Monday, February 6, 2012

The Other Guitar Heroes

A friend recently posted a live Tom Petty video with the comment "Such an underrated guitar player." Of course, I can't find the video now. I'm not even sure just what he was referring to. But it did make me think of Andy Partridge. 

I'm feeling we may have had this discussion before, so forgive me for bringing it up again. I don't want to make this about "the usual suspects." I think we can all agree, even if our favorites differ, that Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton sit at the very top of the "best guitarist" list.

I was thinking more about people who never get mentioned in this discussion. Two others that immediately come to mind are Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze and Marshall Crenshaw.

Guitar solos are rare in pop tunes, but when Marshall and Tilbrook let one rip, it's usually one of taste and style. And it really isn't just about the solo. Check out Crenshaw's playing throughout the entire performance of "Fantastic Planet Of Love."

There are many other, better quality versions of this song, but I love this for one reason. Tilbrook, even in a solo acoustic setting, still rips out one of his most famous solos.

One more name I'd like to mention is Earl Slick. When people talk of Davd Bowie, they seem to almost always mention Mick Ronson and Robert Fripp...and with good reason. But Earl Slick has put in more time than either and his guitar work on Bowie's "Station To Station" alone is a reason to be cheerful.

I do have a few more guitar heroes, and I'd be remiss not to mention the Thin Lizzy team of Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson. How I wish more people would get beyond "The Boys Are Back In Town" and "Jailbreak" and discover these gentlemen.

But for now, I'd like to highlight XTC's Andy Partridge. As Red Buttons would have said, "The great Andy Partridge...never got a dinner."

I've included two versions of "Books Are Burning." The studio version includes Dave Gregory and Andy trading fours. The live version is just Andy. Also here, "Church Of Women," from "Wasp Star." This is my kind of guitar playing.

Who would you like to nominate for unlikely guitar hero? Please include an example and maybe we'll mix it up for the weekend.


Albert said...

Oh many(now that I say that, watch me draw a blank) right about Crenshaw...This is Easy a must...Bill Nelson,hard to pick a few but:Heavenly Homes, No Trains to Heaven,to name two(try finding them on youtube)....Spedding:My Maria,his Robert Gordon work....Stewart/Creme tandem of 10cc....Elliott Randall(everything and anything),Allen!!!!

Anonymous said...

Good morning, all. No, no...please...remain seated.

This is a fun one - way too many choices. But, this one sprang to mind so I'll share it:

James Honeyman-Scott of the Pretenders.

Always LOVED the guitar parts on Cuban Slide. Tragedy he left us too soon.

Look forward to other's opinions.


Shriner said...

I'd want to suggest Robyn Hitchcock for something (Egyptian Creme, maybe), but I'm blanking on anything that shows him ripping through a guitar solo...) "Mr. Kennedy" from the Soft Boys reunion album has a nice guitar solo duet with Kimberley Rew, but that's cheating.

But I find him an underrated guitar player -- his name almost never comes up anywhere.

soundsource said...

very interesting post, I'm gonna have give it a little thought (unusual for me as opposed to just mouthing me) and get back to you.

misospecial said...

good morning!

i am thrilled to see "fantastic planet of love," which has been a crenshaw fave of mine for some years, but this is the first time i've seen it get its due. thanks! and earl slick's work on "stay" is spectacular.

i'll also take the hit for mentioning todd here, with so many possible songs, but one of my all-time favorite solos for pure searing emotion and economy of expression has always been "hurting for you." for me it's in the same realm as the solo in "goodbye to love."

jeff k said...

I guess people who first come to mind are those who are highly regarded but aren't immediately thought of when lists of top twenty guitar greats are compiled: Scotty Moore, Chuck Berry, James Burton, and Carl Perkins Carl Wilson? I thought he was damned great. Danny Gatton, I imagine is too highly regarded. Al Anderson? But if you really want unknown, check the video for Pokey LaFarge's latest single. His guitar player is unbelievable.

buzzbabyjesus said...

No disagreements on anyone listed in the post. I was thinking asbout possibilities before I checked the comments and many of my nominations are already here:

Chris Spedding, Kimberly Rew, Scotty Moore, James Burton.

I'll add Davy Graham, Ollie Halsall, Tom Verlaine, Richard Thompson, Paul Kossoff, Phil Manzanera, and Johnny Thunders.

