The 10 best unsung guitar heroes, by Joe Bonamassa

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Joe Bonamassa pays tribute to the some of the guitar heroes who may not have been given their due in their own time, but whose influence is still being felt by the in-the-know six-stringers that have followed.

Stephen Stills
He’s a great songwriter, but tends to be undervalued for his talent as a guitar player. He’s the flip-side of the guy we’ve just been talking about, Mike Bloomfield. Stills is known mainly as an acoustic guitar player, which does him a disservice. Stills and Bloomfield are both on Al Kooper’s Super Session album [1968], but unfortunately Side A [featuring Bloomfield] tends to get more attention than Side B [which Stills played on]. Last summer, when I did an all-acoustic tour, I wanted my guitar to sound like Stephen Stills’s. But he also likes to play that old Gretsch [electric] guitar.

Robbie Robertson
To some, The Band’s Robbie Robertson is better-known as a songwriter, an activist and an inductee to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame – when he really should be praised as a guitar player. Robbie has an absolutely beautiful style. He’s almost like a soul player. Life Is A Carnival was on The Band’s fourth album, Cahoots, and it’s in the movie The Last Waltz. What he does is deceptive – it looks simple but involves some tricky chords. Once, just for fun, I tried to figure them out. It took hours to really get them right.

Ry Cooder
You could never describe Ry Cooder as an unknown, but he’s not one of those guys whose name comes up at the pub during those discussions about the greatest musicians. He’s just not hip enough. But, along with Rory Gallagher, Ry is my all-time favourite slide guitar player. To really understand his appeal you should see him playing Feelin’ Bad Blues in a scene at the end of the movie Crossroads, starring Ralph Macchio. That’s how I was turned on to him as a kid. What Ry did there is the deepest, most soulful slide playing that I’ve ever heard.

Danny Gatton
Danny Gatton is now dead, unfortunately, but he was always the guy with the coolest Telecaster – a real player’s player. He came from Washington DC and could play blues, jazz, rock, country and rockabilly. Nitpickin’ is from a record called Unfinished Business, and it really sums up his style as a player. I was lucky enough to have been mentored by Danny when I was a much younger musician. He’d always let me sit in with him. There’s some real neat YouTube of our first encounter when I was only 12 years old. He was a special guy.

Joe Bonamassa’s new live album, Live at Radio City Music Hall, is out now via J&R Adventures.

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