Terry Kath was born on January 31, 1946, and would have been 67 today. The original guitarist for the band Chicago, Kath brought a heavy rock sound to the jazz-and-horns trappings of the rest of the band. Employing a Fender Strat and Gibson SG, Kath was able to deliver tough riffs like “25 Or 6 To 4” (with one of rock’s greatest wah wah solos) alongside melodic runs on tracks like “Questions 67 & 68.”
Kath experimented with effects, the whammy bar, and feedback throughout his career, and the debut Chicago album contained a 7-minute distortion-fueled solo improvisation called “Free Form Guitar” - all at a time when few people other than Hendrix were exploring the sonic limits of the guitar. Terry was adept at rock, jazz, blues, psychedelia, pop and a host of genres, and might have been more widely revered had he not died accidentally during gunplay gone wrong at age 31.
Randall William Rhoads was born on December 6, 1956 in Santa Monica, California. Randy’s playing in Quiet Riot during the 1970s attracted little attention, but when he appeared on Ozzy Osbourne’s first solo album, “Blizzard Of Ozz,” in 1980, everyone with ears took immediate notice.
From the opening strains of “Blizzard Of Ozz” to the closing moments of “Diary Of A Madman,” (the only two Osbourn
e albums released while Randy was alive), Rhoads cranked out riffs and solos that have since become iconic in the hard rock and metal guitar universe. His influence is still pervasive amongst guitarists wanting to play with a high degree of both technical skill and musical sensibility. Here’s Randy playing a live version of “Crazy Train.” http://youtu.be/ZcoweoZ6jpM
Jimi Hendrix would have been 70 years old today, having been born as Johnny Allen Hendrix in Seattle Washington on November 27, 1942. As it was, Jimi died more than 40 years ago. Many have pondered what Hendrix could have achieved had he lived past the age of 27. Here’s a sample, at least, of where he was going: http://youtu.be/Doi07ewYDhc
Vic Flick was born on May 14th, 1937, making him 75 today. It is arguable that Flick created and played the one guitar riff that has been heard by more people than any other in history. In 1962, Vic played guitar on the soundtrack to “Dr. No”— in the process creating the James Bond theme song. His sinister opening riff has been featured in dozens of Bond movies ever since, and the popularity of the Bond franchise means that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people all over the world have heard Vic’s playing.
Flick was so well-respected in the London session scene that he was recruited to play guitar on the soundtrack to The Beatles’ “Hard Day’s Night”. He was asked to help promote the Fender Stratocaster when it was introduced to the UK, and over the course of his career, he ended up on albums by artists as diverse as Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, Herman’s Hermits, and Henry Mancini… not to mention all those soundtracks. And he wrote an autobiography appropriately titled “Vic Flick, Guitarman”. Here’s Vic performing his signature piece. Happy birthday, Mr. Flick.
Frederick Lincoln Wray was born on May 2, 1929 in Dunn, North Carolina. Better known as “Link”, the guitarist changed guitar forever with the recording of “Rumble” in 1958. Big, ringing chords- the first power chords- set against feedback and distorted amplification had never been put on record before. Coupled with Wray’s aggressive playing and sneering attitude, the song was punk and heavy metal years before either genre was even dreamed of. .
Wray went on to record dozens of albums over the course of his lifetime (he dies in 2005), and guitarists including Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend, Ray Davies, and Jeff Beck have all publicly expressed their awe upon first hearing Wray’s overdriven sound, claiming that his playing inspired to pursue their own volume-driven relationship with the guitar. Link would have been 83 today. Here’s a live version of Wray performing “Rumble”.
Brian Setzer was born on April 10th, 1959, making him 53 today. Setzer first gained notoriety for his true-to-the-original style of rockabilly as performed by his band “The Stray Cats”. In 1980, while other guitarists were looking for ways to fit into New Wave or were testing their shred chops, Setzer played stripped-down guitar a la Eddie Cochran and Scotty Moore.
Going on a 30-year career, Setzer has managed to maintain a singular identity in the guitar universe with his unique approach to “vintage” musical styles, an approach that very few others have attempted. Brian continues to play with the Orchestra and is part of frequent reunions with The Stray Cats. Here’s a live version of Brian doing the “Batman” theme. Happy birthday, Mr. Setzer.
Blues-rock guitarist Gary Moore would have been 60 years old today. Moore was one of the most explosive rockers of the past four decades, earning a reputation as a guitarist in bands like Thin Lizzy and Colosseum and later as a popular metal artist in the ’80s. In 1990, Moore switched gears and released “Still Got the Blues”, a tribute to the British blues heroes of his youth, such as Peter Green and Eric Clapton. For the past two decades, he was often seen playing, ironically enough, Peter Green’s famous 1959 Gibson Les Paul ‘Burst’ that Moore had purchased from Green decades earlier. Moore died on February 6, 2011 from a heart attack. Here’s something to remember him by, a live performance of “Don’t Believe a Word” with Thin Lizzy, c. 1978.
Fusion pioneer Larry Coryell turns 69 on April 2. Coryell was one of the first electric guitarists to combine rock, jazz, funk, progressive, and even Middle Eastern styles into a whole new form of guitar playing. Starting out with Chico Hamilton in 1966 at age 23, and then playing with everyone from Miles Davis to Charlie Mingus, Larry is perhaps best known for leading the band The Eleventh House from 1973 to 1976. That group rivaled Mahavishnu (featuring John McLaughlin) and Return to Forever (featuring Al di Meola) in the breadth of its guitar experimentation, establishing Coryell as a significant jazz innovator.
Coryell switched exclusively to acoustic playing for a period of time beginning in the late 1970s, becoming one of the most prominent endorsers of Ovation’s Adamas line of guitars. In 1979, he was a founder of the guitar trio that featured John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. Since then, he has toyed with blues and various forms of jazz, amassing more than 70 albums in total. He regularly performs at jazz clubs and festivals. Pretty amazing for a guitarist born deaf in his right ear. Here’s Larry wailing on a live version of Stanley Clarke’s epic “School Days”. Happy birthday, Mr. Coryell.
George Benson turns 69 today, March 22. The jazzmaster has a new album out, “Guitar Man”, and shows no sign of slowing down. Here’s a classic clip from the Midnight Special TV show featuring George and Carlos Santana performing Benson’s hit, “Breezin’”. Happy birthday, Mr. Benson.
Michael Bruce turns 64 today. As one of the founders and main songwriters of the original Alice Cooper Band, Bruce’s driving guitar style and pop sensibilities helped define the sound of glam for decades. Here he is playing a live version of “I’m Eighteen”. Happy birthday, Mr. Bruce.
Today, March 15, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins. An incredibly influential blues player who helped pave the way for rock with his gritty guitar playing, Hopkins was known for his innovative approach to getting sounds out of every part of his guitar. Watch his solo at 1:14 to see exactly what he was capable of. This is a live version of “Lightnin’s Blues”.
Yesterday, March 12, was James Taylor’s 64th birthday. An under-appreciated master of fingerpicking, Taylor’s history as a pre-eminent singer-songwriter has always overshadowed his guitar playing. Interestingly, he now has a website that talks exclusively about his guitar style. Here James provides an inside (literally) and out look at how he plays guitars- with cameras affixed to just about every vantage point on his six string. Quite a lesson. Happy birthday, Mr. Taylor.