born in Boston, Massachusetts.

20

February

1953

American guitarist and co-founder of psychobilly rock band, The Cramps, Poison Ivy (Kristy Wallace) was born in San Bernardino, California.

19

March

1953

American bass player who has played with many great musicians and has a successful solo career, Billy Sheehan was born in Buffalo, New York.

28

April

1953

American bassist, guitarist, and vocalist of alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon was born in Rochester, New York.

5

May

1953

Highly respected English folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, Martin Simpson was born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

15

May

1953

English multi-instrumentalist, composer and talented guitarist, the man behind ‘Tubular Bells’ in 1973, Mike Oldfield was born in Reading, Berkshire.

16

May

1953

Mercurial Belgian-born French gypsy jazz guitarist and composer, Django Reinhardt died from a brain haemorrhage in Fontainebleau, France at the age of 43.

29

July

1953

Influential Canadian singer, songwriter and bass guitarist with rock band Rush, Geddy Lee was born in North York, Ontario.

1

August

1953

Award-winning American blues guitarist, singer and band leader, Robert Cray was born in Columbus, Georgia.

27

August

1953

Hugely influential Canadian guitarist and co-founder of rock group Rush, Alex Lifeson was born in Toronto, Ontario.

27

September

1953

Great Jamaican reggae riddim ‘n’ dub bass guitarist and producer, Robbie Shakespeare, best known as half of Sly & Robbie was born in Kingston.

18

December

1953

American guitarist and singer, well known for his work with The Cars up to 1988, Elliott Easton was born in Brooklyn, New York.

27

February

1954

American guitarist and member of rock groups Santana, Journey and Bad English, Neal Schon was born in Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

16

March

1954

American singer, songwriter, guitarist and core member of the rock band Heart, Nancy Wilson was born in San Francisco, California.

12

April

1954

Canadian guitarist and singer who has collaborated with many artists over the years and is bandleader of the Pat Travers Band, Pat Travers was born in Toronto, Ontario.

10

May

1954

American rock ‘n’ roll pioneers, Bill Haley And His Comets originally released ‘(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock’. The world wasn’t ready yet and it didn’t hit the charts until 1955.

12

July

1954

19‑year old American singer, Elvis Presley left his job and signed his first recording contract with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee.

19

July

1954

American record label, Sun Records released the debut single by aspiring American rock ‘n’ roll singer, Elvis Presley, ‘That’s All Right’.

22

July

1954

Virtuoso American jazz fusion/Latin rock guitarist Al Di Meola was born in Jersey City, New Jersey.

28

July

1954

Multi-talented American guitarist and member of hard rock band Deep Purple since 1994, Steve Morse was born in Hamilton, Ohio.

12

August

1954

Influential American virtuoso progressive jazz fusion guitarist, Pat Metheny was born in Lee’s Summit, Missouri.

17

August

1954

Award-winning American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist Eric Johnson was born in Austin, Texas.

25

August

1954

English punk, pop and alternative rock singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer, Declan MacManus (a.k.a. Elvis Costello) was born in London.

3

October

1954

Legendary American blues/rock guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer, Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954‑1990, 35) was born in Dallas, Texas.

1

December

1954

Australian-born British guitarist, singer and songwriter with punk rock band The Slits, Viv Albertine was born in Sydney.

18

December

1954

German guitarist, known for his work with Scorpions and the innovator behind the Sky Guitar, Uli Jon Roth was born in Düsseldorf.

7

January

1955

The classic hit song, ‘Rock Around The Clock’ was re‑released by Bill Haley & His Comets, entering the UK singles chart. Rock ‘n’ roll had truly arrived.

10

January

1955

German guitarist, best known as a member of rock bands Scorpions and UFO, as well as a successful solo career with his own band, Michael Schenker was born in Sarstedt.

24

January

1955

English pianist, singer, songwriter, bandleader, TV presenter and former member of Squeeze, Jools Holland was born in London.

26

January

1955

Dutch/American guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer Eddie Van Halen was born in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

5

March

1955

American singer Elvis Presley made his American television debut on the KWKH TV show ‘Louisiana Hayride’ broadcast from Shreveport, Louisiana.

31

March

1955

Australian guitarist and co-founder of hard rock band AC/DC, Angus Young was born in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

13

April

1955

American bass guitarist with funk masters Brothers Johnson, Louis Johnson (1955-2015, 60) was born in Los Angeles, California.

31

May

1955

Australian virtuoso session musician and solo guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel was born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales.

26

June

1955

English guitarist and co-founder of punk rock band The Clash and Big Audio Dynamite, Mick Jones was born in London.

1

September

1955

English bass guitarist, singer and songwriter, best known for his work with punk rock band, The Jam from 1972 to 1982, Bruce Foxton was born in Woking, Surrey.

3

September

1955

English guitarist and ex-member of punk rock band Sex Pistols, Steve Jones was born in London.

12

November

1955

Hugely influential Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist, former member of Buffalo Springfield, CSN&Y, as well as a phenomenal solo artist, the incomparable Neil Young was born in Toronto, Ontario.

15

December

1955

English bass guitarist best known as a member of punk rock icons The Clash and more recently collaborating with Damon Albarn in The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Paul Simonon was born in Croydon.

