joshthevegan: (Bassy)

Frank Zappa wore many different hats during his mind-bogglingly prolific career. On any given recording, one is just as likely to hear him as the mad avant garde composer, the big band front man, or the quirky, potty-mouthed master of ceremonies. Of all his personas, none have had the impact nor the influence than his identity as guitar god.

Droves of fantastic guitarists with myriad signature styles have listed Frank Zappa as an influence, and it really is no surprise. Not a single musician can write and play as many different genres with as much mastery as Zappa did, so any guitarist can find areas of Zappa's playing to glean inspiration from.

Traditional "rock" tonalities and time signatures were largely thrown to the wind in his compositions and improvisations, which helped to further define the uniqueness of his approach to the instrument. No guitarist, no matter how individual their sound, can be as easily recognized as Zappa.

Whether using the whole-tone scale to stretch the limits of harmonic possibilities, or insisting on improvisational sections of his concerts that no one (himself included) knew the destination of, Zappa challenges listeners to eschew passive listening in favor of active evaluation and challenges everyone who touches a guitar to be as inventive and virtuosic as possible.

Here's a few samples from his massive catalog of the power of his playing. This is only the tip of a very large, very impressive, very rewarding iceberg.

Rat Tomago
Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar
Pink Napkins
joshthevegan: (Hank)

Chris Haskett's career started in the shadow of another one of the guitarists on this list, Greg Ginn, as the guitarist for the instrumental group Gone. It was when his life-long friend Henry Rollins suggested they start a band together, however, that Haskett's abilities as a lead guitarist were revealed to the world.

During his years with the Rollins Band, Haskett led the band through dark, jazzy territory that slanted towards swing and funk more and more with each release. His passionate, Hendrix-esque playing positioned him as every bit as important a member of the band as the front man the band was named for. Punk music was facing a bit of an identity crisis in the later 1980's with the decline of hardcore, and Haskett's playing helped usher in the post-hardcore era, and was crucial in helping define what it meant to play punk in the wake of the first waves of the genre.

From the second Rollins Band release, Hard Volume, "Down And Away" exemplifies Haskett's atonal howl that pairs so well with the vocals.

And here is the Rollins Band at the height of what I consider their greatest era. They were still touring to promote their album The End Of Silence, bassist Andrew Weiss was still playing with them, and Haskett sounds positively innovative and youthfully aggressive.
joshthevegan: (screamy)

Originally conceived as a jazz-fusion group under the moniker Mind Power, Dr. Know and his companions (including vocalist H.R., bassist Darryl Jenifer, and percussionist Earl Hudson) eventually broke from that format, and pioneered what would become hardcore punk. Blending the attitude and aggression that bands like X and the Germs had introduced with the intricate rhythms and melodies from their jazz background, the Bad Brains created a musical experience unlike any other. They inspired legions of followers to begin their own musical careers (everyone from Ian MacKaye to Henry Rollins to the Beastie Boys owe allegiance to the Brains), and left a mark on the sound of east coast punk the impact of which is second only to the Ramones.

Hardcore punk was to be only the first of several musical revelations Bad Brains unleashed on the world. Their rastafarian beliefs led them to incorporate reggae into their sets, and after a brief hiatus in the mid-1980's, they returned with a funk-laden metal sound that would rocket acts like Living Colour and Faith No More to stardom a few years later. At the core of every one of these musical twists and turns is Dr. Know. His intricate, powerful and immediate performances still have the ability to amaze.

Here's a quick sampling of the three styles Dr. Know is best known for playing with Bad Brains.

For hardcore punk, here is "Riot Squad".

One of my favorite of their funk-metal offerings, "With The Quickness".

Lastly, a fantastic reggae track that is a study in minimalism, "Peace Be Unto Thee".
joshthevegan: (Hank)

As the brains behind the hardcore juggernaut Black Flag and as the founder of ├╝ber-influential independent record label SST Records Greg Ginn's impact on the underground music scene of the late 1970's and early 1980's is immeasurable. The roster of bands he had signed to SST through the better part of the 1980's is staggering in retrospect. Everyone from Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, and Soundgarden to Minutemen, Bad Brains, Descendents, and of course his own Black Flag released records through the SST imprint, and all of them went on to considerable acclaim and influence.

The wide variety of acts that SST attracted can be attributed in a large part to Ginn's vision with his own band, Black Flag. The more inventive his band became, the more the label attracted bands with different musical approaches. Although they started as a hardcore punk band (often credited as the southern California band that defined the style) each and every one of Black Flag's releases sounds nothing like the ones that came before it. Where Damaged was an explosive howl punctuated with squealing feedback, by the time they got to Loose Nut, Black Flag was channeling Black Sabbath so completely they hardly sounded like a punk band anymore.

