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Steve Cropper

Steve Cropper performing live at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, Texas on June 6, 2004, © David Atlas / Retna Ltd.

Atlas/Retna

As a member of the stax records house band Booker T. and the MG's,
Steve Cropper, a white guy from Willow Springs, Missouri, was a
prime inventor of black Southern-funk guitar — trebly,
chicken-peck licks fired with stinging, dynamic efficiency. If
Cropper had never played on another record after 1962's "Green
Onions," his stabbing-dagger lines would have ensured him a place
on this list. But he also played on — and often co-wrote and
arranged — many of the biggest Stax hits of the late 1960s
and early 1970s. Four decades after "Green Onions," he continues to
perform and record with his seminal, down-home touch.

36

Steve Cropper

As a member of the stax records house band Booker T. and the MG's,
Steve Cropper, a white guy from Willow Springs, Missouri, was a
prime inventor of black Southern-funk guitar — trebly,
chicken-peck licks fired with stinging, dynamic efficiency. If
Cropper had never played on another record after 1962's "Green
Onions," his stabbing-dagger lines would have ensured him a place
on this list. But he also played on — and often co-wrote and
arranged — many of the biggest Stax hits of the late 1960s
and early 1970s. Four decades after "Green Onions," he continues to
perform and record with his seminal, down-home touch.

35

John Fahey

John Fahey created a new, enduring vocabulary for acoustic solo
guitar — connecting the roots and branches of folk and blues
to Indian raga and the advanced harmonies of modern composers such
as Charles Ives and Béla Bartók — on an
extraordinary run of albums in the 1960s, released on his own
Takoma label. Fahey knew American pioneer song in academic detail;
he wrote his UCLA master's thesis on blues-man Charley Patton.
Fahey was also a precise fingerpicker addicted to the mystery of
the blues as well as the music, a passion reflected in apocryphal
album titles such as The Transfiguration of Blind Joe
Death
, from 1967. Fahey endured illness and poverty in the
1990s, but re-emerged to a new wave of acclaim from bands such as
Sonic Youth. He continued touring and recording — often on
electric guitar — until his death in 2001.

34

Thurston Moore

When Sonic Youth burst onto New York's downtown scene in the early Eighties, guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo got plenty of attention for attacking their axes with drumsticks and screwdrivers. But their real legacy can't be bought in a hardware store; it's the way they've opened rock guitar up to the world of alternate tunings. On the band's masterpiece, 1988's Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth created their own language of strange and blissful guitar noise. Neither Moore nor Ranaldo is a master of technique, but they're both virtuoso soundsmiths, and a generation of alt-rockers — from Nirvana to Dashboard Confessional — owes them big.

33

Lee Ranaldo

When Sonic Youth burst onto New York's downtown scene in the early Eighties, guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo got plenty of attention for attacking their axes with drumsticks and screwdrivers. But their real legacy can't be bought in a hardware store; it's the way they've opened rock guitar up to the world of alternate tunings. On the band's masterpiece, 1988's Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth created their own language of strange and blissful guitar noise. Neither Moore nor Ranaldo is a master of technique, but they're both virtuoso soundsmiths, and a generation of alt-rockers — from Nirvana to Dashboard Confessional — owes them big.

32

John Cipollina

Cipollina was half of the twin-guitar team — with Gary Duncan
— that drove San Francisco's Quicksilver Messenger Service,
the best acid-rock dance band of the 1960s. Cipollina's spires of
tremolo, enriched with the erotica of flamenco, in "The Fool," from
the band's 1968 debut, and his ravishing improvisations in Bo
Diddley's "Mona" and "Who Do You Love" on '69's Happy
Trails
, are supreme psychedelia, authentic evidence of what it
was like to be at the Fillmore in the Summer of Love. The classic
quartet lineup of 1967-69 made only two albums, though Quicksilver
re-formed with various players over the years. Cipollina, who
suffered from severe emphysema, died in 1989.

31

Dick Dale

Dick Dale reigns across the decades as the undisputed king of the
surf guitar. In Dale's own words, "Real surfing music is
instrumental, characterized by heavy staccato picking on a Fender
Stratocaster guitar." Moreover, it's best played through a Fender
Showman Amp — a model built to spec for Dale by Leo Fender
himself. Igniting California's surfing cult with such regional hits
as "Let's Go Trip-pin'," "Surf Beat" and "Miserlou," Dale made
waves with his fat, edgy sound and aggressive, proto-metal attack.
"Miserlou," released in 1962, marked the first use of a Fender
reverb unit — creating an underwater sound with lots of echo
— on a popular record. Fittingly, it sparked a surf-music
revival when director Quentin Tarantino used it in the opening
scene of Pulp Fiction.

30

Buddy Guy

A key influence on Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray
Vaughan, Buddy Guy put the Louisiana hurricane in 1960s electric
Chicago blues as a member of Muddy Waters' band and as a house
guitarist at Chess Records. A native of the Baton Rouge area, he
combined a blazing modernism with a fierce grip on his roots,
playing frantic leads heavy with swampy funk on Howlin' Wolf's
"Killing Floor" and Koko Taylor's "Wang Dang Doodle" as well as on
his own Chess sides and the fine series of records he made with
harp man Junior Wells. One of the last active connections to the
golden age of Chess, Guy still plays with his original fire.

29

Ron Asheton

Nobody ever accused Ron Asheton of being a nice guy. "Any guitar
player worth his salt is basically a thug," his lead singer, Iggy
Pop, once said. "They test you with that thug mentality. They ride
you to the edge." Asheton was the Detroit punk who made the
Stooges' music reek like a puddle of week-old biker sweat. He
favored black leather and German iron crosses onstage, and he never
let not really knowing how to play get in the way of a big, ugly
feedback solo. This spring, Asheton joined Iggy and the other
Stooges for their first gigs in nearly thirty years. He still
sounds like a thug.