4

January

1956

English singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and founding member of post-punk rock bands Joy Division and New Order, Bernard Sumner was born in Salford.

10

January

1956

The ‘King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, Elvis Presley made his first recordings for RCA/Victor, including the classic hit single, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

27

January

1956

Legendary American singer, Elvis Presley released his classic breakout single for RCA, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’.

28

January

1956

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley made his first national television appearance in America on the CBS TV programme, the ‘Dorsey Brothers Stage Show’.

31

January

1956

English singer and member of punk rock bands Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd, John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten), was born in London.

3

February

1956

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, artist and co-founder of alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo was born in Long Island, New York.

12

February

1956

Scottish guitarist and one-time member of rock bands Thin Lizzy and Motörhead, Brian Robertson was born in Clarkston.

13

February

1956

English bass guitarist, best known as member of post‑punk rock bands Joy Division and New Order, Peter Hook was born in Salford.

18

February

1956

Renowned American master luthier, innovator, entrepreneur, guitar maker extraordinaire and founder of PRS Guitars since 1985, Paul Reed Smith was born in Stevensville, Maryland.

12

March

1956

English bass guitarist and founder of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Steve Harris was born in Leytonstone, Essex.

23

March

1956

American singer Elvis Presley released his eponymous debut album, ‘Elvis Presley’, a milestone that heralded the unstoppable explosion of the rock ‘n’ roll era.

4

June

1956

American guitarist, songwriter and producer, known for playing with David Bowie, Tin Machine and indie rock band The Cure, Reeves Gabrels was born in New York City.

26

June

1956

American singer, songwriter, rock (‘n’ roll) guitarist and actor, Chris Isaak was born in Stockton, California.

15

July

1956

Influential American virtuoso instrumental rock guitarist, Joe ‘Satch’ Satriani was born in Westbury, New York.

27

August

1956

English bass guitarist, songwriter and original member of punk rock band Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock was born in London.

29

September

1956

The rock ‘n’ roll era had clearly arrived when Bill Haley & His Comets had 5 songs in the UK Singles Chart Top 30 including the all-time classic hit, ‘Rock Around The Clock’.

4

November

1956

English guitarist and co-founding member of rock band The Pretenders, James Honeyman-Scott (1956-1982, 25) was born in Hereford, Herefordshire.

6

December

1956

Hugely talented American heavy rock guitarist who played with Ozzy Osbourne and Quiet Riot, Randy Rhoads (1956-1982, 25) was born in Santa Monica, California.

6

December

1956

American guitarist, songwriter and co-founder of rock band R.E.M., Peter Buck was born in Berkeley, California.

23

December

1956

English guitarist, songwriter and long-term member of heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden, Dave Murray was born in London.

16

January

1957

The legendary Liverpool live music venue, The Cavern Club opened its doors for business. The Beatles appeared there an impressive total of 292 times.

27

January

1957

English guitarist with heavy rock bands Gillan and latterly Iron Maiden, Janick Gers was born in Hartlepool.

27

February

1957

English guitarist, songwriter and member of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Adrian Smith was born in London.

17

March

1957

American singer, Elvis Presley bought the famous 23‑room Graceland mansion at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Memphis, Tennessee for $102,500.

28

April

1957

English guitarist, composer, producer and member of Bristol‑based trip‑hop group Portishead, Adrian Utley was born in Northampton.

10

May

1957

English bass guitarist with the Sex Pistols, John Simon Ritchie, a.k.a. Sid Vicious (1957-1979, 21) was born in London.

27

May

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll band The Crickets, featuring the late Buddy Holly, released their debut hit single, ‘That’ll Be The Day’ in the US.

2

August

1957

American record producer Butch Vig was born. Vig has worked with many famous rock bands including Nirvana, Sonic Youth and The Smashing Pumpkins.

12

September

1957

Acclaimed German film composer and producer, Hans Zimmer was born in Frankfurt.

22

September

1957

Australian alternative/indie rock singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and band leader of The Bad Seeds, Nick Cave was born in Warracknabeal, Victoria.

24

September

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley released his massively popular hit single ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in the U.S.

10

October

1957

American country music legend Johnny Cash released his debut studio album on Sun Records, ‘Johnny Cash With His Hot and Blue Guitar!’

21

October

1957

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, session musician and a founding member of rock band Toto, Steve Lukather was born in San Fernando Valley, California.

1

November

1957

Award-winning American country singer, songwriter, guitarist and actor, Lyle Lovett was born in Klein, Texas.

8

November

1957

English guitarist and artist best known as a member of the original line up of indie/alternative rock band The Cure, Porl (now Pearl) Thompson was born in Surrey.

8

December

1957

English guitarist and long-time member of heavy rock band Def Leppard – one half of ‘The Terror Twins’ – Phil Collen was born in London.

20

December

1957

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley was served with his U.S. Army draft notice while at his home at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

20

December

1957

English guitarist, protest singer, songwriter, charity founder and political activist, Billy Bragg was born in Barking, Essex.

21

February

1958

The very first ‘modernist’ Flying V guitar, designed by the legendary Ted McCarty, was shipped from the Gibson factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

24

March

1958

American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army in Memphis, Tennessee.

