We interrupt our Best Music of the ’00s rundown to give you yet another list, this one comprised of those guitarists — of any decade — that we Contrarians feel are too often overlooked. Underrated by whom, exactly? Start with glossy rags like Rolling Stone and TIME and move right along to Guitar Player, etc. Some of the artists compiled below are more famous than others, but they all deserve more attention for their axework.
I only asked a few folks to contribute their faves, but if you feel compelled to add to it, well, that’s what the comments section is for. Our lists are after the jump.
OK, here goes. Two conditions/clarifications: this is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s simply a few names who came to mind this morning while considering this. Also, you could argue that none on this list are ‘underrated’ in that those who know ’em love ’em. But all have far too little exposure. They deserve to be included in ‘great guitarist’ lists all ’round and ain’t.
Chris Gunn (The Hospitals; f. The Hunches)
With The Hunches, Gunn turned punk inside out, creating art-rock as raw and ravaged as his band’s Pacific Northwest winters. With The Hospitals he’s aiding in the reinvention of what experimental, guitar-based music can be.
David Pearce (Flying Saucer Attack)
The (too often) unheralded benchmark for much of what psychedelic guitar has come to mean over the past 15 years.
Youngs has been focusing less on guitar on recent releases, favoring instead synths, keys and voice. However, the dude can rightfully be put in an “underrated anything” category — for now, guitar it is.
Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (Tinariwen)
Tinariwen are gaining popularity daily — and rightfully so. Ibrahim’s guitar play is like hearing traditional musics blended with 50 years of rock trickery.
Scott Tuma (f. Souled American)
Rural Americana from the deep end.
Brian Gibson (Lightning Bolt)
Basses are guitars too, right?
Chris Woodhouse (Mayyors)
These slop-punk San Franciscans may keep their releases frustratingly rare. If yr lucky enough to grab a copy prepare to be stuck to your couch — or forced into spasmodic contortions — by Woodhouse’s axe-work.
Grady Runyan (The Bad Trips; f. Liquorball, Monoshock)
The high priest of West Coast underground psychedelia. Without Monoshock there would be no Comets on Fire. Hell, he may be the link between amphetamine-frazzled punk and beardo psych.
Mizutani Takashi (Les Rallizes Denudes)
The drone world’s best guitar manipulator, capable of time-stopping beauty and, when needed, speaker-taxing aggression.
Amid the pretentious sing-talking poetry about rainforests and rocket launchers, this guy plays some fucking amazing acoustic guitar. His folksy stuff from 1970-1974 is some of the best acoustic folk guitar playing you can find from that era. Cockburn is of the caliber of the John Fahey Takoma Records troupe, but rarely associated with the other finger-picking masters from the era.
Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
Again, for his acoustic playing. Listen to the acoustic work on Aqualung (the album, not the song) — that’s all Anderson. He was great. Flute schmute.
The best guitar player in the Beatles.
I’ll let Casey tell everyone why.
Though Steely Dan had so many sit-in players, I’m never sure who’s playing what when.
Whoever the guitar player in Ram Jam was.
I just heard “Black Betty” on the radio and that guy rocked it.
In my mind, the undisputed master of the acoustic guitar. Graham, who recently passed away having only just come back on the scene after a multi-decade absence, had an unique, lyrical voice on the instrument. Everything from folk ‘n’ blues to Eastern music to skiffle to Celtic Isles trad to rock ‘n’ roll to Django-style jazz were in his musical inventory, and he mixed and matched styles with verve and abandon. Still as hip as it gets, even in this late age.
Buck Dharma (Blue Öyster Cult)
Buck made me the man I am today, and he’s influenced a lot of other guitarists, too. Yet he’s not often mentioned in “official” lists. A sublime technician with soul to burn, Buck’s leads are impassioned and inventive. Like the best musicians, I hear non-guitar influences in his playing, particularly the Gypsy shred of violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Of course, there’s also Robby Krieger, Jimmy Page, Jerry Garcia and Roger McGuinn in there, too. And Buck’s strong sense of pop hooks made him an invaluable songwriter/arranger for BOC. Dude deserves more credit.
A titan of jazz guitar who had much of his career robbed due to a health calamity, Martino was one of the original architects of East-West fusion. His groovy 1968 exercise Baiyina, the Clear Evidence is, according to the LP sleeve, “a psychedelic excursion through the magical mysteries of the Koran.” And that ain’t the half of it! Sadly, Martino suffered a brain aneurysm in 198o, which resulted in amnesia. Lacking any memory of the guitar and or his musical career, Martino painstakingly re-taught himself how to play by listening to his own records. Plus he now only solos using minor modes, which makes him that much cooler.
Kim Thayil (Soundgarden)
Sure, he was in a mega-platinum act, but Thayil was always overshadowed by pretty-boy bandmate Chris Cornell. Lead singer-itis aside, Soundgarden wouldn’t have been shit without Thayil’s crusty pummel, which fused Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Motörhead in an exotic mix of ferocity and finesse. He’s laid low for most of the decade, but here’s hoping he makes some noise soon.
Scott Gorham & Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzy)
For a while, these two had it all: tone, ‘tude and locked-in, twin-flight guitar harmonies. Lizzy’s fallen leader Phil Lynott rightfully gets most of the credit for the band’s tough-as-nails yet soulful vibe, but these two guitarists are an integral part of the classic Lizzy sound. Though the band has been getting more popular with hipsters of late (maybe they just like how the logo looks on a -shirt), I rarely see Gorham or Robertson in top guitarist lists. A cryin’ shame, tis.
My old bandmate remains one of my favorite guitarists in the world. He and I have completely different styles, favor different sounds and probably would find a way to disagree about whether the sky is actually blue or if the color is just “the way it was mixed.” Yet the stuff he manages to coax out of his instrument is always a defining element of whatever band he plays with. Daryl spends most of his time engineering and producing, but he’ll never not be a top-notch guitarist who deserves more recognition for his skillz.