50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part IX

41 & 42. Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper.

Mercury Rev released three perfect albums–Yerself Is Steam, Bocces, and See You on the Other Side–before releasing Deserter’s Song, a beautiful last gasp from a dying band. They should’ve stopped there, but Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper kept the dream alive for two more albums, the less said about which the better (hopefully they’ve quit for good). Mercury Rev’s guitars flirted furiously with the thin line between dream and nightmare, evoking beauty and terror and sheer joy. What great stuff.

43. Martin Carr.

The Boo Radleys also released a number of great albums, notably Giant Steps and Wake Up! before eventually exhausting their Beatlesque bag of tricks. Carr’s songs are gorgeous and hold up better than most other bands from the Brit shoegaze era.

44. Christian Fennesz.

Fennesz’s Endless Summer is really a guitar album, a beautiful layering of textures and rhythms with melodies that stick in your head years later. I thought his follow up Venice was just as good, and, if you can find it, his live, improvised collaboration with Sparklehorse is sheer sonic brilliance.

45. Robbie Robertson.

Robbie Robertson was in The Band. So. Yeah.

46. Jeff Lynne.

Man, ELO are, like, too good. How’s that for a review? My favorite liner notes ever are on the back of ELO’s Greatest Hits, where Jeff Lynne makes it unequivocally clear that, yes, he is the mastermind behind the whole damn ship and shebang.

47. John Frusciante.

I don’t really like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I love a few of their songs. Frusciante’s got a lovely, lyrical style, the perfect counterpoint to Flea’s melodic and funky bass lines.

48. Adrian Belew.

It’s almost unfair that King Crimson should have Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. I actually like Belew’s solo stuff more than Fripp’s. It’s all good.

49. George Harrison.

It’s probably a good idea to put at least one of the Beatles on this list.

50. Izzy Stradlin.

Why not? Fuck Slash.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part VIII

36. Bob Mould

A long long time ago, waaaaay back before all the cool kids had the internet, with its fancy bloggers and mp3s and hipster sites to tell them what bands were cool this week, we had to find out about indie music–which, at the time, simply meant music on independent labels, not some particular “sound”–in all sorts of arduous ways: from mixtapes handed down from someone’s older cousin, via thankyous and shoutouts in CD and tape liner notes, 120 Minutes (which meant being really drowsy on Monday), magazines like SPIN and Option, and, believe it or not, paper catalogs from labels like SST.

I had one of these paper catalogs from SST: they put them in the CDs and tapes that they sold. I think mine came from Sonic Youth’s Sister. That’s how I learned about Hüsker Dü and Bob Mould. I found New Day Rising on tape. This is easily one of the best “hardcore” records ever made–whatever that label means, I don’t know what it means, but some people call Hüsker Dü “hardcore” music–I don’t know. Sugar, Bob Mould’s other band, did some awesome stuff too.

Hang on, what was the point of all that stuff about the internet and record catalogs? I forget. Oh, yeah. Kids today have it too easy. Grrr. Arrgh.

Hüsker Dü covers The Byrd’s “Eight Miles High”:

37. J. Mascis

Speaking of SST guitar heroes…

I saw Dinosaur play a couple of years ago, the reunited version with Murph and Lou Barlow. They played at the House of Blues in Orlando, which is in this weird Disney-mall thing. I don’t know quite how to explain it. It was a Disneyfied downtown (although that also describes Orlando’s real downtown). I was pretty drunk and I couldn’t really get into. I really wanted them to play “In a Jar,” and they played it for like their third song, and that was kind of it for me. And then, when I went to the bathroom, there was a uniformed bathroom attendant, which was kind of depressing for me also. I mean, I just don’t think that’s very rock’n’roll. It didn’t bother me that J. Mascis looked like a really fat Edgar Winter.

38. Tim Gane

Most people don’t think of Stereolab as a guitar band. Actually, most people don’t think of Stereolab at all, probably. I really like Stereolab though. Tim Gane’s got this completely understated style, this mid-tone perfect rhythm that propels and leads the band. No solos.

39. Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr also has an understated style, and I really like that. His guitar lines for The Smiths were somehow melodic and rhythmic at the same time, and he always made room for Morrissey’s gorgeous voice and the killer rhythm section of Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce. And he was always careful to not rock too much.

