September 19, 2008

"Do you think guitarists are all that special?"

Received an excellent question in the comment section and it was just too good not to share, plus I know many of you who read here aren't shy about sharing your opThe Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Tr...inions so this should give Daniel several views.

Daniel is an artist and he ask this in sincerity, I'll share my thoughts in the comments.

Hey, I have a question, and a tribute show seems related. Do you think guitarists are all that special? I don't mean this demeaningly and I don't want to bring on the wrath of the rock gods...

I'm wondering because Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and even a girl in Korea I think can sound a lot like Hendrix in their playing. So is it how they perform live? Is it how they relate to other players in the band? Is it singing too, so is Kenny less impressive?

I guess it comes down to intent and authenticity.

This is only a pondering, not a conclusion. I have HUGE respect for guitarists, but like if someone painted like I do and you had trouble telling the difference?
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Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Daniel, I understand your question. My answer is YES! Guitarists are in many cases the heart and soul of rock and roll. I think what makes a guitarist great is not that he can play like Jimi Hendrix (or anyone else) but that he/she can come up with a style so unique that you hear it and say "oh, that's Jimmy Page, or Eddie Van Halen, or Stevie Ray, or Eric Clapton, The Edge, etc.

Then there are other guitarists that you will recognize the song, but it could be anyone playing it...Richie Sambora comes to mind.

I think a good guitarist can replicate the style of someone else, but a great guitarist creates his own. And plus some guys just SHRED!!! So I a am hoping to go to the Hendrix show. My personal fave guitarist is SRV.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

PS Most of the really great guitarists I can think of all have diverse ways of relating to their audience. I need to ponder that some more..

d.edlen said...

Ahh no. Now I've done it! I can imagine the seething out there.

The reason it came to mind was that the first time I heard Kenny Wayne Shepherd, I told my wife that it sounded like SRV before I knew who it was. She told me that Shepherd grew up around SRV, so it makes sense that he'd sound a lot like him.

I don't mean in any way to put down either. I'm just pondering whether, besides originality, if because a guitarist's style can be replicated, in and of themselves are they special.

So, I guess it's like if a painter paints something so amazing that other artist's replicate it, the original is "great" and while the others are proficient in copying, it's not authentic so it's not "great".

But can't copying, if one can copy many different styles perhaps, maybe more amazing?

I'm trying to pin down why certain guitarists are considered gods. I suppose it mostly does have to do with the connection with audiences...

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Daniel, I am very curious to see how others answer this.

For me personally only a few guitarists have "connected with me", I think some, like Keith Richards or Pete Townsend, are also "showmen"; then there are the ones like SVR who may not have a charismatic personality, but their soul reaches out to the audience, then there are the guys who stand in the background totally connected to their guitar that don't really put on a "show" for the sake of showing off but just play with their heart and amaze the crap out of everyone with their skill. I think this makes sense.???

digitaldrummer said...

Hi Daniel,

You ask a thought provoking musical question. As Layla pointed out, certain guitar players have a unique style (technique) which is easily heard and recognized as their own. Also, it is their tone that sets them apart. Whether it be from effects pedals, modifications to their amps and guitars, tuning down the guitar this also makes them unique.

You state that Kenny Wayne Shepherd sounds like SRV. To a certain degree this might be true, however, it is also false. an example, I once read an interview with Eddie Van Halen about Ted Nugent picking up EVH's guitar and playing it through Eddies rig. Nugent was perplexed as to why he couldn't replicate EVH's "brown sound" (his signature tone) EVH explained to him it's not from the equipment, rather technique is also involved.

While the guitar players you cite might be able to copy Hendrix's playing style, I highly doubt they can replicate the sound of his fender strat blasting through his Marshall stacks. Firstly, Hendrix modified his guitars in ways that to this day people can't figure out how or what he did to them. Second, equipment has changed so much since his time (many of us feel that today's equipment is inferior to the equipment of his time)

Those old strats and marshalls are much different than those that are being sold today.

What gives a guitar player god-like status is, their ability to come up with a style that is different than those of their influences and peers.

All musicians emulate other musicians when they first start out in their playing. Eventually, they will learn and develop their own technique or, they will become very proficient at playing other people's songs.

John Petrucci of Dream Theater has many different influences as a guitar player yet, he has managed to invent his own technique and tone that he is recognized as a premiere musician in the prog genre.

