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September 22nd, 2010

Black rock guitarists still get no respect

Chris Stevenson

The proponents of the most predictable format in music - Classic Rock - just published the results of their guitar-players poll. My only question, in the words of one of their signature tunes, "How long has this been going on?" Hence the issue of Guitar Legends magazine (114) featuring the "30 Greatest Classic Rock Guitar Heroes." Of course, most rock guitar polls are long on cherished white guitar players from the ‘60s-’80s. Except for the usual - and well deserved - mention of Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana, they are overwhelmingly white. Is this even realistic or is it wildly inaccurate?

Personally Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Ritchie Blackmore are among favorites of mine. But some equally talented, well-known and not-so-well-known black fingers are missing. GL will probably say it’s about the format: Classic Rock. But those stations don’t play B.B. King and Buddy Guy, either, and they made the list. Hmm.

Much of this exclusion is a fear of high-recognition toward young black axemen of the recent past. King and Guy have been recognized as older by rock journalists since the ‘60s. The two are among the creators of rock and roll. Was GL trying to mask some fear of black guitar legends who were young contemporaries of the Becks, Betts, Zappas, Nugents, and Van Halens? I would swear by it.

Unless, that is, you subscribe to their de facto theory that their list of the 30 "Greatest" cannot possibly include any more than 3 black men - Hendrix and two old blues men. Being from the era, I saw the whole thing jump off and it’s no less a conspiracy than hard-core rap. The rock magazines during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s made a concerted effort to create a white guitar god. Hendrix arose from the midst of that smokescreen and became the greatest ever. But beneath the white euphoria for Hendrix came the results of what was no doubt a silent agreement; ignore, if at all possible, the young black guitar players that came during or immediately after Hendrix. It wasn’t that hero-worship of both white and black guitar players wasn’t possible. The rags - published by white males, some of them pretending to be long-haired liberals like Jan Wenner - won’t be complicit in any young white girl’s idolizing Ernie Isley over Eddie Van Halen (at least not any more than have already done so).

Were it not for the black press during that time, the black strummers like Isley, Joe and Willie Chambers (the Chambers Brothers) Funkadelic vets Eddie Hazel, Tawl Ross, and the recently-deceased Gary Shider and Phelps "Catfish" Collins and Freddie Stone (Sly’s brother) would have labored almost in complete anonymity.

My issue with GL’s latest list is that at least a third of the entries simply don’t belong there. Kurt Cobain, for instance, struggled to hit the right notes early in his career. Ace Frehley of Kiss is a 3-chord fraud. The Doors’ Robbie Krieger is good but not good enough for a top 30 ranking. Stevie Ray Vaughn is good but it seems to me he is always overrated. Ted Nugent? Are you insane, GL? Neil Young is more of a brilliant songwriter and great guitarist, but not amongst the top 30. And at the risk of being bounty-hunted by 30,000 pickup trucks from Alabama, the same holds true for Lynrd Skynrd’s Gary Rossington.

The rest of GL’s list is pretty accurate, but amazingly they snubbed the two Tommys; Tommi Iommi of Black Sabbath - the man who, along with Blackmore, Hazel and Page, started the ‘70s heavy metal that influenced countless musicians of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and Native American Tommy Bolin (one of my personal favorites). Les Paul was a groundbreaker, but not a Classic Rock guitarist and should be on a separate list along with King and Guy.

Now that I’ve arrogantly deleted some names from the Guitar Legends list, here are my additions: the aforementioned Hazel (the most feared by rock journals), Ernie Isley, Freddie Stone, Roland Bautista and Al McKay (Earth Wind & Fire), Sugerfoot (the Ohio Players 12-string axeman), Mike Hampton, Gary Shider (if GL can list 3 Yardbirds then I can name 3 Funkadelics), Dr. Know (Gary Miller DC’s Bad Brains, the originators of ‘80s speed metal), Vernon Reid (Living Color. How they omitted Reid is beyond me since Living Color is played on many classic rock stations), Doug Rodriques (Mandrill, a formatable and underrated funk-rock band from the ‘70s with a progressively diverse playlist), Tony Maiden (Rufus featuring Chaka Khan).

While much of Guitar Legends list is made up of British Invasion players who openly acknowledge being influenced by the Robert Johnsons and Chuck Berrys of the world, the rock media ignored the black invasion of the ‘70s at the time and it is being carried over to today. My list is just one man’s opinion. What’s yours?

3.5 / 5 (16 Votes)

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Reader Response
  • John
  • April 14th, 2012 I agree fear of Eddie Hazel. He was incredible.

    Reader Response
  • Z-ROY
  • March 21st, 2012 The fact is,although some of my favorite guitarist happen to be white cats such as:Jimmy Page,Michael Bloomfield,Robby Kreiger,Steve Cropper,Hillel Slovak,Andy Summers and Stevie Ray Vaughan,these dudes wouldn't have been the guitar players that they are today had it not been for all the great black Blues,Rock n Roll,Jazz and Funk guitar players that came before them and inspired them to play! Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 greatest guitar players of all-time is incomplete! They failed to list other great players such as:Jesse Johnson,Dewayne Blackbyrd McKnight,JohnnyGuitarWatson,Michael Hampton,Ernie Isley,PhelpsCatfishCollins and Wes Montgomery.FISHBONE's original guitarist Kendall Rey Jones doesn't get enough props as well.The bottom line is, white cats take from great black players and the media gives them all the credit!

    Reader Response
  • Trent Turner
  • March 12th, 2012 I pretty much agree with everything you say here, except one strong disagreement. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the best guitarist ever. When he came along no one had ever heard anyone play with such uninterrupted flow and feeling. He truly raised the bar in terms of how blues guitar could be played. Raised it so high that the rock world actually took huge notice. He revived the careers of all the blues greats before him. Don't judge off radio stuff like Cold Shot. Instead, go get the DVD Live at the El Mocambo. Other than your comment about SRV you are right on. Thank you for turning me on to Eddie Hazel. I am going to go get a Cd of his now.

    Reader Response
  • k. smith
  • December 14th, 2011 As a versatile black guitarist, I am constantly push to the side for the white players. Racism is alive a well. If one can't see it they are asleep in the matrix of life.

    Reader Response
  • Alex
  • November 23rd, 2011 Do you even play guitar? SRV cannot be overrated. Krieger is my favorite guitarist so I can be a bit biased, but his melodies are great. Anyway, I don't see the point of listing good guitarists. There are average players and there are excellent ones, no need to compare them in your stupid lists.

    Reader Response
  • Creig Moore
  • June 22nd, 2011 Music is color blind. Racism is a thing of the past and is only being kept alive by people like Mr. Stevenson. I mean come on...if the comment 30,000 pickup trucks from Alabama is not racist, what is? Its high time to find another scapegoat other than racism to blame when we dont agree with something.

    Reader Response
  • Chris
  • September 25th, 2010 Both of you are correct on the Iommi. Yes it's Tony and I did give them a column with his correct name. My bad.

    Reader Response
  • b rackmore
  • September 23rd, 2010 Ever hear of Prince?
    Stevie Ray Vaughn overrated??
    TOMMIE Iommi???
    Get a clue dude.
    Just my opinion...

    Reader Response
  • Zorza
  • September 22nd, 2010 Good article. Except....who is Tommi Iommi? Do you mean TONY Iommi?

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