27

March

1958

CBS Records announced the invention of the stereophonic record, ensuring that they were backwards compatible with the mono record players of the time.

31

March

1958

American rock ‘n’ roll legend, Chuck Berry released his all‑time classic hit single, ‘Johnny B. Goode’. 2 min. 30 sec. of pure magic.

19

April

1958

London’s (in)famous music venue, The Marquee Club first opened its doors at 165 Oxford Street, its original site before moving to 90 Wardour Street in 1964.

25

May

1958

The ‘modfather’ of post-punk rock, member of The Jam, The Style Council and solo artist, Paul Weller was born in Woking, Surrey.

7

June

1958

Legendary singer, songwriter and guitarist, Prince Rogers Nelson (1958-2016, 57) was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

8

July

1958

The Recording Industry Association of America awarded the first official ‘Gold’ album to the soundtrack of the hit film, ‘Oklahoma’.

9

July

1958

After leaving Sam Phillips at Sun Records, country music legend Johnny Cash signed a lucrative contract with Columbia Records, a successful association that lasted for three decades.

25

July

1958

American guitarist, singer and songwriter with alternative rock band Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore was born in Coral Gables, Florida.

7

August

1958

English singer and on-off-on member of heavy metal band Iron Maiden, Bruce Dickinson was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

14

August

1958

American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Big Bill Broonzy died from cancer in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 55 or 65, depending on who you believe.

16

August

1958

American singer, songwriter, actress and entrepreneur, Madonna Louise Ciccone, or as we know her, Madonna, was born in Bay City, Michigan.

29

August

1958

American singer, songwriter and member of the Jackson Five, as well as successful solo artist, nicknamed the ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana.

19

September

1958

English/American rock guitarist, ex-member of The Runaways and successful solo artist, Lita Ford was born in London.

22

September

1958

American singer and US Army conscript Private Elvis Presley sailed on the USS Randall to Friedberg, Germany to serve in the 1st Battalion, 32nd Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Division.

22

September

1958

American rock singer, songwriter, guitarist, founding member of the Runaways and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Joan Jett was born in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.

20

October

1958

English bass guitarist, singer and co-founder of jazz/funk/pop band Level 42, Mark King was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

28

October

1958

Scottish guitarist, composer and co-founder of indie/alternative rock band The Jesus And Mary Chain, William Reid was born in East Kilbride.

7

November

1958

American rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll icon, Eddie Cochran had his first hit with the classic song, ‘Summertime Blues’. It reached number 18 in the UK singles chart.

11

December

1958

American bass guitarist, songwriter, producer and co‑founder of heavy rock band Mötley Crüe, Nikki Sixx (real name Frank Feranna, Jr.) was born in San Jose, California.

17

December

1958

American bass guitarist, singer, composer and founding member of alternative rock band R.E.M., Mike Mills was born in Orange County, California.

1

January

1959

American country music legend Johnny Cash performed his first live concert for inmates at the infamous San Quentin State Prison in California.

17

January

1959

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, actress and co‑founder of pop/rock band The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs was born in Los Angeles, California.

3

February

1959

American singer Buddy Holly and 3 others (including stars Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper) died tragically in a plane crash in Iowa. Holly was just 22 years old. ‘The Day the Music Died’.

7

February

1959

American blues guitarist, Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones died of pneumonia in New York City at the age of 32.

7

February

1959

The funeral of American rock & roll singer, songwriter and guitarist Buddy Holly took place in Lubbock, Texas.

10

April

1959

American rockabilly/swing guitarist, songwriter and bandleader of Stray Cats and the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Brian Setzer was born in Massapequa, New York.

21

April

1959

English, guitarist, singer, songwriter, co-founder and main inspiration behind indie rock icons The Cure, Robert Smith was born in Blackpool, Lancashire.

4

May

1959

The first Annual Grammy Awards was held in two venues simultaneously, in Beverly Hills, California and in New York City. Winners included Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Henry Mancini.

5

May

1959

American guitarist and songwriter, best known as guitarist for Billy Idol since the early 1980s, Steve Stevens was born in Brooklyn, New York.

22

May

1959

Controversial English singer, songwriter and former front man of indie rock band The Smiths, Steven Morrissey, was born in Davyhulme, Lancashire.

1

June

1959

The BBC broadcast the first celebrity music panel TV show ‘Juke Box Jury’ in the UK. Guests judged new record releases as a ‘hit’ or ‘miss’. It was hosted by presenter David Jacobs and ran until December 1967.

14

June

1959

American jazz fusion bass guitarist, famed for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York.

11

July

1959

American guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer and long‑term member of rock band Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

17

July

1959

Legendary American jazz singer Billie Holiday died of pulmonary oedema and heart failure caused by cirrhosis of the liver in New York at the age of 44.

29

July

1959

English guitarist, best known for playing with hard rock band Whitesnake, John Sykes was born in Reading, Berkshire.

19

August

1959

American country blues and ragtime guitarist and singer, Blind Willie McTell died from a stroke in Milledgeville, Georgia, at the age of 61.

16

October

1959

English guitarist and member of new wave/pop band Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp was born in London.

