1 Jimi Hendrix
by Pete Townshend
I feel sad for people who have to judge Jimi Hendrix on the basis of recordings and film alone, because in the flesh he was so extraordinary. He had a kind of alchemist's ability; when he was on the stage, he changed. He physically changed. He became incredibly graceful and beautiful. It wasn't just people taking LSD, though that was going on, there's no question. But he had a power that almost sobered you up if you were on an acid trip. He was bigger than LSD.
What he played was fucking loud but also incredibly lyrical and expert. He managed to build this bridge between true blues guitar — the kind that Eric Clapton had been battling with for years and years — and modern sounds, the kind of Syd Barrett-meets-Townshend sound, the wall of screaming guitar sound that U2 popularized. He brought the two together brilliantly. And it was supported by a visual magic that obviously you won't get if you just listen to the music. He did this thing where he would play a chord, and then he would sweep his left hand through the air in a curve, and it would almost take you away from the idea that there was a guitar player here and that the music was actually coming out of the end of his fingers. And then people say, "Well, you were obviously on drugs." But I wasn't, and I wasn't drunk, either. I can just remember being taken over by this, and the images he was producing or evoking were naturally psychedelic in tone because we were surrounded by psychedelic graphics. All of the images that were around us at the time had this kind of echoey, acidy quality to them. The lighting in all the clubs was psychedelic and drippy.
He was dusty — he had cobwebs and dust all over him. He was a very unremarkable-looking guy with an old military jacket on that was pretty dirty. It looked like he'd maybe slept in it a few nights running. When he would walk toward the stage, nobody would really take much notice of him. But when he walked off, I saw him walk up to some of the most covetable women in the world. Hendrix would snap his fingers, and they followed him. Onstage, he was very erotic as well. To a man watching, he was erotic like Mick Jagger is erotic. It wasn't "You know, I'd like to take that guy in the bathroom and fuck him." It was a high form of eroticism, almost spiritual in quality. There was a sense of wanting to possess him and wanting to be a part of him, to know how he did what he did because he was so powerfully affecting. Johnny Rotten did it, Kurt Cobain did it. As a man, you wanted to be a part of Johnny Rotten's gang, you wanted to be a part of Kurt Cobain's gang.
He was shy and kind and sweet, and he was fucked up and insecure. If you were as lucky as I was, you'd spend a few hours with him after a gig and watch him descend out of this incredibly colorful, energized face. There was also something quite sad about watching him. There was a hedonism about him. Toward the end of his life, he seemed to be having fun, but maybe a little bit too much. It was happening to a lot of people, but it was sad to see it happen to him.
With Jimi, I didn't have any envy. I never had any sense that I could ever come close. I remember feeling quite sorry for Eric, who thought that he might actually be able to emulate Jimi. I also felt sorry that he should think that he needed to. Because I thought Eric was wonderful anyway. Perhaps I make assumptions here that I shouldn't, but it's true. Once — I think it was at a gig Jimi played at the Scotch of St. James [in London] — Eric and I found ourselves holding each other's hands. You know, what we were watching was so profoundly powerful.
The third or fourth time that I saw him, he was supporting the Who at the Saville Theatre. That was the first time I saw him set his guitar on fire. It didn't do very much. He poured lighter fluid over the guitar and set fire to it, and then the next day he would be playing with a guitar that was a little bit charred. In fact, I remember teasing him, saying, "That's not good enough — you need a proper flamethrower, it needs to be completely destroyed." We started getting into an argument about destroying your guitar — if you're going to do it, you have to do it properly. You have to break every little piece of the guitar, and then you have to give it away so it can't be rebuilt. Only that is proper breaking your guitar. He was looking at me like I was fucking mad.
Trying to work out how he affected me at my ground zero, the fact is that I felt like I was robbed. I felt the Who were in some ways quite a silly little group, that they were indeed my art-school installation. They were constructed ideas and images and some cool little pop songs. Some of the music was good, but a lot of what the Who did was very tongue-in-cheek, or we reserved the right to pretend it was tongue-in-cheek if the audience laughed at it. The Who would always look like we didn't really mean it, like it didn't really matter. You know, you smash a guitar, you walk off and go, "Fuck it all. It's all a load of tripe anyway." That really was the beginning of that punk consciousness. And Jimi arrived with proper music.
He made the electric guitar beautiful. It had always been dangerous, it had always been able to evoke anger. If you go right back to the beginning of it, John Lee Hooker shoving a microphone into his guitar back in the 1940s, it made his guitar sound angry, impetuous, and dangerous. The guitar players who worked through the Fifties and with the early rock artists — James Burton, who worked with Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers, Steve Cropper with Booker T. — these Nashville-influenced players had a steely, flick-knife sound, really kind of spiky compared to the beautiful sound of the six-string acoustic being played in the background. In those great early Elvis songs, you hear Elvis himself playing guitar on songs like "Hound Dog," and then you hear an electric guitar come in, and it's not a pleasant sound. Early blues players, too — Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Albert King — they did it to hurt your ears. Jimi made it beautiful and made it OK to make it beautiful.
2 Duane Allman
of the Allman Brothers Band
If the late Duane Allman had done nothing but session work, he would still be on this list. His contributions on lead and slide guitar to dozens of records as fine and as varied as Wilson Pickett's down-home '69 cover of "Hey Jude" and Eric Clapton's 1970 masterpiece with Derek and the Dominos, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, constitute an astounding body of work. But Allman also transformed the poetry of jamming with the Allman Brothers Band, the group he founded in 1969 with his younger brother, singer-organist Gregg. Duane applied the same black soul and rebel fire he displayed as a sideman to the Allmans' extended investigations of Muddy Waters and Blind Willie McTell covers and to his psychedelic-jazz interplay with second guitarist Dickey Betts in live showpieces such as "Whipping Post." Although Duane and Gregg had played in bands together since 1960, Duane did not learn to play slide until shortly before the start of the Allmans. In his only Rolling Stone interview, in early' 71, Duane said that the first song he tried to conquer was McTell's "Statesboro Blues." Allman's blastoff licks in the recording that opens his band's third album, At Fillmore East, show how far and fast he had come — and leave you wondering how much further he could have gone. In October 1971, eight months after the Fillmore East gigs, Allman died in a motorcycle accident in the band's home base of Macon, Georgia.
Essential Recording: "Statesboro Blues," At Fillmore East (1971)
3 B.B. King
The self-proclaimed "Ambassador of the Blues" has become such a beloved figure in American music, it's easy to forget how revolutionary his guitar work was. From the opening notes of his 1951 breakthrough hit. "Three O' Clock Blues," you can hear his original and passionate style, juicing the country blues with electric fire and jazz polish. King's fluid guitar leads took off from T-Bone Walker. His string-bending and vibrato made his famous guitar, Lucille, weep like a real-life woman. It was the start of a hugely influential blues-guitar style. As Buddy Guy put it, "Before B.B., everyone played the guitar like it was an acoustic."
King grew up on a Mississippi Delta plantation and took off in
1948, at twenty-three, for Memphis, where he found fame as a radio
DJ on WDIA and earned the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy." Along
the way, he picked up a uniquely eclectic vision of the blues,
blending the intricate guitar language of country blues, the raw
emotion of gospel and the smooth finesse of jazz. His Fifties
classics — "Every Day I Have the Blues," "Sweet Little
Angel," "You Upset Me Baby" — are tender as well as tough,
and 1965's Live at the Regal remains one of the hottest
blues-guitar albums ever recorded. King remains unstoppable,
touring hard and cutting albums such as his recent Eric Clapton
collaboration, Riding With the King.
