It’s worth noting that I think last week’s tirade was pretty popular and that nobody decided to argue that a list such as this shouldn’t exist. It was the most popular of all these entries last month – and damned near tied the record for the most popular entry on the site.
It’s seldom a good idea to argue with the person who has the microphone!
It also means that I’ll save some time! I won’t need to reexplain the purpose of this list with such detail. That’s good, because I’ve explained it plenty of times already. In fact, here’s a whole list of other guitarists who are better than Hendrix – and why they’re better than him.
So, I’ll give you the short version!
A group of hyenas decided to call themselves journalists and got a job with Rolling Stone Magazine. They then decided to crown Jimi Hendrix as the greatest guitarist of all time. They obviously haven’t any idea what they’re talking about and this list is an ongoing effort to correct that horrible mistake they made.
Why? Because it’s personal. I’m a guitarist. That is, I play guitar. I play guitar with greater technical ability, that is skill, than Hendrix did. I have a much more thorough knowledge of techniques and musical theory. I have greater accuracy, speed, timing, fluidity, and understanding.
That is, to me, what “guitarist” means. By failing to rate on these measures, they’re doing me a disservice. I’m a better guitarist than Hendrix because I’ve spent decades learning my craft. I can play anything he could play – and I can play it better than he could.
That’s not ego.
That’s a measurement of technical proficiency.
Hendrix was a brilliant artist. He was a not-terrible composer. He was a brilliant performer. He gave the world interesting thoughts and made very good music. He was a much better composer than I’ll ever be. He was a better artist than I’ll ever be.
But, his guitar playing isn’t technically difficult – or even all that innovative. His use of feedback, distortion, and the blues scale wasn’t even new back then. His songs sound much the same because he was a pretty limited guitarist – and that’s fine.
I love Hendrix’s work. I can jam on his stuff for hours. Fans love to hear me play his work. He was a great artist in his time, and he made the world of music a better place.
However, that’s got fuck all to do with my list! The term “guitarist” should be about those qualities I mentioned above and not about if you like ’em or not. A fair number of the artists on this list are not people I seek out to fill my music needs. My liking them has nothing to do with it.
The term “Best Guitarist” should be something objective. Subjectively, Hendrix was a brilliant artist, great performer, and inspiring. Those are irrelevant, ethereal concepts. They can’t be quantified and measured. And, really, what else is music but a bunch of measurements? Music is math expressed by way of audio.
So, we’ve got a bunch of people who think that Hendrix was the best and that’s unfortunate. My goal is to fix the generation of people who’ve had their views polluted by the sophomoric window-lickers that post inept screeds at that dirty rotten magazine known as Rolling Stone!
(Seriously, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of coming up with ways to make fun of RSM. It’s pretty much my favorite part of writing these intros and is what makes it all worthwhile!)
Man, those inbred heathens at RSM would have to be blind to rate Hendrix as the greatest guitarist.
#17 Norman Jeffrey “Jeff” Healey
You folks coming in directly from my submissions don’t get to see the ‘read more’ tag placement. I’m telling you, it was beautiful! I’m gonna be a damned expert someday!
When I write these, I usually go digging around for their nicknames that other musicians might have called them. Healey played the blues and it seems as if damned near every blues musician has a nickname. In this case, it’s just Jeff. I suppose that’s better than Norman. Well then, Jeff it is!
To the layman, if Healey is known at all then it is because he was in Road House and because he’s blind.
That’s right… I just said a blind man played guitar better than Hendrix. I ain’t even kidding! Don’t believe me? Look at how he’s playing that guitar – and let’s see you try it that way. Go ahead…. I’ll wait…
While we’re waiting, let’s talk about Jeff.
He was born in 1966 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’m not actually sure what was going on in Toronto at that time, so I’m not really able to fit him in with a historic event. Either way, he was pretty much born fucked.
He was put up for adoption and was adopted when he was just an infant. When Jeff was just one, he lost his eyesight to retinoblastoma – a cancer of the eyes. His eyes were surgically removed.
