Guitar Greats
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Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

 

Django ReinhardtJerry Garcia Band - Don't Let Go

Guitar Greats

Chet Atkins - Guitar LegendJimi  Hendrix

 
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Guitar Greats 

This section is dedicated to guitar masters. 

After reviewing the list of the 100 best guitarist's compiled by Rolling Stone magazine for 2003 I was floored by some of the entries and lack there of. Certainly Rolling Stone magazine will tilt more towards rock and commercial artists than some of the great players in other styles of country, jazz, and blues.  Still, how can artists like Chet Atkins, Django Reinhardt, Adrian Belew, Wes Montgomery and countless others be omitted. 

One problem with The Rolling Stones list is that they confuse popular composers and rhythm players with great guitar players. For example, Keith Richards is a great song writer and guitar player, but not worthy of being ranked number 10. Where is Keith's counterpart Mick Taylor, who laid down some of the tastiest guitar parts with the Stones?  Both would make our list, but Keith Richards is not that good, nor is Mick Taylor that bad.  Is Lou Reed (52) a better guitar player than Roy Buchanan (57)?  Joan Jett made the list!  We love Credence Clearwater Revival's music, but is John Fogerty really the fortieth best guitarist?; we think his greatest strength is as a composer.  

This chapter of thebestofwebsite is dedicated to guitar masters. We will adding sections by music genres so stop back for updates.  We have started with the cream of the crop, in our opinion.  

Jimi HendrixJerry GarciaDjango Reinhardt  /  Chet Atkins

The Best Guitarists

When a guitarist reach a certain level of expertise, the ranking of who is the best is quite subjective. It is more a matter of who's style a listener enjoys rather than who is actually better. That is true for the vast majority of great guitarists. 

Realizing the subjectivity, we thought we would designate our ranking of the top guitarists. To begin, we decided to select a few guitarist's that are the cream of the crop. 

This short list is for those musicians who's genius is beyond being a superb guitar player in one or even or two styles. There is nothing wrong with  doing what you do best. These artists will appear in sub-categories.  But they do not meet our short list of the very best.

Our short list guitar geniuses are Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Django ReinhardtChet Atkins. Hendrix and Garcia were selected for their ability to play effortlessly across virtually any music style. We choose Reinhardt and Atkins for their innovation in their respective styles of jazz and country music where decades later other great musicians praise and even mimic them decades later. The cream of the crop guitarist that we select are all innovation, original and creative players. 

Jimi Hendrix | Jerry Garcia | Django Reinhardt | Chet Atkins

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Jimi Hendrix 

What sets Hendrix in the upper echelon is his ability to just flat out play guitar.  While he is thought of as a lead guitarist, his rhythm playing is just as incredible. Also impressive is his ability to perform across any style of music, whether rock, blues, jazz, gospel, psychedelic, etc.  Many great guitarist perfect what they do best, such as Jimmy Page's knack for the blues and hard rock, but it is rare to be outstanding within so many different musical styles. And let's not overlook his ability to compose songs. 

We have additional Jimi Hendrix content.
A brief biography of Jimi Hendrix  is provided by Djangomusic.

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Are You Experienced - One of the best debut albums of all time. Basically short songs and to the point with hits like "Hey Joe," Purple Haze," and "Red House."

Experience Hendrix: The Best of Jimi Hendrix: A great introduction to the master, includes material from his band Experience as well as session and live material.
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

South Saturn Delta
A great collection of Jimi Hendrix work in the studio material released after his death, see also First Rays of the New Sun

Jimi Hendrix: Blue Wild Angel Live at the Isle of Wight: Backed by Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, and Band of Gypsies bassist Billy Cox, excellent album.   
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Jerry Garcia 

I am sure that many would disagree with placing Jerry Garcia this high in the rankings of guitar greats, and realize that not everybody is a Dead Head. Still, that doesn't discount how great of a guitarist Jerry Garcia was.  Yes he can be sloppy at times, but that is because he was willing to take risks and venture into new territory. 

A few traits that Garcia excelled in include his uncanny melodic nature, building the dynamics of the mood and his ability to change it on a dime, and creating music on the fly.  Further, he has a unique approach of switching between finger picking and flat picking that is particularly apparent when the Grateful Dead performed their country material. Garcia's ability to mix a combination of rhythm guitar and lead runs into some of his solos yields a blissful affect; sometimes to create energy, other times to tell a story, and it is a signature trademark of his. 

Garcia's knack of transposing pieces of one song within another are often referred to as teases and he stands in a class of his own in this regard.  One of my favorite examples of this is in 1974 when Garcia would reference brief hints of Freddie King's song "Hideaway" within "Truckin'," but never in the same place. Then listen to disc four of Ladies and Gentlemen and marvel at the way Garcia leads the band weaving between "Going Down the Road Feeling" and "St. Stephen," before settling on the former, and eventually melting into  "Cold Rain and Snow"; incredible is an understatement.