Essential Recording: "Sweet Sixteen, Pts. 1-2," Classic Masters (2002)
4 Eric Clapton
It first appeared in 1965, written on the walls of the London subway: "Clapton is God." Eric Patrick Clapton, of Ripley, England — fresh out of his first major band, the Yardbirds, and recently inducted into John Mayall's Bluesbreakers — had just turned twenty and been playing guitar only since he was fifteen. But Clapton was already soloing with the improvisational nerve that has dazzled fans and peers for forty years. In his 1963-65 stint with the Yardbirds, Clapton's nickname was Slowhand, an ironic reference to the velocity of his lead breaks. But Clapton insisted in a 2001 Rolling Stone interview, "I think it's important to say something powerful and keep it economical." Even when he jammed on a tune for more than a quarter-hour with Cream, Clapton soloed with a daggerlike tone and pinpoint attention to melody. The solo albums that followed Layla, his 1970 tour de force with Derek and the Dominos, emphasize his desires as a singer-songwriter. But on the best, like 1974's 46I Ocean Boulevard and 1983's Money and Cigarettes, his solos and flourishes still pack the power that made him "God" in the first place.
Essential Recording: "Cream, "Crossroads," Wheels of Fire (1968)
5 Robert Johnson
Johnson is the undisputed king of the Mississippi Delta blues singers and one of the most original and influential voices in American music. He was a virtuoso player whose spiritual descendants include Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Jack White. Johnson's recorded legacy — a mere twenty-nine songs cut in 1936 and '37 — is the foundation of all modern blues and rock. He either wrote or adapted from traditional sources many of the most popular blues songs of all time, including "Cross Road Blues," "Sweet Home Chicago" and "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom." Johnson, the illegitimate son of a Mississippi sharecropper, poured every ounce of his own poverty, wandering and womanizing into his work — documenting black life in the Deep South beneath the long shadow of slavery with haunted intensity. "It was almost as if he felt things so acutely he found it almost unbearable," Clapton said of Johnson's music. Legend has it that Johnson made a deal with the devil to acquire his guitar gifts. There was certainly a lot of daredevilry in his flouting of standard tempos and harmonics; his records are breathtaking displays of melodic development and acute brawn. Johnson died in 1938 at twenty-seven, poisoned by a jealous husband. Fifty-eight years later, a box set of his recordings was certified platinum. "Hell Hound on My Trail," Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (1990)
Essential Recording: "Hell Hound on My Trail," Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (1990)
6 Chuck Berry
There would be no rock & roll guitar without Chuck Berry. His signature lick — a staccato, double-string screech descended from Chicago blues with a strong country inflection — is the music's defining twang. He introduced it in his 1955 Chess Records debut, "Maybellene," and used it to dynamic effect in nearly two dozen classic hits in the next ten years, including the best songs about playing rock & roll: "Roll Over Beethoven," "Rock and Roll Music" and "Johnny B. Goode." Born in San Jose, California, in 1926, Berry learned to play guitar as a teenager but did time in reform school for attempted robbery and moonlighted as a beautician in St. Louis before "Maybellene" made him a star. Berry's career was sidelined by a two-year jail stint in the early 1960s; his only Number One single was the mildly pornographic singalong "My Ding-a-Ling" in 1972. But Berry was the first giant of rock & roll guitar. Nothing else matters.
Essential Recording: "Johnny B. Goode," The Chess Box (1988)
7 Stevie Ray Vaughan
With the blinding stratocaster fireworks on his debut album, Texas Flood, in 1983, Stevie Ray Vaughan kicked off a blues-rock renaissance when the music needed one most: the heyday of hair-spray metal and synth-pop. Until 1982, Vaughan's fame was limited to clubs in central Texas, where he perfected a brass-knuckled soul influenced by Jimi Hendrix's psychedelia and the funky twang of Lonnie Mack. But after David Bowie saw him at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival (a rare gig for an unsigned act), Vaughan was invited to play on Bowie's Let's Dance. By the late 1980s, he was filling arenas with his longtime band Double Trouble. On August 27th, 1990, Vaughan died in a helicopter crash in East Troy, Wisconsin, after leaving a venue where he had just jammed with his guitarist brother Jimmie, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Jeff Healey and Robert Cray. He was thirty-five.
Essential Recording: "Texas Flood," Texas Flood (1983)
8 Ry Cooder
of Black Flag
In Ry Cooder's hands, the guitar becomes a time machine. Ever since he began as a teen prodigy in the Sixties, he has been a virtuoso in a host of guitar styles going back to the most primal bottleneck blues, country, vintage jazz, Hawaiian slack-key guitar, Bahamian folk music and countless other styles. He's combined these different musical idioms into his own eclectic style as one of the world's foremost performing musicologists. He got his start playing the blues with Taj Mahal in the Sixties and, after a stint in Captain Beefheart's Magic Band, began making solo records such as Paradise and Lunch and Chicken Skin Music, unearthing obscure folk tunes like "Vigilante Man" and "Boomer's Story" and breathing slide-guitar life into them. Cooder also gave one of the most significant guitar lessons in rock & roll history: During his sessions with the Rolling Stones in 1968, he taught Keith Richards five-string open-G blues tuning, which Richards used to write some of his greatest riffs for songs on Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed and Exile on Main St. He played on the Stones' "Love in Vain," which features Cooder on mandolin, and on Randy Newman's "Let's Burn Down the Cornfield." Since the Eighties, he has composed acclaimed scores for films such as Paris, Texas. He continues to explore sounds from around the world, collaborating with African guitarist Ali Farka Toure on the 1994 Talking Timbuktu and assembling old-school Cuban musicians for the wildly successful Buena Vista Social Club.
Essential Recording: Mick Jagger, "Memo From Turner," Performance soundtrack (1970).
9 Jimmy Page
of Led Zeppelin
In the 1970s, there was no bigger rock group in the world than Led Zeppelin and no greater god on six strings than Zeppelin's founder-captain Jimmy Page. Nothing much has changed. The imperial weight, technical authority and exotic reach of Page's writing and playing on Zeppelin's eight studio albums have lost none of their power: the rusted, slow-death groan of Page's solo, played with a violin bow, in "Dazed and Confused," on Zeppelin's 1969 debut; the circular, cast-iron stammer of his riffing on "Black Dog," on the band's fourth LP; the melodic momentum and chrome-spear tone of his closing solo in Zeppelin's most popular song, "Stairway to Heaven." Page actually built Zeppelin's sound and might from a wide palette of inspirations and previous experience. In the early and mid-1960s, Page was a first-call studio musician in London, playing on Kinks and Everly Brothers dates and honing his production skills on singles for John Mayall and future Velvet Underground vocalist Nico. And before forming Zeppelin in London in the late summer of 1968 with singer Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones, Page had been the lead guitarist in the final lineup of the Yardbirds.
Essential Recording: "Stairway to Heaven," Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
10 Keith Richards
of the Rolling Stones
In his forty-one years with the Rolling Stones, Richards has created, and immortalized on record, rock's greatest single body of riffs — including the fuzz-tone SOS of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," the uppercut power chords of "Start Me Up," the black stab of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and the strum and slash of virtually everything he plays on the Stones' 1972 classic, Exile on Main St. Richards is not a fancy guitarist; his style is a simple, personalized extension of his teenage ardor for Chuck Berry and the swarthy electricity of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Born in Dartford, England, in 1943, he was expelled from a technical college when he was sixteen. He immediately joined his childhood friend Mick Jagger and another R&B aficionado, Brian Jones, in a combo, Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys, that by 1962 — with bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts — had become the Rolling Stones. Richards is routinely hailed as the most indestructible of rock stars, but he credits his music with giving him life. As he told Rolling Stone last year, "You gotta be a real sourpuss, mate, not to get up there and play 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' without feeling like, 'C'mon, everybody, let's go.' " "Happy," Exile on Main St. (1972)
Essential Recording: "Happy," Exile on Main St. (1972)
11 Kirk Hammett
On any given night, at least half the parking lots in America have a car with the windows down, the speakers cranked and a couple of dudes sitting on the trunk playing air guitar to Kirk Hammett solos. Hammett is so steeped in metal history that he reportedly paid for his first guitar at fifteen with ten dollars and a copy of Kiss' Dressed to Kill. Metallica's dense thrash redefined hard rock more completely than any band since Led Zeppelin. Hammett's lead guitar is the emotional heart of the music, from acoustic angst ("Fade to Black") to badass flailing ("Master of Puppets"), and, in "One," the sound of a guitar tapping out a cry for help in Morse code, over and over, until the parking lot closes down.
