Frank Gutch Jr: Not Rolling Stone’s Top 100

Frank Gutch young

I just took another stroll through Rolling Stone’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists.  I do so occasionally just to remind me of what a fools errand such lists are.  I realize that it sells “magazines” (are they a magazine these days?), people being suckers for Top of’s of 50 Best’s if for no other reason to compare choices with theirs.  Jimi Hendrix?  Sure.  #1.  Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck?  Automatic Top Ten.  James Burton and Buddy Holly?  You have no choice but to throw in the originators on occasion.  John Fahey?  Can’t leave out the cool artist who never really sold in terms of the numbers necessary to chart.

Rolling-Stone-logo-650x160

To be fair, this is not really a list of the greatest.  It is a list compiled from musicians and music people who probably put down whatever guitar player’s name came into their heads.  Rolling Stone may have some credibility somewhere but it surely isn’t in the music community.  Such lists are fruitless.  The people doing the choosing toss in prejudices wherever they want and some include musicians who should never even be considered, assuming that the idea holds water, and some toss names because they are afraid not to.  Perhaps the mistake is in the headline.  One-hundred.  We’re looking at a good eighty years of music and picking 100 supposed greatest guitarists of what?  All-time?  Kill me now.  Better call it “People Involved With Music In Some Capacity Choose Their Favorites.”  At least that clarifies what happened.  Kind of.

Man, I shouldn’t be so hard on them.  After all, the people at RS are only trying to make a living, right?  Can’t blame them for that.  Still, looking at such lists makes me shudder.  When did we as fans of rock music (or music in general, I suppose) become so judgmental?  And why have we stopped looking?  We have, you know, on the whole.  To show you, I am going to play a game.  Let’s call it Outstanding Guitarists Who Have Been Buried By Pop Culture.  I am going to list some of my favorite guitarists as a challenge to lists such as these.  Because I consider every one of them in the same league as the Superstars and Not-So-Superstars listed in this article.

DEAN PARKS…

I call him “the dean of the session guitar” (get it?) and for good reason.  From the early seventies on, Parks opted for the studio rather than the road and made a fine career of it.  I first found him on Michael Omartian‘s White Horse album which I picked up in 1974 and was surprised to start finding his name on many albums in my collection before that and after.  The man has played on albums by Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Aretha Franklin, and a few hundred other artists and every time I heard what he lay down I was pleasantly surprised and at moments overwhelmed.  The guy seemingly can play anything regardless of style which I suppose is why bands like The Crusaders called him in on sessions on a fairly regular basis.  If I were to list the albums and songs on which he played, it would take the rest of the column.  Suffice it to say that Parks has never ceased to impress me and deserves a slot on anyone’s lists.  To view his massive body of work, click here.

Vince Gill must agree with me.  In a piece titled Vince Gill’s 14 Favorite Guitar Players published ny RS, he says this:

“Dean is a session player in L.A. He’s played on Steely Dan’s albums and is probably the most recorded guitar player around town. He’s played on everyone’s records. He has a brilliant mind. To me, guitar playing isn’t all about the shredder who can play you 80,000 notes; it’s the guy who can play a succinct part with four notes that will be more memorable than the 400 the guy with the whammy bar just played you. His versatility in what he can do is, to me, the most impressive thing.”

Some say Gill knows something about guitars, too.

ELLIOTT RANDALL…

Speaking of Steely Dan, Elliott is the guy who played the rocking guitar solo on Reeling In the Years.  For years, I had been under the impression that Jeff Baxter had played it because he was all over that album, but no, he tossed the baton to Randall when he couldn’t nail it down.  Randall brought the hammer needed and very quickly the track was finished.

I met Randall through his own band, Randall’s Island, back in the early seventies.  Good ol’ Gary Haller at the House of Records in Eugene kept talking about it and I finally bought a copy just to shut him up.  It didn’t work, but I found a guitarist I have followed to this day.  Randall’s Island recorded one more album (to my knowledge) titled. Rock and Roll City and I went from fan to promoter, meaning that I played it every chance I got when people were in the house.  More than one convert came about through those “house” sessions.  Randall went on to put the band together for the touring version of Jesus Christ Superstar and has had a guitar in his hands ever since.  Lots of session work, lots of solo work (which resulted in all too few albums), ending in the UK where he now lives and works.  Like Parks, Randall is a go-to guy when you need just the right guitar.  If you want to know and hear more, click here.

