• My version of Guitar Player's list of Fifty Rhythm Guitar Gods.
When my most most recent issue of Guitar Player arrived in the mail, the cover was festooned with a photo of James Hetfield and the headline 50 Rhythm Guitar Gods. I was stoked. I love rhythm guitar and I was expecting a great list, plus some info on how the greats get their tone, maybe something about technique, an interview or two. Sadly, not only did Guitar Player serve up little more than a basic list, but also neglected to delve very deeply into the art of rhythm guitar. I should have known. I mean, the cover shows Hetfield SOLOING. What is it with lead guitar? Yeah, it’s cool and all, but the rhythm guitar makes the song, it’s the riffage. And for me, rhythm is my personal holy grail. It’s one of the few things I truly seek yet believe I have no hope of obtaining for myself. God knows I’ve tried to master it. I’ve studied it, I’ve copped techniques from some of the very best, I’ve spent hours with a metronome, with drummers, with my foot, and yet still I suck at rhythm guitar. So who’s on Guitar Player’s list? Some expected choices, some inspired choices, a few “huhs?” but most important are the omissions. The editor should be lashed 50 times with bottom E strings. Anyway, rather than complain about Guitar Player’s list, I’ve created my own list. It’s not perfect, for sure, and most likely I’m forgetting a few names, but it’s a good list, I think. First up, my criteria, then my list. If you agree, let me know, if you think I’ve left anyone out, please say so.
To make my list, a guitar player has to be:
- someone I’ve listened to a lot and feel I can reference with some authority
- someone who, in my opinion, is indispensable to the band
- someone who is innovative and maybe even has his own style and tone
(NOTE: PLAYERS ALSO ON GUITAR PLAYER’S LIST ARE IN ITALICS. ALSO, MY LIST IS LESS THAN FIFTY BECAUSE I'M SURE I HAVE FORGOTTEN A FEW PLAYERS AND WILL WANT TO ADD THEM.)
Ritchie Blackmore - Smoke on the Water is just the beginning. Listen to songs like Fireball and Highway Star, his work with Rainbow, especially Long Live Rock and Roll, this guy is unreal.
Peter Buck - When REM broke, all the focus was on Stipe’s voice and on Buck’s Bird’s-like guitar playing. Over time, Stipe remained the cornerstone of REM’s sound, but Buck progressed way beyond being a Birds clone to become one of the most creative rhythm player’s in rock. He’s so rhythm focused, I’m not even sure he can solo!
Lindsay Buckingham - When I first heard Fleetwood Mac Rumours it was my sister’s copy. I dismissed it immediately and went back to my Zep and Priest. But every now and then I would listen to the Mac and, ridden with guilt, enjoy it. Later on, I heard Fleetwood Mac Live and I listened to the opening guitar riffage to Monday Morning over and over again and went back to Rumours and heard it with new ears. Now I’ve decided that Rumours contains some of the greatest rhythm guitar work and tones ever laid down in pop. Ding on Lindsay: he faded fast.
David Byrne - Where do I start? How about Pschyo Killer from “Stop Making Sense.” How GP forgot/ignored/dimissed Byrne I cannot fathom.
Steve Clark - When Steve Clark died, Def Leppard stopped producing great albums. His last testament was Adrenalize, after that, he was gone and so was Def Leppard’s ability to put out good work And that’s why Steve Clark is on my list. Because in my opinion, it was his riffs and presence that made an entire band great and what more can a rhythm player do?
Elvis Costello - Elvis’ vocals are so distinctive that they captivate you completely and you forget he’salso playing guitar. Great guitar. I could cite a million tunes by EC but instead I’ll just point out that he can tour with nothing but an acoustic and play every song he’s ever written and make it so great you’re cool with it not having the full band. Hell, you might even prefer it.
Bob Dylan - Dylan sounds like Dylan because of his voice AND because of his guitar work.
The Edge - Rhythm like no one else. Bit of a one-trick pony but it’s a helluva trick.
John Fogerty - I guess his brother was in the band and actually was considered the rhythm guitarist, but do I care? No. Further, Fogerty doesn’t quite meet my criteria (he’s not very innovative), but his other talents are so profound, I’ll let it pass.
