Musics - The Guitarists

4 Progressive Rock

King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King
The extraordinary Robert Fripp was a leader of the wave of Progressive guitar players, who began to emerge in 1969. Here were a bunch schooled in the Blues, but also quite often familiar with Classical guitar. Robert Fripp has been pouring out wonderful music since his debut with Giles, Giles and Fripp. I will never forget their moving rendition of She is Loaded on the BBC’s Colour Me Pop. This comedy band soon turned very serious as King Crimson, but after one epoch-making album, Fripp was left holding the band’s name, and very little else (to be fair, he also retained the collaboration of the excellent lyricist and lighting man, Pete Sinfield, the rest of the band was over the hills or in ELP).

TheKing Crimson - BeatBrian Eno - Nerve NetPeter Gabriel - II
David Sylvian and Robert Fripp - First DayKing Crimson - Thrak
Fripp constructed, and continues to construct, a series of dazzling King Crimsons (and a League or two of Crafty Guitarists). His sound is unmistakable. He is the greatest exponent of electric angst – hear his Requiem on Beat, and you hear grief purely and perfectly expressed. He has produced many positively corruscating solos. Listen to Distributed Being, on Eno’s fine Nervenet, or Exposure on Peter Gabriel’s second solo album, or his work with David Sylvian on The First Day, or King Crimson’s Thrak, or… well, you get the idea. He has also made many angst-ambient albums – some with Eno and some not – using his Frippertronics. Chase these at your peril. He waxes philosophic on the Digital Global Mobile website. Probably the only ethical record company in an oxymoronic world.

TheKing Crimson - Deja Vroom
Since 1981, King Crimson has frequently included the immense talent of Adrian Belew. Belew is an innovative guitarist – Hendrix would have loved his similar compulsion to produce pure sounds – and an emotionally charged singer, who happens to write great songs, and produce some of the most (and indeed only) meaningful lyrics to be found in Rock music. The guy is literate, but never wordy. The interplay between Belew and Fripp should be seen as well as heard, luckily it can be, on DVD (with selectable camera angles, too!) – rush out and buy Deja Vroom. The Noise is also a fine filmed concert.

Yes - Close to the EdgeYes - FragileYes - The Yes Album
Yes drummer Bill Bruford was to become Fripp’s long term collaborator. Yes can boast another of the seminal virtuoso guitar players, too. Steve Howe has managed to redefine the electric guitar by fusing it into a complete sound (yes, counterpoint strikes again), as much as by soloing. He was right there at the beginning of Prog in the band Tomorrow. Howe solos very well, but many Yes pieces are highly successful interweavings of instruments. For example, Close to the Edge or Heart of the Sunrise. Howe is a devotee of the early Blues rag players, such masters as Lonnie Johnson. The Clap is a tribute, and an extension, of this lively style, and nods to other influences, especially Johnson’s some time partner Eddie Lang, and the great Django Reinhardt.

Genesis - Nursery CrymeGenesis - Foxtrot
Genesis - Selling England by the PoundGenesis - The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
After several shifts of personnel, Genesis finally stabilised with Steve Hackett on guitar. Like other Progressive bands, Genesis worked as an ensemble, for the most part keeping guitar solos brief, and to the point. Hackett’s work on Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, Selling England by the Pound and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is quite perfect. Start with Selling England, where the production values finally shine (though the earlier albums have remastered well).

Peter Gabriel - UsSting - Ten Summoner's TalesDavid Bowie - Outside
The leap from Genesis to Peter Gabriel is easy to make. Leastways, it was easy for Gabriel to make. Earlier in his career, he invented stage-diving, which proved a lot harder, as the sheep in the audience hadn’t been properly trained, so quickly moved out of the way. He has pins in his leg to this day to prove it. As has already been noted, Fripp worked very successfully with Gabriel. Subsequently, and for many years his work has incorporated the fine playing of David Rhodes. Certain sidemen give a flavour to their leaders. Sting has relied on the exquisite playing of Dominic Miller since Ten Summoner’s Tales. Reeves Gabrels’s work with Bowie has been staggering at times – I especially like Outside. Now Bowie has the great good sense to employ David Torn.