PHIL KEAGGY…

A hundred choices and not one of the people thought of Keaggy.  That thud you hear is the sound of my head banging the edge of my desk.  I know, there are only so many slots in a hundred (that would be a hundred for the mathematically-challenged), but my God!  It’s Keaggy!  I am flashing back to the period just after the Army when I discovered that first Glass Harp and how astounded I was at the guitar.  I mean, I think that was the first time I really understood understatement applied to music.  I wanted more every time I heard it but there was no more so I ended up playing it ad infinitum to get enough.  Since then, Keaggy has proven himself a master.  Oh, there are plenty of them out there but there weren’t back then.  But I could see the tsunami coming.  I loved Clapton and Beck and Townsend and Hendrix and Allman as much as the other guys, but I could see it changing.  Not that those guys weren’t really worth hearing, just that I was beginning to feel the hunting urge because I knew there were others out there I needed to hear.

Here is Phil with Glass Harp some 30 years later.

One more to make my point.

ALLAN HOLDSWORTH…

When Holdsworth came on to the music scene it was as a rock guitarist for the UK’s powerhouse band Tempest.  They were definitely outside the norm when it came to the mainstream but they gained legendary status on the basis of their one self-titled album.  They would go on to record another with Ollie Halsall taking over on guitar but Halsall was in such a different place that it was essentially two different bands.  Listening to this track should give you an idea of Holdsworth’s leanings (he would later join Soft Machine on their excellent Bundles album before signing as a solo artist with a couple of jazz labels).  It should also give you an idea of what one moment in time can produce.

I can’t think of anyone but Holdsworth who could have come up with that solo.  Whew!  And here is a trailer for a film of Soft Machine at Montreux.  The scenes are chopped up for promo purposes but it shows enough of what Holdsworth could do.

TERRY SMITH…

I suppose if you were not a big IF fan back in the early seventies you might have missed Terry Smith.  Too bad, really, because Smith brought a real jazz feel to what otherwise was labeled “pub rock” by their label, Island Records.  It took me a bit to get used to it, that sound more in tune with Wes Montgomery than Clapton or Beck.  But when I got it, it dug in.

Smith recorded at least four albums with IF and his guitar style progressed a little but not enough nto bring him to the realm of Rock.  After he split the band, he joined with fellow members of IF and Osibisa to form Zzebra who dabbled with various international flavors, partially thanks to Osibisa’s Loughty Amao.  Zzebra recorded two albums but Smith played only on the first, a young guitarist named Steve Byrd handling lead chores on the second.  I need to do some research on Smith and see what else he has recorded over the years.  I really learned to love that guy’s guitar.

I wish I knew where Byrd went after IF’s Panic album, as well.  Check out his immaculate and crisp guitar work on the classic You’ve Got That Lovin’ Feeling.

DAN PHELPS…

I met Phelps way back in 2005 or so when he was helping put together an album by Jess Pillmore which would be my pick for album of that year.  He played numerous instruments on the album and formed a bond with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Viktor Krauss which would lead to a handful of collaborations which would end up as Modular.  The bond was so strong I could feel it as they weaved their ways through a small handful of innovative and creative waves and an album which still freaks me out.  But first, a taste of Pillmore’s Reveal album— everything but the drums and bass is pretty much Phelps.  Listen closely.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t include this little gem.  It is quite like nothing I have ever heard.

I know it sounds as if I am giving short shrift to Pillmore who put together an album good enough to overshadow so many other albums that year, but these are good examples of Phelps’s work as session man and producer.

Modular is a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax.  Phelps is, as far as I can gather, drawn to the improvisational and dramatic.  I mean, he released this as two vinyl EPs in a beautiful package.  The records are 45 RPM and there is (of course) a book.  Spendy but worth every dime.  You can get details here.

When he started putting Arc together late last year, I wondered what direction he would take.  The guy has an adventurous soul and is a complete musician.  The journey thus far has been a magic carpet ride of universal dimensions.  He plays around Seattle on occasion, lately at the Storyville Coffeehouses where he will take up an entire morning creating sonic sounds.  I hope to catch him at one of those shows soon.  This, my friends, is a true musician.  He envelops himself in his music.  And guitar?  He has done certain things on the instrument I’ve not heard before.  And I’m old enough to have heard plenty.

JERRY DONAHUE…

I think all of the guys fell in love with Fotheringay because of Sandy Denny but we stayed in love because of the music.  A big part of that music was Jerry Donahue, who had such a delicate touch when called upon and yet could rock out with the best.  I loved his playing and got all too little of it.  Here are a few live tracks as an introduction in case you’ve never heard him play.