40. Matt Friedberger

My love for Fiery Furnaces is well-documented on this site, so I won’t rant about their awesome albums and clever lyrics and seemingly unstoppable prolificness. I won’t! Matt’s guitar-playing has this squawky, nervous energy that resolves into moments of brief, assuaging beauty before going into more perfect awkwardness. Live, the man is a beast. He plays like Michael Jordan; id est, with his tongue hanging out.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part VII

31. Kevin Shields

Kevin Shields claims that a “new” My Bloody Valentine record will come out this year. Hold your breath. Anyway. Kevin Shields. Loveless. Yeah, that was really good. “If They Move, Kill ‘Em (MBV Arkestra),” I like that too. MBV–never really made a good video.



32. Peter Hook

Don’t start with me. I know Peter Hook played bass. Bass is a guitar, right? I love New Order. Who can deny Peter Hook’s iconic bass leads. Sure, Bernard Sumner had that jangly thing down, but, c’mon, “Ceremony”? “Disorder”? “Temptation”? “Blue Monday”? “Perfect Kiss”? “Love Vigilantes”? Give me a break, those are perfect songs, and you know it’s because of Hook’s sweet lines. Shit, even “Regret” is awesome. Peter Hook is too good. Sumner looks kind of like Thomas Lennon playing Lt. Dangle in this vid:

33. Ash Bowie & 34. Dave Brylawski

Polvo never got their due. Maybe they’ll get a renaissance one day. They were the loudest band I’ve ever seen (they permanently damaged my hearing). They were one of the first bands I listened to where I said “What the fuck is this?” Great stuff, bendy electric. Chewy churny. I saw them cover “Fly Like an Eagle” at Merge Record’s fifth anniversary party. Ash Bowie played what looked like a little SK1. He kicked a stool at the girls from Tsunami, who were filming the show.

35. Joey Santiago

Joey Santiago was in this band called the Pixies who were pretty good.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part VI

26. Lindsay Buckingham

Sure, founding member Peter Green had a pretty cool guitar style, but really, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks made Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham’s guitars achieve a strange, almost paradoxical tone: hard rock chunkiness by way of New Wave-thin; Brian Wilson-influenced melodies by way of punk rock; songs that ache with classic pop harmony but still remain unavoidably dark. Coke-fueled Rumours secured an already great legacy, but my favorite Mac album is, of course, their White Album, Tusk.

I hate to admit it, but I prefer this version of “Go Your Own Way” (dig the percussive guitar solo at the end)–

–to this one from the 70s. You tell me which is better.

27. Junior Brown

Genre-defying Junior Brown built his own guitar/steel guitar hybrid, “Big Red,” an improbably shrewd instrument of shred. Brown’s eclectic mix of country, blues, rock and roll, hillbilly, and even classical playing has probably kept him off of more radio stations than is fair, but his brilliant music has led to a huge following. Observe:

28. Lee Renaldo

Self-confessed one-time Deadhead, Lee Renaldo was the “old guy” in Sonic Youth from the outset. I’ve always imagined that his sense of melody and his quiet, intense disposition are what anchored Thurston Moore’s manic tendencies and Kim Gordon’s dour art poses. Plus, I’ve always liked Renaldo’s solo stuff the best. And then, of course, there’s the Reed Richards look he’s been kickin’ for the past couple of years.

29. Les Paul

When Les Paul was injured in a terrible car accident in 1948, he had his arm set at a permanent right angle so that he could still play guitar. Now that’s dedication. Les Paul’s flashy, futuristic multi-layered tracks still sound ahead of their time.

Fantastic footage:

30. Ben Chasny

Ben Chasny is heir to a tradition that began with Robbie Basho and John Fahey. As Six Organs of Admittance, he makes strange, beautiful psychedelic music that mixes tropes of Western folk with the exotic motifs of Eastern ragas. Very heady stuff. His new album, Shelter from the Ash, set to drop any day now from Drag City records, picks right up where last year’s gorgeous Sun Awakens left off. Great stuff.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part V

21. Duane Allman

Although he only played on the first two Allman Brothers albums (“only” does not seem an appropriate modifier here, given how goddamn great those albums are), Duane Allman left behind an enormous legacy in rock and soul music, appearing on singles by King Curtis, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, along with many others. He also dueled with Eric Clapton on “Layla” (my theory: everything awesome on that track has to do with Allman) and whatever else is on that Derek and the Dominoes album. Allman’s early death by motorcycle accident may have cemented a romantic legacy, but my gut feeling is that he would have been more Neil Young (consistent and relevant) and less fat Elvis (uhmmm…you get the idea) had he had time to produce more music.

