My regular readers (of which there are far more than I deserve) will know that my creativity bone is busted. That hasn’t stopped me from writing – but it has changed how I’m doing things.
You’re still getting an article a day, and yesterday marked the 100th article!
But, the truth is, writing this particular week’s Guitarist Better Than Hendrix is a bit like work. The fun isn’t gone, but it has become an obligation. I’m not sure who I’m obligated to – except I’m pretty sure it’s me. I kinda doubt too many folks would get pissy if I didn’t write this week’s article about a guitarist better than Hendrix, but I’d feel like I let myself down.
Why? I’m not really sure. To date, the ads have made like $10 and, frankly, I don’t actually even need the money.
But, when I think about it, I’m pretty sure it’s ’cause I’m still pissed at Rolling Stone, among others, who have done great guitarists the disservice of putting Hendrix on a pedestal he doesn’t deserve.
I say, with complete seriousness, that I play guitar better than Hendrix. That’s not ego (though I have plenty, perhaps too much) but a statement of reality. The reality is, Hendrix wasn’t a great guitarist by the metrics that I feel should be applied to such ratings.
I’ve been over that before and you can read the complete list here. The really short version is that ‘greatest’ should be a technical qualification with as much subjectivity removed as possible.
Those dirty rotten, mouth-breathing, degenerate, sons-of-dogs at Rolling Stone Magazine pounded their keyboards, while wearing mittens, and gleefully declared that Hendrix was the greatest. (You knew that was coming, right?) Well, not only them, but many other lemmings have followed suit.
In short, they’re wrong. They’re so wrong, that I’ve been able to demonstrate how wrong they were – 20 frigging times already!
And maybe that’s my obligation. I must fix this and let the world know that there are guitarists who have existed, and continue to exist, who play far better than Hendrix. Such as today’s featured guitarist…
#21 Kirk Hammett
That’s right. I said it. Hammett is better than Hendrix – by a country mile.
If you’re a guitarist, or even just hang around guitarists, then you’ve probably developed an opinion about Kirk. In fact, I’ve seen people develop some very strong opinions about Kirk.
The barely literate chimpanzees at RSM placed him at #11 on their list of the best 100 guitarists. Many other such lists appear to exclude him entirely. That is unfortunate and a rather large oversight. Let’s fix that.
So, who is this guy? Well, you know him from Metallica. He’s been with the band since 1983 and actually, no, not all those amazing riffs you hear are him. Some of them are actually Hetfield, who ostensibly is a rhythm guitarist and singer – but is actually himself exceptionally skilled.
Now, don’t think I haven’t had this conversation before! No… I’ve had to justify my admiration in the past and the most frequent question I get is something like, “So, what about all his soulless garbage, uninspired work, and albums where he just phoned the whole fucking thing in?”
To which I customarily respond with, “Can you actually find any flaws in them?” They answer boils down to their just not “Metallica songs.” They also “don’t rock.”
And, I agree. They were pretty spiritless and, in some cases, I feel that Kirk committed an even greater sin. He failed to include a bitchin’ solo. That’s just not okay. It’s definitely not okay for Metallica.
Or is it?
Instead of throwing in bitchin’ solos, let’s tear into his actual work. If you check the work, you’ll see that it actually advanced musically. You’ll see that it’s more refined, fills voids better, and incorporates a larger number of scales, as well as interchanging them readily to keep up with Hetfield’s simultaneous growth in ability.
And, frankly, this did change the sound of Metallica. In fact, until quite recently, I’d have said that Garage Inc. was their last good album and even that sounded like a wild, drug and alcohol infused idea.
Hint! It was! Oh, fuck… Those guys were loaded in cash and did entire mountains of cocaine. I am pretty sure they’ve done more coke than I have and I’ve done enough coke to make Keith Richards nod knowingly and smile in approval.
So, I guess my real question is, “Do I really need to justify his inclusion beyond pointing to the vast body of work that is musically complex, sound in theory, and quite advanced?” And, the answer is, “Absolutely!”
Let’s do it.
The year was 1962 and Kirk (who really deserves a bitchin’ nickname) was born in San Francisco, CA. His father was a Merchant Marine and his mother a nice lady of Filipino decent. Well, I assume she was a nice lady. It’d take a meaner man than me to insult his mother! (Rolling Stone authors get no such respect.)
Anyhow, that’s entirely unimportant as, unlike many other artists on this list, Kirk wouldn’t even bother to get serious about the guitar until he was 15. That’s actually pretty late in life.
It was also about that time when he met Les Claypool, of Primus fame, and they’re still pretty good buddies today. Claypool is also an excellent guitarist, if not more than a little weird.