David Handelman said...

Richard Fucking Thompson.

Sal Nunziato said...

Richard Thompson?

All anyone ever talks about is his guitar playing. The man is in my Top 3, but I'm not sure he should be considered "other."

Jeff Matthews said...

Thanks for highlighting Earl.
Way too many to name but I would definitely include Mick Ralphs, mostly for his work with Mott (Rock and Rock Queen is a fine example) as well as some of his early BC. Always plays tasty, and minimal. Not sure about their being heroes, but might be worth mentioning: Jeff Buckley, Chris Whitley, Tom Verlaine, and even Wally Bryson.

Anonymous said...

Dylan, when he wants to be.

Bruce H

cmealha said...

Glen Tilbrook stands atop that list
I'll go along with Andy Partridge. His stuff is always tasty.
Off the top of my head about .....
T. Bone Wolk
Steve Howe
Brian May
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Eric Schenkman (Spin Doctors)

Albert said...

...but please Lord not Reeves Gabrels......blecch.....

richeye said...

Let's see... my list isn't the height of obscurity. Loved Miso's nod to Vinnie Peluso's solo on Goodbye To Love!

To me so much of great guitar playing is embedded in hitting the right notes for the song - not just being one flashy git-slinger.

With that in mind, I would add Lowell George to the list (Snakes On Everything is my pick to click).

Dave Alvin, too, gets it right most of the time (As She Slowly Turns To Leave from the album Museum Of Heart).

Mike Bloomfield? Certainly not obscure in his prime, but he rarely gets his due... take your pick of his choice licks. He was a major influence on Elliot Easton, who's no slouch either.

Most obscure of the bunch from me would be D. Clinton Thompson from The Skeletons/The Morells, etc. (I'd go for "That'll Work" from The Skeletons album "Waiting".

Oh... so many more. Among the young bloods, I'd include Ian Neville and Derek Trucks (though I should probably be recused on that last one).

I'll quit while I'm ahead... or this will get much much longer! Nice thread, Sal.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Dave Davies, Dave Hill (Slade), Zal Cleminson (Sensational Alex Harvey Band)

Noam Sane said...

Elvis Costello is a pretty interesting guitar player. He did a tune on his show with Ray LaMontagne singing that just killed.


EC has always had an interesting angle to his playing, overshadowed of course by his songwriting and, more lately, by his (to me) increasingly annoying vocal mannerisms.

Bill Frisell is one of the greatest guitar players ever, ever. His solo on David Sylvian's "Heartbeat" is remarkable - not flashy, really, but truly "of the song" and just drop-dead beautiful:


steves said...

Lindsey Buckinghan is the first one that comes to mind. And Prince, to a certain extent. He's famous enough, but I don't think he gets enough props for his playing.

vanwoert said...

I was always a fan of Marshall Crenshaw's acoustic playing, especially on the live version of "There She Goes Again". Also to give props to the acoustic work of Martin Quintinton on the early Rod Stewart albums, namely on the song "Every Picture Tells A Story".
Also Robert Quine on Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" to exhaust all guitarists whose last name begin with the letter Q. @ Jeff Matthews, Wally Bryson was the fist name I thought of,very underrated.

Gene Oberto said...

In no particular order but guys I've always liked:

Steve Hillage, Roy Rogers (not the King of the Cowboys), Paul Barrere, Paul Kossof, Leo Kottke, Dave Edmunds, Peter Green, two E Streeters, Nils Lofgren and Springsteen, Eddie Van Halen, and the the Irish Master of the Stratocaster, Rory Gallagher.

Sal Nunziato said...

Gotta give Phil Manzanera props. This is a guitar player that is never satisfied with a signature sound. Every song, whether with Roxy or solo, is another adventure.

Surprised no one has mentioned Bruce Springsteen. This man has been known to let rip some very soulful work live.

I am a fan of Prince's playing, but the one thing that has always bothered me about it...and guitar players forgive me for my drummer's, non-techie description of this...

...too often he holds back. It's as if he strikes a note, lets it sustain, plays a few short runs and starts over. It's rare when he extends a solo so we can hear just what he's thinking and feeling melodically.

Make sense at all?

soundsource said...

still thinking but Ron Wood with the faces for sure and not sure if he'd qualify as unlikely but not usually thought of as a guitar hero Peter Frampton

soundsource said...

and as i was reading thru the posts I'd have to cast a vote for Prince also,

Ken D said...