22. Derek Bailey

Bailey’s avant garde approach to acoustic (and, to a lesser extent, electric) guitar stands out as one of the most challenging and wholly original styles on this list. Bailey is certainly a Not For Everyone type of guitarist: on first listen his music may sound like a stuttering and spewing mess, a series of discontinuous notes that aggravates the ear and angers the blood. But Bailey’s style–besides influencing everyone from Sonic Youth to Fred Frith to Keiji Haino–manages to eschew all the wankery inherent in “free jazz,” replacing it with an odd mix of humor and soul.

Some late period grace:

23. Jim O’Rourke

Jim O’Rourke is responsible for three of my all-time-favorite-albums: Bad Timing, Eureka, and, along with cohort David Grubbs under the Gastr del Sol moniker, 1996’s Upgrade & Afterlife (an album that I rank along with Pet Sounds, Loveless, and Fear of Music as a slice of sonic perfection). Mr. O’Rourke has produced and mixed more worthy albums than I have space here to mention (although it’s worth pointing out that he is often credited as “saving” Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (see: documentary film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart)), and he was even asked to join Sonic Youth as a fifth member. He’s also done numerous soundtracks, including work with Biblioklept favorite Werner Herzog. Apparently Mr. O’Rourke has quit making albums and has decided to work on making movies instead. Note to Jim: please please please do another solo album–Loose Fur’s Born Again in the USA was good but not great, and we know you have more songs to share! But it seems that I forgot to mention his guitar playing: this is getting long, so suffice to say, he’s better than Slash–a lot better.

O’Rourke plays “The Workplace” (from the EP Halfway to a Threeway) live:

24. David Pajo

David Pajo was in Slint. He also played guitar for Tortoise on the sublime Millions Now Living Will Never Die album. He’s also one of Will Oldham’s finest partners, adding the guitars for a number of Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy albums, including ‘klept fave Ease Down the Road. I could end there, but Pajo is also the mastermind behind Aerial M and Papa M, two bands responsible for some of the finest “post-rock” this side of the nineties. When Pajo joined Billy Corgan’s ill-fated “comeback” band Zwan (along with Matt Sweeney, of all people), I actually took the time to listen (it wasn’t half bad, really). One of those guys who makes everything he touches a little bit better.

Cool video for “Krusty” from Pajo’s 2001 album, Whatever, Mortal. “Krusty” sounds more like it should come from Pajo’s finest work, ’99’s Live from a Shark Cage–

25. Dick Dale

Dick Dale, surf-rock king, blah blah blah. Dick Dale invented the genre from scratch it seems, providing a template not only for a myriad of copycats from the Ventures to Man or Astroman?, but also some of the basis for flashy heavy metal soloing. And while I’m not a big fan of the genre of “surf rock” anymore (thanks in large part to the mid-nineties overkill of bands like Man or Astroman?), I have to respect Dick Dale’s panache, his verve, and his sheer virtuoso talent on his instrument. Oh, and he’s better than Slash.

“Misirlou” (aka the soundtrack to that ass-rape scene from Pulp Fiction)

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part IV

16. David Byrne

I should go on record: Talking Heads are probably my all-time favorite band. When they first started putting out records in the late 70s, the dominant sound on the radio was macho cock-rock; electric twelve-bar blues smothered in wailing and moaning. According to Head’s bassist Tina Weymouth in the liner notes to Sand in the Vaseline, Byrne hated that heavy sound; he wanted his guitar to be as thin, jangly, precise, and rhythmic as possible. Weymouth goes on to point out that Byrne was very proud of his guitar sound, and thought that critics too-often overlooked it, concentrating instead on his odd lyrics and odder dance moves. I think that Byrne doesn’t get enough credit for defining the “indie-jangle” sound: aided by Eno’s treatments, Byrne’s rapid guitar strokes and minimal melodies helped create a template that bands like R.E.M., The Chills, The Feelies, and Luna would continue to refine.