Essential Recording: "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)," Master of Puppets (1986)
12 Kurt Cobain
"Grunge" was always a lousy, limited way to describe the music Kurt Cobain made with Nirvana and, in particular, his discipline and ambition as a guitarist. His cannonballs of fuzz and feedback bonfires on 1991's Nevermind announced the death of 1980s stadium guitar rock. Cobain also reconciled his multiple obsessions — the Beatles, hardcore punk, the fatalist folk blues of Lead Belly — into a truly alternative rock that bloomed in the eccentric, gripping hooks and chord changes of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and "Come as You Are." Recorded six months before Cobain's suicide in 1994, MTV Unplugged in New York reveals, in exquisite acoustic terms, the craft and love of melody that illuminated his anguish.
Essential Recording: "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nevermind (1991)
13 Jerry Garcia
of the Grateful dead
Garcia was a folk and blue-grass obsessive who started playing guitar at fifteen. It was those roots, as well as a lifelong love of Chuck Berry, that gave his astral experiments with the Grateful Dead a sense of forward momentum. Garcia could dazzle on slide ("Cosmic Charlie") or pedal steel ("Dire Wolf"), but his natural home was playing lead onstage, exploring the frontier of psychedelic sound. The piercing lyricism of this tone was all the more remarkable for the fact that he was missing the third finger of his right hand — the result of a childhood accident while he and his brother Tiff were chopping wood. He died in 1995 in rehab for his longtime drug habit. But his guitar still shines like a headlight on a northbound train.
Essential Recording: "Cryptical Envelopment," Hundred Year Hall (1995)
14 Jeff Beck
Beck was the second of the Yardbirds' three star guitarists, leading the group's swing into R&B- charged psychedelia ("Shapes of Things," "Over Under Sideways Down") with his speed and deft manipulation of feedback and sustain. In 1967, Beck formed his own heavier variation on the Yardbirds — the Jeff Beck Group, with then-unknown singer Rod Stewart — which added heavy-metal pow to British blues and became a major role model for Jimmy Page's Led Zeppelin. But Beck's commercial peak came in the mid-1970s, with an idiosyncratic style of jazz fusion (whiplash melodies; artful, roaring distortion; whammy-bar hysterics) that he still plays today with undiminished class and ferocity, when he isn't in his garage at home in England working under the hoods of vintage cars.
Essential Recording: "Beck's Bolero," Truth (1968)
15 Carlos Santana
The piercingly pure tone of Santana's guitar is among the most recognizable sounds in popular music. A towering musician who brought Latin rhythms and jazz improvisation to rock, Santana formed the first lineup of his namesake band in 1968. His varied influences — from Mike Bloomfield and Peter Green to Miles Davis and John Coltrane — resulted in a singularly innovative approach. A fiery, impassioned soloist, Santana articulates fluid passages that culminate in lengthy sustained notes. From Santana's career-breakthrough performance at Woodstock in 1969 to the 2000 Grammys — where he won eight awards for Supernatural, tying Michael Jackson's record — Santana has remained a compelling musician with a devotional spirituality fueling his muse.
Essential Recording: "Black Magic Woman," Abraxas (1970)
16 Johnny Ramone
of the Ramones
Johnny Ramone invented punk-rock guitar out of hatred: He couldn't stand guitar solos. So the former Johnny Cummings of Queens, New York, played nothing but concrete-block barre chords on twenty-one albums and 2,263 shows with the Ramones. His elementary attack was part of the essential simplicity — matching last names, two-minute tunes, a strict uniform of black leather and ripped denim — with which the kings of Queens ruled punk rock from the mid-1970s until they called it quits in 1996. But there was more to Johnny's sound than bricks of distortion. "In sound checks, the band would do a couple of songs without vocals," recalled the band's late singer, Joey Ramone, in 1999. "I'd listen to John's guitar and hear all these harmonics, these instruments like organ and piano that weren't really there. And he didn't use any effects." Johnny now lives in retirement in Southern California.
Essential Recording: "Teenage Lobotomy," Rocket to Russia (1977)
17 Jack White
of the White Stripes
White has become the hottest new thing on six strings by celebrating the oldest tricks in the book: distortion, feedback, plantation blues, the 1960s-Michigan riff terrorism of the Stooges and the MC5. Onstage, decked out like a peppermint dandy, he violates classic covers (Dolly Parton's "Jolene," Bob Dylan's "Isis") with fireball chords and primal, bent-string scream. He is also an acute orchestrator in the studio, stirring the scratchy-78s atmosphere of Blind Willie Johnson sides, 1970s punk and Led Zeppelin-style drama into his own howl. Don't pay attention to the notes; White is not a clean soloist. He's a blowtorch.
Essential Recording: "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," Elephant (2003)
18 John Frusciante
of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
In 1989, Eighteen-year-old John Frusciante, a bedroom-guitar prodigy from California's San Fernando Valley who had never played in a group before, auditioned for his favorite band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He got the job — replacing Hillel Slovak, who died of a drug overdose in 1988 — and transformed the Peppers' rascally punk funk into beefy arena pop. On the 1992 multiplatinum album, BloodSugarSexMagik, Frusciante fortified the band's bone-hard grooves with a mix of Hendrixian force and, in the hit ballad "Under the Bridge," poignant Beatlesque melody. When Frusciante abruptly quit the Peppers in the middle of a Japanese tour in 1992, he left a big hole in the group's sound that was only filled with his drug-free return on the Peppers' 1999 comeback album, Californication.
Essential Recording: "Under the Bridge," BloodSugarSexMagik (1991)
19 Richard Thompson
Richard Thompson is the greatest guitarist in British folk rock — and that's only one of the genres he has mastered. He was eighteen when he co-founded the English folk band Fairport Convention in 1967. By the time he left, in '71, Thompson had created a seamless world music for acoustic and electric guitar drawn from Celtic minstrelsy, psychedelia, Cajun dance tunes and Arabic scales. He is also one of Britain's finest singer-songwriters. His records with his former wife Linda, made between 1974 and 1982, are marvels of hair-raising musicianship and emotional candor. Try to see him live, with an electric band: The solos run long and wild.
Essential Recording: Fairport Convention, "Sloth," Full House (1970)
20 James Burton
of King Crimson
James Burton mainly plays a dark-red '53 Fender Telecaster that he bought in a Louisiana music store when he was thirteen. He's performed a lifetime's worth of hot licks and fluid solos on it, on songs such as Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" and Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou." As an in-demand Sixties sessionman, Burton played often-uncredited guitar and Dobro on countless records by artists ranging from Buck Owens and Buffalo Springfield to Frank Sinatra. In the Seventies he anchored the touring bands of Elvis Presley and Emmylou Harris. Burton's country-rock style combines flatpicking and fingerpicking; he's also a master of a damped-string, staccato-note "chickin' pickin'."
Essential Recording: Dale Hawkins, "Susie Q," Oh! Suzy 2 (1995)
21 George Harrison
As the Beatles' lead guitarist, George Harrison never played an unnecessary note. In his solos and fills, he prized clarity and concision above all things. But every note made history, from the Cavern Club R&B frenzy of his breaks in "I Saw Her Standing There" to the hallucinogenic splendor of his contributions to Revolver and the matured elegance of his work on Abbey Road. John Lennon and Paul McCartney dominated the Beatles' revolutionary course through 1960s pop, but Harrison defined the musical character of those innovations in his explorations of studio technology, tonal color and Indian scales. At the same time, he never strayed from the terse, earthy qualities of his first love, 1950s rockabilly, and his biggest idol, Sun Records star Carl Perkins. Harrison's final album, Brainwashed — recorded in the years before his death from cancer in 2001 — features some of his finest twang.
Essential Recording: "Something," Abbey Road (1969)
22 Mike Bloomfield
Bloomfield's reputation as the American white-blues guitarist of the 1960s rests on a small, searing body of work: his licks on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, his two LPs with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and his sublime jamming with Al Kooper on 1968's Super Session. Born in Chicago, Bloomfield grew up in local blues clubs, where he worked with many black legends. His modal runs and jabbing breaks were executed with pinpoint force in a ringing-bell tone. Bloomfield's gifts faded as he fell into drug abuse. He died of an overdose in 1981.
Essential Recording: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, "East-West," East-West (1966)
23 Warren Haynes
Haynes is possibly the hardest-working guitarist on the planet — a cornerstone of the Allman Brothers Band, leader of Gov't Mule, pivotal member of Phil Lesh and Friends. Displaying controlled intensity, he's a meaty and masterful slide player, as well as a soulful singer and songwriter. Steeped in the uncut blues of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, and especially bitten by the heavy rock-trio sound of Cream and Mountain, Haynes has kept the blues-rock
Essential Recording: Gov't Mule, "Soulshine," The Deep End, Volume 1 (2001)
24 The Edge
Rarely has a guitarist achieved so much by playing so little. Most of what the Edge (real name Dave Evans) played on U2's early albums, from Boy in 1980 to the '87 global smash The Joshua Tree, can be described thusly: circular skeletal arpeggios swimming in oceans of reverb; few conventional chords or solos. But the elegant urgency of the Edge's minimalism on those records perfectly framed and fueled the earnest, flag-waving theatricality of Bono's voice. With U2's swerve into apocalyptic dance music on 1991's Achtung Baby, the Edge coated his riffs in extreme distortion and electronic treatments but without betraying his playing credo: Less is most.
Essential Recording: "The Fly," Achtung Baby (1991)
25 Freddy King
King was born in Texas, but in 1950, when he was sixteen, his family moved to Chicago, where he would sneak into clubs to play with Muddy Waters' band. His style was a mixture of country and urban blues, and his instrumental sides such as "Hide Away," "Just Pickin" and "The Stumble," from the early Sixties, had immense impact on the British blues scene — Eric Clapton says King was one of the first guitarists he tried to copy. His playing employed taut, melodic riffs that erupted into frantic, wailing solos on the upper strings. King, who also recorded for the Cotillion, Shelter and RSO labels, died at forty-two of heart failure in 1976.
Essential Recording: "Hide Away," Hide Away: The Best of Freddy King (1993)
26 Tom Morello
of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave
In the early days of rage against the Machine, Morello watched local California metal guitarists play "as fast as Yngwie Malmsteen" and realized, "That wasn't a race I wanted to run." So he began to experiment with the toggle switch on his guitar to produce an effect like a DJ scratching a record. The result was true rap metal and a redefinition of the guitar's potential. Morello absorbs hip-hop mixology as a true son of Grandmaster Flash and the Voodoo Child, making his riffs rumble and boom like crosstown turntable traffic.
Essential Recording: Rage Against the Machine, "Sleep Now in the Fire," The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
27 Mark Knopfler
of Dire Straits
Dire Straits founder and solo artist Mark Knopfler emerged at a time when guitar virtuosos were spurned by punks and New Wavers. Yet from the first stinging notes of "Sultans of Swing," Knopfler's roots-based approach and supple, burnished leads found almost universal appeal. A fingerpicker who favors Fender Stratocasters — a Knopfler-designed Strat was introduced in July as part of Fender's "Artist Series" — he's known for his rich tone, sinuous melodicism and rangy, fluid solos. "My sound is fingers on a Strat," he once said.
Essential Recording: "Romeo and Juliet," Making Movies (1980)
28 Stephen Stills
"He's a musical genius," Neil Young said of Stills in a 2000 interview. He should know. The two have been bandmates and competing lead guitarists on and off since 1966: in Buffalo Springfield, the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the short-lived Stills-Young Band. But those groups' ego-and-drug dramas have obscured Stills' prowess as a musician — he played nearly every instrument on Crosby, Stills and Nash's 1969 debut — and especially as a guitarist. In Springfield and CSNY, Stills challenged and complemented Young's feral breaks with a country-inflected chime. And a continuing highlight of CSNY shows is Stills' acoustic picking in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" — a paragon of unplugged beauty.
Essential Recording: "Bluebird," Buffalo Springfield Again (1967)
29 Ron Asheton
of the Stooges
Nobody ever accused Ron Asheton of being a nice guy. "Any guitar player worth his salt is basically a thug," his lead singer, Iggy Pop, once said. "They test you with that thug mentality. They ride you to the edge." Asheton was the Detroit punk who made the Stooges' music reek like a puddle of week-old biker sweat. He favored black leather and German iron crosses onstage, and he never let not really knowing how to play get in the way of a big, ugly feedback solo. This spring, Asheton joined Iggy and the other Stooges for their first gigs in nearly thirty years. He still sounds like a thug.
Essential Recording: "No Fun," The Stooges (1969)
30 Buddy Guy
A key influence on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy put the Louisiana hurricane in 1960s electric Chicago blues as a member of Muddy Waters' band and as a house guitarist at Chess Records. A native of the Baton Rouge area, he combined a blazing modernism with a fierce grip on his roots, playing frantic leads heavy with swampy funk on Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" and Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" as well as on his own Chess sides and the fine series of records he made with harp man Junior Wells. One of the last active connections to the golden age of Chess, Guy still plays with his original fire.
Essential Recording: "Stone Crazy," 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection (2000)
31 Dick Dale
Dick Dale reigns across the decades as the undisputed king of the surf guitar. In Dale's own words, "Real surfing music is instrumental, characterized by heavy staccato picking on a Fender Stratocaster guitar." Moreover, it's best played through a Fender Showman Amp — a model built to spec for Dale by Leo Fender himself. Igniting California's surfing cult with such regional hits as "Let's Go Trip-pin'," "Surf Beat" and "Miserlou," Dale made waves with his fat, edgy sound and aggressive, proto-metal attack. "Miserlou," released in 1962, marked the first use of a Fender reverb unit — creating an underwater sound with lots of echo — on a popular record. Fittingly, it sparked a surf-music revival when director Quentin Tarantino used it in the opening scene of Pulp Fiction.
Essential Recording: "Miserlou," Better Shred Than Dead: The Dick Dale Anthology (1997)
32 John Cipollina
of Quicksilver Messenger Service
Cipollina was half of the twin-guitar team — with Gary Duncan — that drove San Francisco's Quicksilver Messenger Service, the best acid-rock dance band of the 1960s. Cipollina's spires of tremolo, enriched with the erotica of flamenco, in "The Fool," from the band's 1968 debut, and his ravishing improvisations in Bo Diddley's "Mona" and "Who Do You Love" on '69's Happy Trails, are supreme psychedelia, authentic evidence of what it was like to be at the Fillmore in the Summer of Love. The classic quartet lineup of 1967-69 made only two albums, though Quicksilver re-formed with various players over the years. Cipollina, who suffered from severe emphysema, died in 1989.