Another example, EVH and Randy Rhoads played in bars and at parties during the same time period. Van Halen got signed and Quiet Riot did not. Eddie was the first flashy guitar player to get signed, as a result he was the one idolized. Rhoads was a guitar teacher and would push himself beyond his abilities to play.

Here is the other part of annointing the guitar hero: opinion! IMHO Rhoads was on his way to replacing EVH as the guitar hero in the 80's. Eddie wasn't nearly as dedicated to playing guitar and practicing as Randy (Randy was on the verge of leaving Ozzy's band to persue a degree in classical guitar at a university in Europe) Hardly a move Van Halen would have made. Rhoads was on a completely different level of musicianship and passion than EVH.

Listen to the first two VH albums then listen to Randy's two albums with Ozzy. Also, when Rhoads played those guitar solos on the two albums, he insisted they be triple tracked (layered on top of each other) this resulted in a bigger tone for the solos. Instead of the producer taking the exact same solos Randy played in the studio, he also insisted on playing those three solos SEPARATELY! That is also a part of the equation innovation.

Hopefully my rambling will help you understand some of the dynamics of guitar players.

musicobsessive said...

Can't resist putting my two-penneth in to this one. The original question was 'Are guitarists special?' In the context of a band, the answer is 'possibly not'. Personally, I often prefer the bass player (Yes) or the keyboard player (Argent) or even the drummer (Blondie) to the guitarist. However, in musical terms a guitar can convey not just melody, but harmony and rhythm as well, making it the most versatile part of the band and it is this that gives the guitarist a head start over his bandmates.

As to comparing guitarists, for me it is a combination of head and heart. My favourite solo is Terry Kath's '25 or 6 to 4' (as Barbara will know by now - hope you're still enjoying the read!) as it combines a brilliantly thought out and constructed solo with the passion of its execution - unbeatable.

Playing comes in all styles. Whilst Buck Dharma's rampant playing for Blue Oyster Cult excites me, Steve Hackett's introverted sustain style also touches me in a different way. So who is to say what is best? All I know is that guitars are the soul of rock and will never be replaced.

Bond said...

Great question and I would love to jump in on this one.

I agree with Barbara that they are special. I never saw SRV live, but have seen Kenny. There is a similarity because, as has been stated, Kenny grew up with SRV as an influence.

Guitarists have been studying the older guitar players for years. How many out there listened to BB over and over...

As Barbara will not be surprised, i will talk about Duane Allman who I think is the second greatest guitar player to ever live (Jimi is first).

The story goes that Duane and greg saw BB live and that is when Duane told his brother "we have to do this".

Then later on Duane was home in bed sick and Greg brought him a bottle of Coricidan. when Greg returned later all the pills were on the bed and Duane was using the empty bottle to ty and recreate the sounds he had heard Taj Mahal make on the Blind Willie McTell song "Statesboro Blues".

Duane never used anything but a Coricidan bottle to play slide. Johnny Winter was also a slide guitar player, but his style was more flash, while Duane was (IMHO) more substance...sustaining notes...the 'bird-sounds' he would create...simple yet stunning in their simplicity.

As a former bass guitar player I do believe that the rhythm section of any band is the bedrock upon which the guitar players live...they are the soil from which the flowers the guitar players create with their music grow.

Russ/rfduck said...

*giving my opinion before I read the others*

I think what makes a lead guitarist special is the creativity that the guitarist brings to the band. Except for the lyricist, the other members of a band aren't really given much leeway to show off and be creative. Drummers mostly keep the beat, as do bassists. Guitarists, on the other hand, come up with riffs and solos. There are exceptions (in The Who, both John Entwistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums were the most talented individuals), but those exceptions prove the rule.

I think this is changing, though. Guitar solos seem to be disappearing. Today's indie rock bands seem to value the entire package.

Russ/rfduck said...

*after reading the other posts*

I think that some guitarists' styles sound similar, but only to those who aren't hearing the music the way a guitarist hears it. I'm sure there are guitar players (and other musicians) who CAN tell the difference between SRV and KWS. And, yes, equipment makes a difference. As far as I know, no two guitars sound exactly alike.

In the end, it's not the technique that matters. It's the effort and soul put into the music that makes it what it is. Compare "Little Wing" by both Hendrix and SRV. Same song, same basic music, but two VERY different results.

d.edlen said...

