The art of the guitarist is one that history has never drawn its gaze away from for too long, and whilst the obvious greats – Hendrix, Clapton, Page etc. – are known to even the most vaguely culturally aware human being, some do not get the exposure and recognition they deserve. These are my top ten – some well-known, others quite the opposite – underrated guitarists of all time.
10. Joey Santiago
The Pixies were one of most potent forces in kick-starting the early 90s alternative rock explosion and central to their influential sound is the unrefined, brash yet surprisingly melodic style – experienced no more vividly than throughout 1989’s ‘Doolittle’ – of Joey Santiago. A big fan of screeching distortion and holding notes to breaking point, recent release ‘Indie Cindy’ showed that even to this day, he’s a menace with guitar in hand. Despite their seismic influence, the Pixies are still something of a cult band; it’s time he gained at least that level of recognition.
9. Robby Krieger
With Jim Morrison as his frontman, Robby Krieger was always going to be up against it, but you don’t succeed in one of the most influential rock bands of 60s and 70s without possessing impeccable aptitude with your fingers, six strings and a pick. One of the two surviving members of The Doors, it’s not too late to reward him with gratitude for his contribution to numbers ranging from the rough-edged blues of ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ to ‘Love Me Two Times’ and its exquisite undulating riff.
8. Peter Buck
Another who was overshadowed by his frontman, R.E.M.’s guitarist rustled up some of the most instantly recognisable riffs and intros of the 20th Century in his three decade stint with the band he co-founded. ‘Losing My Religion’; ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight’; ‘What’s The Frequency, Kenneth’; ‘Orange Crush’, ‘Everybody Hurts’…? Yep, all much loved hits on which this man’s handiwork deserves greater recognition.
7. Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser
When you’re in a band as criminally underrated as Blue Öyster Cult, it is perhaps no great surprise when your astounding guitar-playing ability goes unnoticed. Roeser penned the hard rock legends’ two most well-known songs, ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’ and ‘Burnin’ For You’, but beyond that his genius barely receives the slightest nod of approval. You have to wonder if he’d be on this list had he played for a more celebrated group.
6. Alex Lifeson
Rush fanboys will whine on until the cows come home about how underrated their beloved prog rock gods’ guitarist is. They have a point; singer and bassist Geddy Lee seems to take all the credit for the band’s success. All you need to do to realise Lifeson’s spellbinding skill is to lose yourself in the world of ‘2112’ for its – and his – 40 minutes of guitar-driven madness. You can’t possibly be disappointed.
5. Billy Gibbons
If he didn’t have the most famous facial hair in rock ‘n’ roll, the ZZ Top axe man might have been focused on for more important, musical assets. As it is, he doesn’t receive anywhere near enough praise as one of the finest blues rock guitarists in history. You know and love half of his material as well: the backbones of ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’’, ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘La Grange’ are all down the signature strumming of the bearded genius.
4. Mick Taylor
Mick Taylor hasn’t been an official member of The Rolling Stones since departing in 1974, but the fact that to this day they ask him to tour with them all over the world is testament to the man’s expertise with a guitar in his hand. It’s no coincidence that some of The Stones’ finest albums came out with him on board. ‘Exile on Main St.’ and ‘Sticky Fingers’ are both chock-full of Taylor magic – even the slightly less well-received ‘Let It Bleed’ is saved from disaster by moments of his dexterity. As any Stones die-hard will tell you, Mick Taylor has and always will be their finest guitarist. As it is, a certain Mr Richards takes a disproportionate amount of credit.
3. David Gilmour
The insufficient exposure that Pink Floyd’s guitarist – and co-lead vocalist – has received really is offensive. Sure, he’s seen as great, but that’s normally where the buck stops. The fact is, this is a monumentally gifted musician whose prowess punctuated some of the very best albums of all time. There’s no point in singling out individual highlights; how could you when he was at the forefront of a band whose entire career was one? Perhaps start with ‘Comfortably Numb’ – which contains easily one of the most sublime solos ever – if for whatever reason Floyd have passed you by. From there though, their back catalogue is your oyster, and none of it would have been remotely possible without David Gilmour and his effortless brilliance.
2. Mick Jones
The Clash did more than just front a revolution, and for as much as Joe Strummer will be lauded as their iconic leader, Mick Jones was the driving force behind it all. From the spiky, ear-violating pure punk riffs of early records to the timeless, genre-traversing multitude of styles exhibited across the board on the classic ‘London Calling’ album, his is a genre and era-defining talent that never gained the full level of respect it commanded. Is it any wonder that without the ingenuity of Jones after his 1983 sacking, ‘Cut The Crap’ – the only Clash LP on which he was not present – was such an indefensible failure, to the extent that even Strummer himself disowned it? Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t have been the end for The Clash had Mick stayed.
1. Billy Corgan
Billy Corgan is one of the few virtuoso guitarists still prolifically active today. The often silver skirt-clad Smashing Pumpkins founder has been strumming, sliding and shredding for over two decades, exploring all factions of the rock genre. I wouldn’t hesitate to label 1993’s ‘Siamese Dream’ as one of the greatest guitar records of all time and that is entirely down to the wizadry of this great man and his unyielding determination to expand his sound. The solo to that album’s ‘Soma’ has frequently been cited as one of the best ever, but that detracts from the fact everything he touches turns to guitar gold. What’s more, has anyone ever displayed such mastery over a whammy bar or effects pedals to give their music such an otherworldly aura? William Patrick Corgan, you truly have it all.