Progressive Rock is largely seen as a British phenomenon, apart from Hendrix’s seminal suite 1983, a Merman I Should Turn to Be/ Moon Turn the Tides (gently, gently away). One noteworthy exception – and I’m not going to stop shouting about it – was the Oregon band Touch. They appeared briefly in Los Angeles – the sunshine and smog hometown of The Doors and the Beachboys – making just one album with Decca, in 1969, which has recently, and marvellously, become available (with five added tracks). Guitarist Joe Newman managed to make noises still unique to him. He effortlessly mimics vocal lines, sometimes merging into the voice, makes the guitar growl and whine, and even squeezes out the occasional trumpet blare. Everyone should have this album. Seventy-five is one of the greatest of all guitar solos.

Jack Bruce - Cities of the HeartStevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood
The heyday of British Blues players was between 1965 and 1973. The Band, The Eagles and McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra brought that era to an end. Add The Wailers and Punk, and we see the near exhaustion of a form. Musicians and audiences wanted something different. Of course, there were other early ’70s players – listen to Mick Box with Uriah Heap on Very Heavy, Very Humble, or Caleb Quaye with Hookfoot, for instance – but the music had been formed. It’s rather like the continuation of Classical Greek sculpture by the Romans – fine imitations but nothing as powerful as Praxiteles (I think I got away with that. Didn’t he play with Fields of the Nephilim?). Gary Moore would become a perfect exemplar of this completed style, as would Stevie Ray Vaughan. Moore is stunning on Jack Bruce’s 50th birthday party bash, Cities of the Heart, where Clem Clemson is also on fine form. Indeed, this album houses some of the most perfect Blues guitar playing ever recorded. Vaughan died in a helicopter crash after climbing to the top of the Blues pile. His live gig, In Session, with his hero Albert King, is highly rated, as are several of his solo albums, perhaps most notably his first, Texas Flood. This is exhibition Blues guitar playing at its best. Note the presence of the legendary producer John Hammond, who promoted talents from Billie Holiday and Count Basie to Dylan and Springsteen. Vaughan certainly made it to Clapton’s jukebox. Rocking stuff.

Yes - RelayerBill Bruford - Feels Good To Me
In the mid-70s, Yes came back from the edge after the unique Relayer (still my favourite Yes album). With the departure of Peter Gabriel, Genesis too abandoned their more complex beginnings. Progressive Rock seemed to be on the wane, but it was given a dying boost by two jazzified-rockers: Bill Bruford and Allan Holdsworth. They played together on Bruford’s very fine first solo album, Feels Good to Me, and with John Wetton and Eddie Jobson as UK.

Holdsworth was a revelation. Levels of technical sophistication had become so high that by the late ’70s it was rare to hear a new guitar sound. Holdsworth was recognisable from the first. Partly because his technique skirts the boundary of possibility (like McLaughlin o DiMeola), but mainly because of his unique expressive capability. The electric guitar is capable of tears, wails, laughter and conversation (hear Hendrix on Rainy Day, Dream Away on Electric Ladyland for the last two, or Machine Gun for the first). Holdsworth reaches a pinnacle of intermingled bliss and agony, a feeling evinced by the finest violinists – such as Itzhak Perlman – when playing Mozart.

Alan Holdsworth - Road GamesAlan Holdsworth - Metal FatigueAlan Holdsworth - Sand
Holdsworth should – and will, and must – be the subject of a complete article. In the meantime, click on to your preferred internet sales agent, and buy the at last released on CD Road Games, from 1983 (sponsored by an admiring Eddie van Halen, and almost drowned by a stupid Warner Bros). And, yes, it is a trio, so all of the sounds other than the bass – Jeff Berlin on perfect form – and the drum – Chad Wackerman similarly so – are squeezed from Holdsworth’s guitar. If you love that – and you should if you have the slightest decency – then listen to Metal Fatigue to hear Metal Jazz, or to Sand to hear some of the most haunting guitar ever played – on The 4.15 Bradford Executive and Pud Wud. And grab I.O.U., Atavachron, Secrets, The Wardenclyffe Tower, Hard Hat Area, None Too Soon, The Sixteen Men of Tain, All Night Wrong and everything else you can get your greedy mits on while you’re about it. Holdsworth himself warns that he appears on several albums that he would rather not have appeared on. Take his word for it; after all, he should know.