100 Great Guitar Moments – #80 to 71

Yes, it’s that time again when another 10 guitaristic delights get featured here for your listening pleasure.

It’s worth reiterating that this is a very personal choice that will vary over time and the great guitar moments are placed in no particular order of merit – apart from the last one, of course, which will be my current all-time favourite.

Steve Winwood – Night Train: He was great with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, but it’s his solo work which has some obscure but essential gems scattered amongst it. This track from his second solo album showcases him as a guitarist, although he played all the other instruments himself. It’s really just a jam, but it shows that he can play as well as any of his contemporaries – including Clapton.

 

The J.B.s – Doin’ it to Death: Two guitarists for the price of one here – the legendary Jimmy Nolen and the lesser-known Hearlon "Cheese" Martin. This is funk, with an illuminated capital ‘F’. OK, it’s simple stuff, but decidedly tricky to play for so long and keep the groove. Of course, this is really a James Brown song, but dear old James created so many band offshoots that it’s hard to keep track. Without JB’s prescription for funk, no Funkadelic, no RHCP – no funk at all. Dig the key change from F down to D. Take it to the fridge! Er…bridge!

 

Steve Vai – Blue Powder: I could have picked quite a few tracks by Vai to illustrate why he’s one of the few shredders who has something to say and not just wank away at. This version was issued as an exclusive Guitar player flexidisc and I prefer it to the later album version. It’s not exactly soothing music, but it has little lagoons of calmness within it. I love the subtle and Hendrixy guitar at 1:55 and the way the whammy bar opens this section. Vai plays with feeling here, but also a great deal of humour, and – to my mind at least – that’s an important and rather rare quality in rock music.

 

Robert Johnson – Stop Breakin’ Down: OK, Johnson’s been hyped and mythologised way more than anyone deserves. There are plenty of other great singers, writers and guitarists who contributed to the blues in a significant way. However, that doesn’t mean that Johnson isn’t worthy of all the plaudits that have come his way since his untimely death. It’s hard to listen to his guitar playing when the vocals are so plaintive and prominent, but it’s worth the effort. That’s real driving guitar and his thumb keeps a rock steady rhythm throughout. Essential blues guitar.

 

Les Paul and Mary Ford – How High the Moon: It’s Les’s tone which blows me away in particular. No-one before him had such a deep, rich sound and so much tonal variation. I have this hunch that he had his amp turned up almost to the point of distortion – certainly his guitar has an edge to it that no-one else had at the time. Of course, that’s all without actually mentioning the superb playing and the groundbreaking multitracking…

 

Duane Eddy – Peter Gunn: OK, it’s really easy to play, but tone is all here, with Duane playing the riff in unison with a piano, a bass, another guitar (I think) and possibly even another guitar – a six string bass? Whatever’s going on in the mix, it all adds up to a monster riff that just powers along. Sometimes less really is more…

 

XTC – The Mayor of Simpleton: Two for the price of one! Dave Gregory plays electric 12 string against Colin Moulding’s highly complex bass lines to produce a swirling piece of poptastic goodness. Gregory’s an excellent player who’s taken onboard virtually every style of playing but still manages to sound original. The lines he plays at about 1:50 – the end of the bridge section – are just beautiful. Moulding’s bass playing is just as uplifting and original. Throw in Andy Partridge’s clever lyrics and immaculate vocals and you have pop perfection. Andy’s no slouch on guitar, either…

 

 

Deep Purple – Highway Star: The line up with Blackmore that produced this track has to be one of the all time greatest hard rock bands ever. Yes, it’s headbanging music, but it’s intelligent too. The solo section starting at 3:50 with the harmony guitars is Richie Blackmore in a nutshell – no overt pentatonics, a dash of classical influence and melodicism in spades. At 4.43, he starts a rapid picking section which deserves special attention as the double-tracked guitars play catch up with each other and what seems ostensibly straight forward is really quite complex. There’s a multitrack of this knocking about on the net which will enable you to isolate the guitar tracks and study Blackmore’s contribution in depth.

