The axemen cometh: greatest guitar heroes
Published 23/01/2010 | 05:00
1. Jimi Hendrix
I know, I know -- it's so obvious to have Hendrix at top spot. But he's there for a reason -- he truly was the greatest guitarist who ever lived. The man born Johnny Allen Hendrix re-imagined just what the guitar could do. He effectively invented the idea of the guitar hero.
He had a virtuosity that was mind-blowing -- listen to his rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in 1969, and it still sounds incredible.
He was just 27 when he died, so the world was never to see just how he would develop. In a tribute for Rolling Stone, The Who's axeman Pete Townshend wrote: "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."
2. BB King
The 'Ambassador for the Blues' was a true original -- just imagine how fresh his playing on 'Three O'Clock Blues' must have sounded when it was released in 1951. Watch his playing on Rattle and Hum, the U2 movie, and you see a master at work, teaching four young Dublin whippersnappers a thing or two.
3. Robert Johnson
The Delta blues guitarist is possibly the most influential ever thanks to his pioneering style. Without him, Eric Clapton and Jack White, to name but two, would have sounded very, very different.
Limited recording techniques mean modern audiences don't get to hear his music as it would have been played, but for aspiring guitarists everywhere, Johnson is a vital touchstone.
4. Eric Clapton
Across a wide-spanning career with The Yardbirds, as a solo performer and as a collaborator, the Englishman proved to be a master guitarist, whether it was plaintive acoustic or full-on electric. His rock-god credentials were boosted in 2004, when his favourite Fender Stratocaster, 'Blackie', sold for $1m.
5. Ry Cooder
Few musicians have displayed the wide-ranging capabilities of the guitar as Cooder. His substantial oeuvre incorporates rock, folk, jazz, Latin and just about every other genre you can think of, and his guitar is at the centre of it all.
Like all the greats, Cooder makes it look easy, but his laid-back style only serves to accentuate his superb technique.
6. Jimmy Page
The Led Zeppelin guitarist delivered one cocksure riff after another -- the bedrock of the band's explosive sound. He also mastered the art of the guitar solo -- much copied, but never bettered. As It Might Get Loud shows, Page's enthusiasm for the instrument has, if anything, increased as he's got older.
7. Johnny Marr
The Mancunian's evocative, inventive guitar helped make The Smiths the greatest British band since The Beatles. His flair and musicianship -- best appreciated on the shimmering, gloriously atmospheric How Soon Is Now? -- has inspired a new generation of guitarists. Marr's talents are still very much in demand, and his famous sound can be heard on the most recent albums from The Cribs and Modest Mouse.
8. Rory Gallagher
The best Irish guitarist ever -- hands down. An extraordinary virtuoso and an incendiary live performer, beloved of guitarists everywhere. The Donegal-born Corkman has a square in Cork named in his honour as well as a street in Temple Bar, Dublin, which has a bronze copy of his famous Telecaster above the sign.
9. Scotty Moore
Those early Elvis records just wouldn't have sounded so incendiary if it wasn't for the fantastic guitar skills of the Tennessee man who was an accomplished player by the age of eight.
Presley's voice made 'Hound Dog' special, Moore's guitar made the hair on the back of necks stand on end. A show in Dublin some years ago revealed to anyone present that his abilities with the instrument are undimmed with age.
10. Robert Fripp
A fantastic experimentalist, Fripp knows his way around a great riff -- it's him that helped take Bowie's 'Heroes' to such soaring heights and his six-string attack with prog-rockers King Crimson was frequently awesome. One of today's guitar greats, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, has clearly been inspired by Fripp's yen for envelope-pushing.