Tailpiece

So… by the end of the 1950s, KABOOM! – Rock ‘n’ Roll had well and truly arrived and there was no going back. The significant influence of rock ‘n’ roll had set in motion further evolutionary strands that would continue to expand horizons in all sorts of different directions during a period of unprecedented creativity. New musical genres demanded technological developments in recording, distribution and consumption of music.

Things are only going to get even more interesting as we go forward. I hope you will return and see what happened in the 1960s and beyond. No cliff‑hanger required, just a touch of gentle encouragement to return here next month. In the meantime, I have plenty more vintage guitars that need some tender loving care, followed by some serious playing workouts. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars’ ‘Quote of the Month’: “Exercise your right to be you or regret the denial of yourself.”

© 2019 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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February 2017 – Favourite Guitarists And Why

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This month, I’m continuing with a list-like feature. This isn’t laziness, it’s just about time I focused back specifically on guitars and guitarists.

Here are some of the guitarists I enjoy listening to and, linking back to my January 2017 article about why we like what we like, artists that I keep coming back to for more. If there was some sort of formula that is common to all of them, it might be expressed as:

Unique talent + quality instrument + great song writing + timing + opportunity = music history.

The first ‘variable’ above is a key ingredient… talent. Most phenomenal guitarists are instantly recognisable by their distinctive sound, which is more about the person than the instrument they play. Simply put, no-one sounds like them. Why? It comes down to individual technique. It’s the same with classical painters, each one highly recognisable for their outputs, even though the inputs are essentially the same (paint, brushes, canvas, etc.). As the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan sagely commented, “Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It is the way you pick and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or guitar you use”. In addition to the “it’s in the hands” adage, they also often have a ‘how do they do that?’ factor that differentiates them from the hoi poloi (NB. for trivia fans, from the Greek meaning ‘the many’). For guitarists to shine there needs to be strong song writing – it doesn’t actually matter who wrote any particular track, it’s how it is interpreted that matters.

Most guitarists will own several guitars and use then for certain situations. Many top guitarists may have extensive collections, although they tend to have one instrument or model with which they are uniquely associated. Combine that stylistic talent with, perhaps, a ‘signature’ instrument and the basics are there. By ‘quality’, I simply mean ‘fit for purpose’ within this context. Using a ‘favourite’ guitar is not a prerequisite, however, it is likely that removing a physical impediment to technique (i.e. an inappropriate guitar) has liberated many players to feel, rather than think, about their playing. There is something special in the relationship between player and preferred instrument that adds a ‘secret ingredient’ that no-one else could muster from it.

Another characteristic of accomplished guitarists with longevity is that they usually have a refined sense of song writing, either on their own or as part of a band, often prolifically so. They instinctively know what people tune into, including well-honed sense of harmony, melody, tempo, etc. They also adapt their writing over time to accommodate changing listening tastes. It isn’t just about image or the axe that they wield.

There is something to be said about time period and cultural context and being in the ‘right place at the right time’. If any of these guitarists were struggling to establish a career in today’s Spotify-saturated, X‑Factor sterilised world, would they stand out and have a chance? I would wager not. Many of these greats were also pioneers who broke the mould at their time in some way – they are not generic or homogenous. Musical integrity and coherency have been shattered by our seemingly insatiable appetite for the iTunes attention deficit disorder-oriented society. It is so much harder to be genuinely innovative now, which may explain why there are so few challengers striving to not only usurp the thrones of the exalted ‘old-timers’ but also to stay there. Aspiration and ambition is just the start, achieving longevity and legendary status is another matter altogether.

Some other characteristics spring to mind, these guitarists were as sound at rhythm guitar as they are at lead lines. So many great tunes would flounder without the solid rhythm chops from great guitarists who knew how to groove in their chosen genre.

I would also argue that these guitarists are/were as great at playing live, as they are/were in the studio. On stage, there is nowhere to hide and these artists have to work very, very hard to earn and sustain credibility over many years of continuous touring.

So… to the point… at long last. As my guitarists of choice are diverse in style, genre, time period, success, etc., it was impossible to rank them from 1-20, so they are presented in alphabetical order for fairness and simplicity. I’ve indicated the instrument(s) that they are often associated with, as well as a track that, for me, acted as an entry point into their canon (not necessarily their best or most well-known track), a catalyst if you will for grabbing my aspirational attention.

1. Jeff Beck (1944-) – Where on Earth does one start with a genius like Mr Beck? Invention, reinvention, experimentation and continually challenging the boundaries of what can be done with 6 strings on a Strat. No-one comes close to decades of innovation. As soon as you think you’ve nailed his rut, he surprises by a change of direction with consummate musicianship in whatever he does. Listen: ‘Brush With The Blues’ (1999). Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard, Fender Telecaster

2. Ritchie Blackmore (1945-) – Ignoring well-documented character traits, Blackmore’s Deep Purple/Rainbow rock era featured some of the most incendiary, flamboyant and flashy lead lines, all seemingly delivered with minimal effort. Extraordinary. Credit for following his passion in traditional guitar, rather than selling out/cashing in by endlessly regurgitating ‘Smoke On The Water’ for decades. Listen: ‘Child In Time’ (1972). Guitar: Fender Stratocaster