As the band's primary songwriter, each step away from hardcore punk and towards psychedelic, jazz-influenced metal was calculated by Greg Ginn, and he took the band down that path whether or not the fans would like it. It was the music he wanted to play, and if the world liked it and wanted to hear it, then great. If no one cared, it seemed that Ginn didn't either. His focus on art over fame is evidenced by the fact that following Black Flag's demise, Ginn focused on a completely instrumental band, Gone.

His angular, semi-tonal style stands completely alone amongst all his peers. In fact, it is nearly impossible to think of a single person to ever touch the guitar that played quite like Ginn does. He might not be the most polished player to ever pick up the instrument, but what he lacks in cleanliness he makes up for in sheer passion and ingenuity.

To show how much his songwriting changed over the years, here are two songs from opposite ends of Black Flag's career. From the early, hardcore days, "Police Story" (even on a comparatively simple song like this, Ginn manages to add personal flairs through out, particularly at the end.)

The other end of the spectrum is the spaced-out instrumentals the band would perform towards their later years. "The Process Of Weeding Out" is a great example of Ginn at his most expressive.
joshthevegan: (Hank)

While most of his contemporaries were busy substituting grinding low-end distortion for intricacy, Dennes Dale Boon opted for an exclusively treble clean tone sound. When others were looking to the Ramones and Iggy Pop for influence, he channeled Captain Beefheart and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In fact, nearly every characteristic that is associated with the early hardcore punk sound is absent in the performances of the Minutemen. Simply categorizing D. Boon as a punk rock guitarist would be incredibly short-sighted and completely unfair to the full span of his influence. Punk rock had many different faces in the early 1980's, and some used the scene as a way to express their completely unique musical vision.

Boon began playing guitar at a very young age with his lifelong friend Mike Watt. While teaching themselves how to play, they also developed a songwriting style that was unprecedented and has yet to be matched. No Lennon/McCartney or Hunter/Garcia or Jagger/Richards can ever hope to compare to the sheer individuality of Boon/Watt.

Tragically, D. Boon became a member of the 27 club when he was thrown from the back of a van traveling in the Arizona desert. He had been sick with fever and was laying down in the back without a seat belt when the van ran off the road. He was killed instantly, but the loss felt by his family, friends, and fans alike has lingered. Fortunately, so has his influence.

The documentary We Jam Econo is probably the best starting point for the uninitiated. It shows up on YouTube occasionally in its full form, but is currently unavailable. I'm relatively sure it is available through Netflix, or you can go the old fashioned way and buy a hard copy. Whichever way you go about it, this documentary is a must-see for any music fan.

The Minutemen recorded a few music videos during their short tenure. The first, from their undisputed masterpiece, Double Nickles On The Dime, "This Ain't No Picnic".

The Minutemen released an E.P. that was intentionally "commercial" sounding shortly before Boon's death named Project: Mersh (Mersh being short for commercial). "King Of The Hill" was the single they promoted for that release:

As guitarist and vocalist for Propagandhi, Chris Hannah has taken fervent stances against animal abuse, sexism, homophobia, imperialism, rampant captialism, and human rights violations. These causes are all fantastic ones that deserve as much attention as they can get, and Hannah and company touch on each of them with tactics ranging from the humorous to the stringently serious, with quite a bit of success. The only unfortunate thing about taking such overt stands on issues like Propagandhi does, is that their staggering musicianship can get overlooked. From their earliest recordings, Hannah's guitar playing has been extremely technical and precise, and as the years have gone by, his proficiency as an axe-handler has grown in proportion to the maturing sound of the band.

"Purina Hall of Fame" is a personal favorite, and aside from being a great song about veganism, the solo at the end of the song perfectly exemplifies Hannah's abilities.

There is no denying that Neil Young is one of the most important recording artists in the last 50 years. He has to date released 34 studio albums, several in-concert albums and videos, helped form Farm Aid, was credited with influencing the grunge and punk rock movements to varying extents, and was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice.

His musical style usually falls into one of two categories: Acoustic ballads/country rock or distortion-heavy hard rock. (He has, on several occasions, delved into other genres with varying degrees of success, but the two aforementioned styles are certainly the most prominent in his catalog, and certainly the best.)

His skills as a guitarist are incredibly expressive, totally unique, and absolutely impressive in both his softer, more tender songs and his more aggressive material. When playing acoustic numbers, he uses an unusual down-plucking style which augments the bluesy, dynamic sound he tends towards, and when performing his harder material a more meandering, psychedelic and somewhat shaky soloing style prevails.

Young is one of the few performers of his generation that never went through an extended period of lower quality music. He has certainly made a few missteps along his way, but when releasing music as prolifically as he does, mistakes are bound to happen, and fortunately they are few and far between in Neil Young's case.

