Exploring the Legacy
of Forgotten ’60s Rockers
BY BOB CIANCI
Before the British Invasion of early 1964, it was rare to find skilled rock guitarists
who were stars in their own right. There were a few—Duane Eddy, Chuck Berry,
and Carl Perkins led the pack, with Link Wray and Lonnie Mack close behind—
but as a general rule, singers were the stars and guitarists were sidemen.
In 1966 and ’ 67—when rock and roll came of age and became rock—the “
guitarist as hero” was born. Some say this began with Eric Clapton, who was suddenly thrust into the spotlight with his incendiary work on John Mayall’s Blues
Breakers with Eric Clapton (aka “the Beano album”). This LP introduced the
world to overdriven Les Paul-through-Marshall tone and blew a lot of young
guitarists’ minds, including a very impressionable Eddie Van Halen, who reputedly learned Clapton’s solos note-for-note.
It was a dynamic time for rock guitar, as players began emerging from the
lead singer’s shadow. After Clapton left the Yardbirds to join Mayall, Jeff Beck
stepped into the band and began recording some of the most imaginative,
futuristic, and exploratory guitar the world had yet heard. Eventually, his friend
Jimmy Page joined the Yardbirds and continued to push the guitar’s sonic
boundaries before moving on to launch Led Zeppelin.
And then there was Jimi Hendrix—perhaps the ultimate rock guitar god—as
well as Chicagoan Mike Bloomfield (who first made waves in the Paul Butterfield
Blues Band), Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, and Peter Green and Mick Taylor
(both of whom launched their careers in Mayall’s Bluesbreakers). Dave Davies
of the Kinks, Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead’s Jerry
Garcia, and Mountain’s Leslie West were also among the first generation of ’60s
guitar heroes. Most of them are still with us and musically active today.
But there are other guitarists who, for whatever reason, never received the recognition or glory they deserved. As we examine some of these unsung heroes,
remember this is by no means a complete list. It would take an entire issue of
PG to pay homage to all the pioneering players of this era.
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