3. Dimebag Darrell (1966-2004, 38) – Sadly, the late ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Lance Abbott was taken too young. Metal guitarists are often easily categorised without really appreciating their innate talent and abilities. Darrell was a terrific guitarist with soul and technical skill that is hugely under-appreciated both for storming southern-tinged riffs and searing lead lines with Pantera. Listen: ‘Cemetery Gates’ (1990). Guitar: Dean ML

4. Rory Gallagher (1948-1995, 47) – A unique talent not sufficiently acknowledged while he was alive, his contribution and reputation has rocketed since his demise. The modest and unassuming Gallagher had a tremendous ear for fusing blues tropes with an astounding melodic sensibility evoking his Irish roots. A great slide player too. Live, he was astounding, consumed with energy and passion that few could match. Listen: ‘Calling Card’ (1976). Guitar: Fender Stratocaster

5. Billy Gibbons (1945-) – With his roots deep in Texan blues, ‘the greatest beard in rock’ can make his axe sing with great feeling, as evidenced by early material. As part of ZZ Top, he pushed R&B boogie into the limelight with mega commercial success, thereby adding more flavours to his not inconsiderable palette. Listen: ‘Blue Jeans Blues’ (1975). Guitars: Gibson Les Paul Standard, Gretsch Billy Bo

6. Kirk Hammett (1962-) – Another metal guitarist who knows how to use a guitar in anger as a member of Metallica. Listen to his playing and there is much more than flashy thrash metal guitar work. His legacy will forever be integrated with the riff from ‘Enter Sandman’. Look beyond those few familiar notes and be rewarded. Listen: ‘Seek & Destroy’ (1983). Guitar: ESP

7. Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970, 27) – Predictable. To attempt to explain in a few words what James Marshall Hendrix unleashed on rock music during his short career would be inadequate. He was a true revolutionary and showman, imbued with massive talent and skills honed through passion, dedication and commitment. Contemporary music owes a massive debt to a true pioneer and just think what he could have achieved. Listen: ‘All Along The Watchtower’ (1968). Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Flying V

8. Steve Hillage (1951-) – Easily overlooked because of his relatively obscure ‘hippie’ career (Gong, System 7), Hillage is a talented and individual guitarist with a very recognisable tone and style. Even in later years, which focus heavily on electronic dance grooves, guitar remains an important stylistic element. His contribution is much undervalued. Listen: ‘Hurdy Gurdy Glissando’ (1976). Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard

9. John Lee Hooker (1917-2001, 83) – Hooker was a true individualist who always played by his own rules. He is one of the most expressive and soulful bluesmen, his emotions emanating through his guitar and gravelly vocals. Yes BB may be the King but JLH was a blues Hooker at one with his delta roots. At his best just him and his guitar, rather than the sanitised reverential collaborations. Listen: ‘Crawlin’ Kingsnake’ (1991). Guitars: Epiphone Sheraton, Gibson ES-335

10. Tony Iommi (1948-) – Where would rock be without Black Sabbath. Another guitarist who ploughed a furrow that hadn’t previously been ploughed and as the ‘godfather of metal’, his influence has justly pervaded the landscape of modern hard rock and metal for decades. How much of his individual style resulted from his infamous industrial accident, we can never know. Listen: ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ (1973). Guitars: Jaydee Custom S.G. ‘Old Boy’, Gibson SG

11. John Martyn (1948-2009, 60) – Martyn started off in traditional English folk music and then something happened and he became a true experimenter using delay and other effects to create something completely new and adventurous, mostly on acoustic guitar. In addition to innovating, he also retained the heartfelt lyrical nature of his music, using guitar to complement his unique voice. Listen: ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’ (1973).  Guitar: Martin D‑28

12. J. Mascis (1965-) – Often described as an alternative maverick, born of the New York punk era, Mascis is a genuine one-off and enduring front man of Dinosaur Jr. A bit like Neil Young on steroids. As a guitarist, he doesn’t stun with millions of notes and sterile technical ability but, boy, does he put some energy and power into his searing, laser-guided lead lines that have impressed consistently over the years. Always on the fringe. Listen: ‘Out There’ (1993). Guitar: Fender Jazzmaster

13. Brian May (1947-) – Dr. May’s melodic and harmonic brilliance will forever be remembered for his Mercury-period Queen. However, like his distinctive home‑made guitar, the astrophysicist created a unique and recognisable guitar style that pervades western culture. His MTV pop sensibilities are as strong as his earlier rock riffs. Listen: ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ (1974). Guitar: Brian May Red Special

14. John McLaughlin (1942-) – In terms of phenomenal ability, dexterity and skill, McLaughlin is near, if not at, the top of the tree. Not only is his speed and proficiency astounding, his genre-spanning flexibility is formidable. Describing his playing can only be achieved through hyperbole. An extraordinary guitar superman. Listen: ‘Vital Transformation’ (1971). Guitar: PRS

15. Gary Moore (1952-2011, 58) – In later years before his untimely death, Moore concentrated on the blues, joining the ranks of the few white, non-American blues legends. Go back earlier in his career and his abilities at rock and fusion show just what a great and adaptable guitarist he was. Listen: ‘Stormy Monday’ (2001). Guitars: Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Standard

16. Tom Morello (1964-) – Probably the youngest of the guitarists to make the list. Go back to RATM’s debut album and reflect on the pounding riffs and genuinely innovative lead playing and recognise that Morello is one of those guitarists who could take the mainstream and adapt it into something no-one had heard before. Listen: ‘Bombtrack’ (1992). Guitar: ‘Arm The Homeless’ custom

17. Carlos Santana (1947-) – Renowned for his ability to sustain notes, Carlos was also a very fluid player and highly acclaimed for his feel. From his appearance at the end of the 1960s to today, he can produce an inimitable and remarkable guitar tone. He could play blindingly fast and he could also turn out achingly emotive lead lines. Listen: ‘Samba Pa Ti’ (1970). Guitar: PRS Santana

18. Jimmy Page (1944-) – Like Blackmoore, Iommi and Hammett, Page is another guitarist whose legacy may be forever associated with a single track in the consciousness of the music listening public (Stairway To Heaven). However, Zeppelin-era Page is a multi-talented guitarist. It is a shame that he hasn’t been able to shine to the same extent in his post-Zep solo career. Listen: ‘Kashmir’ (1975). Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard, Danelectro 3021

19. Stevie Ray Vaughan (1954-1990, 35) – SRV is another guitar phenomenon taken from us way too young. Unapologetically Texas blues to his core, he shared Hendrix’s immense ability to introduce many other styles into his playing, including jazzy influences. Another whose formidable combination of talent and relentless hard work set him apart from the crowd. Listen: ‘Tin Pan Alley’ (1999). Guitar: Fender Stratocaster

20. Neil Young (1945-) – Quite often referred to as the master of the one-note guitar solo, this underrates his ability to wring considerable emotional content from just a few well-chosen, emotionally driven and sparingly targeted tones. One thing is for sure, his distinctive tone and style has sustained his well-deserved reputation over many decades. Listen: ‘Southern Man’ (1970). Guitar: Gibson Les Paul Standard

Most of these guitarists will, perhaps, be obvious entries. However, there may be a few unexpected curve balls thrown in for good measure. Of course (don’t you just hate it when people say that!), there is a very long list of superb guitarists that didn’t make the 20 above, including the likes of George Benson, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, John Frusciante, Peter Green, Steve Hackett, Allan Holdsworth, BB King, Paul Kossoff, Robby Krieger, Randy Rhoads, Mick Ronson, Joe Satriani, Slash, Steve Vai, Van Halen, Jack White, Johnny Winter, Zakk Wylde, Angus Young, Frank Zappa, etc., etc., etc. It’s virtually impossible to name them all. While I recognise their massive influence, this is my list of guitarists, not a regurgitation of anyone else’s list or a contrived list of ‘stature derived through perceived wisdom’.

There are also guitarists who aren’t listed above and who perhaps aren’t considered ‘great’ guitarists stylistically but are still notable for the instrument being an integral part of their music, e.g. Marc Bolan, Robert Smith, Thurston Moore, etc.

I also haven’t strayed into bass guitar but that’s an easy one for me, evidenced by the mercurial virtuoso skills of the incomparable, and sadly late, great Jaco Pastorius. Danny Thompson and Tal Wilkenfeld also deserve honourable mentions in this category for me.

Interestingly, 7 of the above guitarists (35%) are sadly no longer with us. Thankfully, at least 13 (65%) of them still are. I have been fortunate enough to see just over half of them play live and, of the ones I have seen, I can attest to their consummate skills. One thing I noticed when researching this article is how many of these guitarists regularly wear/wore hats when playing live (around a quarter of them). Head apparel seems a quintessential part of a guitarist’s touring equipment for many.

In terms of a ‘golden era’, many of these artists had their zenith between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. After a 10-year hiatus in the proverbial doldrums of the post-punk electronic era, there was a gradual resurgence of interest in guitar music from the 1990s that thankfully reignited a passion for the art into the 21st century. Thankfully that interest continues to flourish and diversify today, which will hopefully incentivise whole new generations of exciting new guitar heroes (genuine ones, not the ‘game’) to carve an identity for themselves.

One thing that does bother me is that there are no female guitarists on the list. This is more a reflection of historical exposure that male guitarists have had compared to female guitarists. It is not a misogynistic trait, just circumstance. There are great guitarists out there, e.g. Carrie Brownstein, Eva Cassidy, Lita Ford, Charlotte Hatherley, Kaki King, Orianthi Panagaris, Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Wilson, etc., they are just not my most listened to guitarists. There are also many girl bands, like Warpaint, Haim, Dum Dum Girls, Sleater Kinney, Smoke Fairies, etc., which is positive. Those who are familiar with my rants on the subject will know that I believe ‘girls with guitars are cool’. My view is that, as in any other streak of life, gender should not pose a barrier to success and there are some very accomplished female guitarists out there. Personally, I would dearly like to see equality and inclusion. Having said that, I don’t believe girls are actively excluded, it’s just that the prevailing environment isn’t conducive to girls seeking guitar playing as a job in the same way as there is, for instance, in orchestral classical music.

Also, as mentioned at the start, there essentially are no modern-era guitarists on the list. The most recent on the list above are from the 1990s, rather than the noughties and teenies; this is still around a quarter of a century ago now. There are many, many very talented modern-day guitarists out there but, again, they just didn’t make my list. I look forward to emerging guitarists taking up the reins. One wonders who we might admire in the future, in addition to the current greats.

What, though, really separates the greats from the very talented also-rans who also work very hard at their craft? If we all knew that, it wouldn’t be a question. Is it serendipity, happenstance, luck, contacts, situation? Perhaps the old adage that ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’, plays its part.

I only wish I had a minute fraction of the ability demonstrated by the guitarists mentioned here. Sadly, I don’t have that kind of talent (despite the hard work), so I have to end up writing about them!

One thing we might learn from them is that we shouldn’t try to imitate them. By all means emulate and pay homage to them but only if you can actually do what they do better than them – try that particular strategy and see how far you get! Perhaps another lesson for stalwart gear heads is that the guitars don’t make the guitarist, mostly anyone can own a Fender Stratocaster or Gibson Les Paul but not everyone can be a SRV or Jimmy Page – guitars are simply the professional tools of the expert craftsman. However, put the two together and something very special can happen. Modern music would not be the same without the skilled practitioner and their axes of choice, creating magic for us mere plebs to wonder at and aspire to.

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “If music is the result of passion, passion is the music of life.”

© 2017 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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July 2016 – Personal Top 20 Most Influential Guitar Albums

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In previous articles, I’ve touched on various personal aspects of guitars and guitar playing, including:

  • ‘why’ – the reason I picked up and played guitar
  • ‘how’ – the way that my relationship with the guitar developed from first contact to the current day
  • ‘what’ – the actual bits of wood, metal and plastic that keep me enthralled and passionate about the electric guitar as a musical instrument

This month, it’s a bit about more about the ‘who’ – no, not the band but the artists that made albums which have in some way motivated me to keep playing guitar over the years and perhaps most influenced the type of music I still listen to regularly

Just think of the great guitars, many of them now vintage, that were used by talented musicians to create the music in the first place. It is worth saying that these recordings probably wouldn’t have perpetuated as well as they have without these artists also working incredibly hard to play live music in front of ticket-paying audiences. The point is that it is really important to keep music live.

So… here is CRAVE Guitars’ Top 20 Guitar Albums that have been most influential to me. They aren’t necessarily ones you might think of as great guitar albums and many don’t have guitars as the focal point, so the impact has been subtle but profound. Flashy, flamboyant fretwork may be impressive but it is not enough on its own to make the grade.I have never been artist obsessed; I just don’t have guitar idols or role models so there is no celebrity reverence involved in the choices. Unlike many people, my tastes are also not fixed to one particular period of time or genre of music.

It was very hard to compile the list, knowing that it would not be representative of the wealth of great guitar music over the last 60+ years. The eventual ones that made it haven’t been ranked, so are presented in date order – just too difficult. Does the list represent the pinnacle of guitar playing? No, it doesn’t and it isn’t intended to; it’s a very personal list. Is the whole album great? No, there are no ‘perfect’ albums but they are, in my opinion, particularly notable – that’s all. What about the ones missed out? Too many to mention, including many that are ‘better’ for so many reasons, just not to me as part of this exercise. In addition, there are many, many great albums that don’t feature guitars at all, which naturally excludes them from this list.

What is it about these albums that makes them stand out above the average and, perhaps more tellingly, why they usurped other, perhaps more traditionally fashionable ‘great guitar albums’. The criteria (the first is a killer!) included:

  1. There could only be one album from any artist
  2. They could come from any period of modern music
  3. They must feature guitar playing, not necessarily front-and-centre but somewhere in the mix
  4. Live albums are included, hoever ‘best of’ collections and compilations are not
  5. They had to be ones I own and listen to, not just ones with a strong reputation
  6. They had a major ‘wow’ factor on first listen and, importantly, they have stood the test of time
  7. There is an emotional connection with the music, not just band credibility
  8. They transcend mood and can actually change one’s attitude
  9. Enrich one’s existence to some degree and make life worth experiencing

Here are the albums presented in chronological order, each with a short explanation as to why each is here:

  1. Santana – Abraxas (1970) – amongst the many classic Latin-tinged songs is the sublime leisurely instrumental ‘Samba Pa Ti’, which stood out for Carlos’ exquisite and nuanced guitar phrasing and tone
  2. Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath (1970) – nothing else like it before or, frankly, since; the album that started metal, especially with the archetypal doom-laden opening title track
  3. The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971) – such great song writing including, amongst others, the insistently driving title track and the massively moody laid-back ‘Riders On The Storm’
  4. T. Rex – Electric Warrior (1971) – Marc Bolan’s shift of style signalled the birth of glam rock. Who could have seen this coming or imagined the legacy it would leave. Familiar chart hits include ‘Jeepster’ and ‘Get It On’
  5. Pink Floyd – Meddle (1971) – my very first album purchase after hearing it premiered on John Peel’s radio show. It transfixed from start to end. Just amazing at the time, especially ‘One Of These Days’ and the epic ‘Echoes’
  6. David Bowie – Aladdin Sane (1972) – less pop-like than other obvious alternatives. Some striking musical innovation and some astounding avant garde moments. The chart hits included the title track and ‘The Jean Genie’
  7. John Martyn – Solid Air (1973) – Martyn had been experimenting with processed guitar and was pushing the boundaries of what it could do, resulting in this very special landmark album including the achingly cool title track and the desperately melancholic ‘May You Never’
  8. Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974) – no ‘Freebird’ here, but the album that brought the Florida wild boys to the UK’s attention. A really solid sophomore album that is so much more than the now clichéd ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, for instance the simple but effective riff on ‘Working For MCA’
  9. Bob Marley & The Wailers – Live! At The Lyceum (1975) – sometimes, a live album captures the essence of an artist’s best work in a single time and place, this is one, topped by the passionate and evocative ‘No Woman No Cry’
  10. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (1975) – not any of the first 5 iconic LPs but the double album that came out when I went to see them play live in London as a teenager. The colossal ‘Kashmir’ instantly blew me away, ‘nuff said
  11. Rory Gallagher – Against The Grain (1975) – another artist who came across better live than in the studio. Rory released this around the time that I saw him play in Brighton, so it beat ‘Irish Tour ‘74’ to the list
  12. Steve Hillage – L (1976) – a highly underrated guitarist and a post-Gong solo album that epitomised the alternative trippy-hippy, effect-laden space rock of the era. No chart material here but lovely guitar, clearly ‘in the zone’
  13. The Clash – London Calling (1979) – the title track nails the social context of the immediate post-punk period, articulating deep social unrest, the country’s polarised economic divisions and a generation’s frustrations with pre‑Thatcherite politics. Both timeless and very much of its time
  14. Talking Heads – Remain In Light (1980) – it starts with David Byrne’s complex, overlaid upbeat grooves and distinctive vocals, then descends into deep dark interwoven ambient territory. Go beyond the familiar hits and explore the brooding and intense ‘Listening Wind’ and ‘The Overload’. Scary
  15. ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983) – Texas boogie-blues morphs into mega-pop extravaganza with the now overplayed massive chart hits and much more, like ‘TV Dinners’ and ‘Bad Girl’. Ignore the sexist whinging and just enjoy the hot‑rodded road trip
  16. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather (1984) – kicks off with the frenzied instrumental ‘Scuttle Buttin’’, homages and almost upstages Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ and then caps it with the knock-out slow blues of ‘Tin Pan Alley’. Pure blues genius
  17. Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985) – consistently great song writing with some natty guitar work too, including the classic riffing of ‘Money for Nothing’ and closing with the poignant title track. Personally significant as this was my very last vinyl purchase, so ushering in the digital age
  18. The Cure – Disintegration (1989) – my all-time favourite album (so far) and as close as Robert Smith came to a coherently perfect recording. Contrast the heartfelt warmth of ‘Love Song’, with creepy ‘Lullaby’ and the deeply dark and sinister ‘Fascination Street’. Understated guitar work, compelling and hard to beat over a quarter of a century later
  19. Metallica – Metallica (1991) – migrating from thrash genre roots to full-on heavy metal rock stardom, the shift of tone resulted in massive commercial success. Now regarded as an all-time classic, which belies its original achievement, including the ubiquitous guitar-shop riff, ‘Enter Sandman’. Go beyond and admire
  20. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992) – the genre‑busting aural assault fused highly politicised rap lyrics and Tom Morello’s stunning guitar work to create something genuinely ground‑breaking. Never bettered, the eponymous debut album includes the storming ‘Killing In The Name’ and ‘Bullet In The Head’. Still edgy today

Nothing really from before 1970 you say? Well, only because it was a bit before my time and many of the gems from that era were discovered later, Hendrix, Cream, Velvet Underground, etc. Nothing newer than 1992 you ask? It is disappointing that the most recent album is now 24 years old, begging the question, “Where are the great guitar albums of the 21st century?” This is lamentable, especially as there are so many excellent guitarists out there. Clearly, it is time to do something about it guys and gals.

If that list is too exclusive, here are some close runners up (also in date order):

  • Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland (1968)
  • King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)
  • Neil Young – After The Goldrush (1970)
  • The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)
  • Genesis – Nursery Cryme (1971)
  • Deep Purple – Made In Japan (1972)
  • Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1975)
  • 801 – 801 Live (1976)
  • Burning Spear – Garvey’s Ghost (1976)
  • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)
  • Nirvana – Never Mind (1991)
  • Beck – Odelay (1996)
  • Kasabian – Kasabian (2004)
  • The Kills – Blood Pressures (2011)
  • Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge (2012)

So, there you have it – my personal top 20 guitar albums… so far. These are not recommendations and it doesn’t prescribe essential listening. It is just one individual’s biased choice. I Have to say that it was more difficult than I thought to justify my limited selection. What inspires you is, of course, for you to decide for yourself. I hope there’s something in my list that provides a refreshing change, while also acknowledging the recognised greats. Doing this has made me review my longer ‘Top 100’ list on the CRAVE Guitars web site, take a look (click here to see the long list…).

What next? I am always looking to the future and curious about what’s yet to come. I hope that future great guitar albums can match the excellence of the past. Here’s anticipating. Until next time…

CRAVE Guitars ‘Music Quote of the Month’: “Over think music and it becomes sterile. Under think music and you have probably been sterilised”

© 2016 CRAVE Guitars – Love Vintage Guitars.

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