His first guitar was a Montgomery Ward special. Who remembers those? *raises hand* Anyhow, that guitar was certainly a piece of shit. Seriously, they were garbage and unfit to play seriously on. They did come with an amp, which was in a shoebox, curiously enough. Again, it was garbage.
He eventually bought a Strat copy and tried to customize it with his own parts and make his own sound. As near as I can tell, this was a complete and utter failure. Why do I think that? Well, not long after he gave that guitar up and bought himself a Gibson Flying V.
He then set about getting a job at a fast food joint and promptly quit that job as soon as he had enough money for a Marshall amp. I can’t tell which model he purchased, but I can say it was an excellent choice – ’cause Marshall makes killer amps. (I’m biased.)
Anyhow, his first band was a band called Exodus, named after the Leon Uris book (which is a fine book, though I much prefer Battle Cry.) They’re not even really important for the sake of this discussion, but I figured I’d add that here for completeness.
In 1983, a fella named Dave Mustaine was the lead guitarist for Metallica. Was… See, ol’ Mustaine (of Megadeth fame) was quite a fan of getting trashed and being violent. Well, that’s kind of hard to work with when making a studio album. So, they kicked his ass out of the band and Metallica had already shared the stage with Hammett before.
It should be noted that, during this time, Hammett was also taking private lessons from one Mr. Joe Satriani. Astute observers may notice a trend.
Hammett, having never even left California, smashed open his piggy bank and flew out to New York to audition for Metallica. They played a song called And Justice For All. Well, Hammett laid down a very bitchin’ solo.
His playing was so awesome and his solo so bitchin’ that he was hired on the spot. That’s right, he got hired ’cause he could play a bitchin’ solo.
Interlude: Why don’t all the newer songs have a bitchin’ solo?!? Well, ’cause you eventually run dry of bitchin’ solo material and you’ll notice the rest of the lead increased in complexity to make up for it.
That’s kinda it, really…
Though, if you look at St. Anger, you’ll find that Kirk really wanted to include solos, but Lars and the producer felt they sounded like an afterthought and so they simply never made it out of the studio. The lack of a bitchin’ solo is not always his fault.
If you watch the documentary, Some Kind of Monster, you’ll see that the band was so dysfunctional that it really is kind of amazing that they actually made any good music at all. They’re like Ozzy levels of dysfunctional, which is quite a feat.
So, instead, we have to look at the actual music that was made and we must examine the complexity and growth. And, we’ll do just that.
Yup… It’s time to hear why he’s on the list.
Let’s start with this one… This is Enter Sandman and, well, it’s pretty much one of the greatest songs to ever be composed. It’s lyrically interesting and the music is absolutely amazing. By the way, it’s mostly Kirk’s doing. He pretty much gets credit for this.
Go ahead, try to cover it. It’s actually not too difficult, but it will require some dedication to detail and getting the sound isn’t often a problem for people.
I’d love to touch on that, but that’d be an article by itself. Man, getting Metallica’s sound can be both expensive and hard. It doesn’t help that Kirk has a signature brand of pretty much everything. No, that doesn’t help at all. It’s possible and if there’s a call for it, I’ll consider writing that article.
Seriously, I’m pretty sure there’s even signature strings for him. I hear the ESP KH signature guitars are pretty good, but I’ve never played one. He plays a lot of Ibanez models and has a few GLP models that he uses. So, he can be replicated – but it’s not easy.
And, once you get that sound, you’ll want to get this one:
I dunno, but that might just be the best solo to ever have been composed. It’s up there with Zappa levels. What makes it so interesting is that it overlays with an awkward rhythm part that places his solo into some odd key that I couldn’t actually put an official name to. It’d end up being something like two keys, one with a suspended seventh and the other a diminished third.
I’m not even quite sure how that one works as well as it does. But, it does. You can also hear some Satriani influence.
Those sound easy, right?
You’ve seen someone cover them, right?
No. Probably not.
You’ve probably seen someone cover them “close enough.” They’re definitely not easy. In fact, Kirk plays with his hand taped because they’re that difficult. He does so much palm muting and plays so rapidly that it’d tear his skin to shreds to play without tape.
Faithful replications are damned difficult to do – and damned difficult to do live. Yet, if you listen to Metallica live (at least a good part of the time) then you’ll see that they actually do a great job live, especially Kirk.
I suppose we could argue about where Kirk belongs on this list – some will think higher and some may think lower. But, I think it’s important to understand that he does belong on this list.
I like to leave you with one for the road… This week, I’m going to leave you with this:
Yup… I’m not sure I can add any thing to say to that. 😉 Just listen and watch.
Anyhow, sorry for the delay. I had technical difficulties. Technically, I hadn’t written this until just now. I’m exceptionally busy and my creativity bone is broken. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!