They, of course, gave him fake eyeballs – but those aren’t actually very good for seeing. Jeff pretty much said, “Fuck that!” At the age of three, he started playing guitar. Except, well, he didn’t learn to play it the way everyone else plays.
Y’know… He was blind. Granted, I can play guitar with my eyes closed, but Jeff was both little and blind. So, he learned to play the guitar by laying it flat on his lap and then fretting from the top and pressing down. Notably, this also gave him an extra digit to work with and he was able to come up with some rather unusual chord shapes.
Anyone covering Jeff is probably not actually playing a faithful reproduction. He’d sometimes have all five fingers going and he used some non-standard chords. If you want to do a faithful reproduction of his work, you’re probably going to have to learn to play like he did.
Cancer loved Jeff and he’d die from cancer in 2008. Cancer took his eyes, his health, and eventually his life. But, like I said, Jeff pretty much said, “Fuck that!” Cancer may have won – but Jeff left us a lasting legacy.
When Jeff was 9, he got himself a slot on a children’s television show called (and I kid you not) Cucumber. (Nobody actually knows what goes on in Canada.) When he was 15, he started his own band called Blue Direction. The name might be a clue!
See, with all that cancer and stuff like, you know, missing eyeballs, Jeff had himself the blues. He didn’t just have the blues, he had a whole collection of blues. He also had jazz. He had them on old 78 RPM gramophone records and he’d start hosting a weekly radio show where he played records from his private collection.
This led to him being introduced to a few folks and starting a band. He continued to play in his style and that band, known as the Jeff Healey Band, would gather some local fame. It was during this time where he was discovered by none other than Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert Collins.
He’d do blues for quite a while but, after about 2000, he began to take on the jazz genre and he’d tackle it with aplomb. He’d still keep his blues playing up and he played with the greats. He played with everyone from BB King to Eric Clapton and from ZZ Top to The Allman Brothers – and a ton more.
He’s got a bunch of awards and even has a whole park named after him. Where did RSM place Jeff on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists? They didn’t. They didn’t even put him anywhere on the list. Why? Because they’re untalented hacks who’d rather appeal to popularity than to actually do the job of rating musicians based on their ability. It’s probably a good gig, if you can get it.
Alas, Jeff would die fairly young. It’s also noteworthy that the gig before SRV died was also played with Healey. But, this means Healey never really go the chance to quite develop the full body of studio work that many other artists get. Still, what we do have from him are real gems. They show both innovative technique and a very excellent grasp of theory and composition.
Because his life was cut short, there’s really not a whole lot more to type about it. Even the Wikipedia article is pretty short and all the obituaries really don’t give a whole lot of information. Why yes, yes I actually do research these articles before writing them.
So, let’s see why he’s on the list and why he’s here on the list.
This first one isn’t going to show you anything magical with the guitar. It’s only moderately skillful (thouth probably much harder when you’re blind) but I share it so that you can rest assured that you actually do know who this guy is and that you’ve heard his music before.
Now, let’s show you why he’s actually on the list, shall we?
Wait for it… It’s coming…
That’s right, Jeff goes into full Beast Mode and says, “Fuck that!” He then launches into riffs that are hard for even a sighted person to play – and he takes them all the way to Rock Star Bonus Mode, ’cause fuck that – ain’t no blindness going to stop him. He even gets up, slams himself around on stage, and doesn’t bump into anything.
Hell, I’ve got my sight and I’d have bumped right into SRV – at least twice!
How about we see him tear into a song you should recognize. Once again, wait for it… I’d never steer you wrong! It’s coming…
That’s right… He plays his guitar on his lap, has no sight, and plays better than Hendrix. He played his guitar better than quite a few sighted guitarists and doesn’t get nearly the accolades he deserves. Granted, his technique probably isn’t applicable to most guitarists – but he truly mastered his instrument and consistently demonstrated a raw understanding of music that many other musicians can only aspire to.
And, I like to leave you with one for the road – and this week it’s going to be a long one. This one should keep your ears busy for about an hour – but it’s a delightful hour. Toss it on while you’re writing a comment in response to this article, thinking about your favorite guitarists, or sending me an email to let me know who you’d like me to consider adding to my list. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!