Musics - The Guitarists

3 Back to the Brits

Jethro Tull - This WasBlodywin Pig - Ahead Rings Out
Back 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 Was 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 Squirrel. Abrahams was (and is) also exceptional with Blodwyn Pig. Ahead Rings Out is another classic of the Blues guitar. He was also pretty snappy with his own Mick Abrahams Band, way back when.

The Rolling Stones - Rock and Roll CircusBlack SabbathJethro Tull - Thick as a Brick
The 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 Brick.

Deep Purple - In Rock
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.

Ten Years After - Cricklewood GreenSpooky Tooth - Spooky Two
The 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 make mistakes.

Free - Molten Gold
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).

BakerlooColosseum - Those Who are About to Die We Salute You
Colosseum - Valentyne SuiteColosseum - Daughter of Time
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. Clemson 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 Suite was equally impressive. As yet, I have been unable to obtain his recordings with Mogul Thrash, damn it! For some reason the 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 Daughter of Time. 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 - Laurel Canyon BluesJohn Mayall - Bare Wires
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 to his predecessor, Peter Green, who plays the sweetest, slowest, sexiest guitar. Taylor also played on Mayall’s Bare Wires, where his own short piece Hartley Quits showcases his playing. Mayall then decided to abandon both drummers and England, and so concluded a legendary series of albums.

Heads, Hands & Feet
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 (on Heads, 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.

Taste - On the BoardsRory Gallagher - Live in EuropeRory Gallagher - Stage Struck
Taste’s On the Boards is 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 album, Stage Struck highlights his own fine Rock. Despite the dire warnings pumped out about illicit drugs, both Hendrix and Gallagher were victims of legal substances. 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 McLaughlin.

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.

Mahavishnu Orchestra - Inner Mounting FlameMahavishnu Orchestra - Birds of FlameJohn McLaughlin - Live at the Royal Festival Hall
McLaughlin 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 Fire 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 Festival Hall — 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.

Groundhogs - The Best of the Groundhogs
Tony McPhee is a mainstay of British Blues guitar. The Best of the Groundhogs samples the biggest selling Groundhogs’ albums, from the early 1970s. McPhee's version of Muddy Waters’ Still a Fool shows off fine playing, and a deep perception of the Blues. Cherry Red was something of an anthem among Brit Blues diehards, as the brief boom faded.

Wishbone Ash - Live Dates
The twin guitar format was lyrically explored by Ted Turner and Andy Powell in Wishbone Ash. Pilgrimage was a fine album, and Argos remains a 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 Jailbait, to the grand theme of Phoenix, and on to the Tolkienesque tracks of Argos.

Man - Live at the Padget Rooms, PenarthMan - Back into the Future
Man 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 on 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.

Robin Trower - Bridge of SighsRobin Trower - BLT & Truce
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, nor either of his two collaborations with Jack Bruce (BLT and Truce). 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 éclat (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.

David Sylvian - Gone to Earth
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 to Earth (as does Robert Fripp). After the Bullfight is very satisfying, and his backing for Joseph Beuys’s voice-over is highly appropriate, and deliciously delicate too.