Young's song "Cortez the Killer", from his album Zuma, is a personal favorite of mine. This version with Crazy Horse on the Live Rust tour is one of the most mesmerizing performances in rock history.

Unlike most of the other guitarists on this list, Stephen Malkmus is not known for his flashy, intricate playing. Instead, this frontman of both Pavement and Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is renowned for his creative approach to songwriting and instrumentation.

His earliest works with Pavement are a blend of hardcore punk and atonal art-rock in the spirit of Sonic Youth. As the years have gone by, however, his penchant for surrealistic pop music has come more and more to the forefront in his writing. While it is easy to get distracted by the zany non-sequitors of his lyrics, his guitar innovations are every bit as fascinating and important to his legacy.

Shortly before their break up in 1999, Pavement appeared on HBO's Reverb. This performance of "The Hexx" was the last song from that performance, and it perfectly exemplifies SM's unique guitar prowess.

As the brains behind the post-hardcore behemoth Helmet, Page Hamilton uses his background in classical and jazz playing to bring a surreptitiously funky and surprisingly sonorous atonality to the table. While his contemporaries were more blatant in their incorporation of 1970's funk to hard rock in the early 1990's (Rage Against the Machine, The End of Silence-era Rollins Band), Hamilton used varying accent patterns and unusual time signatures to liven up his crunchy, testosterone-fueled auditory attacks.

Here is a performance of Helmet's classic, "Ironhead" featuring the band's mid 2000's line up. A nice, tasty sample of Hamilton's ability to chew up his guitar's neck.

joshthevegan: (screamy)

After spending many years intermittently playing in a number of bands, Mike McCready was invited by his childhood friend Stone Gossard to start a band. Gossard had previously played in a few bands with bassist Jeff Ament, so they invited him to join as well. The trio joined up with a few members of Soundgarden to record a tribute to the deceased singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood, dubbed Temple of the Dog. After this venture, the three recruited Eddie Vedder as a vocalist, and formed what is today Pearl Jam.

Pearl Jam rose to fame very quickly, aided in no small part by the amazing guitar work of Mike McCready. His solos on songs like "Alive" and "Animal" helped turn the band into a stadium rock phenomenon through the first half of the 1990's.

As time has gone by, Pearl Jam has intentionally made decisions that have seen them morph from the massive act that every rock magazine is talking about to a cult band with a huge, loyal following (which still allows them to play stadiums in basically any city they go to). Their songs are a bit less flashy these days, and because of this the extended solos are a thing of the past, but McCready still manages to work some tasty little licks in from time to time.

McCready has said that the solo he recorded for the Temple of the Dog song "Reach Down" is one of his proudest moments, and with good reason; it's very likely the best of his career.

Brian Baker got his start playing in one of the most celebrated hardcore bands in punk history, Minor Threat, and if that had been the only band that he played for, his playing on those recordings would be enough to slate him as one of the most important guitarists around. Lucky for all of us, though, Minor Threat was to be only the beginning of an amazing career. After Minor Threat, he spent a brief period in jokester-hardcore band, Meatmen before forming Dag Nasty, another D.C.-based punk band that initially specialized in hardcore, but eventually blended melody into the mix, creating a sound that was not very common in punk rock in those days.

Baker eventually joined Bad Religion in the mid 1990's when Brett Gurewitz quit to focus on Epitaph Records, and has played with them since. It is in this band that Baker has enjoyed the most success, and although he has always played with passion and competence, his work has gotten more intricate and impressive as his years in Bad Religion go by.

When Aaron Abeyta (a.k.a. El Hefe) joined NoFX in 1991, he helped usher in a new era for the band. Former lead guitarist, Steve Kidwiller, had brought heavy metal influences and some pretty impressive solos, but Abeyta's background as a jazz musician (he graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music) introduced a new kind of virtuosity to the fold. While he is also known for his hilarious stage banter with his band mates as well as his impersonations of famous cartoon characters, his intricate and precise leads are no joking matter.

As a member of Green River, Steve Turner helped invent a melding of punk with slow, churning metal that would eventually be referred to as grunge. As a member of Mudhoney, he saw that style rise to fame (thanks to bands that wanted nothing more than to copy Mudhoney's sound, like Nirvana) and eventually fade out of fashion all around them. Yet, unlike most of the bands that jumped in line to follow the fashion, Mudhoney (and, because of that, Steve Turner) still remains. And Turner's fuzzy, charmingly sloppy sound has only gotten better with age. He still shreds with careless abandon (see the performance of "Here Comes Sickness" below), but elements of blues have started creeping in over the last decade or so, and that has added an air of maturity that might have been unimaginable from the holey-jeaned mop top that ground out "Sweet Young Thing Ain't Sweet No More" in the late 1980's.

