Sunday, December 4, 2011

Greatest Guitarists of All Time

Rolling Stone just published their 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time list as voted upon by "top guitarists and other experts." They didn't ask me but I'm not shy about offering my observations as a longtime observer of superb guitar playing, some by guitarists who did make the list.

First of all, this concept of All Time, more of a grandiose poetic flourish than a literal truth, subconsciously (now consciously) brings magick into the equation. The Qabalistic Cross, a very basic, preliminary ritual goes: "Unto Thee, the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, Unto All the Ages" ( ie All Time).

The ritual of the Qabalistic Cross is a
basic psychic exercise of the modern
Hermetic tradition. Its purpose is to re-inforce a sense of the Here and Now",
the conscious self awake in the present moment.

- W.C. Eichman

Not many would disagree with their top choice, Jimi Hendrix, and I don't either. Hendrix had way more going on than just flashy guitar playing. He transmitted something very soulful along with, and sometimes instead of, the pyrotechnics. Lots of Universal keys in his oeuvre, for instance, giving a version of Crowley's 'Do what thou wilt' with the lyrics:

"With the power of soul, anything is possible
With the power of you, anything that you wanna do

Also, the first song title from his 3rd studio album Electric Ladyland suggests the Great Work in practice. This song lasts 1:21 . The second song title asks Have You Ever Been ( To Electric Ladyland). The answer, in my case, is yes if he means Electric Lady, the recording studio Hendrix built with Eddie Kramer on 8th Street in Greenwich Village. I recorded and mixed a track for another great guitarist of All Time ( on my list, not RS) Buckethead for the film Last Action Hero.

Related to some of my earlier blog (a)musings:

The original North American-only Reprise release album cover featured a "fiery" photo of Hendrix' head.

Rolling Stone gives "The Star Spangled Banner" as one of his key tracks.

Jimmy Page came in at number 3. I thought he should have reached 2 instead of Clapton but figure that Coincidence Control must have put him at 3 for Crowley/Qabalistic associations. As is well-known, Page is quite experienced with magick and it definitely got channeled through his music. Page had Do what thou wilt inscribed in small letters on the innermost part of every vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin IV. According to Wikipedia, that album has sold over 23,000,000 copies in the U.S. alone making it 23 times certified platinum. With all those spinning discs, Page instigated a Crowleyan flavored Tibetan prayer wheel.

Do what thou wilt
isomorphs with Gurdjieff's instruction to "create for yourself a real I." For those into pluarity like Robert Fripp with his signature quip, 'I am resplendent in divergence' it could read, 'create for yourself real I's.' For punsters with a visual orientation or for remote viewers I would offer, 'create for your Self real eyes.'

"Dazed and Confused" shows up as the first of Pages key tracks. Live performances show Page using a bow on his guitar which he also appears to use, 'as if' a magick wand. He also quotes Gustavf Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War a couple of times in the long piece. Mars represents the active energy of Horus, the Egyptian god of force and fire who symbolizes this new time of self-determined, voluntary evolution and reality creation. The War means the war on sleep in whatever form. The war against getting programmed into robotic compliance with external societal game rules about what you should do with your life. The war against becoming a Marching Moron as Cyril Kornbluth put it in a famous SF story. Bill Laswell and associates call this war Method of Defiance.

"Dazed and Confused" a title that suggests anyone going through a strong transistion such as 'birth' into a new life has the curious lyric:

"Lots of people talking, few of them know
Soul of a woman was created below..."

Something that perhaps only a fool can understand, as it seems related with a later song title Fool in the Rain from the 1979 album In Through the Out Door. Perhaps the lyric should read 'Soul of a WoMan was created below. It also connects with the 'bringing the woman to life' idea I mentioned recently, an idea that's one expression of the formula symbolized by the tarot card The Chariot which Crowley called the formula of this new period.

The lyric could indicate the idea that 'the Work is in Hell' - to qabalists Hell means the space-time continuum - not in escaping to a blissed out nirvana or fantastic wishful paradise but right here, right now in the nitty gritty of the physical Universe.

Keith Richards at number 4 becomes the highest rated guitarist I've personally seen. A Stones concert in 1981 at the Kingdome in Seattle convinced me of his brilliance. His new book, Life, holds some real gems about songwriting and guitar playing. Jumping Jack Flash was his gardener at his Redlands estate, and now we're somehow back in Mars' territory. Martin Scorsese's favorite Stones song, Gimme Shelter turns up as one of Keith's key tracks.

Pete Townsend at #10 ranks as my personal favorite of anyone guitarist I've seen live. Incredibly powerful when I saw the Who, the proto-type punk band but with class, in 1980 or 81. A future blog on that concert will relate a drug-free, musically inspired OOBE that forever changed how I listened to and received music.