Many people that criticize Garcia have not heard much of his playing and talk through stereotypes. Are they aware of the diversity of styles that he mastered? While his main instrument is the guitar, he also played banjo in the group Old and in the Way and others bands, as well as pedal steel guitar with the New Riders of the Purple Sage, and with Crosby Still Nash and Young on their hit "Teach Your Children." The critics probably are not aware that Jazz greats such as Branford Marsalis, Ornette Coleman, and David Murray performed with the Grateful Dead. These were not one time occurrences as Branford performed with them four or five times throughout the years. Ornette invited Garcia to play guitar on a few songs from his Virgin Beauty album.  

Jerry Garcia is best known for his work with the Grateful Dead. However, he had over a dozen of his own bands. Of those, on the acoustic front Garcia's diversity touched on the following styles:  Jug, Mountain musicBluegrass, Jazz, Jam, and Dawg among his various solo bands. Add to that, with the Grateful Dead his acoustic work was folk oriented in the 1970, and rock oriented in 1980.  

On the electric side his solo band played originals, reggae, Dylan, gospel, blues, jazz, and just about numerous other styles.  Anyone who explores his work Merl Saunders will be surprised at Garcia's ability to play jazz guitar, that would include the following bands Saunders and Garcia, Legion of Mary, and Reconstruction, as well as the free form playing with Howard Wales.

There is an abundance of music that Jerry Garcia left behind to enjoy. Discover your favorite eras of his playing, sit back, turn it up, and enjoy.  We have in-depth coverage of the numerous Jerry Garcia solo bands and the Grateful Dead that we invite you to explore.    

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Steppin' Out With the Grateful Dead is a four disc collection of their famed Europe '72 tour. No filler here! A monstrous "Dark Star."

View From the Vault II is a superb Grateful Dead concert. It features Bruce Hornsby
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Go to Nassau A great two disc collection from the early Brent Mydland era. Strong versions of "Uncle John's Band," "Supplication," Feel Like a Stranger," more.

The Pizza Tapes Jam session with David Grisman and his band in his home. Guitar legends Jerry Garcia and Tony Rice join them; one of a kind.
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Django Reinhardt 

Django Reinhardt is one of the most influential guitarist ever. What is most impressive is that his influence was not limited to Jazz guitarists, as players of the caliber of Chet Atkins, Jerry Garcia, and Mark Knopfler credit Django as an influence and inspiration, in addition to the hundreds of imitators and Django disciples across Europe, a true testimony of his legacy.  

Django used a unique musical line-up to back up his incredible and lightning quick lead guitar attack. Rather than use drums and percussion he developed the use of rhythm guitar to cover that role. He and violinist Stephane Grappelli formed the Quintet of the Hot Club of France that included two rhythm guitarists, and a bassist for its rhythm section. Django's style of melodic improvisation with a vigorous rhythm guitar backing was revolutionary of the times.  And the way he and Stephane feed off each other's energy is magical. 

While Reinhardt's early work included Stephane Grappelli as his main soloing counterpart, in later years he teamed up with clarinetist Hubert Rostaing, and others. Then toward the end of his career Django played more traditional forms of jazz. We explore some of his sessions from 1949 and '50 in Rome and other miscellaneous gems that include piano accompaniment in a separate section.  

Fortunately there is a plethora of Django Reinhardt's work available to enjoy. 

There is a very reasonably priced box set collection that span Django's  career, which is noted below.  It is broken down into two separate sets chronologically. The first box set is five discs and covers 1934 through 1939 and has a heavy emphasis on the his work with Stephane Grappelli.  The second set is four discs and covers 1937 through 1948 and emphasize soloists Hubert Rostaing on much of the work, but also includes plenty of unique sessions and plenty of Stephane Grappelli.  We highly recommend them both. The material in his later years has no overlap to this and is just as essential. 

Djangology Incredible, ten discs for around $20!

A biography of Django Reinhardt is provided by Djangomusic.

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

The Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order Vol. 1 - Part one of a box set at very low prices, five discs

Paris and London: 1937-1948, Vol. 2: The second part of the box set four discs, incredible music, bargain price.
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

 Quintette du Hot Club de France: 25 Classics 1934-1940 - If you want  a one disc Django Reinhardt compilation this import fills the need.

Swing de Paris Spanning 1934 - '52, this reasonably priced four disc compilation provides a good overview. A 44 page book is included. 
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country
Django Reinhardt fans may be interested in some of Stephane Grappelli's solo work. The two recommendations below have plenty of interpretations of the Quintet of Hot Club of France's material, and both are excellent.

