100 Greatest Guitarists

34

Curtis Mayfield

curtis mayfield
David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The late Curtis Mayfield was one of American soul's finest singers, songwriters and producers. He was also a quietly influential guitarist whose gently fluid melodies and fills, running through records like the Impressions' "Gypsy Woman," left a deep impact on Jimi Hendrix, especially in his psychedelic balladry. "In the Sixties, every guitar player wanted to play like Curtis," George Clinton affirmed. Mayfield went on to reinvent his playing for a solo career in the Seventies, building his new music around the flickering funk rhythms and spare, gestural, wah-wah-inflected lead parts heard on his Superfly soundtrack and hits like "Move On Up." His liquid chord sequences were difficult for other musicians to imitate, in part because Mayfield played almost exclusively in an open F-sharp tuning. "Being self-taught, I never changed it," he said. "It used to make me proud because no matter how good a guitarist was, when he grabbed my ax he couldn't play it."

Key Tracks: "Gypsy Woman," "Move On Up," "Freddie's Dead"

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