Gordon Gano - Very, very few rhythm guitarists are as much a part of their band’s sound as Gano. Not sure what happened to him after the “Why Do Bird’s Sing” but, for me, his greatness is forever enshrined by all that came up to and through that final great album.
Billy Gibbons - No one has a greasier groove than Billy. Limited, though.
David Gilmore - Yeah, yeah, yeah, his solos RAWK, but his rhythms had far more to do with Pink Floyd’s greatness. So, so creative.
Jimi Hendrix - Two words: Little Wing.
Gert Krawinkel - Gert is the dude who played guitar in Trio, one of my favorite bands of all time. If you can find it, listen to Trio “Live”. Your mind will melt out of your ears.
Robbie Krieger - Every year I become ever more convinced that the Doors were that most unusual of things in music: unique. I can’t credit Krieger for why, only because every other member was equally indispensable.
John Lennon - Not on GP’s list. Can I still read the magazine with a straight face? No. Leaving Lennon off their list of the greatest rhythm guitar players of all time throws everything else GP does into the spotlight of suspicion. Unconscionable.
Lyle Lovett - When you listen to Lyle you focus on his voice and why wouldn’t you? It’s one of the greatest voices on record. But listen deeper, listen to his playing, he might very well be, despite all of his success, the world’s most under-appreciated guitar player.
Brian May - Musically, Queen was a trio, but you would never know it because of Brian May’s ability to create massive sonic textures. My favorite May moment? When the guitar comes in on We Will Rock You. But then there’s also the intro to Fat Bottomed Girls.
Buddy Miller - Among country hipsters, Buddy Miller is as god, but in the larger music scene, he’s been largely overlooked. Who knows why? Anyway, for country feel and soul, there’s no one better. Not sure there’s anyone all that close, in fact.
Rick Nielson - Take away the dufus outfits and facial expressions, and you’re left with one of rock’s greatest rhythm players. The man can create serious noise.
Jimmy Page - ‘Nuff said. Wait, no, there’s more. Truth be told, I find that Page can be stiff on the rhythm guitar, but when he’s not, well, it’s proof that he’s from outer space.
Joe Perry - To truly understand the greatness that is Joe Perry, listen to “Sick As A Dog” on “Live Bootleg”. Just before Perry takes his solo, there’s a rhythmic breakdown during which Brad Whitford plays a few measures alone before Perry comes back in. It’s a snorefest, so conventional, awful. But when Perry starts, man, I get goosebumps. He’s a little out of tune, a little behind the beat and all rock and roll.
Tom Petty - I am at a loss for words for why GP left out TP.
Prince - “My name is Prince and I am funky. My name is Prince the one and only.”
Keith Richards - The Human Riff. Actually, he’s not human, but whatever.
Paul Simon - American Tune.
Paul Stanley - One of the (many) reasons KISS rocks so hard is Paul Stanley. He’s a killer singer, but his rhythm guitar is the anchor of the band. He’s like Keith in that regard. And his riffs and chord voicings (almost!) always rawk.
Andy Summers - Thank god GP got this one right. Nothing to add.
Richard Thompson - One of the greatest guitarists of all time, and I do mean all. I truly doubt that anyone will come along who’s better. Different, sure, but not better. Speaking of different, RT is one fo the very few guitarists in the world whose playing style is what truly sets them apart, not just tone or hair color.
Pete Townshend - Probably the greatest rhythm player in all of rock, yes, even better than Keith Richards if only because he has been so much more creative.
Eddie Van Halen - EVH is one of the few shredders who interest me because he plays his solos with so much rhythm. As for his actual rhythm playing, no one in hard rock out grooves Eddie.
Jack White - Every White Stripes song is nothing more than drums, guitar and vocals and for White to keep things interesting he’s got to be a rhythmic ace. And he is.
Neil Young - Not on GP’s list. I just don’t get that. I mean from acoustic to electric Neil Young can do it all and if it weren’t for him The Horse would not groove. He supplies all the swing. And the harmonic textures that his abuse of Old Black can generate, wow, Neil is God.
Malcom Young & Angus Young - Everyone goes on and on about how killer Malcolm is, including Angus, so I’ll accept that Malcolm rocks. But the only guy I can ever hear is Angus and Angus lays down the most relaxed hard rock groove on the planet (except for maybe Malcolm, you know, if I could hear him).