Unrecognized Guitar Gods

By Johnny Apocalypse
September 1st, 2005

Rock music has been rife with incredible guitarists, many of which got the recognition they deserved.  Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton are commonly listed as the absolute best, but the list of awesome players goes on and on.  A complete listing of the greatest guitarists could easily take up several pages.

However, there is also a large number of top quality axe players who never got the recognition that their peers did.  While they may not be as good as Hendrix and his ilk, their names deserve to be written alongside Jimmy Page, Joe Perry and Eddie Van Halen.  These players have speed, incredible technique and style, sometimes rivaling that of those who have gotten their names in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Steve Howe

From the 1970’s up to modern times, the rock band “Yes” has been a staple of any classic rock aficionado’s collection.  With Jon Anderson’s falsetto vocals leading the band, they churned out plenty of great records littered with incredible songs.  Unfortunately only the band’s biggest fans really caught on to one of rock music’s greatest secrets, that their lead guitarist Steve Howe is amazing.

It’s not hard to see why his guitar work was so often overlooked. The best solo Howe recorded that still gets a good amount of radio time is in the song Roundabout but that doesn’t compare to some of Howe’s best work.  A close listen to Starship Trooper’s ending guitar solo is a prime example of Howe’s handiwork, as are his "Yes" instrumentals Mood for a Day and The Clap.  Howe has also done an impressive amount of solo work, and his album Quantum Guitar is some of his finest.

Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser

That’s right, I’m suggesting that the lead guitarist from Blue Oyster Cult was a good guitarist.  Not just that, but a very good guitarist.  Anyone can pick up a copy of their greatest hits album Cult Classic and find out for themselves once they get past Don’t Fear the Reaper.  Roeser wrote/co wrote a great many of the band’s songs that became hits, and his fingers working the electric guitar were the icing on the cake.

The two big hits that BOC turned out that showcase Roeser’s talent are Burnin’ for You and Godzilla, but his skill is abundant through a lot of the band’s work.  Other songs like OD’d on Life Itself, This Ain’t the Summer of Love and especially Buck’s Boogie really show why he deserved more recognition then he ever got.

Dweezil Zappa

Anyone who has listened to Frank Zappa (and I mean actually listening to that wonderful craziness, not just staring at the radio with your mouth gaping open) knows that not only did Dweezil’s old man pick the best musicians he could find for his band, but he played a hellacious guitar as well.  I have often thought that Frank deserved to be in the list of the top five greatest guitarists who ever lived.

Then I discovered something; Dweezil is really, really good too.

When you think about the environment he was raised in, it’s no wonder that he became such a good guitarist.  Growing up with a father who was already a rock music legend, Dweezil had the opportunity to learn not only under Frank but picking up little things from other top notch guitarists.

If you want to hear it for yourself, pick up a copy of Dweezil’s album Automatic.  It’s a primarily instrumental album, and I think it was produced simply to show off the talent at hand.  The real spotlight of this album is the classic Bizet opera pieces Habanera/Los Toreadors, and it ends with Purple Guitar, nine minutes of Dweezil really showing what he can do.

Chuck Berry

While Chuck did get a good amount of recognition when he was popular, he became a “forgotten” guitar god after a while.  However, his complex, speedy rhythms and choruses on the guitar should keep his name on the lists for decades to come.  Furthermore, the fact that he was one of the first speedy axe players for rock music made his style something of a trailblazing act for others to reach for.  While he may not be able to smoke Stevie Ray or Clapton, his guitar work was still impeccable and his style definitely influenced (directly and indirectly) countless artists of rock music past and present.

While everyone knows Berry’s Johnny B. Goode as a classic song for guitar rock, some of his other tunes portray his skill equally well.  Of particular note is Roll Over Beethoven and Louie to Frisco, but if you pick up a greatest hits album of Berry’s, you will find it jammed with great guitar work.

I have always thought that if a guitarist could play a Chuck Berry song perfectly, right rhythm, speed and not skipping any notes, they would have some bragging rights.  Now considering how many people have expertly covered Berry’s work this gives a great many people these bragging rights, but I still say they deserve them.  Chuck’s guitar work isn’t easy to play.  If you play guitar and you think it is easy to play, you’re probably on your way to being a master player in your own right.

Gary Richrath

When REO Speedwagon first started putting albums out, guitarist Richrath was already being proclaimed to be an incredible talent.  So why isn’t he recognized any more?  Partially because the band changed their style a bit, and also that the songs that became hits weren’t the ones where Gary was really hitting the guitar with everything he had.  Sure, the solo on Ridin’ the Storm Out is pretty damn sweet, but it is the early, widely unknown stuff from Speedwagon that really shows how incredible Richrath is.

My personal favorite solo that Richrath has done is from REO’s first album (before Kevin Cronin started singing with the band) on a little known beauty called 157 Riverside Avenue.  The song sounds like something Sha Na Na would play, greaser style rock that would fit well on the soundtrack of Grease 3: Pinky’s Revenge.  But the guitar solo (and especially on the live version) lead me to believe that while Richrath may not be as fast as SRV and Hendrix, he’s not far away.  Seriously.

While I feel this to be a pretty solid list, I will admit that it’s not complete.  In fact, it barely scratches the surface.  Listing other underrated greats would take more time then I have, and it would be longer then you would want to read.  Plus, any list that I work on would mostly be rock music and maybe some blues, and there has to be a huge number of solid guitarists is other genres.  But, alas, I can’t stand country music.  Compile your own list for that.

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