Monday, June 20, 2011

Criminally Underrated Guitar Gods - Part I

Hey there, got a half hour or so to kill? Great! To start summer off right, we're going to shine a spotlight on some of the lost heroes of Rock-n-Roll -- namely, those guitar gods who never got the real recognition their talents truly warranted, and instead resorted to holding cult status for the entirety of their careers. For every millionaire Page or Clapton out there, there are scores of equally (or more) talented axe-men who never achieved mainstream success for any number of reasons - whether it was musical inaccessibility, refusal to sell out, addiction, or death. Here are a few of the best guitarists you may have never heard of: today's edition focuses on bluesy virtuosos lost to time...

Eddie Hazel

This master of searing, freak-out, funk-metal guitar excursions was Funkadelic's first (and best) lead guitarist, and helped to lay down the band's defining masterpiece in 1971, the soul-wrenching "Maggot Brain." But he disappeared into relative obscurity after that album for various reasons, including a prison stint for assault and drug possession. He died in 1992, and "Maggot Brain" was played at his funeral.

Funkadelic - "Super Stupid"

Ry Cooder

This is a musician who has never bothered with mainstream success, and instead choose to always follow his muse, wherever it may take him. As a result he is impossible to pin to any genre, as he has dabbled in everything from folk, blues and gospel to Cuban and African music. Though he has released many great solo albums, he is best known as a studio session man, having played with every act you can name, including Captain Beefheart, the Stones, John Lee Hooker, and most recently, Buena Vista Social Club. Rest assured, whatever he touches turns to gold, as he is a true master of his craft.

Ry Cooder - "Feelin' Bad Blues"

Peter Green

The leader and founder of the original Fleetwood Mac, Green has been lost to time as one of the most gifted guitarists to come out of the British blues explosion of the 60s. It has been nearly forgotten that while Clapton was being called "God," they were calling Green "The Green God." He was really that good. Tragically though, like Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett, he was an LSD casualty who dropped out of the band by 1970 due to schizophrenia. After years of obscurity, he's started performing again in recent years. At his peak, though, he rivaled anyone in the world with his searing, soulful guitar work.

Fleetwood Mac - "I've Got A Mind To Give Up Living/ All Over Again"

Roy Buchanan

Buchanan was an American blues guitarist with a tone that could break your heart. A true virtuoso, he recorded a couple of albums that went gold, but never achieved any type of real breakthrough success. He struggled with drinking problems and got sober at one point, but could never shake his demons. In 1988, after being arrested for public intoxication, he committed suicide in his jail cell.

Roy Buchanan - "Sweet Dreams"

Rory Gallagher

An Irish blues-rocker, Gallagher was a hometown hero in his own country. He achieved some success in the UK, but never really broke through outside of the British Isles, though he maintained a loyal cult fanbase throughout his career. His clean, furious playing is a joy to listen to, on par with Clapton at his dirtiest. Gallagher died in 1995 due to liver failure, at 47.

Rory Gallagher - "Walk on Hot Coals"

John Cipollina

A Bay Area hometown boy and the lead guitarist of Quicksilver Messenger Service, Cipollina is considered one of the fathers of the San Francisco psychedelic sound - that classic vibrato twang is his signature tone. For years he was considered the Bay Area's best kept secret, and was content to play around locally in a number of bands after Quicksilver broke up. He often sat in with the Dead during hometown shows, and was beloved by local fans and musicians alike. He died tragically at age 45 in 1989 of chronic emphysema.

Quicksilver Messenger Service - "How, Which, Who Do You Love"

Check back next week for Part II in the "Criminally Underrated Guitar Gods" series...

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