 

Albert Collins – Collins’ Mix: To be frank, Albert was a bit of a one-trick pony, but when the trick’s so good, you don’t really give a fuck. Playing with a capo and a tuning all his very own, Collins cranks out angular lines which sort of spit out at you but sit well over a funky accompaniment with organ and horns. Collins started out as an organ player and it shows in his playing. I wish he’d explored the idea of a small organ/guitar combo rather more than he did. I have this idea that with the right person, he’d have ended up with the blues equivalent of Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith…a blues organ combo – now that’s a very tasty prospect indeed!

 

 

Masters of Reality – Kill the King: Stoner rock from its uncrowned king, Chris Goss. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the guitar lines are just beautiful, with acoustic, whammy bar lead and what is absolutely one of the monster riffs of all time. There have been occasions when I’ve played this track upwards of a dozen times in a row, cranked up to the absolute max.

 

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Paging Mr Clapton…

Anybody who knows anything about me as a guitarist or has heard me play soon realises that when it comes to my primary influence I wear it pretty much on my sleeve:

Mayall-era Clapton.

As exemplified on the groundbreaking ‘Beano’ album and a handful of odd tracks it was old ‘Slowhand’ who really inspired me to play.

His sound on that album – a Les Paul Standard through a cranked up Marshall combo – is my favourite guitar tone of all time and his playing was equally impressive. Playing with real flair and joie de vivre, Eric plays his way with panache through up tempo and slow blues and shows exactly why ‘Clapton is God’ appeared as graffiti all over London in 1966.

Even when he split with Mayall to form Cream along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker he managed to keep this exuberance and some bootlegs of early Cream reveal someone who still had the ability to stun an audience with his playing. Sure, his sound changed a little – playing through two Marshall stacks will do that – but the vibrato, extremely well-controlled bends and breathtaking invention were still all there.

However, things quickly changed. Playing ever and ever longer versions of numbers from what was a fairly limited repertoire, Clapton started to repeat himself and the Cream of the final tour in 1968 sounded redundant and tired.

Then the real transformation started. Soon abandoning Gibsons and Marshalls for all Fender gear, Clapton tried to reinvent himself and, whilst always staying with the blues, he branched out reaching a trough of mediocrity in 1989 with the ‘Journeyman’ album which saw him totally blanded out on MOR pap.

It was then that he sought to return to more blues-based material, but by then it was too late.

He’d lost it – totally.

Instead of progressing as a blues player he’d just stagnated and marked himself down as maybe rock’s number one underachiever with 4 years of glorious playing and then over 40 more years – with perhaps just the exception of the ‘Layla’ album – of simply treading water.

Why I’ve chosen to write this now is because I’ve just ‘acquired’ a superb bootleg of the Madison Square Garden gig on the 18th of this month (3 days ago! How do they do it?) from his joint tour with Jeff Beck.

Sure, Jeff’s past his best really, but compared to Clapton he sounds inspired, interested and – above all – as if he still enjoys playing and isn’t just going through the motions like old Eric is. When they get together to play a final third set together after a solo set each I’m really quite amazed at how Eric manages to play in the face of such energy from Beck.

Maybe it’s to his credit that he doesn’t just throw down his guitar and walk off, but at least that would be an honest response, because I can only see two alternatives – he wants the dosh or he still thinks he’s got something to ‘say’ on guitar.

Well, the dosh isn’t a problem, so it must be the latter reason and that’s just simple self-delusion…

Give it up Eric, soon, please.

My Dream Guitar

I have plans to have a guitar made that will mean that I can prune down my collection of about 18 to a more manageable and transportable number.

My intention after this coming Christmas is to commission Paul Creedy of Arrowhead Guitars to make me a new guitar.

I’m after a Telecaster shape body – mahogany with a maple cap and contoured – with a Stratocaster neck fitted with locking tuners. Ebony board with dot markers. and a black scratchplate will set off the top and headstock nicely.

Pick up wise I want a bridge humbucker, tappable, with two single coils in the middle and neck positions. I’d like the switching options for Tele and Strat sounds, so with the humbucker I should also be able to get something approaching a Les Paul sound. I also want piezos in the bridge saddles and a blend control a la Pete Townshend.

I haven’t fully explored exactly what make of pick ups I want, but it’ll probably be Bareknuckles or Swinesheads.

As this will proably be the best and last electric that I will ever have, I want it to look good, so I want a quilted top and a nice piece of maple for the neck is also a priority.

Here’s a rough idea of how it might look:

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