You start a conversation, you can’t even finish it…

17. Peter Buck

Peter Buck was the guy who took jangle to new realms, inflecting his playing with impossible nuance that extended R.E.M.’s sound beyond their basic four-on-the-floor line-up. His spare solos (when there were solos) never impinged on the song’s structure or Michael Stipe’s cryptic vocal, and his mastery of a multitude of other instruments (mandolin, anyone?) helped turn simple pop into musical puzzles. So what if they suck now.

“And that guitar player was no saint”–Mr. Malkmus, “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence”

18. Jimmy Page

Responsible for some of the finest cock-rock ever put to tape, Jimmy Page was a real-deal rock star. Don’t believe me? Read Hammer of the Gods. And if you still can’t forgive some of the wankery Led Zep were inadvertently responsible for, remember that this guy was a latter day acolyte of Aleister Crowley. So there’s that.

(…still…perhaps Coverdale/Page was unforgivable…)

19. Jack Rose

Who is Jack Rose? I’m not really sure, but he’s unreal on the fretboard. When I first heard Raag Manifestos I flipped my proverbial wig: what was this guy doing? Was this contemporary? Was this ancient? Who is Jack Rose? Like Glenn Jones, Rose is keeping Fahey’s torch burning, playing the finest, ramblingest, finger-pickingest steel-guit-blues-via-raga out there today. But still, who is Jack Rose?

20. Dickey Betts

Two words: Dickey Betts. Two words: Allman Brothers. Two words: “Ramblin’ Man.” Two words: Jacksonville native. That’s eight words! Eight words!

About twelve years ago, I went to see Bob Dylan play here in Jacksonville. My uncle had seen Dylan the night before in Tampa. He called me to tell me that Dickey Betts had shown up and played for half the set; it was, of course, just too dang awesome. We waited and waited for Dylan to introduce special secret guest Dickey Betts. I mean, he was from here, ferchrissakes. But that never happened. Regret for something never promised.

This video is truly awesome. I’m for serious.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part III

11. John Fahey
In the late nineties, indie rock kids–myself included–started embracing sounds that expanded beyond four white guys playing drums, bass, and guitar. Bands like Tortoise and The Sea and Cake bridged the way to the avant garde stylings of Gastr del Sol and Oval, opening up whole new sound-worlds to young ears. Gastr del Sol’s stunning 1996 record Upgrade and Afterlife featured a cover of Fahey’s “Dry Bones in the Valley” as the most beautiful closing statement imaginable. A whole new generation of listeners were introduced to cult fave Fahey’s cryptic finger-picking style via Gastr’s Jim O’Rourke, along with Table of the Elements records who released Fahey’s Womblife in 1997. Today, followers of Fahey’s sound include Six Organs of Admittance, Jack Rose, Glenn Jones, and James Blackshaw, among many others. Great stuff, all around.

12. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix is as great as everyone thinks he is.

13. Brian Jones

Brian Jones is often credited as the “second guitarist” for the Rolling Stones, and relegated to a space under the shadow of Keith Richards. He’s more infamous than famous, remembered as the wild man of the Stones who helped define their renegade image. However, Brian Jones was a multi-instrumentalist whose passion for different styles of music from around the world helped infuse the basic rocknroll of the early Stones with a certain eclectic punch. And although his early drowning death (like Dennis Wilson) in 1969 (before Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin) is tragic on some levels (like Keith Moon), it may have preserved him from turning into what the Rolling Stones are today–a decrepit zombie joke that can no longer reasonably retire, already having permanently damaged any patina of mythos to their legacy.

14. Pete Townshend

What Pete Townshend lacked in technical dazzle he more than made up for in bombast, his raw energy and indelicacy summed up best in his propensity to smash his guitars and stab his amps. His work with synthesizers pioneered whole new territories and genres of music, and his penchant for arranging narrative song-suites proved a profound influence on my favorite band, The Fiery Furnaces.

