Under The Influence: Mark Morton

“I found the blues pretty early on, through rock, which is very blues- based, of course. The first guy that made me want to pick up the guitar was Eddie Van Halen, and obviously there’s a lot of blues in Eddie’s playing: Eric Clapton is one of his big influences.

“Once I got a guitar in my hands I started paying attention to the guitar players I liked, and a large number of those were British blues guitarists – Clapton and Jimmy Page among them. It’s funny how the music went full circle: those guys were listening to Albert King and Muddy Waters and Elmore James, and then plugging in and doing their thing, which then came back around to us in America. Jimi Hendrix, too: he was a very bluesy player, and a huge influence for me early on. He was American, but he first broke into the public eye over in the UK.

“The blues holds this great spot because when you’re just learning the guitar, you can play the music with a very simple understanding of the instrument. Your ability to express yourself, and how fluid you are on the guitar neck, and how original you are, and the traits and the characteristics of your playing style, will continue to develop over the course of a whole lifetime, while staying within the basic guidelines and format of 12-bar blues. It’s a wonderful thing because blues can be as simple as you need it to be, and yet you have guitar players like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billy Gibbons that you’ll never reach – and it’s still blues.

“That’s a fantastic thing: the blues is there for you from the very beginning, when you first pick up the guitar with a rudimentary understanding. I’ve been playing guitar for 30 years and I’m still astounded by some of the things I hear in blues.”

Jimi Hendrix

Red House

From: Are You Experienced [Track Records, 1967]

The beauty of Jimi is that he was so strongly rooted in the blues but he had a very innovative approach to playing the guitar – a very free-form, artistic, experimental way of playing the instrument. That was rooted in the psychedelic elements of the music that was around at the time. To me, Red House is the quintessential Hendrix blues. There are a lot of examples of blues in his songs, but to me, that’s the go-to example.

Srevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Cold Shot

From: Couldn’t Stand The Weather [Epic, 1984]

Stevie spun off from Hendrix, at least the way I hear it. There’s so many kinds of styles within the genre of blues, and sounds that go along with that style, and very often that styling becomes a geographical reference point. You hear Stevie and you immediately hear so much of that Texas swing and boogie, with the upstrokes in his playing. Cold Shot is one of the primary examples of that: there’s an ‘up’ on the end, which was a signature groove he had in his right hand. That hand was such a weapon: he almost sweep-picks some of those chords.

ZZ Top

Brown Sugar

From: ZZ Top’s First Album [London, 1971]

Since we’re talking about Texas, I gotta reference Billy Gibbons! I think he’s so underrated, which is unfortunate. Most people associate Billy with that 1980s commercial stuff ZZ Top had. The Eliminator album, and songs like Legs, Rough Boy, all that stuff. Even within those songs, you can hear some cool, squawky stuff going on, but really it’s all about the early stuff – the first album, Rio Grande Mud [1972] and Tres Hombres [1973]. There’s so many ZZ Top songs we could talk about, but Brown Sugar is one of my favourites.

The Allman Brothers Band

You Don’t Love Me

From: At Fillmore East [Capricorn, 1971]

Of course, Duane Allman was a southern rock player in a southern rock band, but he played very traditional blues and incorporated the slide into his playing. Years ago, before I was married with kids and I lived by myself, I would put the At Fillmore East vinyl LP on and just play along on guitar with the whole damn thing. I’d play along with You Don’t Love Me and mimic the licks that were behind the song.

The Rolling Stones

Wild Horses

From: Sticky Fingers [Rolling Stones Records, 1971]

I love the Stones and I definitely think of them as a blues band. There’s so much songwriting going on there. I loved the way they covered so many different styles of music: some of it was psychedelic, some of it was kinda grungy slide blues, some of it was country, Gram Parsons-influenced stuff. I was never very good at knowing who played what in the Stones though! I always thought Keith Richards got all the limelight, but it turned out that Brian Jones played a lot in the early days, and so did Mick Taylor – it’s hard to figure out who’s who.


White Room

From: Wheels Of Fire [Polydor, 1968]

Eric Clapton was a big influence on me as far as guitar playing goes, but when it comes to songwriting, I was always more into Cream and Blind Faith. Cream was a really big thing for me when I was 12 years old and just picking up the guitar for the first time, which is odd because it was in the mid-80s. Now I think it was pretty hip for a 12-year-old to be listening to Cream! It was essentially because Eddie Van Halen was going on about what a genius Clapton was that I started listening to them. When you think about how quickly it all happened for those bands, they really caught lightning in a bottle.

The Black Crowes

Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye

From: The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion [Def American, 1992]

Whenever I talk about blues, I always want to give Marc Ford a mention because to me he’s so underrated. To me Marc is one of the truly great modern players. Maybe because of the time frame The Black Crowes were operating in, or the commercial success of the band, I’m not sure that people regard Marc that way, but he’s one of my favourite players. He really stands out on the second Black Crowes album, The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion. If you’re not familiar with this song, I strongly suggest you listen to it: it’s blues, but it has a lot of relative movements in the lead playing, and his licks are really tasteful and beautiful. His tone choices are exquisite.

Led Zeppelin

I Can’t Quit You Baby

From: Led Zeppelin [Atlantic, 1969]

Jimmy Page is my number one favourite guitar player ever, and my top influence as a guitarist: his blues influence is clearly there. Listen to I Can’t Quit You Baby: it’s very traditional. The bigger picture is Jimmy’s songwriting, of course. At the age he was, and with the state of mind he was in, he was producing these classic, classic albums. The creativity and the spectrum of influences that band had, I don’t know if that has ever been duplicated. Zeppelin had a monumental body of work that is so diverse in terms of songwriting – and so consistently good that it’s untouchable, man.

Lamb Of God’s new album VII: Sturm Und Drang is out now via Nuclear Blast. See www.lamb-of-god.com.

Joel McIver

Joel McIver is a British author. The best-known of his 25 books to date is the bestselling Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, first published in 2004 and appearing in nine languages since then. McIver's other works include biographies of Black Sabbath, Slayer, Ice Cube and Queens Of The Stone Age. His writing also appears in newspapers and magazines such as The Guardian, Metal Hammer, Classic Rock and Rolling Stone, and he is a regular guest on music-related BBC and commercial radio.