Essential Recording: "Mona," Happy Trails (1969)
33 & 34 Thurston Moore, Lee
of Sonic Youth
When Sonic Youth burst onto New York's downtown scene in the early Eighties, guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo got plenty of attention for attacking their axes with drumsticks and screwdrivers. But their real legacy can't be bought in a hardware store; it's the way they've opened rock guitar up to the world of alternate tunings. On the band's masterpiece, 1988's Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth created their own language of strange and blissful guitar noise. Neither Moore nor Ranaldo is a master of technique, but they're both virtuoso soundsmiths, and a generation of alt-rockers — from Nirvana to Dashboard Confessional — owes them big.
Essential Recording: "Silver Rocket," Daydream Nation (1988)
35 John Fahey
John Fahey created a new, enduring vocabulary for acoustic solo guitar — connecting the roots and branches of folk and blues to Indian raga and the advanced harmonies of modern composers such as Charles Ives and Béla Bartók — on an extraordinary run of albums in the 1960s, released on his own Takoma label. Fahey knew American pioneer song in academic detail; he wrote his UCLA master's thesis on blues-man Charley Patton. Fahey was also a precise fingerpicker addicted to the mystery of the blues as well as the music, a passion reflected in apocryphal album titles such as The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death, from 1967. Fahey endured illness and poverty in the 1990s, but re-emerged to a new wave of acclaim from bands such as Sonic Youth. He continued touring and recording — often on electric guitar — until his death in 2001.
Essential Recording: "The Yellow Princess," The Yellow Princess (1969)
36 Steve Cropper
of Booker T. and the MG's
As a member of the stax records house band Booker T. and the MG's, Steve Cropper, a white guy from Willow Springs, Missouri, was a prime inventor of black Southern-funk guitar — trebly, chicken-peck licks fired with stinging, dynamic efficiency. If Cropper had never played on another record after 1962's "Green Onions," his stabbing-dagger lines would have ensured him a place on this list. But he also played on — and often co-wrote and arranged — many of the biggest Stax hits of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Four decades after "Green Onions," he continues to perform and record with his seminal, down-home touch.
Essential Recording: Green Onions," The Very Best of Booker T. and the MG's (1994)
37 Bo Diddley
Diddley's beat was as simple as a diddley bow, the one-stringed African instrument that inspired his nickname. But in songs such as "Mona," "I'm a Man" and "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover," his tremolo-laden guitar argued that rhythm was as important as melody, maybe more so. Born in Mississippi, he grew up as Ellas McDaniel in Chicago, where he studied violin and learned how to make both violins and guitars. His late-1950s singles on Checker could be both terrifying ("Who Do You Love") and hilarious ("Crackin Up"). The sounds he coaxed out of his homemade guitar were groundbreaking, influencing just about everyone in the British Invasion.
Essential Recording: "Who Do You Love," The Chess Box (1990)
38 Peter Green
of Fleetwood Mac
Many six-string devotees — including fellows named Carlos and B.B. — insist that Britain's greatest blues guitarist isn't Clapton or Beck, it's Peter Green. In the Sixties, first with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, then as the original frontman for Fleetwood Mac (long before Stevie Nicks entered the picture), Green played with a fire and fluidity that's rarely been matched. But in 1970, with the Mac on the verge of super-stardom, Green quit the band, saying he needed to escape the evils of fame. It was the beginning of a long, drug-fueled breakdown that would include stints in mental institutions and on the street. Miraculously, Green recovered and took up guitar again in the mid-Nineties; though his leads aren't as authoritative now, the spirit of a true survivor is in every note.
Essential Recording: "Underway," Then Play On (1969)
39 Brian May
When the lead singer of your band is Freddie Mercury, you're lucky if anybody notices your guitar playing at all. But Brian May was every bit as flamboyant as his frontman in terms of getting attention, and he defined the sound of Queen with his upper-register guitar shrieks. May juiced the treble all the way for a clear and piercing tone, playing solos with grandeur and campy feather-boa humor. From "Killer Queen" to "Bohemian Rhapsody," May offered counterpoint to Mercury's operatic falsetto, pushing glitter rock over the top until the sound was sheer heart attack. He will, he will rock you.
Essential Recording: "We Will Rock You," News of the World (1977)
40 John Fogerty
of Creedence Clearwater Revival
In the late 1960s, at the height of psychedelic excess, John Fogerty wrote, sang and played guitar with Creedence Clearwater Revival like a man from another decade: the 1950s. His impassioned vocals and plainspoken workingman's politics were a big part of CCR's crossover appeal on underground-FM and Top Forty radio. But Fogerty's taut riffing, built on the country and rockabilly innovations of Scotty Moore and James Burton, was the dynamite in CCR hits such as "Born on the Bayou" and "Green River." Fogerty can also be a lethal jammer: See his extended break in CCR's '68 cover of Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q."
Essential Recording: "Green River," Green River (1969)
41 Clarence White
of the Byrds
A child-prodigy bluegrass picker, White found early fame with the Kentucky Colonels, but he's best remembered for his association with the Byrds. His classy twang first popped up on their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday, came through loud and clear on 1968's Sweetheart of the Rodeo and only grew more important as the band delved further into country rock. White's fame among players was sealed with his co-invention of the Parsons/ White StringBender, which enables a regular guitar to simulate a pedal steel. It's used by everyone from Jimmy Page to Kirk Hammett. Sadly, the man who brought it to prominence died way too soon, mowed down by a drunk driver in 1973.
Essential Recording: "Just a Season," Untitled (1970)
42 Robert Fripp
of King Crimson
Starting in 1969 with King Crimson, this native of Dorset, England, has helped define prog-rock guitar. Robert Fripp's trademarks are swooping fuzz-tone solos that skirt the fringes of tonality; slashing rhythm parts in an array of tricky time signatures; intricate, finger-punishing single-note lines. In the mid-Seventies, Fripp and his friend Brian Eno invented the "Frippertronics" infinite tape-loop system, thus helping create a new subgenre: ambient music. As a sideman, Fripp played on David Bowie's Heroes; as a producer, he handled Peter Gabriel's second album and the Roches' 1979 debut.
Essential Recording: King Crimson, "The Great Deceiver," Starless and Bible Black (1974)
43 Eddie Hazel
Hazel was the guitar visionary of George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic empire. Born in Brooklyn in 1950, Hazel grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey, where he fell in with Clinton's funk mob. For the title track to Funkadelic's 1971 album Maggot Brain, Clinton famously asked Hazel to imagine the saddest possible thing. Thinking of his mother's death, Hazel unleashed ten minutes of sad acid-rock guitar moans. "Maggot Brain" became a landmark, and Hazel inspired disciples from Sonic Youth to the Chili Peppers with a Strat full of cosmic slop. Hazel died in 1992. They played "Maggot Brain" at his funeral. You can still hear his soulfully twisted freakouts in P-Funk gems such as "I'll Bet You," "Music for My Mother" and "Standing on the Verge of Getting It On."
Essential Recording: "Maggot Brain," Maggot Brain (1971)
44 Scotty Moore
Moore played electric on the eighteen epochal sides Elvis Presley cut for Sun Records in 1954 and '55, including "That's All Right," "Good Rockin' Tonight" and "Mystery Train." His mix of country picking and bluesy bends would later be termed rockabilly. When the King signed with RCA, Moore went along with him, and the result was another round of classics: "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Too Much" (the last featuring a particularly angular Moore solo). Later, Elvis would turn to Nashville and L.A. session guitarists, but when he wanted to reconnect with his roots for his 1968 comeback special, Moore got the call once again.
