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The Most Underrated Guitarists Ever


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I don't really listen to much metal, hard rock, blues, or "jam bands," so this list may have some glaring omissions, but here's my take anyway, throughout the years (in no particular order):



CHUCK BERRY: Not really sure if underrated, but doesn't seem to be given the credit he deserves among the general music listening public. I believe Keith Richards once said that his riffs were basic reworkings of Chuck Berry riffs.


NICK DRAKE: Listen to his final studio album, PINK MOON. With nothing else except an acoustic guitar and his voice, his ability really comes through, especially in songs such as "Road," "Pink Moon," and "Place to Be."


LOU REED/STERLING MORRISON: More than anyone else, they created the sound of guitar-based Indie/Experimental/Punk Rock during their days in The Velvet Underground.


ROBERT FRIPP: Just listen to his guitar work on Eno's HERE COME THE WARM JETS or David Bowie' "Heroes" to get an idea of this guy's glam-meets-avant-garde guitar brilliance. Guy even designed his own effects system, "Frippertronics."


TOM VERLAINE/RICHARD LLOYD: Listen to Television's MARQUEEN MOON and chances are technically, you may never hear two guitar players complement each other better. Devised incredible solos without using the typical blues/pentatonic scales found in rock.


BERNARD SUMNER: If you want to hear the definition of "buzzsaw" guitar, just listen to either of Joy Division's two studio albums. The sound he gets from his guitar on songs such as "Shadowplay," "Day of the Lords," and "Atrocity Exhibition" is something from a B horror movie.


JOHNNY MARR: As equally important as Morrisey in defining The Smiths' trademark sound. Redefined guitar pop like no one else.


JOEY SANTIAGO: Virtuoso? No way. Avant-garde noise-guitar genius? Nope. Technically proficient? Not really. Can read music? Not quite. Does any of this matter? No. Listen to Pixies' SURFER ROSA and DOOLITTLE to understand how no one else could have taken his place as lead guitarist for one of the most important and influential indie/alternative rock bands of all time.


JOHN SQUIRE: The second coming of Johnny Marr. His guitar playing on THE STONE ROSES eponymous debut is as close to note-for-note perfect as you can get.


KEVIN SHIELDS: Imagine how a guitar would sound if it were made out of liquid. Or better yet, give My Bloody Valentine's LOVELESS a listen. Also check out his stunning work on the Primal Scream song "MBV Arkestra (If They Move Kill 'Em).


JEFF BUCKLEY: His individuality as musician and a human being was matched by the dynamic nature of his musical arrangements. Often shifting from jazz to folk to rock to hard rock progressions (often in the same song), he was an exceptionally talented guitarist who continued to bend and stretch genres and musical styles with his playing.


DOUG MARTSCH: Built to Spill guitarist and frontman wove complex, winding melodies with untraditional song structures that stood out from the homogeneity of alternative rock/pop during the mid-90s. One NY paper even touted him as the "Hendrix equivalent" for the alternative rock audience in their review of Built to Spill's THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH LOVE- in my opinion, also their best album.


NICK MCCABE: If you were to take his guitar accompaniment parts and play them on their own, you'd probably think to yourself "this doesn't make any sense." Then go back and play The Verve's A STORM IN HEAVEN or URBAN HYMNS, and it all makes sense with the other pieces of the band are in place. Perhaps the best in rock at improvising sonic guitar textures live on stage or in the studio. Producer Owen Morris, who also called McCabe "the most gifted musician he's ever worked with," puts it best, "You can ask Noel Gallagher to play the same guitar line a hundred times and, as long as there's a good reason, he'll do it. With Nick, you've got no chance. He just doesn't want to.'"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Regarding your list of underrated guitarists, I couldn't agree with you more. Texture, melody, and harmony are so often ignored in dicussions of great guitar playing - not to mention rhythm, with which even fewer guitarists are inventive. Instead, guitarists typically derive their critical paradigm from classical music, classic rock, blues, and metal/hard rock, in which intonation, mechanical proficiency, and speed are prized above all else.


I wouldn't subtract anything from your list, but I might personally add Graham Coxon of Blur (formerly, and unfortunately), Jim Moginie/Martin Rotsey of Midnight Oil, Francis Dunnery, Andy Partridge of XTC (at least for the way he composes for the guitar), Ani DiFranco, and Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets... not to mention the giants Charlie Christian, Staney Jordan, and Django Reinhardt, as well as other scores of overlooked jazz and experimental musicians.


A good guitarist should be more than a sound performer and soloist. Those are important. However, a good guitarist should also be a composer, rhythm player, and aural experimenter.


I also read that you are unhappy with the Washington, DC music scene. Honestly, I don't know much about the state of music here, having recently moved to the area. Are you interested in helping to change the scene here for the better? I ask because it seems like we have some musical common ground, and I am looking to assemble a unique kind of band (see my post at http://www.dcpages.com/forums/index.php?sh...showtopic=2915). Let me know if you are interested. My e-mail is sfonzo@aaahawk.com.

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