28

Stephen Stills

"He's a musical genius," Neil Young said of Stills in a 2000
interview. He should know. The two have been bandmates and
competing lead guitarists on and off since 1966: in Buffalo
Springfield, the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and the
short-lived Stills-Young Band. But those groups' ego-and-drug
dramas have obscured Stills' prowess as a musician — he
played nearly every instrument on Crosby, Stills and Nash's 1969
debut — and especially as a guitarist. In Springfield and
CSNY, Stills challenged and complemented Young's feral breaks with
a country-inflected chime. And a continuing highlight of CSNY shows
is Stills' acoustic picking in "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" — a
paragon of unplugged beauty.

27

Mark Knopfler

Dire Straits founder and solo artist Mark Knopfler emerged at a
time when guitar virtuosos were spurned by punks and New Wavers.
Yet from the first stinging notes of "Sultans of Swing," Knopfler's
roots-based approach and supple, burnished leads found almost
universal appeal. A fingerpicker who favors Fender Stratocasters
— a Knopfler-designed Strat was introduced in July as part of
Fender's "Artist Series" — he's known for his rich tone,
sinuous melodicism and rangy, fluid solos. "My sound is fingers on
a Strat," he once said.

26

Tom Morello

In the early days of Rage Against the Machine, Morello watched
local California metal guitarists play "as fast as Yngwie
Malmsteen" and realized, "That wasn't a race I wanted to run." So
he began to experiment with the toggle switch on his guitar to
produce an effect like a DJ scratching a record. The result was
true rap metal and a redefinition of the guitar's potential.
Morello absorbs hip-hop mixology as a true son of Grandmaster Flash
and the Voodoo Child, making his riffs rumble and boom like
crosstown turntable traffic.

25

Freddy King

King was born in Texas, but in 1950, when he was sixteen, his
family moved to Chicago, where he would sneak into clubs to play
with Muddy Waters' band. His style was a mixture of country and
urban blues, and his instrumental sides such as "Hide Away," "Just
Pickin" and "The Stumble," from the early Sixties, had immense
impact on the British blues scene — Eric Clapton says King
was one of the first guitarists he tried to copy. His playing
employed taut, melodic riffs that erupted into frantic, wailing
solos on the upper strings. King, who also recorded for the
Cotillion, Shelter and RSO labels, died at forty-two of heart
failure in 1976.

24

The Edge

Rarely has a guitarist achieved so much by playing so little. Most
of what the Edge (real name Dave Evans) played on U2's early
albums, from Boy in 1980 to the '87 global smash The Joshua
Tree
, can be described thusly: circular skeletal arpeggios
swimming in oceans of reverb; few conventional chords or solos. But
the elegant urgency of the Edge's minimalism on those records
perfectly framed and fueled the earnest, flag-waving theatricality
of Bono's voice. With U2's swerve into apocalyptic dance music on
1991's Achtung Baby, the Edge coated his riffs in extreme
distortion and electronic treatments but without betraying his
playing credo: Less is most.

23

Warren Haynes

Haynes is possibly the hardest-working guitarist on the planet
— a cornerstone of the Allman Brothers Band, leader of Gov't
Mule, pivotal member of Phil Lesh and Friends. Displaying
controlled intensity, he's a meaty and masterful slide player, as
well as a soulful singer and songwriter. Steeped in the uncut blues
of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, and especially bitten by the
heavy rock-trio sound of Cream and Mountain, Haynes has kept the
blues-rock

22

Mike Bloomfield

Bloomfield's reputation as the American white-blues guitarist of
the 1960s rests on a small, searing body of work: his licks on Bob
Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, his two LPs with the Paul
Butterfield Blues Band and his sublime jamming with Al Kooper on
1968's Super Session. Born in Chicago, Bloomfield grew up
in local blues clubs, where he worked with many black legends. His
modal runs and jabbing breaks were executed with pinpoint force in
a ringing-bell tone. Bloomfield's gifts faded as he fell into drug
abuse. He died of an overdose in 1981.

21

George Harrison

As the Beatles' lead guitarist, George Harrison never played an
unnecessary note. In his solos and fills, he prized clarity and
concision above all things. But every note made history, from the
Cavern Club R&B frenzy of his breaks in "I Saw Her Standing
There" to the hallucinogenic splendor of his contributions to
Revolver and the matured elegance of his work on Abbey
Road
. John Lennon and Paul McCartney dominated the Beatles'
revolutionary course through 1960s pop, but Harrison defined the
musical character of those innovations in his explorations of
studio technology, tonal color and Indian scales. At the same time,
he never strayed from the terse, earthy qualities of his first
love, 1950s rockabilly, and his biggest idol, Sun Records star Carl
Perkins. Harrison's final album, Brainwashed
recorded in the years before his death from cancer in 2001 —
features some of his finest twang.

20

James Burton

James Burton mainly plays a dark-red '53 Fender Telecaster that he
bought in a Louisiana music store when he was thirteen. He's
performed a lifetime's worth of hot licks and fluid solos on it, on
songs such as Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q" and Ricky Nelson's "Hello
Mary Lou." As an in-demand Sixties sessionman, Burton played
often-uncredited guitar and Dobro on countless records by artists
ranging from Buck Owens and Buffalo Springfield to Frank Sinatra.
In the Seventies he anchored the touring bands of Elvis Presley and
Emmylou Harris. Burton's country-rock style combines flatpicking
and fingerpicking; he's also a master of a damped-string,
staccato-note "chickin' pickin'."