Got the chance to see #22, Frank Zappa with the Mothers of Invention at the Pier on the Hudson River in New York. Always very much loved his playing. I give him credit for best title for a guitar based compilation, Shut Up 'n' Play Yer Guitar, a title that also resonates with Do what thou wilt. Trey Anastasio mentions this collection in the RS piece and finishes it by saying:

"But when he picked up his guitar or a solo, 'he was completely in communion with his instrument... It just became soul music."

Got to work briefly with #28, Johnny Ramone on the mixes for Brain Drain by The Ramones.

Once had lunch with #32 Billy Gibbons and Bill Laswell. I'd seen ZZ Top some years earlier and enjoyed them. Gibbons was wearing what looked like a stylized shower cap. Got the sense it had a protective function for Billy.

Mick Taylor, #37 was a delight to work with. He was laying down solos and guitar lines on a Golden Palominos record for over 4 hours at Platinum Island.

I have to disagree with Carlos Santana's statement about Mike Bloomfield, "He didn't get a chance to expand the mission of his soul..." As mentioned in an earlier post, I feel he did on Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.

#62, Robert Fripp rates as genius, to me, based on the King Crimson albums and the 3 times I've seen him play. He appears the only serious guitarist I've seen who can translate Gurdjieff's theories about the octave into consciousness altering music. I could be making that up about his creative approach. I do know that he studied Gurdjieff extensively to the point of making retreats from the commercial music industry to further his researches. I also know that certain intervals he played on the guitar when I saw him live, corresponded with strong mood lifts in me. Lifting to the point of temporarily stepping OUT of consensual reality into a timeless present. Hard to describe exactly ... you start to feel a lot bigger.

#82 Nels Kline showed his creative mastery when I worked with him on Eric McFadden and Wally Ingram's Alektorophobia. Very nice guy to work with too!

I could have been the last person to record #83 Eddie Hazel. I remembered doing some overdubs with him with Laswell at Bill's old studio in Greenpoint. I don't recall for whom. I remember liking his playing but I didn't get the sense of being in the presence of a legend though he'd been billed as such, and probably was in better days. He was quiet and didn't look in the best of health. A few weeks later we were scheduled to record a trio with Eddie Hazel, Bootsy Collins, and Buddy Miles at Greenpoint. I was really looking forward to it - Bootsy and Buddy a were masters of their instruments ( Bootsy still is!) and I'm sure they would have inspired Hazel to new heights. Unfortunately, a call came through about a week before the session that Eddie had died.

In Rolling Stone they relay the legend that George Clinton inspired Hazel's epic solo in Funkadelic's Maggot Brain by telling him to imagine that he gets the news that his mother has died ... and then discovering that she is, in fact, alive. RS also writes:

Hazel... brought a thrilling mix of lysergic vision and groove power to all of his work.

#87, James Hetfield, seemed ridiculously polite when I recorded him for AntiPop by Primus. Pleasant and quick to work with.

Once flew to LA to audition for a tour with #100 Lindsey Buckingham. Was told on the way to the rehearsal studio that I likely wouldn't get the gig because I was his manager's choice. So goes it in the music biz. I enjoyed watching him put a show together for a couple of days, and they gave me an honest try-out. Buckingham does have amazing guitar chops which he showed off from time to time. In a conversation with me about Bill Laswell producing Laurie Anderson, he seemed concerned about getting taken seriously as an artist. He was friendly and nice.

Amazing guitarists I've worked with who should have made the list but didn't include Fred Frith (my favorite), Mark Ribot, Sonny Sharrock, Nicky Skopelitis, Buckethead, Raul Bjorkenheim, Trey Anastasio, Mike Stern, Smoky Hormel, Poison Ivy from The Cramps, James Blood Ulmer, Andy Hawkins from Blind Idiot God (their name comes from a H.P. Lovecraft story). I'm probably leaving some out...

Jimmy Page playing the guitar.


  1. Wow Oz, what a terrific analysis - thanks. Fripp at 62 - way way too low. Now I am wondering where Mahavishnu is on the list - got to check it out...
    Just saw a guy named Mat Abts and I think he should be up there as well, he's an amazing musician, soaring psychedelic riffs and effortless complex power rock. Check him out if you get the chance.

  2. Your guitarists you've worked with but didn't make the list seems much more interesting than RS, but Hendrix is fine by me. Page too.

    Three of my favorites: Allan Holdsworth, Guthrie Govan, and Ron Jarzombeck. Oh, and Steve Mackey.

  3. Thanks, Grant ... I agree about Fripp, he's in my top 5. Some notable absences on the RS list - John Mclaughlin didn't make it, neither did Django. I'll look for Matt Abts

  4. I agree, Michael. RS seems to consider commercial success over actual chops. Those guitarists are new to me except for Holdsworth - thanks for the recommendation.