JAMES C. JOHNSON…

There must be a few people in Minneapolis-St. Paul who know this name.  Johnson was the lead guitarist for Minneapolis/Los Angeles band Gypsy for a number of years and was a real force.  Unfortunately, Gypsy only hit with Gypsy Queen Pt. 1 so most people outside of Minneapolis did not get a chance to hear what he could do.  I knew a guy who remembered the band from the early days who said Johnson was a monster.  From what I’ve heard of the various recordings, I have to agree.  In fact, I would place every member of that band on lists, they were that good.  Here are a couple of tunes which prove my point.

This is cool.  If you stream the video, there is a list in the comments which give track information and if you click on a track, it takes you right there.  If you like the smoother side, might I recommend Don’t Bother Me (Johnson rocks out on his solo) but for a good overall listen, any track will do.

SCOTT FRASER…

Fraser was the lead guitarist with Fort Worth band Space Opera back in the early seventies, a band known for its eccentric musical stylings on the one album they released at that time (two others found their way to market— one recorded around 2000 and one culled from an old demo which pre-dated the aforementioned album plus a few later tracks).  The band was signed to Epic Records and recorded the one self-titled album but through a whole series of SNAFUs ended up label-less and broke.  You can read the story here.

As a composer, Fraser leaned heavily toward what I would classify modern classical but as a guitarist he was way over the accepted lines.  Still, when I hear tracks like Guitar Suite which he co-wrote with fellow band mate Phil White, I can’t help but wonder what might have been if the Epic album had been successful.  What a wonderful thing that would have been.

GARY DUNCAN & JOHN CIPPOLINA…

Nothing like something vintage.  Hey, RS threw in Robert Johnson and a raft of old blues players.  While I think they belong there, I think Duncan and Cippolina do too.  Both unique guitarists, both influential and well thought of on the rock music scene.

I think I may be past my due date.  I have no real problem with the list but I do have a problem with how it was presented.  “100 Greatest” it is not.  One hundred among many I can live with.  I mean, how do you compare a John Fahey to a Jimi Hendrix or a Django Reinhardt to a Dick Wagner?  It is a fool’s errand though I have to admit that it is interesting to see the results if for no other reason than seeing how a person’s mind works.

Mine is gone.  Kaput.  But you know what?  There is still a little room for some…

NotesNotes…..  The last album I really cared for by Steve Miller is Brave New World.  I don’t know what happened after that, really.  It seemed to me like all of a sudden there was to much Miller and not enough band for they were, after all, The Steve Miller Band.  I was totally bloen over by Children of the Future and loved Sailor and when Brave New World hit the streets, I bought it and wore it out.  But somehow, when Your Saving Grace was released, I was pretty much done.  There were songs, yes, but the albums from that point on just seemed to stretch themselves too thin.  By the time he hit the big time, I was completely over him, finding songs like Fly Like an Eagle and Jet Airliner bland at best.  But I will give the guy credit.  He fashioned a career few others did.  Friend Jim Parrett uncovered this clip which, as far as I can tell, was once part of a much larger piece on the band.  Lots of live tunes and and scenes which could have been the part of something much bigger than it appears to be.  If you are a Miller fan, this is worth watching.

Listened to half an hour of BBC Radio’s Top of the Pops last week.  I was very surprised that every song sounded identical.  If these are the songs people consider hits these days, no wonder no one listens to radio.

Unconfirmed rumors from a very unreliable source are saying that Wayne Berry, former folkie/rocker/singer/songwriter who played with Timber and Volunteers as well as recording solo albums, is heading back into the studio for the first time in years.  Berry is best known for his Home At Last album which featured a string of excellent musicians including Jackson Browne, Jesse Ed Davis, Norbert Putnam, James Rolleston and others,  It’s a beauty.  His story is another one of so-close-and-yet-so-far and includes brushes with Felice & Boudleau Bryant, Peter Paul & Mary, Jac Holzman and others.  If you’re interested, click here and learn something new.  As for a new album, stay tuned.  I have my private investigators looking for confirmation as I type.

Friend and musician Buck Curran just sent me a link to Adaya‘s new video.  Needless to say, I am impressed!  Album soon to follow.

In case you missed the latest in Courtney Barnett videos.  I did.  Nobody tells me anything.

Lisbee Stainton is set to make the long swim over the pond to Nashville this September to take part in the UKTI’s Publisher’s and Songwriter’s Camp.  I believe this will be her first time in The States so anyone living in Nashville or planning to visit there in September should log onto her Facebook page to get details.  Who is Lisbee?  She’s the musician who did this:

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

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