to Blighty, and Clapton and co had made the guitar an essential piece of kit
in the burgeoning Blues Rock scene. One definitely underrated and under-rewarded
player is Mick Abrahams, who first emerged in Jethro Tull. Tull’s This
is a unique fusion of Blues and Jazz, and predates both the Progressive
and the Folk-influenced later incarnations of Tull. Abrahams takes Clapton on by
delivering an excellent rendition of a Slowhand signature tune, Cat’s
. Abrahams was (and is) also exceptional with Blodwyn Pig. Ahead
is another classic of the Blues guitar. He was also pretty snappy
with his own Mick Abrahams Band, way back when.
Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
TV showcased a performance by
Jethro Tull with another of the exceptional guitar players of the ’60s.
Tony Iommi lasted only a few weeks with Ian Anderson’s band, before giving
way to Ozzy’s entreaties, and returning to the Black Sabbath fold. He was
replaced in Tull by the fine Martin Lancelot Barre. Iommi provided great riffs
and marvellous guitar on the first Sabbath album, and laid very solid foundations
for Metal. Barre is great everywhere, but I have a soft spot for Thick as a
The other great bastion of early Metal is Deep Purple (I hope they won’t
sue me for calling them a bastion). Ritchie Blackmore has sustained more criticism
than most, but he nonetheless produced an exciting sound that has inspired many
followers. Deep Purple in Rock
is a good starting place —
interesting songs that skirt the border between Metal and Progressive, and fine
vocals, keys and drumming.
exceptional talents of Alvin Lee are seen very clearly on the film of Woodstock,
where Lee fused a medley of old rock and roll tunes into a guitar extravaganza. Cricklewood Green
is probably their most successful album.
Ten Years After were potential competition for Zeppelin in the early days. The
same was true for Spooky Tooth. Their second album, Spooky Two
, has the
marvellously self-indulgent Evil Woman
: two vocalists screaming their
heartbreak at each other, and a guitar break so long that you need an ice cream
in the middle. The album is a series of well-made, dolorous laments, peaking in
the tremendous riff of Better by You, Better than Me
. Guitarist Luther
Grosvenor changed his name to Ariel Bender on joining Mott the Hoople. We all
Paul Kossoff was overwhelmed when Clapton came back stage to ask him about his
sound. Here was God speaking to a very modest mortal. Kossoff had the leanest,
wiriest sound imaginable (the good old Les Paul, beloved of Jimmy Page, again).
His work with Free is still a joy. See the concert footage from the Isle of Wight
in 1970, where Koss, like so many great musicians, seems to be caught between two
worlds, lifted into an all-absorbing mystery, and speaking from beyond the veil
(far out, man). Hear him on anything, but start with Woman
, another of
the truly great Rock riffs. The compilation Molten Gold
has a good
selection of tracks from both Free and Koss’s solo albums. Sadly, he was a
victim of heroin addiction, the bane of so many fine musicians (Garcia, Clapton,
Page and Townsend survived their addictions, though Garcia died of a heart attack
while in rehab).
Dave ‘Clem’ Clempson
first recorded as a member of the Jazz-Blues trio, Bakerloo. Thankfully, their
eponymous endeavour is available on CD.
That Worried Feeling
is a guitar tour de force
then replaced the brilliant James Litherland in Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum.
Litherland is another neglected talent, both as a guitar player and a vocalist.
Walking in the Park
on Those Who are About to Die We Salute You
is surely the perkiest Blues ever made. His work on Valentyne
equally impressive. As yet, I have been unable to obtain his recordings
with Mogul Thrash, damn it! For some reason the Amazon.com site says that
customers interested in Mogul Thrash may also be interested in herbal Thrush
treatments. A dire warning indeed. Litherland’s replacement Clemson
sparkles on Colosseum’s
. In retrospect, there are several albums that seemed to
be the beginning of a new trend, but ended up as sole exemplars of their
form. This is true of every one of Jon Hiseman’s Colosseum’s albums.
Marvellous music that should have been followed by much more marvellous
music. The critics are still ridiculously divided. After all, rock is an
adolescent music, not for grown ups, so you shouldn’t play it with finesse
(you shouldn’t even know the
word). Now where’s that Sham 69 album gone.
John Mayall continues to recruit fine guitarists to this day, but having
successfully replaced Clapton with Green, he had only doubled his problem with
Green’s departure. The exceptional solution was Mick Taylor, who plays on my
favourite Mayall album, Blues From Laurel Canyon
. Legend says that a teenage
Taylor came up from the audience one night to stand in for an absent Clapton, but
left before Mayall could find out where to contact him. After Green’s departure,
Mayall saw a newspaper piece about Taylor, and hired him pronto. He stayed with Mayall
longer than most others, before being lapped up by The Rolling Stones. Taylor is
excellent throughout Laurel Canyon
, giving way on First Time
predecessor, Peter Green, who plays the sweetest, slowest, sexiest guitar. Taylor also
played on Mayall’s Bare Wires
, where his own short piece Hartley
showcases his playing. Mayall then decided to abandon both drummers and
England, and so concluded a legendary series of albums.
Heads, Hands and Feet are not enough heard. Their guitarist, Albert Lee,
probably despairing of the UK scene, became a sought after session man
in Nashville. His flawless technique can be heard on Song for Suzie
Hands & Feet
). Like Kreiger’s Light my Fire
this is an elaborate
and delicately constructed solo, with every note in place.
