David Gilmour, the notably notable guitar player from Pink Floyd, is back with a two-CD or 2-DVD (take your pick) of the final performance from his 2006 On An Island tour: Live In Gdansk. It features the Polish Baltic Philharmonic, conducted by Zbigniew Preisner, who is not mentioned often enough here at List Of The Day. Gilmour is one of those great guitar players whose tone, taste and ability immediately alerted me to the fact that I would never be a rock 'n' roll star. I was destined to observe from afar.
From these cheap seats, I've compiled a list of the 25 Best British Electric Guitar Players, since if we were profiling here (and, heck, we are) that's where Mr. Gilmour would fall. Personally, I wouldn't get too hung up on where anyone places. There are only 25 slots and list-making demands an order. Wake up on a different day and these guys get juggled in a different order. And then there are always those you kick yourself for forgetting in the first place.
And then there are those you leave off on purpose. Because you can!
25) Alvin Lee (Ten Years After): Regular readers of this blog (a saintly crew or gluttons for punishment, I salute you) know I'm partial to Mr. Lee. And it's not just because he can play more notes per minute than your average speed freak. No, it's because I first heard him when I was about 14 years old and he spoke to me in a personal way that forever changed the way I viewed the world. I stopped doing my homework, for starters.
24) Peter Frampton (Humble Pie): Before he made that live album that everyone bought or had automatically shipped to them by some corporate record club, Peter Frampton played the blues in a band that was very loud and liked by people who wouldn't care much for his solo career. People who liked his solo career frequently don't care for his Humble Pie days. So I guess we could call it even.
23) Mick Ronson (David Bowie, Ian Hunter): David Bowie was always a smart evaluator of talent. He could spot pioneers in his field and then come along and replicate it with just enough finesse to make it seem as if it was his idea all along. He also knew he needed a killer guitar player in his band that looked the part. He got it with Mick Ronson. Lou Reed even borrowed the guy.
22) Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead): Modern day rock bands don't have many guitar heroes, despite the success of that bizarre video game. Guitar players stand further back or just play the same generic leads that any old session guy can provide. However, Radiohead have been using the guitar in admirable ways, more for texture than technique and among the three guys in the band who add their licks, Greenwood seems to be the guy out in front. I'd take him over the guy in U2 any day of the week, even Monday!
21) Dave Murray, Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden): I can already hear the question: Where's Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, the dual guitar attack from Judas Priest? Yes, those gents pioneered the heavy metal, twin-guitar attack, but I only have so much room and when it comes to really letting loose with intricate, finger-twisting insanity, Murray and Smith from Iron Maiden simply do more eyebrow raising. And they do so with songs that sound like horses clomping through the mud. That might not sound like a compliment, but it is. You'll have to trust me on that one.
20) James Honeyman-Scott (The Pretenders): Before he died, Honeyman-Scott played guitar for the Pretenders in such a lyrical, rhythmically intense way that the band could never truly recover once he departed. The Pretenders would go on to have more hits, but the group chemistry and intensity turned into Chrissie Hynde and a backing group. He didn't live long enough to give us a solo career.
19) Andy Summers (The Police): In a trio, there is both too much room and not enough to make things happen. You really have to understand space and know how to use it. With an ego like Sting on bass and a talented, hyperkinetic drummer in Stewart Copeland, Summers had his work cut out for him. He had to find a way to fill up the rest of the sound without stepping on any else's toes. He played with the dexterity of a ballerina and the caution of a podiatrist.
18) Brian May (Queen): With a lead singer in Freddie Mercury who was bound to steal the spotlight, May settled for arranging and producing the sound, which he determined would be grandiose despite the band's instrumental trio status. He did so by cultivating tones that could bludgeon an arena.
17) Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple, Rainbow): Blackmore's one of those revered guitar players whose name gets mentioned by other guitar players when it comes to who they admire. Somehow, Deep Purple has not received the same legendary status as their early heavy metal brethren. Conspiracy theories abound. But there was a time when even Rainbow was considered popular. Their 8-tracks flew out of retail stores. Weird world sometimes, isn't it?
16) Rory Gallagher: Another guy who other guitar players frequently praise even if the 'Average Joe' doesn't know or care about him. He even made it into magazines and had articles written about him and people bought tickets to his concerts. But fate being what it is, and fortune being a harsh, unforgiving mistress, Gallagher died and no one has tried to build up his cult following the way people sometimes do for dead rock stars. Is the world just not ready for Rory? When will they? Will YOU be ready? Will YOU answer the call?
15) Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac): Peter Green might pick Danny Kirwan for this spot. That's what old, loyal bandmates might do. That both have struggled day to day since leaving Fleetwood Mac--schizophrenia for Green, alcoholism for Kirwan--shouldn't be seen as a result of their playing the blues. They just signed the wrong contract down at the crossroads. So, aspiring guitarists, read the fine print! Carefully.
14) Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music): You're in a band with Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno. What do you do? You eventually co-produce an album with David Gilmour. That might not seem obvious, but it beats changing your name to Brian just to fit in.
13) Pete Townshend (The Who): As a songwriter, Townshend, like many, wrote most of his important stuff within his first decade of service and has spent the ensuing ones trying to convince us that it's our problem that we don't "get" it. But it's Townshend that doesn't "get" the meaning of a "farewell tour." As The Who have been saying "So Long" longer than they were initially together. Still, the man can windmill the guitar like nobody's business and if I had the money and was looking for someone to play rhythm guitar in the band of my dreams, Pete would be my first pick.
12) Johnny Marr (The Smiths): Never one for a lot of flash, but with tons of taste and style, Johnny Marr can--and apparently will--play with anyone who asks. A friendly sort, the only person who apparently won't work with him anymore is the man who needs him most. But then again if Morrissey and Marr were to join forces once again and the results turned out anything less than wonderful (a very likely scenario if history be one's guide in these matters) it would make both men look incredibly foolish. And we know Morrissey would never do anything that anyone would ever consider foolish.
11) Robin Trower (Procol Harum): He had to leave Procol Harum in order to really lay it on the line and make the kind of heavy blues that other guitar players still rave about till this day. That he's not a household name just goes to show how erratic and unfair most households simply are by design.
10) Gary Moore (Thin Lizzy): Moore kicked it up a notch for Thin Lizzy and he spent years afterwards playing the kind of finger-mangling solos that got him lionized by the heavy metal crowds who liked to think of guitar solos as some sort of aural equivalent of NASCAR. But Moore's true love is the blues and he's been known to fall back to this first love whenever given the chance. These days, he is often given.
9) Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones): Ron Wood was a great bass player. And the Rolling Stones have been noticeably worse for decades since he took over Mick Taylor's position in the Rolling Stones Corporation. Some think the Stones were finished once Brian Jones was no longer with them, but live shows from 1972-73 prove the Stones just might have been all they claimed when this young talent was in his sparkling prime. And if you consider the condition Keith Richards was allegedly in by this point, it makes Taylor's contributions even more impressive. But you can't have two guys named Mick in the Rolling Stones at the same time without one of them getting jealous.
8) Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits): From the first time anyone heard the first Dire Straits album it was readily apparent that even if the band didn't succeed (which they, of course, did) that their guitar player would land on his feet. Someone would end up using him. Just listen to that playing. And from what I hear, he gets along with Van Morrison, which means he can get along with anyone!
7) Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, John Mayall And The Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek And The Dominos): Clapton's solo career established his name in the public consciousness and made him a Cadillac Brand for guitar players, but he was best when collaborating with others, whether it was John Mayall, or Jack Bruce, Steve Winwood or Duane Allman. And he has only yet to record an album called The Sound Of One Hand Clapton. What's he waiting for?
6) Hank Marvin (The Shadows): Easily the overlooked guy in most circles and yet the one that most ensuing guitar players from future generations cite as being a genuine guitar hero, inspiring young English lads to pick up the guitar rather than the piccolo, the flute or the harpsichord. I won't say Marvin changed civilization in Britain, but it might be true.
5) Robert Fripp (King Crimson): Fripp is one of those modest guys who pretends he doesn't really know much about what he's doing and then plays circles around the competition, which is why you should never trust a guitar player who says he plays "a little." That's the guy to watch out for. Not the one with the biggest stack or the most expensive guitar. "A little" often goes a long way.
4) David Gilmour (Pink Floyd): His guitar solo in "Comfortably Numb" has been noted by just about every guitar player and guitar mag as a "transcendent" moment. Gilmour had been recording amazing solos for years, but that seems to be the one that sticks in the heads of even people who know nothing about the guitar. You go back to earlier Pink Floyd albums and the results are similarly cathartic and yet completely different. Even my mom could pick out his guitar tone.
3) Jimmy Page (The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin): Jimmy was a top requested session guy and the last of the great Yardbirds guitar players. He might've even played with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers if the enrollment hadn't already been maxed out at the time. Page knew how to work the recording studio and sure spent a lot of time hiding out there perfecting his hold on audiences throughout the 1970s. It was as if he was inspired by magic.
2) Jeff Beck (The Yardbirds): Jeff Beck could never keep it together. He always got bored or whatever it is that caused his bands to break up and his albums to sound only half-realized. Yet his tone, his odd sense of timing, his inflections was special and caused people to beg for his services. And when he felt like it, he would bestow these gifts like a thrifty Santa Claus who occasionally took a liking to a particular elf.
1) Richard Thompson (Fairport Convention): Richard Thompson will never be a massively popular artist. That's been proven over five decades of service. But his cult is now so huge that he can at least go to his great reward knowing that people took notice and that he survived his own quirks and stayed true to himself and worked with some weird record producers along the way who had an even more skewered vision of his strengths. Which is why you should seek out any live material you can. For it is on stage that Thompson Comes Alive! Now there's an idea for a double live album!