Essential Recording: Elvis Presley, "That's All Right," Sunrise (1999)
45 Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was a drummer (at age twelve) and composer (writing a string quartet in his teens) before he got serious about the guitar. But in his more than four decades on stage and record, Zappa — who died in 1993 — soloed with the same discipline and experimental appetite that he applied to the rest of his protean legacy: symphonies, doo-wop parody, big-band fusion, sociopolitical satire. For a man who ran his Mothers of Invention with an iron fist, Zappa was actually a joyful improviser who combined the melodic rigor of his orchestral ideals with the dirty, frenzied pith of his earliest love, 1950s R&B. He also came up with the best instrumental titles in the business, including "Invocation and Ritual Dance of the Young Pumpkin" and "In-A-Gadda-Stravinsky."
Essential Recording: "Willie the Pimp," Hot Rats (1969)
46 Les Paul
Les Paul, born Lester Polfus in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on June 9th, 1915, is a guitar inventor as well as a player. He was tinkering with electronics at age twelve and built his first guitar pickup from ham-radio parts in 1934. By 1941 — after a career as a hillbilly star under the names Hot Rod Red and Rhubarb Red — he had built the first solid-body electric guitar prototype. In 1952, Gibson began selling the Les Paul model, now a rock & roll standard. He was also a pioneer in multitrack recording and a staggeringly talented guitarist, cutting a string of futuristic pop hits with wife Mary Ford in the early Fifties. Now eighty-eight, Paul is still playing; you can see him any Monday night at New York's Iridium club.
Essential Recording: "How High the Moon," Les Paul and Mary Ford: The Best of the Capitol Masters (1992)
47 T-Bone Walker
T-Bone Walker invented the guitar solo as we know it — he was the guy who figured out how to make an electric guitar cry and moan. Born in Texas in 1910, he was a bluesman touring the South by the age of fifteen. As early as 1935, he was playing primitive electric-guitar models. But he shocked everyone with his 1942 debut single, "Mean Old World," playing bent notes, vibrato sobs and more wild new electric sounds that other guitarists hadn't even dreamed of. Walker invented a new musical language, from the urban flash of "The Hustle Is On" to the dread of "Stormy Monday." Through the Forties and Fifties, he led his suave L.A. jump-blues combo on classics such as "You're My Best Poker Hand," "I Know Your Wig Is Gone" and "Long Skirt Baby Blues."
Essential Recording: "Mean Old World," Complete Capitol/Black and White Recordings (1995)
48 Joe Perry
Joe Perry has spent most of his three decades in Aerosmith being compared to Keith Richards: as the guitar pirate and songwriting foil to Aerosmith's own Jagger, Steven Tyler. But Perry's admiration for both Richards' riffing and Jeff Beck's screaming leads was grounded in blues and R&B: Perry's immortal pimp-roll lick in "Walk This Way" was a natural progression from Aerosmith's early covers of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" and James Brown's "Mother Popcorn." And everything Perry loves about Jimi Hendrix's iridescent lyricism comes through in Aerosmith's "Dream On," one of the only power ballads worthy of the term.
Essential Recording: "Walk This Way," Toys in the Attic (1975)
49 John McLaughlin
After playing with British Blues Bands in the mid-Sixties, McLaughlin moved to New York, where he helped pioneer the jazz rock that became known as fusion in the early Seventies. Miles Davis' jazz-rock classic Bitches Brew doesn't just feature McLaughlin, it also boasts a track named after him. In 1971, McLaughlin formed the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which combined the complex rhythms of Indian music with jazz harmonies and rock power chords. McLaughlin played blizzards of notes, clearly influenced by the sheets of sound of his idol, John Coltrane. The first two Mahavishnu albums, The Inner Mounting Flame and Birds of Fire, are every bit as incendiary as their titles suggest.
Essential Recording: The Mahavishnu Orchestra, "Meeting of the Spirits," The Inner Mounting Flame (1971)
50 Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend destroyed guitars almost as much as he played them in the mid- and late 1960s, smashing his Rickenbackers and Strats in frenzies of ritual murder at the end of the Who's stage shows. But he also pioneered the power chord on the Who's 1965 debut single, "I Can't Explain," and on the follow-up, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, "Townshend was arguably the first in rock to use feedback as a soloing tool. Live at Leeds is an exhilarating display of his unique guitar violence, while Who's Next, the Who's greatest studio achievement, shows how much melody and beauty there was inside Townshend's thunder and lightning.
Essential Recording: "I Can See for Miles," The Who Sell Out (1967)
51 Paul Kossoff
Kossoff's solos for British hard-rock pioneers Free — particularly in the radio classic "All Right Now" — are better-known than his name, but he is admired by guitarists for the economy of his lines and the purity of his tone. He made his presence felt by what he did not play, and the exquisite way he sculpted what he did.
Essential Recording: "All Right Now," Fire and Water (1970)
52 Lou Reed
Reed's ramrod stroke makes him one of the all-time great rhythm players, and he brought a thrilling sense of anarchy to his leads. With the Velvet Underground, he established a sound that owed as much to free-jazz maverick Ornette Coleman as to "Louie Louie."
Essential Recording: "I Heard Her Call My Name," White Light/White Heat (1968)
53 Mickey Baker
Baker may have been the busiest session guitarist of the Fifties — it's his brittle playing that underpins R&B classics such as Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and the Drifters' "Money Honey." But it's his million-selling 1956 duet with Sylvia Vanderpool, "Love Is Strange," that's his crowning achievement. Those keening licks and hectic chords sound as unearthly today as they did five decades ago.
Essential Recording: "Love Is Strange," Love Is Strange (1997)
54 Jorma Kaukonen
of Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane's and Hot Tuna's Kaukonen is a gifted fingerpicker and bluesman who developed a raga-inflected style as the Airplane's folk rock grew increasingly psychedelic. His acid-rock peak may be "Spare Chaynge," nine minutes of jamming on After Bathing at Baxter's that grew out of his admiration for Cream.
Essential Recording: ""Spare Chaynge," After Bathing at Baxter's (1967)
55 Ritchie Blackmore
of Deep Purple
The Deep Purple and Rainbow leader is a master of both bottom-line riffs and jaw-dropping virtuoso flights. It's ironic that despite his classical leanings, this master technician is best-known for one of the most simplest riffs of all time: Purple's "Smoke on the Water."
Essential Recording: "Highway Star," Machine Head (1972)
56 Tom Veriaine
There was punk energy propelling Television, but guitarist Tom Verlaine was no angry primitive hacking at the strings. He used a crisp, needling attack and favored long, carefully developed exchanges with guitarist Richard Lloyd. The result was music of Coltrane-like depth at a time when the spastic outburst was the norm.
Essential Recording: "Marquee Moon," Marquee Moon (1977)
57 Roy Buchanan
In 1971, a documentary about Roy Buchanan aired on public TV; it was called The Best Unknown Guitarist in the World. The title remains apt today. Buchanan's gritty blues-rock playing entranced other guitarists such as Jeff Beck. But the Washington, D.C., virtuoso never caught the break he deserved, and in 1988, at age forty-eight, he took his own life while in jail for public drunkenness.
Essential Recording: "The Messiah Will Come Again," Roy Buchanan (1972))
58 Dickey Betts
of the Allman Brothers Band
From 1969 to 1971, Duane Allman swooped and soared while Betts kept the music moving with lyrical boogie. After Duane's death, Betts handled both roles. He also wrote many of the Allmans' best-known songs, including "Ramblin' Man" and the instrumental "Jessica."
Essential Recording: "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," At Fillmore East (1971)
59 & 60 Ed O'Brien, Jonny Greenwood
Radiohead's two lead guitarists have a symbiotic relationship. Greenwood is closer to a traditional lead man; those are his unwell bends at the end of "Just" and "Paranoid Android." O'Brien likes the wacky noises; the ghostly above-the-nutjangle on OK Computer's "Lucky" and the high, reverberating pops on Hail to the Thief's "2 + 2 = 5" are his handiwork.
Essential Recording: "Street Spirit (Fade Out)," The Bends (1995)
61 Ike Turner
Born on the Mississippi Delta, Turner was one of the first guitarists to successfully transplant the intensity of the blues into more-commercial music. His sound, built around his own razor-sharp rhythm guitar, combined four-on-the-floor rock energy, brash soul shouts and precision execution into a dizzying assault.
Essential Recording: "Proud Mary," Workin' Together (1971)
62 Zoot Horn Rollo
of the Magic Band
"Mr. Zoot Horn Rollo, hit that long, lunar note and let it float," commanded Captain Beefheart, and the former Bill Harkleroad did that and much more. Rollo was only nineteen when he cut the astonishing Trout Mask Replica in 1969; for the next five years, he brought Beefheart's cubist riffs and science-fiction Delta blues to life.
Essential Recording: "Big Eyed Beans From Venus," Clear Spot (1972)
63 Danny Gatton
Never a superstar, Gatton was nevertheless a hero to fellow guitarists. He could pluck easygoing, banjo-like country rambles or grind out power chords or create wonderfully melodic jazz excursions that revealed just a sliver of his massive technique. Gatton committed suicide in 1994, just as his national profile was on the rise.
Essential Recording: "Shake for Me," Howlin' Wolf (1958)
64 Mick Ronson
This working-class lad from northern England lent musical substance to David Bowie's theatrical conceits in the Seventies. Ronson, who died in 1993, was the archetypal flash Brit guitarist, known for wrenched, physical solos that favor his hero, Jeff Beck. A sharp, sensitive accompanist, he worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to Morrissey.
Essential Recording: "Panic in Detroit," Aladdin Sane (1973)
65 Hubert Sumlin
Sumlin's work on Howlin' Wolf classics such as "Wang Dang Doodle," "Back Door Man" and "Spoonful" inspired Keith Richards and an entire generation of British bluesmen. Wolf's idiosyncratic phrasing humbled countless sidemen, but Sumlin embellished the singer's every pronouncement with angular phrases, vibrato-laden riffs and audacious glissandos.
Essential Recording: "Shake for Me," Howlin' Wolf (1958)
66 Vernon Reid
of Living Color
Reid reinvigorated hard rock with shots of soul, jazz and hip-hop. Reid's solos embraced the free-form abstraction of his early days as a jazz player, but they flexed enough muscle to bowl over any Metallica fan.
Essential Recording: "Love Rears Its Ugly Head," Time's Up (1990)
67 Link Wray
Wray is the man behind the most important D chord in history. You can hear that chord in all its raunchy magnificence on the epochal 1958 instrumental "Rumble." By stabbing his amplifier's speaker cone with a pencil, Wray created the overdriven rock-guitar sound taken up by Townshend, Hendrix and others.
Essential Recording: "Rumble," Rumble! The Best of Link Wray (1993)
68 Jerry Miller
of Moby Grape
Miller was tightly tempered on the Pacific Northwest R&B bar scene before joining the San Francisco ballroom band Moby Grape. His playing was never self-indulgent, and his soloing was propulsive, always aware of where the song was headed.
Essential Recording: "Hey Grandma," Moby Grape (1967)
69 Steve Howe
During an era when everyone wanted to be a bluesman, Howe brought jazz, country, flamenco, ragtime and psychedelia into the mix for prog — rockers Yes. The ringing harmonics that open "Roundabout" may be Howe's best-known moment but Close to the Edge shows his range, from acoustic delicacy to high-octane riffs.
Essential Recording: "The Clap," The Yes Album (1971)
70 Eddie Van Halen
The sound-obsessed Van Halen makes even simple lines sound like towering chorales and pioneered all kinds of tricks, such as fingers hammering the fretboard. Van Halen sought something different from his rock peers: music that was defiantly arty, but never so much so that it lost touch with devastating hooks.
Essential Recording: "Eruption," Van Halen (1978)
71 Lightnin' Hopkins
Sam "Lightnin' " Hopkins learned the blues from Blind Lemon Jefferson in the Twenties. He was a ferocious electric stylist in the Fifties, though he's perhaps best known for his nimble acoustic fingerpicking during the Sixties folk-blues revival. As unpredictable as John Lee Hooker, he seemed to be making it up as he went along, and often was.
Essential Recording: "Moving On Out Boogie," Lightnin' and the Blues: The Herald Sessions (2001)
72 Joni Mitchell
The secret to Mitchell's daring guitar work is that she uses more than fifty different tunings. Mitchell devised the alternate tunings to compensate for a left hand weakened by childhood polio. In time she used them as a tool to break free of standard approaches to harmony and structure.
Essential Recording: "All I Want," Blue (1971)
73 Trey Anastasio
Anastasio can play anything he hears. Phish's guitar anti-hero has Pat Metheny's cinematic sense of pacing and Frank Zappa's impish inclination toward noise. His epic solos balance technical finger-work against screaming climaxes, and they're exciting even when he's sloppy. Especially when he's sloppy.
Essential Recording: "You Enjoy Myself," A Live One (1995)
74 Johnny Winter
In the early Seventies, Winter took the blues into hard-rock territory with his overdrive takes on anthems such as "Johnny B. Goode"and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." He produced a string of solid albums for his hero Muddy Waters in the late Seventies. "It's a living music," Winter has said. "For me, blues is a necessity."
Essential Recording: "Prodigal Son," Johnny Winter And (1970)
75 Adam Jones
In high school, Tool's Adam Jones played bass in a band with future Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. In Tool, he combines the tuned-down chug of death metal with ominous atmospherics influenced by Rush and King Crimson. Rarely letting loose with a conventional solo, Jones prefers riffing in 15/8 time.
Essential Recording: "Stinkfist," Aenima (1996)
76 Ali Farka Toure
The Malian singer and guitarist is often compared to John Lee Hooker, though that's too easy. He has clearly been influenced by rural blues, but Toure is a technical marvel, and his delicately plucked clusters and blindingly fast runs gather influences from African hymns to folk songs.
Essential Recording: "Singya," Ali Farka Toure (1988)
77 Henry Vestine
of Canned Heat
Vestine's interplay with Alan Wilson's slide in Canned Heat sparked hits including "On the Road Again" and "Going Up the Country." "Sunflower," as he was called, was an early member of Zappa's Mothers and played with free-jazzman Albert Ayler.
Essential Recording: "Fried Hockey Boogie," Boogie With Canned Heat (1968)
78 Robbie Robertson
of the Band
Robertson's songwriting laid the foundation for the Band's rustic soul, but his terse, poignant guitar playing was the group's most underrated weapon. The Canada-born Robertson and the rest of the Band — then still called the Hawks — backed Bob Dylan on his first electric tour, in 1966, during which Dylan proclaimed him a "mathematical guitar genius."
Essential Recording: "Jemima Surrender," The Band (1969)
79 Cliff Gallup
of the Blue Cops
In the few months he spent as lead guitarist for Gene Vincent's Blue Caps in 1956, Gallup introduced the stylistic swagger that every rock guitarist now takes for granted. His slashing, razor-blade-in-the-ducktail assaults pushed the instrument one big step away from country picking and down the mean streets that rock & roll guitar has traversed ever since. "Race With the Devil," The Screaming End: The Best of Gene Vincent (1997)
Essential Recording: "Race With the Devil," The Screaming End: The Best of Gene Vincent (1997)
80 Robert Quine
of the Voidoids
With a guitar style that owed as much to free jazz as it did to blues and rock, Quine was the perfect choice to complement Richard Hell's intuitive street poetry in the New York punk band the Voidoids. Quine went on to make vital contributions to Lou Reed's solo masterpiece The Blue Mask and Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend.
Essential Recording: "Love Comes In Spurts," Blank Generation (1977)
81 Derek Trucks
Trucks hit the road with his first band at age twelve. Now twenty-four, he does double duty as guitarist with the Allman Brothers Band and leader of the jazz-tinged Derek Trucks Band. He's a fluid slide guitarist who moves easily between Southern rock, reggae, gospel, jazz and African music.
Essential Recording: "Afro Blue," Soul Serenade (2003)
82 David Gilmour
of Pink Floyd
Roger Waters gave Floyd conceptual weight and lyrical depth, but Gilmour brought drama. His solos exuded a slow-burn stateliness that could be soulful ("Comfortably Numb") or evoke sci-fi dreamscapes ("Echoes") first glimpsed by the man he succeeded, acid casualty Syd Barrett.
Essential Recording: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pts. 1-5," Wish You Were Here (1975)
83 Neil Young
The haunting, delicate clarity of Young's acoustic playing should not be underestimated. But it's on electric that he has staked his claim to ragged glory. A restless experimenter, he returns without fail to simple melodies, bludgeoning chords and a savant's knack for transforming the most obvious music into something revelatory.
Essential Recording: "Powderfinger," Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
84 Eddie Cochran
He became a rockabilly star at nineteen, in 1957, and died at twenty-one. In between, his itchy, aggressive strum of fat, irresistible rhythm figures was a mighty weapon that could be wielded to battle authority ("Summertime Blues"), rally the troops ("C'mon Everybody") or summon some lovin' ("Somethin' Else"). "Summertime Blues," Somethin' Else (1998)
Essential Recording: "Summertime Blues," Somethin' Else (1998)
85 Randy Rhoads
In 1980, Ozzy Osbourne hired the diminutive, classically trained twenty-three-year-old Rhoads from Santa Monica, California, away from Quiet Riot. His screeching, arpeggiated solos on "Crazy Train" introduced the one true contemporaneous peer of Eddie Van Halen. Were it not for his 1982 demise in a plane crash, his already enormous influence on metal-guitar playing would have increased a hundredfold.
Essential Recording: "Crazy Train," Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads, Tribute (1987)
86 Tommy Iommi
of Black Sabbath
Heavy, really heavy, starts here. While others were spinning solo stairways to the stars, the left-handed Iommi went in the opposite direction. Black Sabbath took rock's simplicity and simplified it even further. The occasional minor chord and a low, rumbling tone added to a guitar sound dripping menace and foreboding.
Essential Recording: "Iron Man," Paranoid (1971)
87 Joan Jett
Lead guitarists gave rock its icons; rhythm players gave it soul. The line runs from Eddie Cochran to Pete Townshend to Johnny Ramone, a lineage in which Joan Jett should not be taken lightly. In the early Runaways and the later Black-hearts, she played it straight ahead: No frills, all heart, no fucking around.
Essential Recording: "Bad Reputation," Bad Reputation (1981)
88 Dave Davies
of the Kinks
Davies' guitar was the dynamo that drove the Kinks. Brash, aggressive and entirely unforgettable, his chord progressions on their early hits have become a rock & roll rite of passage for any aspiring guitarist; "You Really Got Me" has alone launched countless garage bands.
Essential Recording: "You Really Got Me," You Really Got Me (1964)
89 D. Boon
of the Minutemen
At the time of his death, in 1985, it seemed nothing was out of reach for Boon. The forty-three songs on the Minutemen's masterful Double Nickels on the Dime ventured thrillingly into free-jazz dissonance, up-tempo country, helter-skelter funk and dense experimental rock.
Essential Recording: "History Lesson, Pt. 2," Double Nickels on the Dime (1984)
90 Glen Buxton
of Alice Cooper
Buxton was a gifted mimic whose ability to unlock the guitar secrets of his Stones and Yardbirds 45s gave a Phoenix garage band the breathing room to develop into Alice Cooper. His dirty, elemental leads wrapped around Michael Bruce's meaty riffs to create a legacy of exemplary hard rock.
Essential Recording: "Eighteen," Love It to Death (1971)
91 Robby Krieger
of the Doors
Krieger's strengths are flexibility and self-effacement. A broad stylist whose influences extend to country, flamenco and raga, he could also get as nasty as he needed to, but he understood that instrumental interplay was what mattered.
Essential Recording: "Peace Frog," Morrison Hotel (1970)
92 & 93 Wayne Kramer, Fred "Sonic" Smith
of the MC5
In the MC5, Kramer and Smith funneled Sun Ra's sci-fi jazz through twin howitzers. Together they staked out a vision for hard rock that felt ecstatic, giddy, boundless.
Essential Recording: "Kick Out the Jams," Kick Out the Jams (1969)
94 Burt Jansch
Jimmy Page was obsessed with him, and Neil Young has called him his favorite acoustic guitarist. Jansch's fusion of jazz, blues and classical with traditional folk has made him a standout since his 1965 debut, and even latter-day groups such as Oasis and Pulp have given him props.
Essential Recording: "Poison," Birthday Blues (1969)
95 Kevin Shields
of My Bloody Valentine
In concert, Shields stood stone-still and played at such unspeakable volume the overtones suggested instruments that weren't there. His band was labeled "shoegazers" and his music "dream pop." My Bloody Valentine's shape-shifting, surreal melodies and contrast of delicate beauty with unbearable noise concocted an entirely new language for the electric guitar.
Essential Recording: "Only Shallow," Loveless (1991)
96 Angus Young
Young specializes in the sort of filthy solos that first made people characterize the blues as the devil's music. His playing is drenched in testosterone, booze and punk venom, but it's the blues swing that keeps AC/DC's hard rock trend-proof.
Essential Recording: "Hells Bells," Back in Black (1980)
97 Robert Randolph
A pedal steel guitarist who made his name playing gospel, Randolph's family band is one of the most intense live acts in all of jamdom. His thirteen-string instrument has a chillingly clear tone, and his solos are dotted with howling melodies and perpetually cresting, lightning-fast explorations.
Essential Recording: "Ted's Jam," Live at the Wetlands (2002)
98 Leigh Stephens
of Blue Cheer
Back in 1968, before heavy metal had a name, Stephens was shredding eardrums with the psychedelic-blues trio Blue Cheer. The group bragged of being the loudest in the world, and Stephens' molten solos epitomize Sixties rock at its most untethered and abandoned.
Essential Recording: "Summertime Blues," Vincebus Eruptum (1968)
99 Greg Ginn
of Black Flag
Ginn reshaped blues-based rock in the crucible of punk. From Black Flag's 1978 debut EP, Nervous Breakdown, to their 1986 demise, Ginn steered the band from blue-collar punk to molasses-thick metal, anticipating the rise of Seattle grunge.
Essential Recording: "Rise Above," Damaged (1981)
100 Kim Thayil
Soundgarden didn't set out to destroy metal — just take it back to basics. Thayil updated the forbidding sludge and tweaked-out solos of prime Zep. His fondness for the drop-D tuning, in which the low E string is loosened a whole step for maximum heaviosity, still resonates throughout hard rock.
Essential Recording: "Fell on Black Days," Superunknown (1994)