Most people are happy to win a stuffed panda when they hit the boardwalk, but for Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo, a lucky day at a New Jersey arcade in 1976 brought him a whole lot more.
“I had about 89 cents in my pocket, so my friend Brian and I hitchhiked from Point Pleasant Beach to Seaside,” he recalls. “We went to the boardwalk, and I put a quarter down on one of the wheels. At this particular wheel, the prizes were records. My number came up, and I picked Led Zeppelin’s Presence, which had just come out. We were so excited, we didn’t even bother to stick around. We hitchhiked right back home so we could listen to it.”
Presence became DeLeo’s favorite Led Zeppelin record, and it’s one of his picks for essential guitar albums, joining a varied list of discs by artists like Jeff Beck, Tal Farlow, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant. “A lot of things go into what makes a great guitar album,” says DeLeo. “First and foremost, I respond to the writing – I’m a song-oriented guy. I dig how a guitarist composes, the chords that he uses, the way he orchestrates – that stuff tends to stick with me more than technical ability, although I do own my share of Allan Holdsworth records.”
Tone is also a key element for DeLeo. “How a guitar player uses his hands, how he pulls and bends the notes, and the sounds he gets from the instrument,” he says. “Some guys have a purity and an authenticity in their playing, and it’s just something you know when you hear it.”
Assessing his selections, DeLeo marvels at the array of styles of the following guitarists. “There are so many different avenues to guitar playing,” he says, “and here I’ve touched on guys who play Telecasters, Strats, Les Paul, jazz boxes, pedal steel and nylon-string. Each guy approaches the instrument in an individual and beautiful way.”
But before running down his top five choices, DeLeo gives a shout-out to another venerable guitarist. “I’d like to pay honor to be the great Brian May,” he adds. “I mean, listen to what he did on records like A Day at the Races or A Night at the Opera. Those are brilliant guitar orchestrations. I would be remiss if I didn’t call to attention Brian’s amazing work.”
Tal Farlow – The Complete Verve Tal Farlow Sessions (2004)
“Tal Farlow was born in North Carolina, but he settled in Sea Bright, New Jersey. He lived not too far from where I grew up in Point Pleasant. I was always hoping to catch of glimpse of him whenever I went to see Phil Petillo, who was an incredible luthier. I would go to Phil’s shop with my guitars, each time thinking I’d run into somebody like Bruce Springsteen or the great Tal Farlow.
“Phil would tell be the best stories about Tal. He told me that whenever Tal brought his guitars in to be refretted, the fretboards were always worked evenly from the length and width. He left no area untouched.
“You get a great collection of songs on this album. Tal’s playing is incredible. His clarity and expressiveness runs deep. Usually I like to hear standards played at a slower tempo, which Tal didn’t do too often. He played notes incredibly quickly but in a way that didn’t lose the feeling or emotion.”
Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant – Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant (1995)
“I love Jimmy Bryant, and this is one of my favourite records of his that he made with the great pedal steel guitarist Speedy West. I mean, come on – the word ‘flaming’ is right before ‘guitars.’ You’ve gotta go for it, right?
“There’s no other guitar that sounds like the Telecaster, especially in the hands of somebody like Jimmy Bryant. His playing, along with the artistry of Speedy West, is extraordinary. A delectable guitar duo.
“All of this is even more incredible when you consider the recording technology of the 1950s, which was pretty much a bunch of guys sitting in a room with some microphones. Just cats playing.”
Antonio Carlos Jobim – Jazz ‘Round Midnight (1998)
“One of the greatest composers of all time. You get to hear so many legendary talents on this record – Stan Getz, Astrud Gilberto, and, of course, Joao Gilberto, who played guitar on the record along with Antonio.
“I chose this record because the music is so magnificent. If you want to learn about composition and expand your mind chordally, this is where you start. It’s about as deep as it gets.
“To me, one of the fascinating things about Antonio is how he assembles a song, the way he puts chords together. He always hits a profound emotional spot. We’re talking genius stuff. If you want to be inspired by something that’ll really open you up in new ways, this is it. Another cool record is the one he did with Sinatra [Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1967].”
Jeff Beck – Wired (1976)
“If you want to hear somebody who knows his way around a Stratocaster, listen to this record. What I find so exciting about Jeff Beck is the way he works his pickups. He sometimes uses all the pickup selections during the course of one song. Great tones on this record.
“And the playing! You’ve got some pretty heavy cats here – Max Middleton on keyboards, Wilbur Bascomb on bass, Narada Michael Walden on drums. Great musicians. Their version of ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ by Mingus is astonishing. And, of course, there’s Jeff.
“The choice of tones and notes, the arrangements – wonderful. We’re talkin’ about a guy who really works the shit out of a Stratocaster.”
Led Zeppelin – Presence (1976)
“I just couldn’t leave Jimmy Page off this list. Led Zeppelin have influenced so many of us. My pick would be Presence. I think it’s one on which Jimmy’s orchestration skills really shine. The way he arranged all of his parts here is just beautiful.
“Everybody is on fire on this record. A good Bonzo bash. But what I’m continually drawn to are Jimmy’s chordings and, quite simply, his writing. He goes for some unexpected figures chordally. And his soloing on this record is really incredible, too.”