This is one of my favorite things ever:

15. Phil Manzanera

Besides being a founding member of Roxy Music, Manzanera released a series of excellent solo albums of strange new wave music in the late seventies, continuing to work with Brian Eno, as well as guys like Robert Wyatt and John Wetton. Diamond Head is a favorite of mine.

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part II

Check out Part I here.

6. Ian Williams

I’ve been blown away each time I’ve seen Ian Williams play, whether it was in the original monsters of crushing polyrhythmic madness, Don Caballero, the avant-weird hyperkinetic not-jazz of Storm & Stress, or in his current band Battles, where he taps the fretboard with his left hand and plays a keyboard with his right. On top of that, he’s a really nice guy.

Ian rocks “Atlas” live–

7. Prince

Prince is such an extraordinary performer and songwriter that his skills on the axe are often overlooked. The guy is awesome though, displaying a masterful command over his blistering, soul-stinging solos and tight riffage.

Prince shows Eric Clapton a better way–

8. Brian May

Brian May had to invent new instruments and equipment in order to translate the melodic heavy metal pop in his head. His triple-tracked leads, chugging rhythms, and ambient harmonics were certainly showy at times, but Queen was a showy band. Nothing wrong with that–it’s called glam music after all.

Brian May rips up a 10 minute solo from “Brighton Rock”–

9. Mick Ronson

Would we care about David Bowie today if Mick Ronson hadn’t been there to boost the one-time fairy-folk singer’s fey melodies and bizarro lyrics with some rocknroll oomph? Maybe, who knows–Bowie was (is) always adept at finding great people to work with (no fewer than three of Bowie’s guitar players will make this list). Besides working with Bowie and the perennially underrated Mott the Hoople, Ronson was always behind the scenes working with all the cool kids–Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Morrissey, etc.

Ronson tears up the solo from “Moonage Daydream” on the Ziggy Stardust tour–

10. Richard Thompson

After making five albums with British folkies Fairport Convention (including my faves Unhalfbricking and Liege and Lief) Richard Thompson set out down the solo path, recording some brilliant albums with his wife Linda, including the classic I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. Although he’s best known for his distinctive folk-rock sound and wiry, spare solos, Thompson also made a significant contribution to the new, punk influenced music of the early eighties with his album Shoot Out the Lights–a masterpiece on par with Television’s Marquee Moon and almost as good as anything the Talking Heads ever did.

Check out “Wall of Death” from Shoot Out the Lights

50 Great Guitarists, All Better Than Slash (In No Particular Order)–Part I

Welcome to yet another ongoing Biblioklept series which may or may not ever end in your lifetime (and no, we haven’t given up on the Alphabet Soup thing). These axe-masters will come in random order–don’t confuse the numbers I give them with rankings. There’s only one tier of hierarchy here–all of these guitar players are superior to Slash, he of Snake Pit fame.

1. Robert Fripp

Fripp is the guitarist who best epitomizes the spirit of this list: he has consistently evolved over his 40+ years in King Crimson, he combines his masterful playing with a keen ear for control, and he’s a true innovator to his instrument. Watch the man demonstrate his patented Frippertronics below.

2. Nels Cline

This guy is fucking amazing, whether he’s channeling John Coltrane:

lending a virtuoso lead to Wilco:

or just kicking it experimental:

3. Sonny Sharrock

Sonny Sharrock’s 1991 album Ask the Ages is absolutely perfect. Possibly the most under-appreciated guitarist in history.

Sonny jams with Last Exit:

4. Neil Young

Neil Young gets more mileage out of a one-note solo on “Cinnamon Girl” than most wankers achieve on the whole fretboard. Neil Young was willing to go beyond the standard rock stuff (which he excelled at of course) and challenge his listeners with experimental albums like Trans and Arc. And for the record, Harvest is the most perfect Sunday-morning album ever committed to vinyl.

From the Rust Never Sleeps tour:

5. Steve Cropper

Cropper’s subtle and steady rhythm helped define the Stax sound. He was never showy, and in his production and songwriting as well as his playing he knew how to highlight the song, not his own guitar. If he’d only done “(Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding he’d still be on this list; as it is you can hear him on literally hundreds of hit recordings. And we’ll agree to forgive him for the Blues Brothers, okay?

Steve Cropper playing with Booker T & The MGs: