When I first began playing, I went to the "Mount Rushmore of guitar" for inspiration like most every other Rock fan-- Hendrix, Clapton, Page and Jeff Beck. I'm confident that anyone can learn the in's and out's of electric Rock and Blues guitar from listening to and emulating those four guys. What I love about those players is that they had one foot in the Blues before them, and the other looking toward the future and their own contribution. As the decades have wore on, guitar has arguably became the most popular musical instrument in the history of Planet Earth. You can scour the Internet and in 30 seconds find videos of people just tearing it up in just about any genre you can imagine.
One thing you can say about our Mount Rushmore of guitar is that each of those players' styles has (rightfully so) been deconstructed, explained, deconstructed again, explained, researched, then put back together only to be deconstructed again. Of all people, Billy Corgan had an interesting take on this on the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage we he said that we all love The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, but they have basically been over-explained while other brilliant bands and artists have tended to fall by the wayside, at least in the conscience of the general public.
This month I would like to give a shout out to 5 guitarists that I continuously go to for inspiration; ones that have helped shape my own playing throughout the years. These are players that don't always come up in the countless "100 greatest blah-blah" lists that you'll find strewn across the Internet or magazines, but I definitely consider their contributions equally as important to my own inspiration.
1. John Sykes
John Sykes is one of the most viciously awe-inspiring players I have ever heard. I'm sure it's no secret if you've read past postings on this blog that I feel that some of the most incredible players came up during the '80s, and Sykes is a perfect picture of what a hard rock guitarist should be. From slow, singing sustain to the wide vibrato, to picking fury that is damn near indescribable, this guy has it all.
Sykes made a name for himself in smaller circles when he joined Thin Lizzy in the early '80s, but it wasn't until David Coverdale hired him in Whitesnake in 1984 that the world began to see his potential. Sykes co-wrote a majority of Whitesnake's self-titled 1987 album, one that I feel is one of the most important of the decade. That album proves that hard rock can be ballsy and the guitars can be thick as hell, yet the songs can still maintain a mainstream appeal.
Moments of truth: Blue Murder- "Valley of the Kings," Whitesnake- "Looking For Love"
2. Steve Stevens
You may have heard him on the Billy Idol hits or the Top Gun anthem, but it's barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Steve Stevens. You would never guess the versatility he possesses until you spin tracks from Mötley Crüe vocalist Vince Neil's first solo album Exposed. Everything from Maiden-esque rockers to jazzy interludes, Stevens wows in all facets.
The album's opener, "Look In Her Eyes" is always a staple I continuously revisit because it not only combines Neil's signature vocal style, but could quite possibly be the world's first look at Stevens' true potential. The song is cutting, fast, and the solo is a minute-and-a-half barrage of hurricane-force winds. His work on the Idol stuff is iconic, but ya gotta check out some of his side projects where he really gets to stretch out to get the full Steve Stevens effect.
Moment of truth: Vince Neil- "Look In Her Eyes"
3. Jeff Watson
Watson is up there with a slew of other hard rock giants and his innovations in the 2-handed tapping realm are there with the likes of Van Halen, Steve Vai and Reb Beach. He took the technique even further by incorporating nearly every finger he had, later referred to as "eight finger tapping." While this technique may be more synonymous with '80s shred, many modern players from Megadeth's Chris Broderick to acoustic phenom Andy McKee have borrowed from the book of Jeff.
Make no mistake, Watson is no one-trick pony. His picking is fierce and even Al Di or Yngwie would have to tip their hat to it. Check out his solo work in addition to his mastery on the Night Ranger records.
Moment of truth: Night Ranger- "Don't Tell Me You Love Me"
4. Vito Bratta
The White Lion axeman may get compared to EVH pretty frequently, but let's be honest, few of us would take that as an insult. Vito certainly doesn't, and listening to Lion's early material- specifically their magnum opus, Pride- you can definitely pick up on the Van Halen flavors, but this guy has a much wider palette than just clone status.
The album's opener, "Hungry," is a guitar fiesta, and one that incorporates much of Bratta's signature stylistic flavors from tight rhythm playing, to killer pinch harmonics, whammy bar accents and a fiery and concise solo section. This guy is a masterful rhythm player in addition to the trademark blazing lead work that was expected of the day.
Moment of truth: White Lion- "Hungry"
5. Andy Timmons
Versatility can be a prized commodity, especially in the Rock realm, and Andy Timmons is on a short list of players that can deliver across several stylistic lines-- one that is occupied by other monsters such as Steve Morse and Eric Johnson.
Timmons came to notoriety among guitar circles with Rock act Danger Danger in the late '80s and later lent his far-reaching abilities as a session player for artists such as Kip Winger, Simon Phillips and Ted Pearce. In recent years, he has released albums as The Andy Timmons Band on Steve Vai's Favored Nations record label. His compilation release That Was Then, This is Now contains views of every aspect of his playing- from moody rockers in the style of Joe Satriani to hot country pickin.'
Moments of Truth: ATB- "Cry For You," "Farmer Sez"