Young Django - This  outstanding album is  mostly Django covers; an all star line-up. Grappelli plays piano on Larry Coryell's original "Blues for Django and Stephane."

Grappelli and Grisman Live: - Stephane teams up with some of the best bluegrass players. They give a fresh twist to some Hot Club classics. 
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins style of playing is not popular with the masses so he often gets overlooked, but his abilities are no doubt phenomenal. Atkins' largest influence came as a session musician and a record producer, and he is often credited with creating the Nashville sound. That's an incredible statement as Chet's recording career is as impressive an anybody's. 

Throughout his career, Chet Atkins earned numerous awards, including 11 Grammy awards and nine CMA Instrumentalist of the Year honors, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from NARAS. 

Sadly, Atkins was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away June 30, 2001. Gone, but not forgotten.  

Below are some Chet Atkins essential listening recommendations, and additional comments about his 1990 collaboration with Dire Strait guitarist Mark Knopfler.

Neck and Neck
Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler's album Neck and Neck has many great moments.  Nashville piano legend Floyd Cramer helps out on "Sweet Dreams." On "They'll Be Some Changes Made," there is some excellent dueling guitar. "So Soft" is a gentle piece featuring excellent fiddle. Their rendition of Reinhardt and Grappelli's "Tears" is a treasure. Just a few of the reasons to pick up this album by two guitar legends.  

We have additional Chet Atkins information.
Country: Guitar Piano
Django Reinhardt
Artist Index 

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Guitar Legend The RCA Years - This is our number recommendation of a Chet Atkins  compilation; 50 songs onto two discs.

Neck and Neck: Chet Atkins teams up with Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler and other incredible session musicians. See above for more comments. 
Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

Rolling Stone magazine's  2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarists

Rolling Stone magazine's website

1 Jimi Hendrix
2 Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers Band
3 B.B. King
4 Eric Clapton
5 Robert Johnson
6 Chuck Berry
7 Stevie Ray Vaughan
8 Ry Cooder
9 Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin
10 Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones
11Kirk Hammett of Metallica
12 Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
13 Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead
14 Jeff Beck
15 Carlos Santana
16 Johnny Ramone of the Ramones
17 Jack White of the White Stripes
18 John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers
19 Richard Thompson
20 James Burton
21 George Harrison
22 Mike Bloomfield
23 Warren Haynes
24 The Edge of U2
25 Freddy King
26 Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave
27 Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits
28 Stephen Stills
29 Ron Asheton of the Stooges
30 Buddy Guy
31 Dick Dale
32 John Cipollina of Quicksilver Messenger Service
33 & 34 Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth
35 John Fahey
36 Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG's
37 Bod Diddley
38 Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac
39 Brian May of Qeen
40 John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival
41 Clarence White of the Byrds
42 Robert Fripp of King Crimson
43 Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic
44 Scotty Moore
45 Frank Zappa
46 Les Paul
47 T-Bone Walker
48 Joe Perry of Aerosmith
49 John McLaughlin
50 Pete Townshend
51 Paul Kossoff of Free
52 Lou Reed
53 Mickey Baker
54 Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane
55 Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple
56 Tom Verlaine of Television
57 Roy Buchanan
58 Dickey Betts
59 & 60 Jonny Greenwood, Ed O'Brien of Radiohead
61 Ike Turner
62 Zoot Horn Rollo of the Magic Band
63 Danny Gatton
64 Mick Ronson
65 Hubert Sumlin
66 Vernon Reid of Living Colour
67 Link Wray
68 Jerry Miller of Moby Grape
69 Steve Howe of Yes
70 Eddie Van Halen
71 Lightnin' Hopkins
72 Joni Mitchell
73 Trey Anastasio of Phish
74 Johnny Winter
75 Adam Jones of Tool
76 Ali Farka Toure
77 Henry Vestine of Canned Heat
78 Robbie Robertson of the Band
79 Cliff Gallup of the Blue Caps (1997)
80 Robert Quine of the Voidoids
81 Derek Trucks
82 David Gilmour of Pink Floyd
83 Neil Young
84 Eddie Cochran
85 Randy Rhoads
86 Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath
87 Joan Jett
88 Dave Davies of the Kinks
89 D. Boon of the Minutemen
90 Glen Buxton of Alice Cooper
91 Robby Krieger of the Doors
92 & 93 Fred "Sonic" Smith, Wayne Kramer of the MC5
94 Bert Jansch
95 Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine
96 Angus Young of AC/DC
97 Robert Randolph
98 Leigh Stephens of Blue Cheer
99 Greg Ginn of Black Flag
100 Kim Thayil of Soundgarden

Be sure to check out our Rolling Stone magazine's website.

Music Profiles - Rock, Blues, Jazz, and Country

 

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