I'll throw a few more in here that no one else has mentioned:
Willie Nile, Glen Mercer, "Little Charley" Baty, Junior Brown, Brian Henneman (Bottle Rockets), Rick Miller (Southern Culture on the Skids), Eddie Angel (Los Straightjackets)
and although he's hardly unknown, I think his guitar work is taken for granted:
John Fogerty
(he wasn't on Rolling Stone's Top 100 list.)

Gene Oberto said...

Uhhh, Sal? I did mention him.

Sal Nunziato said...

I posted before I saw that, Gene.

Gene Oberto said...

You always were quicker than me. I should have known. I beg your pardon.

J. Loslo said...

Bill Kirchen.

There's a reason Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe like to hire him.

ASH On The Beat said...

Some nice suggestions on here.

For me the likes of Bill Nelson, Richard Thompson,Steve Howe, Brian May, SRV are all lauded, certainly not "other", they receive plaudits and rightly so but don't fir what Sal was looking for.

Chris Speeding is hailed by everyone.

The problem with Earl Slick is that he can play anything but isn't that inventive, it was rumoured that a lot of his Bowie stuff was the Dame himself's initial idea expanded.

Kimberley Rew for me too, Bernard Butler, Matthew Sweet live, the late great, Jim Ellison and that's just quickly.

Agree whole heartedly on Buckingham, if he was in a different band, he'd have banners everywhere.

Dave Gregory made an interesting remark a while ago, saying Partridge was at least equal, if not better than him, but he was lazy and didn't enjoy playing.

Jeff Matthews said...

@Ash: Respectfully, I gotta defend Earl Slick here - he was indeed responsible for much of the guitar sound of S2S. I don't think the criterion here in any event requires inventiveness -Slick is grounded in 60s Britrock and his loose guitar-weaving style definitely owes to Woodie and Keef. But he is rock solid, always nails the right tone and note selection. Listen to his non-Bowie work, with Phantom Rocker and Slick, with Tonio K, or Ian Hunter for example.
Sal: another late entry - Martin Belmont?

Scott said...

Would Glen Campbell be considered underrated?

cmealha said...

I like everyone else usually think of lead guitar players but how about the tasty acoustic playing of James Taylor and Paul Simon?

ASH On The Beat said...

I dunno Jeff, Hunter wasn't very complimentary about him on Overnight Angels but it wasn't Hunter's finest hour either.

Have to say he was brilliant on the Bowie 2000 Glasto and stuff appearances.

Mick Ralphs, I'm never sure how good he is, for me he's the great band guitarist and probably plays less than he has to.

MTH wasn't the same without him.

Honeyman-Scott is a great choice and I'd add John McGeoch.

Can we count the Utopian one?

Sal Nunziato said...


Glad you brought up Paul Simon. I almost did earlier, then...well..I didn't. Some amazing playing on ALL of "The Sounds Of Silence" album, and of course, "Bookends." Plus, his version of "Surfer Girl" at the Brian Wilson tribute still blows me away. Some excellent fretwork there!


"Overnight Angels" is one of my fave Ian records. Why is is so looked down upon?

As for Earl Slick, I've just about loved everything he's been associated with.

I didn't mention Todd Rundgren for obvious reasons, but without question, he is someone who should indeed get the nod. As a matter of fact, he is playing better than ever these days.

Anonymous said...

Toy Caldwell from the Marshall Tucker Band. Duane and Dickey got tons of well deserved accolades, but Toy was a fine, fine guitarist in his own right. Tons of country and southern soul with more than a hint of jazz. And no pick! Great great player that I truly miss.

ASH On The Beat said...

I hate it Sal, I did when I bought it the day it came out and have heard little redeeming on it since.

You know what a Hunter freak I am but both that and All of The Good Ones are awful.

It's over produced, he's in the wrong key a lot of the time and the songs are just mediocre.

The intro to Golden Opportunity and Shallow Crystals I'd nod at and To Love A Woman is probably his worst song ever if not the worst song ever.

Fortunately it's sandwiched between two amazing albums. All American Alien Boy is his most underrated album and a joy.

MCB said...

Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper of The Church. Dave Fielding and Reg Smithies of The Chameleons. John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie & the Banshees.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Unlike Jimmy Page when he appropriated "When She Moved Through The Fair", retitling it "White Summer", Paul Simon gave Davey Graham credit when he covered "Anji".
Spedding fans need to hear his sublime solo on "The Game" by Roy Harper, from his classic album "HQ".
Those unfamiliar might like to know the backing band besides Roy and Spedding consists of Dave Gilmour, John Paul Jones, and Bill Bruford.
I've posted it on my blog here:

oldkdawg said...

I agree with all of the players that everybody has been mentioning. On a jazzier side I really like this version of Castles Made Of Sand/Little Wing by Tuck & Patti.

JB said...

Lowell George

A walk in the woods said...

Bruce H, I agree with you about Dylan - very underrated guitarist. He has certain staccato sound he used around 1998-2002 (just before he switched to keyboards) that is just magic.

But my #1 underrated guitarist is Willie Nelson. That spare, open, Spanish-inflected style; magic.

William Repsher said...

Someone mentioned Robert Quine, and that guy never got his due. Was excellent with Lou Reed, although I was never sure it was him or Lou playing lead on some of those songs. (I know Quine's signature tone, which is why I think Lou might have been soloing ... song in particular I'm thinking of is "Little Sister" ... which has to be one of my favorite guitar solos.)

Quine even made Richard Hell sound good to me, and I don't like Richard Hell!

Sal Nunziato said...

With all due respect to Willie Nelson and those that love him, here is my impersonation of a Willie Nelson guitar solo:


And that's not to say I don't love it, 'cause I do.

misospecial said...

@ASH and sal: i *did* mention todd, further up the thread.

and it's amazing, he's playing like he did 35 years ago—all he needed was a few years of playing regularly. matter of fact, if anything good came out of the johnson stuff, it would be that it kept him on the guitar after the arena tour ended...

Jeff in Denton TX said...

The YouTube comment that was the original inspiration for this post was, of course, speaking of the underrated status of Mike Campbell. My take is that he's like (the Oakland A's) Joe Rudi was as a player in the 70's. He was underrated for awhile, but then was so famous for being underrated that he really wasn't underrated anymore. He's still great (Campbell, I mean. I don't think Joe can play anymore.)

Justin Hayward. His playing is melodic and serves the songs well.

Brinsley Schwartz--especially his work for Graham Parker.

I agree with many of the others listed. In general, hard rock and metal guys are rarely underrated because of the genre's emphasis on guitar. I suppose Alex Lifeson could be because he's perceived as the third wheel in Rush, but he has won a Guitar magazine poll before.

Anonymous said...

how about the ladies? always unde-rated as guitarists.
Joni, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Armatrading, Ellen McIlwaine, etc

Robin said...

"Other Guitar Heroine" (acoustic version), no not Joni Mitchell...but the one and only Mother Maybelle Carter. She's an icon but she could never be championed enough as far as I'm concerned.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Jerry Garcia.

Eric said...

phil manzanera, mick SOMEONE MENTIONS SPIN DOCTORS--- let me put my head over a toilet---& INCLUDE PRINCE... fuck,,, billy zoom, and where IS the post 92' list: JERRY CANTRELL, cobain, billy corgan(In concert, not records after Siamese dreams)....MIKE FUCKIN' NESS...NEIL YOUNG....CAPTAIN JERRY TRIPS/JORMA/ THE WATT BROTHER FROM JESUS MARY TRAIN..... i'm angry

Bill said...

First person who came to mind when I saw the headline was Tilbrook--way underrated. Billy Bremner added some great stuff to the Rockpile sound, too. Check out Heart on Seconds of Pleasure.

elizabeth said...

The first name I thought was Bill Frisell, but figured he wouldn't be considered the right "genre". So I'm glad Noam put him in the mix. Interesting he also mentioned Elvis Costello in the same post - Frisell did an album of the Costello/Bacharach songs. But my favorite piece - and forgive me if I'm straying too far - is his rendition of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" (found here:

Bruce, Prince, Nils Lofgren, Bill Kirchen, Steve Cropper; all favorites. Not unknown, and I maybe risking scorn here, but my own list would include the Edge and Eddie Van Halen.

Scott said...

