6. Buddy Guy
I’ve been lucky enough to see the great Buddy Guy in concert three times, each time being an education into electric blues. I struggle to think of another guitarist who has the same energy level as Buddy Guy and the way he walks through the crowd likes he owns the place is a showcase to his showmanship. But it’s not all flamboyant acting, which includes playing the guitar with a drum stick. It’s the ear splitting tone, the aggressive attacking of the strings, the one in a million natural ability of guitar playing. Buddy Guy has it all.
It was Buddy Guy that made Eric Clapton fall in love with the trio band format that he would go on to play in with Cream in 1966. Buddy Guy’s tone is a one of a kind sound only he can achieve and it has remained the same over the decades since beginning his career. The Fender Strat is his weapon of choice, and even though he has and continues to play other guitars, it is the Strat that will forever be associated with him. That guitar is almost like a part of him, he plays it so naturally.
One of my favourite albums that features Buddy Guy at his very best is Buddy Guy & Junior Wells Play The Blues which was produced by Eric Clapton. If you aren’t sure about the greatness of Buddy Guy, and you’re unable to see him live, check out that album.
7. B.B. King
This is where it starts getting tough, but I’ve gone for B.B. King at #7. The guitar tone he achieved on the legendary album Live At The Regal is one of the all time great guitar tones in my opinion. The thick and warm tone could only be B.B. King. I’ll never get tired of putting that album on and hearing the first licks he plays on the opening song, Everyday I Have The Blues. That tone will forever hit me deep down and it’s a tone I’ll never be able to achieve, no matter how hard I try and find it. I firmly believe it just can’t be done. Only B.B. King could get that tone.
His other live album from the 1960’s, Live In Cook County Jail, features one of my all-time favourite blues guitar performances. The song is How Blue Can You Get? and it’s very difficult to think of many blues performances that top that one. There are a few no doubt, but not many. It’s near very top of the list and it all goes back to the tone. The thick sound of a Gibson at the hands of B.B. King. Oh yeah!
I saw B.B. King twice before his passing a few years ago, and both times I had an incredible feeling sat there before the blues master. At the first show I saw which was in Birmingham in 2009, the night Michael Jackson died, in between playing the guitar he told us stories of his youth which involved picking up the guitar, meeting Eric Clapton, thoughts on Jimi Hendrix. Being able to sit in the same room as someone who had been there and done that was an incredible feeling and a huge inspiration to me as a guitarist. What a tone, what a guitarist.
8. Chuck Berry
At #8 is the great Chuck Berry. There’s no way I couldn’t have him in my top 10 with the countless legendary riffs that poured from his fingers since his debut single, Maybellene, dropped in July 1955. Johnny B. Goode is my favourite ever since I saw Michael J. Fox play the song on the 1985 movie Back To The Future. I was young when I saw that movie so wasn’t fully away of who Chuck Berry was at the time, but I found out, and I was hooked.
Berry was and always will be the go to guitarist when it comes to rock and roll. No-one else comes close to his magnificence and rock music today is the way it is because of him. His music inspired a generation of young children which included Keith Richards who has since gone on to inspire another generation. You can trace it back to Chuck Berry. I can’t think of another guitarist FULL STOP who has so many great songs in his catalogue, game changing riffs like those found in the intro of his songs Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Roll Over Beethoven, Little Queenie and Let It Rock.
There isn’t an end to how great Chuck Berry’s music or guitar playing was, and the world is in a worse place since his passing. Thankfully we have countless recordings to enjoy and I guarantee you that Johnny B. Goode will be playing long after music that is being released today has died. Chuck Berry is timeless.
9. Dickey Betts
At #9 is a guitarist that sadly doesn’t make many top guitarist lists, but he’s firmly in mine. Dickey Betts is a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band and his work alongside Duane Allman from 1969-1971 was incredible. He composed one of my favourite guitar tracks, Blue Sky, which features him and Duane take turns at lead work while also taking lead vocal duties for the first time on an Allman Brothers song. It’s fantastic but it’s the live versions with Duane where it really comes alive, however only a handful of performances of the song were recorded on tape before Duane died in October 1971. We’re lucky to have what we do.
After Duane Allman died he ended up taking the reigns musically and started to write and sing more songs including Ramblin’ Man, a country influenced rock song. His influence on the Allman Brothers was one of the main reasons their 1973 album Brothers and Sisters was such a huge success.
As a guitar player I love Dickey’s style. He complimented Duane Allman perfectly with unique straight playing against his unique slide playing. They were incredible together, but not enough credit goes towards Dickey Betts. The sound that The Allman Brothers Band created when Duane was still alive, that explosive blues/rock that is all over their At Fillmore East album, would not be the same if Dickey hadn’t have been involved.
10. Peter Green
Round off my top 10 sits Peter Green, legendary blues guitarist and founder of Fleetwood Mac. I’m not talking about the overrated 1970’s to current day Fleetwood Mac, but the ORIGINAL band featuring Jeremy Spencer and then Bob Kirwan. The only version of Fleetwood Mac that matters. But anyway, his guitar playing is absolutely exquisite, with some of his best playing on the album The Biggest Thing Since Colossus by Otis Spann. That album is excellent and shows Peter Green at his very best. No flamboyant solo playing, no extravagant showmanship. Just pure blues of which is the reason he lands in my top 10.
For whatever reason, there are a number of other British guitarists from the late 60’s and early 70’s who always seem to come above Peter Green in any “greatest guitarist” lists put together by the likes of Rolling Stone and other music magazine. I see names like Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck who, in my opinion, are nowhere near Green’s level of guitar playing excellence. Jimmy Page, while good, has always been overrated and features none of the natural ability that runs strong through Peter Green’s veins.
The song Need Your Love So Bad is one of the all time great electric blues performances with Green doing wonderful things through his Les Paul. The tone is out of the world, the phrasing is perfect and the feel is delicious. Ain’t Nobody’s Business from Spann’s The Biggest Things Since Colossus album is another stand out track from his career. The reverb drenched guitar tone never fails to send shivers up my spine.
So there we go, my top 10 favourite guitarists. I’ll admit that a few others could have made the list but I’m happy with how it turned out.
Who would make your top 10 guitarists list?