Little Wing by SRV on "The Sky Is Crying" makes me, well, cry, almost everytime I hear it.

I'm loving the responses! Very well thought through. I hadn't thought of the personalization of equipment as well as the technology they had to work with when they recorded.

I also know the story behind Tommy Iommi's tuning, as well as Nick Drake's.

It sounds like it's a combination of everything I thought: relationship with bandmates, live performance, and passionate musicianship.

And now that I've painted Randy, I've gotta really listen to Ozzy's albums with him!


nobody's_fool said...

Yes, they are. That is all...

nobody's_fool said...

To expound on my quite "lengthy" previous comment; we all have our reasons for feeling the way we do about guitarists. But, it's all subjective, though, so there's no such thing as a right or wrong answer here.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Daniel, I doubt anyone is seething, we LOVE to share our thoughts on music related topics!

Digital, AWESOME answer and great explanation. You won't believe this but just last night I was thinking about Les Paul and all the stuff he invented to enhance music. I admire your knowledge on this !! Your EVH/Nudge example was perfect.

Obsessive, I love reading all of what you have to say! Terry Kath, underrated talent for sure.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Bond, wow, get down with your answer! I loved it. I could hear Duane stories all night long and never tire of them. I think we are giving Daniel more than he ever expected in an answer. Great way to describe the bass/rhythm as a bedrock.

Russ, nice move on answering before and after reading others comments. Good example of Little Wing. You are so right about no two guitars sounding the same. I think Bruce Springsteen changes guitars for every song and he's not even lead! LOL. Thanks for your input :)

Daniel, I cry for certain songs too, and sometimes I cry when I think of the great guitarists that are no longer with us....Randy is one of those....Jimi, Duane, Stevie, Terry, Rory ....

Nobody's....if there is a heaven SRV will be there and you and I will watch him together.

Charlie said...

No, they are not all that special. There are too many good ones for the instrument to be all that hard.

paul said...

great question; i'm not sure if its the guitar per se that is special but the 'voice' it has, the emotional expression and it's place in the forefront of the music, it defines the band (and the person, like a fingerprint) and resonates in something in the listener; in this sense John Coltrane is a guitarist, marcus miller (bass), art blakey (drummer), its more about the predominant voice of the band

as far as hendrix goes what robin trower does it pretty sad in my mind (ie: copying), my favourite guitarist at the moment is John McLaughlin, wow, electric rock, raga, flamenco even; he is special because he is unique, ie: it's really his voice not him copying someone else;


Anonymous said...

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a new forum of rock'n'roll here :

Mu-Sick said...

Wow, great responses. As a guitar player since 12 back in'68 (the best time I believe in music), I was shaped by the players at that time. With many guitar players experimenting both with equipment and just plain plucking, I can say that, Hendrix, both his plucking (including teeth) and sound blew us away! Bold statement you say, but at the time, I could not reproduce one iota of his sound. The bar was raised into the stratosphere.

Back on point, besides pointing out a players virtuoso ability, you need soul in my book. And that soul is captured in one great guitar song between 2 players listed in this blog. On the Layla album, "Why Does Love Have To Be So Sad?". Every time I listen to Duane and Eric rip it up, with the climax leads ending in the guteral "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!', you just find yourself holding your breath (at least I do). The players through their instruments speak to each other in a call and answer. I believe a great guitarist happens when put into a situation where their emotions are used to transform their instrument into an extension of themselves. SRV is a prime example of this also.

BTW, I'll be at the Hendrix show also in NY in October. Maybe catch this emotion first hand.


Tom said...

I have been a guitar player for 30 years. Of course, I am not on a level as the guitarists mentioned here, but have been influenced by them, particularly Duane Allman and Randy Rhoads.

But I am also influenced by the great musicians who play other instruments. Bono, Keith Emerson, Jon Anderson, chris get the idea.

Are guitarists special? Yes and no. Certain ones carry the sound of a band and can't be replaced. They have their own style and tone and are the heart and soul of a band.

Others are talented guitarists who are sidemen (and women) to a famous singer, who never get the chance to create their own sound and style.

I can go either way on this debate!

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Tom, excellent comment! And you mentioned Keith Emmerson!!! Don't hear that name often enough. Thanks adding to this discussion I hear what you're saying and agree with you.

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