Sal, that Willie Nelson solo was dead-on! HaHa! I love Willie too, but you could plug in the same solo to just about every one of his songs and not tell the difference.

soundsource said...

wow so many responses I may have missed these two guys but Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner the two guitar players on Lou Reed's Rock and Roll Animal and Mitch Ryder's Detroit. Those guys could really kick ass ie: Rock and Roll.
Also all of the Lynyrd Skynyrd guys collectively.
And although he may already be considered a guitar hero Steve Cropper and all those other guys from Muscle Shoals and Nashville whose names the general public doesn't know (Jimmy Johnson, Pete Carr, Reggie Young, etc. etc.) but kick major six string ass. Not so much for tear em up soloing but incredibly tasty licks that make the song.
And James Burton

word verification of the day alimangs, sort of an allman brothers reference, appropriate no?

Anonymous said...

@ a walk in the woods

How great you mention Dylan'd guitar playing circa 1998-2002. I first saw him at the Garden in 2001 and was blown away by the way he played, how *musical* his playing and the whole show was. Not what I was expecting. Broken-hearted that he's been keyboarding ever since, at least when I've seen him. Thank God for the harmonica.

@ I forget who. No, Glen Campbell can't be considered underrated.

Bruce H

Anything Should Happen said...


The Johnson point was something I'd never considered about Todd and you are absolutely spot on.

@Jeff in Denton TX

Brinsley, how could he be ignored, his playing with The Rumour live was incredible?

Well played.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Waddy Wachtel. David Lindley.

Big Jim Slade said...

Curse you, Sal. It's only early February and you've already got a solid candidate for post of the year. I recall listening to the Squeeze compilation some time ago and thinking, wow, nobody EVER talks about what great guitar playing there is here. It is even tastier for being in the midst of such great pop songwriting.

And I definitely give hearty seconds to John Fogerty and Dave Davies.

Well, he's a session guitarist, so he should be able to play, but people tend to forget about him - Waddy Wachtel (I'm a big Zevon fan)

I know people haven't exactly ignored George Harrison over the years, but I think his playing on his last album, Brainwashed, is great, especially the instrumental Marwa Blues.

OK, I'll inflict a choice Brazilian song on you - Gilberto Gil. and Toquinho, enjoy:

Umm, how about Robert Smith of The Cure (try The Kiss)? And David Byrne always was more unique than he gets credit for (The Good Thing or Found a Job, though I don't know when it's DB playing or Frantz). If you know the band, he's not unsung, but Billy Zoom of X rocks it. And Stephen Malkmus is known for his guitar playing, but I don't know how much the solo album Real Emotional Trash gets - I love the playing on that.

Les said...

I've been diggin June Millington lately.

Anonymous said...

From Camden NJ, Mr. Rambler '65... Ben Vaughn

WHT said...

These are a bunch of under-the-radar guitar heroes to choose from:
Steve Wynn, Chuck Prophet, Will Sargent, Bob Mould, J.Mascis, BC Gilbert, EdFromOhio, Richard Lloyd, Rick Rizzo/Baird Figi from 11th DD, Bill Million, Keith Levene, Andy Gill, Boz Scaggs, Ira Kaplan, Jan Akkerman, Pete Buck, Andy Summers, Jorma Kaukonen, James Ulmer, Eugene Chadourne, Vini Reilly, Mark Robinson, Adrian Borland, Maurice Deebank, Bevis Frond, Stuart Adamson, Alan Sparhawk, Dean Wareham, Adrian Belew, Eddie Hazel, Curtis Mayfield, Scott Miller, and Warren Defever

Dave said...

Hiding in plain sight: Mark Knopfler.

Also have to throw in good words for Paul Simon and James Taylor (who is giving video guitar lessons on his site).

How about some love for studio musicians? Gotta love Al Gorgoni and Tommy Tedesco, as well as semi-anonymous band members. What would James Brown have been without Jimmy Nolen's chicken scratch?

[great capcha: "cingl")

oldkdawg said...

How about Sonny Landreth (solo and with John Hiatt. Gary Hoey, Junior Brown, Andy Gill from Gang of Four. The list goes on and on.

charlie c. said...

Robbie Hoddinott, Kingfish (any track, Round Records, 1976) – more of a one hit-wonder than an Other Guitar Hero. I also like Kenny Withrow, from Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, try “What I Am” . . .
Sonny Landreth is a great call and did anyone mention J.J. Cale?!?

oldkdawg said...

Couple more to throw out. Dave Alvin and all of the guys in the Hellecasters.