Since I'm on a bit of a hiatus from performing (while focusing my attention on some more mundane job-based events), I thought I'd fill you in on the guitar players who have been the biggest influences on my own writing and playing. PLEASE NOTE that this isn't a list of "most influential guitarists". That list would look very different than the one I'm about to write. Instead, it's a list of the 20 guitar players who I feel have affected me, personally, as a musician and songwriter. Trust me, there are hundreds upon hundreds of great players not on this list whose talents amaze me. These are just the ones that left their mark on me as a player/writer in some way.
Instead of trying to rank these people in order of perceived greatness (always a mistake), let's just be safe and list them alphabetically. And no worries; I will still let you know about the ones that have had the highest level of influence for me. Here we go.
An amazing fingerstyle pop-rock player. We don't have much in common in how we respectively address the guitar (like, I use a pick and stuff). However, he's been a big influence on me as a pop composer. God knows both the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums were on constantly in my house while I was in my formative years as a player.
Playing Example: "Big Love"
A brilliant melodic lead guitarist and founding member of the Cars. Again, you don't hear much of Elliot's playing in mine, except for what I strive to do in my leads (play solos that people can actually hum). Listen to the solo in my tune “Fade Away” to hear a little of Elliot rubbing off on me.
Playing Example: "Candy-O"
I was already a veteran player with 6-7 years in as a guitarist by the time I discovered U2 in the early 80s. The Edge was one of the players who taught me that painting sonic landscapes can be as fulfilling as blasting out a bunch of notes. Sometimes just hitting some harmonics and letting them ring is a beautiful thing.
Playing Example: "Surrender"
In 1976, I was starting my first guitar lessons, and my parents were playing Frampton Comes Alive all the time. How could I not be influenced by this criminally underrated guitar wizard?
Playing Example: "I Want To Go To The Sun"
What can I say about this thoroughly unique and emotive guitarist? No matter what style he was playing, I loved every note that drifted out of this man's guitars. Through Jerry and the Dead, I gained my first exposure and appreciation of Americana and other traditional music styles, and it rubbed off in a big way. I also learned from Jerry that if you play the right things, you can solo for 17 straight minutes and no one will mind.
Playing Example: "Eyes of the World"
Again, I can't underemphasize the sway Gilmour had on me as a musician. He plays with such a depth of feeling, and yet with such technical accuracy, that my only criticism of Mr. Gilmour is that occasionally he's just a little too perfect, if that's possible. Some of my soloing on “Waiting for This” and “Always Tomorrow” were definitely, if subconsciously, attempts on grabbing some Gilmourian vibe.
Playing Example: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1)"
It should probably go without saying that John Lennon and Paul McCartney remain in my top tier of pure songwriting influences... they're the Beatles, for Christ's sake. But in terms of guitar playing, I took a lot from the quieter member of the band. While other people on this list may be more technically proficient, I love George’s approach to weaving a complete sonic tapestry.
Playing Example: "Something"
Why does Jimi top nearly every list of guitar players over 40 years after his death? Just listen to him, man, and you should know why. My playing doesn't sound much like Jimi's, and very few people should bother trying to imitate him. However, his approach to tone and some of his signature licks can definitely be heard in many of my songs. I could pick any of dozens of tunes, but the one below kind of showcases Jimi’s versatility and openness to making new sounds.
Playing Example: "Are You Experienced"
This guy might be the least well-known on my list, but he's still a god of guitar in my book. Exuding raw power, JHS was the original guitarist for the Pretenders, cranking out melodic pop with a rock edge and a punk vibe. I was a huge fan when he was the new thing, and remain so today many years after his unfortunate passing.
Playing Example: “The Phone Call” / “Space Invader”
It's criminal that people overlook Robbie's playing (and focus only on the Lizard King) in the Doors. First off, he had the benefit of being a pretty new player... he'd really only been playing seriously for 4-5 years when the Doors started. I love his blues-based rhythmic stuff, but also his great single-note lines on many Doors tunes.
Playing Example: “Peace Frog”
You can spare me your holier-than-thou criticisms of Rush. While I've grown in my musical tastes since my enjoyment of prog-tinged bands in my teen years, Alex was a huge influence on me at the time. Listening back to albums like Moving Pictures, his playing holds up as time goes by.
Playing Example: "Red Barchetta"
Anyone who knows me also knows of my love for Joni Mitchell as a songwriter and performer. But as a guitarist, she was unquestionably a big influence on me, especially in terms of her unorthodox approach to alternate tunings. Many of my songs, including "Lines on your Eyes" off my debut album, use tunings I first found in Joni's music.
Playing Example: "Black Crow"
I flat out challenge you to listen to many of my guitar solos and not hear the influence of Zeppelin’s master of the dark arts. With the number of hours I spent glued to my stereo in my teen years listening to everything Jimmy ever played, it’s no wonder that his style shines through in my own music. My song “The Sands of Redondo” borrows liberally from a few of Page’s masterpieces, including “The Rain Song” and “Kashmir”.
Playing Example: "The Wanton Song"
Many of my influences turned out to have their own influences who I discovered later. Joe Perry is a good example, as are several others on this list. Again, with many of my formative years spent listening to 70s-era Aerosmith, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear Joe’s influence on my guitar playing.
Playing Example: "Toys in the Attic"
The mighty Keef took from some of the greatest blues, rock, and R&B players, and delivered his own quintessential vibe to the mix. I certainly listened to a lot of Stones while learning to play, and some 35 years later, I still do.
Playing Example: "Monkey Man"
While I have great respect for everything Bowie ever did, his stuff with Mick Ronson on guitar is spectacular, and helped define Bowie in the art rock oeuvre. I loved his tone, which always fit so well with the vibe of the songs. Sometimes his part was just a small contribution (wait for the solo below), but added tons to the end result.
Playing Example: "Life On Mars?"
While Neil Young (see below) may be the heavier influence on me, the tasty playing of Steve Stills was something that I appreciated deeply for many a year. I also enjoyed his propensity for using odd modal tunings, like he does below (E-E-E-E-B-E? Seriously?).
Playing Example: "Carry On"
There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to describe what Andy Summers did for me as a guitarist. While I rarely set out to write or record something that “sounds like Andy”, I often note while listening back that I’ve done just that.
Playing Example: “Bombs Away”
Another super heavyweight in terms of his effect on me, I voraciously devoured everything Pete did with the Who and as a solo artist. When you hear me strumming fast on songs like “Thanks Anyway”, that’s Pete coming through (though his influence extends far deeper and more subtly than almost anyone else on this list).
Playing Example: "Sparks"
Ironically coming in at the end of our list alphabetically, Neil may be number one in the prime players in my personal Hall of Influence Fame, if such a thing existed (I guess it does now). From soft acoustic playing with hammer-ons in the midst of cluster chords to screaming feedback and sickly distorted tones no guitar was ever designed to make, Neil has been profoundly influential on my music. Listen to my songs like “Waiting for This”, “Faling Down”, and “This Afternoon”, and you’ll hear Old Neil coming through the Zak filter.
Playing Example: "When You Dance I Can Really Love"