He's been called "the hardest working man in punk rock", and with absolute good reason. Between being one of the guitarists for Bad Religion, Punk Rock Karaoke, and Black President (before he quit the band a few years ago) and being the sole guitarist and one of the songwriters for Circle Jerks, it is hard to imagine how Greg Hetson manages to juggle it all. It seems his passion for playing raucous, punk-with-a-hint-of-metal guitar has been strong enough to keep him doing it every chance he gets for the last 30+ years.

Here's Hetson on stage with Bad Religion during the Suffer tour in the late 1980's, trading solos with Mr. Brett:

And here he is on stage with Circle Jerks, a band that he co-founded with original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris.

Primus's Larry LaLonde's frantic, often atonal playing comes from a wide range of influences including Frank Zappa, East Bay Ray (of the Dead Kennedys), and the man who taught him to play guitar, Joe Satriani. The role he plays in Primus is not an easy one; with a showboat bass player like Les Claypool in the band, the guitarist needs to bring some real flash to the party in order to get noticed. Luckily, LaLonde's jazzy, thrashy axe-work is entertaining enough to draw attention away from Claypool, if only for a few moments at a time.

Screaming Trees are one of the best secrets of the Seattle rock scene. They were recording their acid-drenched garage psychedelia (including their dark masterpiece, Sweet Oblivion) years before many of the more famous grunge bands, and had a string of fantastic, catchy singles that should have been huge hits ("Nearly Lost You", "Butterfly", and "Bed of Roses" just to name a few) and yet somehow never managed to expand beyond cult popularity. Despite the fact that the Trees never became huge superstars, the catalog of music they left behind is incredibly rewarding for the listener who finds it.

Undoubtedly, Van Connor's trippy, Jimi Hendrix-via-Pete Townshend guitar styling is the cornerstone of Screaming Trees sound. His style consists of gobs of distortion, tons of wah-wah pedal, and a hell of a lot of passion.

joshthevegan: (Bassy)

The expressive, bluesy guitar work of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour has received countless accolades, from being on Rolling Stone's own list of top guitarists, to three of his solos making Guitar World's top 100 guitar solos, and many others. When he joined Pink Floyd, it was initially to help fill in for the times when (original lead guitarist) Syd Barrett was unable to perform, but as time went by (and Barrett left the band), Gilmour's contribution and influence in the band evolved and expanded until he eventually became the sole front man. Whether playing a straight-ahead rock solo ("Comfortably Numb") or a psychadelic sound scape ("Echoes"), Gilmour is a fascinating, attention-grabbing performer.

I've always had a soft spot for Pink Floyd's later career thanks to my dad who turned me on to the band in the first place. Gilmour's instrumental introduction to "Coming Back To Life" is a personal favorite Pink Floyd moment for me.

joshthevegan: (Hank)

As one of the founding members of Pennywise, who was part of the early roster at Epitaph Records, Fletcher Dragge helped to pioneer the resurgence of punk rock in the late '80's and early '90's, while setting a blueprint for So Cal skate punk along the way.

Due to his large frame (he stands over 6'8" tall and weighs more than 350 pounds), Dragge plays custom built 1 and 1/4 sized Ibanez guitars. His distinctive blend of lightning-fast, chunky palm muted power chords and blazing guitar solos (which are scattered amongst Pennywise's songs sparingly) is more recognizable as the signature sound of the band than even lead singer Jim Lindbergh's vocals are.

joshthevegan: (Bassy)

The first time I heard Siamese Dream, I instantly fell in love, and my love affair with the Smashing Pumpkins that lasted many years began. Billy Corgan's totally unique, rattle-fuzz guitar sound and his totally impressive playing chops were no small part of what made me enamored with that band. His style is influenced by dark psychedelic rock acts like Black Sabbath, which made the band's sound stand in stark contrast to the punk and metal that was prominent when they first started playing.

Corgan's ability to play both brutal, grinding hard rock and whispery, soothing ballads with absolute authority makes his performances irresistible and speaks to the range of talent he has as a songwriter and a guitarist.

joshthevegan: (Hank)

Eric Melvin has played rhythm guitar in NoFX since the band's inception in the early 1980's. Despite always being in the shadow of another guitar player (Steve Kidwiller during their early albums and El Hefe since 1991), Melvin is an incredibly talented instrumentalist, and does play lead on a number of their songs. Melvin has contributed to the songwriting, he sings backup on most of their compositions (and lead on an increasing number), and has even started playing accordion in a few songs over the last decade. Add to all that his hilarious stage antics, and you get one of the most unique and memorable guitarists in the game.

Here's Melvin taking the lead in NoFX's "Dinosaur Will Die". (Also watch for his back up vocal stylings, A.K.A. the "Mel Yell" at 0:24)

September 2014



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