Friday Playlist – My Favorite Guitarists

Huge Pile of Guitars

Since I did my favorite bass players, I thought it on this Friday Playlist I would look at the guitar. Once more this will be an unordered list of ‘quick hits’ – just a quick statement and a video of something I love from them.

So … let’s get going with a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ of my favorite guitarists!

Mary Halvorson – I just posted about her new album, and like it or not (mostly not) my whole family knows her music. She plays with an incredible intensity, weaving broad angular melodies and harmonic structures that aer never stable or predictable, but always exciting. As I mentioned, I love her in a trio setting, so here she is with Jon Hebert and Ches Smith from last year.

Al Di Meola – No one defines the over-the-top technical prowess of 1970s fusion quite like Al Di Meola. His incredible guitar skills are legendary, but as you listen to this you will hear the subtlety and nuance he communicated that made him unique. Transitioning from ‘guitar hero’ in the 90s proved more of a challenge for him, and only in the last decade has he found his mojo again.

Alan Holdsworth – When you listen to Alan Holdsworth, you hear an amazing style and fluidity that was incredibly influential to guitarists from Alex Lifeson or Rush to Eddie Van Halen and beyond. I first heard him with Bill Bruford’s group, and his solo work in the 80s and beyond is equally stellar. You might not have heard of him, but you can be assured your favorite guitarist has.

Derek Bailey – Perhaps the most controversial ‘major’ guitarist in history, Bailey almost totally eschews the traditional concepts of rhythm, harmony and melody … yet comes up with some incredibly infectious and enjoyable. Well, for me. Most people absolutely can’t stand him.

Jim Hall – Jim Hall is one of those guys that everyone knows but no one sits in awe until they really listen. Yet he was one of the greatest guitarists to come out of the 1950s and amongst the best jazz guitarists ever. Here is a live TV recording of Jim Hall with the Sonny Rollins quartet playing the classic song ‘The Bridge’.

Pat Metheny – Metheny is one of the most lyrical guitarists, and early on some purists used that to label him as a ‘smooth jazz’ player, but we have seen through the years that is not remotely true. As a player, composer and bandleader (and sideman) he has made some of the biggest comtributions to the genre in the last half century.

Jimi Hendrix – Hendrix is an obvious choice for any of these lists, but a correct one. He possessed incredible talent, but also a vision for music that was as transformative as the pop-rock of the Beatles and the blues-rock of The WHo and the Rolling Stones. And his guitar playing brought together blues, rock, and jazz in a way that had never been heard. His scope of influence extended well outside of the rock world.

Emily Remler – One of my favorite all-time guitarists, Remler had a taste for cocaine that landed her dead from a heart attack at 32. She was ground-breaking as a female guitarist, but that means nothing to her music, which did a great job of bridging classic guitarists like Jim Hall and modernists such as Pat Metheny. Listen to her playing in the video and you hear a style that has classic ‘American Songbook’ appeal, a latin rhythm, and also some more smooth jazz and fusion styles, with a complex solo that extends and branches the harmony.

Frank Zappa – Although most known as a composer, singer and all-around weirdo, Zappa was an incredible guitarist. His live shows were full of guitar pyrotechnics and extended unison runs, and later he brought on some of the great young guitarists to fill in added solos, as in this live duet with the amazing Steve Vai. What I always loved about Zappa was not just his prowess but his harmodic inventiveness – he played things in a completely different way from any other rock guitarist.

John McLaughlin – Yet another guitarist I have seen multiple times (like Metheny, Di Meola, Beck and Holdsworth from this list), he made a name for himself with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew, but it is through his Mahavishnu Orchestra of the 70s and 80s he made his mark on jazz history. Here is the band I saw twice in the mid-80s, with bassist Jonas Hellborg who featured on my top bassists list.

Steve Vai – Am I featuring Steve Vai mainly just to use this scene from Crossroads? Maybe, but the reality is that Vai took what Eddie Van Halen had innovated from Holdsworth and Beck and Page, and turned it up to 11, and in the process re-spawned a new set of guitarists truly interested in craft as well as antics, including Joe Satriani. Reason why he should NOT be on this list? There just isn’t much substance there, so once you get past the amazing technique, you are done.

Jeff Beck – In my opinion Jeff Beck was the greatest rock guitarist to emerge out of the British invasion … and inarguably the one with the longest history of reinventing himself. From blues to rock to psychedelia to early heavy metal to funk to jazz to fusion to pop to techno to … well, we will know in 2014 what he is up to next!

Joe Pass – Imagine someone naming their own album ‘Virtuoso’. Now imagine everyone nodding their head about it. Joe Pass was making some of the most exciting music available just as The WHo and Hendrix were playing deafening loud ‘walls of sound’. This sooo performance from 1992 is a reminder of just how broad his palette was.

Eddie Van Halen – Ever heard of Rick Emmett of Triumph? Well, Eddie Van Halen certainly did – while Emmett didn’t invent hammer-ons, pull-offs, pitch bends, or any of his other techniques either … he was majorly influential on the young EVH. Here is a link to a video from well before Van Halen arrived. But when the first Van Halen album landed I was floored because he brought all of these things together with an ease and fluidity that we hadn’t heard before

Wes Montgomery – Wes was a gifted improviser with perfect tone and a great ability to work in any situation. Sadly his career was mis-managed and after the success of pop-centric ‘A Day in the Life’ his last two years were mostly filled with fluff until his early death of a heart attack at 45.

Well, this was less of a ‘quick hit’ than planned … but I love looking through these things and hope you enjoyed the cool guitarists I featured! Do you have a favorite? Someone new for me to check out? Let me know!

2 thoughts on “Friday Playlist – My Favorite Guitarists

    • Thanks for sharing – I’d never heard of either, but enjoyed checking out their stuff! There is such a wide world of great music out there, it is a shame that we get so little of it through popular channels.

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