In August 1970, two of the great guitarists trod the same boards at Freshwater in
the Isle of Wight. The headliner of headliners, Jimi Hendrix, was about to leave the
stage forever, Rory Gallagher, the newcomer, was on the rise to fame with Taste. If
there ever was a quintessential Blues guitarist it was Gallagher. He drank the Blues
from the earliest recordings on, and learned to play not only the guitar, but that
other instrument of original, authentic Blues the mandolin. He was also a mean
harmonica player, and could handle himself on the sax. Oh, yes, he also had a superb
singing voice, and exuded quiet charm.
a great first album, but Gallagher is best heard live. There is nothing
to beat his European Tour album. Hendrix
said that Irish folk music was very similar to the Blues, and Gallagher
exemplifies the union. While Live in Europe
is a Blues
his own fine Rock. Despite the dire warnings pumped out about illicit drugs,
both Hendrix and Gallagher were victims of legal
Hendrix died from a mixture of prescription sleeping pills and red
wine; Gallagher’s liver
failed after too many Guinnesses.
Alongside John Mayall, seekers after the source of British Blues should also check
out Cyril Davies and the marvellous Alexis Korner. The other great stalwart of the
early British Blues scene was Graham Bond. As with Mayall, many members of
Bond’s band would ascend to stardom. At one time the Graham Bond Organization
included budding luminaries Jack Bruce, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Ginger Baker and John
John McLaughlin is a living legend, and has produced a stream of beautiful music.
His virtuosity places him in the rarefied company of the great musicians of history
— the likes of Hendrix, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Pagannini and Mozart.
left the Bond Organization for the States, where he joined the legendary Miles
Davis, eager to create yet another new music: this time a fusion between Jazz
and Rock. In this groundbreaking band, the brilliant McLaughlin met an
equally brilliant drummer: Billy Cobham. They made an album together before
forming the unparalleled Mahavishnu Orchestra. Inner Mounting Flame
and Birds of
are still pinnacles of technique and unadulterated excitement.
McLaughlin’s double-neck Gibson frightened every guitarist who heard him. Two
decades later, that’s me clapping in the audience on Live at the Royal
— every sound beyond the percussion and the bass came out
of what appeared to be an acoustic guitar. Terrifying.
After this perfect fusion of Jazz and Rock, McLaughlin became part of one of the
few successful collaborations between Western and Indian musicians, Shakti. His
subsequent work in the Jazz field, and his more recent return to different forms
of Shakti have also proved fertile. While he and Carlos Santana were both devotees
of Sri Chinmoy, they collaborated on a couple of albums. Santana subsequently
returned to devotion to the weed, and gained a new following among the young with
the album Supernatural.
Tony McPhee is a mainstay of British Blues guitar. The Best of the
samples the biggest selling Groundhogs’ albums, from the
early 1970s. McPhee's version of Muddy Waters’ Still a Fool
off fine playing, and a deep perception of the Blues. Cherry Red
something of an anthem among Brit Blues diehards, as the brief boom faded.
The twin guitar format was lyrically explored by Ted Turner and Andy Powell in
Wishbone Ash. Pilgrimage
was a fine album, and Argos
classic. The live versions found on Live Dates
are wonderful —
great rhythm section, too. Wishbone Ash continued that brief British form of
Blues plus Progressive Rock, moving easily from amost Status Quo rock in
, to the grand theme of Phoenix
, and on to the
Tolkienesque tracks of Argos
where also at times a two guitar band, and having transformed from a close
harmony Pop group produced some of the most interesting counterpoint in
the history of Rock. Counterpoint, by the way, is not a needlework term,
it just means using more than one melody — most Rock music has a simple
melody supported by harmonies. This is most evident on Live
at the Padget Rooms, Penarth
(Micky Jones and Deke Leonard) and on C’mon
Back into the Future
(Jones with ‘Tweke’ Lewis). Inspiring
music, and it is amazing to think that they could still play when you realize
how big the spliffs were in those days.
All modern guitar players ride in the wake of Jimi Hendrix. He is to electric
guitar what Ferrari is to sports cars. Some, like Lenny Kravitz, obviously
based their own styles on Hendrix’s. Robin Trower was one of the first
to be identified with Hendrix-like excursions. He joined Procul Harum for a few
albums. Sadly, I have neither his highly-rated Bridge of Sighs
either of his two collaborations with Jack Bruce (BLT
). Shame on me. So if that patron saint of thieves Santa Claus is
listening, please add them to my already enormous list. However, courtesy of
modern science (aka Kazaa
) I have heard much of Bridge of Sighs
, and I
like what I hear. James Dewar’s vocals — reminiscent of the splendid
Paul Rodgers — add greatly to the sound. Trower actually finds a lot of
those elusive Hendrix sounds, and pieces them together with style and
(I think I mean éclat
— covered in
chocolate and filled with cream, anyway).
Time rolls on, and I now have Bridge of Sighs, without Santa having to lift a
finger (mid-price from Amazon, and it only took two months). If you can get it,
buy the expanded, remastered version, and hear most of the tracks played live at
an exclusive concert a month after the studio album hit the US top ten.
Bill Nelson is a grand enigma — from Pentecostalist Christian to Conceptual
artist, and most points in between. He was at the heart of various incarnations
of Be Bop Deluxe, and provides haunting guitar on David Sylvian’s Gone
(as does Robert Fripp). After the Bullfight
satisfying, and his backing for Joseph Beuys’s voice-over is highly
appropriate, and deliciously delicate too.